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.
In Matthew 15 and Luke 6, Jesus explains that what comes out of a person’s mouth is the result of what is in their heart. What a person’s inner being is filled with will overflow into their outward actions and words. Likewise, what a person fills themselves with will be made evident when they speak or act. So Paul tells his readers to think about good things. As an attentive reader, it is important not to overthink this particular list. Paul is not offering an exhaustive list of characteristics to meditate on. He is not charting out a legalistic set of standards by which to judge one’s mental processes. Nor is He providing some sort of pattern by which to evaluate one’s entertainment choices. He is simply listing off characteristics that are good. These characteristics should be considered when discerning what activities to engage in or what to occupy one’s thoughts.
Truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty, excellence, and value. What would a life that is consumed by meditation on these characteristics look like? To meditate on such marvelous subject matter changes the world. However, before it changes the world, such activity changes the meditator. The person who seeks to change the world around him must first seek to see the change within himself, for each person is a part of the world in which they live and if they cannot change their own part, then they cannot change the world around. If Christians will focus their attention on righteous virtues, they will begin to see the change that they desire in their world.
Examine this list closely. Ask yourself if these are the characteristics upon which you base your affections. For, if you will focus your efforts towards this sort of piety, then peace will be yours. Dear Christian, our brother Paul calls you to a life of obedience that will bring you peace. Direct your attention toward that which is righteous and good. Imitate Paul’s life and peace will abound. It is an intriguing thing to ponder – that the imitation of such a tumultuous life would bring peace. Yet, here is Paul’s claim. “Practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Could there be any greater peace than the presence of God?
Amidst suffering and struggle, this is the assurance we need: the God of peace is with us. We do not need assurance of our own strength or our own virtuous ability. We do not need self-confidence or motivational inspiration to soothe our troubles. We need His presence. We need to be assured that the God that we know and love is nearby and has not abandoned us. This is the theological foundation that will overcome our worries and strife. It is a pursuit of piety in the virtues that are listed that will establish this confidence within the core of our beings. The closer our pursuit of holiness, the bigger and fuller our understanding of God becomes, and the more intimate our fellowship with Him grows.
Paul encourages his readers to model what they have learned, received, heard, and seen from his life and testimony. Likewise, Christian, find older saints that you can learn from. Seek wise men and women who know the Scripture and teach it well. When you have discovered such a person, receive what is taught. Teachers are not perfect, so be discerning. Listen for what they teach that is based in Scripture and discard what errors may arise, forgiving the mistake. Learning does not benefit the one who will not receive the instruction. So, if we are to learn, we must be intentional about receiving what we learn.
In the western church, discipleship is often thought of as an intellectual exercise. We provide classes and instruction in front of a whiteboard for a group of students. Yet, in truth, the best form of learning is life-observation. We must submit ourselves to instruction, to be sure, but we also must be attentive to what we see and hear with regard to the teacher. Pay attention to the life of your leaders, imitate what you see and hear with regard to holiness. If your spiritual leaders are not practicing holiness, then it is time to find new leaders who know and follow after God. Practicing this pious pursuit of life will provide more assurance and confidence in the faith than any self-help or motivational book could ever bring.