Many Christians are familiar with Philippians 4:8:
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.
This is one of the three prison epistles, Paul writing these words in various states of captivity as a political prisoner. As he closes this letter from his prison, he calls on the Philippians to think, or meditate, on these things he describes in chapter 4:8. The greek for “think” or “meditate” in this verse literally means “to take inventory.” We know what it means to catalogue or keep track of our things. When we take stock of things in our life, our inventory should be full of praiseworthy, true, honorable, commendable, lovely, and excellent qualities.
Our Mental Inventories
What do we do when congregational issues arise? What do we keep when someone wrongs us in some way? What do we do when we don’t feel God hears our distress? We have a pretty good idea of what things are praiseworthy and pure, but what do we inventory in our minds when things are difficult for us?
In our minds, we easily contrast the true with the untrue, the half-true, and the speculative. Honorable is contrasted with the shameful. Justice is contrasted with unfairness and injustice. Purity is contrasted with the unholy and impure. That which is lovely is contrasted with ugly conduct and dark attitudes. The commendable contrasts with the unwholesome. The excellent contrasts with the immoral, and that which is praiseworthy contrasts with the worthless.
These points seem elementary, but how do we apply this knowledge? So often, we keep track of every time a brother or sister has offended us. We take inventory of every person’s involvement in a congregational issue. We catalogue every piece of dirt we can remember on anyone we disagree with. We keep a tracking list of every time we feel God lets us down. ALl of these things are destructive to our spiritual lives, and they do not fall in line with the items of Philippians 4:8.
A Good Inventory
Proverbs 26:20 says:
For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.
The more we continue to meditate on the conflicts and negativity in our lives, the more wood we add to fuel the fires on conflict and hatred. Instead, what if we kept track of every time our brothers or sisters encouraged us? What if we took stock of the good accomplished in our congregations? What if we stopped to think about our numerous blessings God has given us? Then we fuel a fire of excellence and love. Then we are meditating as we see in Philippians 4:8, for our character reflects those things we store in our hearts.
Remember that Philippians was written while Paul was in captivity, but, in chapter 1:3, he goes out of his way to give thanks for the relationship he has with the church in Philippi. Chapter 2 focuses on reflecting the mind of Christ, and chapters 3 and 4 repeatedly say to rejoice in the Lord. In between these statements, Paul addresses difficulties within the congregation, but he continues to take inventory of the good, the pure, and the praiseworthy in the congregation. He does this while in chains. What might we have written under similar circumstances?
Paul could display such an attitude because of the contents of his heart. His internal inventory comprised things true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. To reflect Christ, Paul had to empty his life of certain qualities, and he had to begin fueling his life with better material. We can do the same in our own lives.