Proclaiming the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ

Is Philippians 4:8 Half Full or Half Empty?

In some things in life I am an optimist and in some things I am a pessimist.  When it comes to Chicago Cubs baseball, I am an optimist—always hoping and praying for the World Series win.  When it comes to politics, I tend to be a pessimist—seeing more to condemn than to commend.  What about when it comes to the Bible?  How much of my pessimism do I bring to the table when I read the Scriptures?

Recently, a verse I have read for many years became “more full” for me.  That verse is Philippians 4:8: “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, dwell on these things.”

You see, in the past, I have always read Phil 4:8 like this: “If something is not true, or not honorable, or not right, or not pure, or not lovely, or not of good repute, don’t dwell on that.”  The application for me often times translated to: “Don’t watch that movie because it is not pure.”  Or, “don’t listen to that music because it’s not lovely.”  In essence, my reading of Phil 4:8 has been pessimistically.  And frankly, for me, reading it pessimistically (or negatively) made sense because these are commands and commands are negative, right?

However, recently I read this verse in a new light: optimistically.  On this reading of the passage it says this: “whatever is true, or is honorable, or is right, or is pure, or is lovely, or is of good repute, dwell on that.”

I think it is more in line with the context to read Phil 4:8 in a positive light.  The apostle Paul, in context, commands believer’s to rejoice in the Lord (v. 4) and to pray with thanksgiving (v. 6).  These commands are positive: they are life fulfilling commands.  And so is Phil 4:8.

So do something different.  Don’t read Phil 4:8 as something you can’t have; read it as something you can have.  Don’t read Phil 4:8 as something you can’t dwell on; read it as something you can dwell on.  Rejoice.  Pray.  Dwell . . . on thousands of wonderful things that God has given you in his world: family, friends, watermelon, filet mignon, fall foliage, sunsets, apple pie, and Chicago Cubs baseball.

Pastor Dan