Think on These Things

Posted by on Feb 1, 2014 in Faith Words |

Words of Faith

Rev. Rita S. Platt

January 26, 2014

“Think on These”

Philippians 4:1-9

Everyone needs encouragement, if only because the occasions of discouragement (loss of heart, loss of confidence, loss of conviction) are endless. In our scripture we read about 2 women: Euodia and Syntche, who needed some encouragement. Their behavior wasn’t only affecting the women, it was filtering into the life of the church. Paul knew if it didn’t turn around the church would loss its zeal. We understand how that works. Have you noticed that anything we undertake for Christ and his kingdom seems to be assaulted? And when it happens, we gradually fall prey and lose heart for a project that was once so dear to us. We no longer have the resources to make the effort to maintain ardor amid setbacks and betrayals. For instance, those among us concerned with environmental pollution begin to feel that what is hugely important to them, other people find insignificant. Only encouragement can keep our zeal aflame, our spirits from bitterness and our patience resilient as we continue to pursue what we know God has given us to do.

Paul encourages his readers in Philippi on many fronts; not least, he encourages them to resist mind pollution, and therefore to resist heart pollution.

“Whatever is true,” he says, “whatever is honorable . . . just . . . pure . . . pleasing . . . commendable . . . think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8).

When Paul writes “Think about these things,” he doesn’t mean ponder them now and then; reflect on them once in a while; mull them over when nothing else is occupying your mind. Like what I did yesterday: as I was shoveling the snow in my driveway I was thinking about the snow; but when I went inside and curled up in front of the fireplace with my book, there was no thought of the snow. The snow was less than 50 feet away, but it was completely out of my mind. I thought of it again when I shoveled my driveway a second time. When Paul said “Think about these things” he meant hold them up; hold them up in your mind; soak your imagination in them. “Whatever is true . . . honorable . . . just . . .pure . . . lovely . . . gracious” (4:8 RSV); steep yourselves in all this until it’s fixed in your mind and heart. Whatever is fixed in our minds and hearts will bubble out through us for the rest of our lives. When we wake up, when we fall asleep, when our minds are relaxed and unguarded, when we “let down” at the end of the day or haven’t yet “geared up” at the start of the day, when we are all alone, what thoughts flood our minds? Precisely what we’ve held up in our minds for years.

Everyone agrees that reason is part of the definition of humanity. In other words, reason is essential to being human. Wesley said the way we understand God has 4 parts: Scripture, tradition, experience and reason. Where we are frequently one-sided, however, is our narrow understanding of how we reason.

We assume that reasoning is thinking deductively or inductively.

One instance of deductive thinking is: “All humans are mortal; Socrates is human; therefore, Socrates is mortal.”

Inductive thinking is what we do when we experiment scientifically. Having performed many experiments and made many observations, we conclude that water consists of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen.

The mistake we make is assuming that deductive and inductive thinking are all there is to reason. We forget that there’s yet another kind of thinking: our imagination.

At the level of scientific thinking, a child googles “horse,” clicks on wickipedia and reads, “Horse: an herbivorous quadruped that runs on one toe.” Perfectly true. But at the level of the imagination (where children live) the child thinks black stallion. Then there swims into the child’s mind a wonderful assortment of images around the black stallion: adventure, danger, affection, strength, loyalty.

Years later, the child, now an adult, hears at one level of reason such expressions as “immigrant.” At another level of reason, this time the level of imagination, he or she is flooded with negative images of illegal immigrants that foster contempt and hatred; these images are purely destructive. Let’s be honest: we adults live in our imaginations far more than we live in purely deductive or inductive reasoning. So, what are the images that swim through our heads night and day? What are the images that we foster in one another and nourish in ourselves?

Paul knows that we live chiefly in our imaginations. For this reason he urges us to hold up that which is true (always a good place to start), just, honorable, pure, kind, gracious, lovely, and commendable. Soak your imagination in things with these qualities because these images are going to bubble up from your unconscious mind to your conscious and then back down to your unconscious where they shape you when you aren’t even aware of it. The apostle is profound here: abstract reasoning doesn’t govern our minds; concrete images—pictures—govern our minds.

Most of you know Eugene Petterson’s The Message is one of my favorite translations. Phillippians 4:8 reads:

“Summing it up, friends, I’d say you’ll do your best by filling your mind and meditating…on the best, not the worst.”

So here’s your homework. Get a notebook and make 2 columns: the best and the worst. When a thought comes to your mind record it in one of the columns. At the end of the day you may feel pretty good if you have more in the BEST column than the WORST. Here’s the problem with that: the thoughts in the WORST column will pull you down no matter how many there are. We need to ask God to help us change the worst. And we do it by thinking on these things:

When we hear the word “true,” I wonder what concrete images come instantly to mind?

When we hear the word “godly,” what person comes to your mind?

“Whatever is just -” Can you catch the vision of how God sees justice?

“Whatever is pure, whatever is commendable,” Paul says, “Think on it.” He means “Catch the vision of it.” Don’t rush through the list.  Spend some time thinking about them and you don’t have to do it in order.

“Whatever is . . .” You fill it in. Think about it. Catch the vision of it. Fill your imagination with it; because as it is with our imaginations, so it is with us.