Renewing the Mind: Philippians 4 and Biblical Counseling

Change is rooted not in my behavior but in my heart. So when I meet people, as I often do, that are seeking the tools to change I usually take them to Philippians 4. It is here that Paul spells out for us a process of change. Of course Christians know that change is only really possible, and really lasting, if it begins with Jesus Christ’s death for our sins and imputation of righteousness. And furthermore, it only continues as the Spirit of God works in us to will and to obey God. But in the process of sanctification I know I am expected to act, to seek to be conformed to the image of Christ. Philippians 4 walks us through a way to change what we think, and it begins by moving beyond our context to what’s greater.

In Philippians 4:8-9 Paul summarizes all that he has been saying about change, about spiritual growth and transformation. He also gives us the key to it all right here. He writes:

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.  (Philippians 4:8-9)

“Finally,” he tells us, this is what you must do. It’s the climax of his whole point and so we want to pay careful attention to what he says here. And that climax revolves around our thinking.

Note in particular that for Paul thinking Biblically is not an option for the Christian, it’s a command. At the end of verse 8 he says “think about these things.” It’s an imperative, a command. Thinking rightly is not just what we need to change; it’s what we need to be obedient to God. We must commit so seeing this as a command. When I am ruled by how I feel, by what I fear, by what I desire, etc. then I am being disobedient. Thinking rightly is required. But it’s not just “thinking” that Paul intends to communicate.

The Greek word used here may mean to “calculate,” “evaluate,” or “consider.” Some translations express it as “dwell on.” Real transformation doesn’t just come from mental ascent to these things; it comes from a continual dwelling on them. We dwell on our situation, on what we don’t have, what we want, what we hate, what we wish were different. Paul says dwell on these things, fix your eyes on them and you will find transformation is suddenly within reach. But what, exactly, are these things we are supposed to “dwell on”? Paul gives us a list of characteristics, but it will be important that we don’t think of them in merely abstract form, but rather in relation to the person of Jesus.

Paul says to think on, dwell on, mediate on, whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. Now certainly we should focus on these things as applied to life in general. It’s easy to focus on everything wrong in my life and miss all the lovely and excellent things going on. But ultimately the point of the passage is to fix our minds upon that which is the epitome of all these things: Jesus. Each of these attributes finds their ultimate expression in Jesus.

So what is true? Well the Bible tells us that Jesus is truth (John 1:17; John 14:6). What is honorable? The Bible tells us Jesus is worthy of honor (John 5:23). What is just? Jesus is just (Revelation 15:3). What is pure? Jesus is pure (1 John 3:3). What is lovely (or gracious)? Jesus is lovely (Luke 4:22). What is commendable? Jesus is commendable (Revelation 5:12). What is excellent? Jesus is excellent (Hebrews 1:4). What is worthy of praise? By far the most worthy object of our praise is Jesus (Hebrews 3:3; Revelation 4:11; Revelation 5:9, 12). We must fix our minds on Jesus, he is the true realization of these qualities.

Transformation doesn’t happen by working hard and working on your behavior. We must of course stop doing what is sin, but that happens primarily by addressing what’s going on in our hearts. It happens primarily by focusing our minds on Jesus! It’s hard to sin when you dwell on the person of Jesus. And that’s where change begins. Finally, friends, think on Him!

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