“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8 NAS).
We have been redeemed in Christ, and yet we live in a sin-darkened world, including the darkness of the sin that remains in our hearts. And as iniquity abounds and surrounds us, we can sometimes lose sight of the source of our life and joy. In this marvelous verse we have a cure for two common errors into which we can fall in our response to corruption in ourselves and others.
Faithfulness to Christ requires us to expose and resist evil and the unseemly. Much of the New Testament was written to confront error, and the Gospel itself exposes and opposes all other worldviews as false and eternally destructive. Indeed, we are called to “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3). And as this necessary task can be sorrowful and painful, we should support those who faithfully attend to it. Evil destroys. Souls are at stake.
At the same time, and often with the best intentions, we can stumble into dwelling on “whatever is false, whatever is dishonorable, whatever is wrong, whatever is impure, whatever is unlovely, whatever is of ill repute or inferior, or worthy of blame.” In this we not only quench our joy in Christ, but induce others to reject every good and miss the power and goodness of God in a fallen world.
God’s flowers among the rubbish and ruins of a fallen world are marvelous, but we sometimes miss their beauty. For instance, the hardened cynic magnifies the corruption in the flowers, while the constant critic stares at the garbage. The cynic downplays or denies the possibility of the honorable and excellent, while the constant critic ignores them.
The cynic often has an acute sense of error and claims a realistic view of life. Yet God and His work are the ultimate reality. A right view of the world sees evil in its proper place, a foe to be opposed, but a defeated and temporary blot on God’s eternal timeline that will soon be banished forever. The cynic misses that God saved us to share and rejoice in the display of His excellence. God does marvelous things with flawed people in a depraved world.
Similarly, while the constant critic may follow the Apostles, in-part, by exposing and refuting error, such is not our ultimate source of joy and faith. Christ exposed and refuted error, but His greatest work was the display of His glory in the redemption of unworthy sinners. He rectified evil by His infinite excellence. Thus God “has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NAS).
Further, the best cure for the bad and beggarly is the good and glorious. Evil is overcome with good. When God’s infinite excellence shines before the world, sin is exposed as disgusting and destructive, while the worldly things that so captivate our attention appear weak and worthless. (When weaning people from junk food, it helps to give them a taste of something better.) The brightest light that brings the greatest blessing also brings the greatest discernment and correction. The brighter the light, the greater the sight of the ugliness of evil, and the greater will be the dissipation of the darkness. Discernment comes from knowledge of the glorious, from a heart enthralled by God’s greatness.
Therefore, while we expose and correct error, we maintain the priority of a Christ-centered focus on that which is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and worthy of praise. In so doing we will bless and be blessed, and participate in God’s ultimate purpose to display and communicate His glory. We will be useful in God’s hands as He delivers those captive to darkness by the light of His excellence.
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