A Study by Scott Sperling
Philippians 4:8-9 -
What to Think, and What to Do
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is
excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.
Whatever you have learned
or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of
peace will be with you.
Paul begins here, "Finally, brothers"; and so here, we have the final exhortations to
the Philippians of this letter. Appropriately, these final exhortations concern all
aspects of life, the internal and the external, what we think and what we do.
First, concerning what we think, Paul exhorts: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true,
whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such
things" (vs 8). The mind is never idle. It is always occupied with something. Given
this, it requires effort to constantly feed the mind with wholesome food. And
though the amount of unwholesome food for the mind is rife, there is much
wholesome food for thought to chew on as well. Paul lists the wholesome food for
thought: "Whatever is...," that is, anything and everything that is "true... noble...
right... pure... lovely... admirable... excellent... praiseworthy..." Let's look at each of
* "Whatever is true" - Truth should be sought and thought upon first. Truth is so
important. There is so much that is false in the world. May God be praised that we
know and understand the truth of the gospel. May He be praised that we can seek
truth and find it in the gospel. The scholar can pick up the Bible, tear it apart
(analytically speaking), and come to the realization that it is the truth of God. All
that is in the Bible is worthy of meditation. It is the truth of God.
* "Whatever is noble" - By "noble", Paul is speaking of those persons and things
that are worthy of veneration for reasons of character and honor. Oh, that we
Christians would lead the way in venerating those who are "noble"in this way,
rather than the ignoble, who are most often venerated these days by the world: the
movie stars with twisted values, the rock stars with twisted minds, the English
"nobility" with twisted lives, etc. Consider "noble"those who are truly honorable,
and who have moral character. May they occupy your thoughts, and may they be
* "Whatever is right" - David would "meditate on [God's law] all day long" (Ps.
119:97); so should we. God's law is a statement of all that is right, and worthy of
constant meditation. The motive, of course, for meditation on "whatever. . . is right"
is that it would overflow from our thoughts into our lives. "Our character takes on
the complexion and hue of our inward thinking."[Footnote #2]
* "Whatever is pure" - Purity is the previously mentioned "right"ness acted out in
life. Thus, meditation upon what is "pure" is a continuation of meditation upon
what is "right". It is the meditation on how best to apply in one's own life what is
* "Whatever is lovely" - There is much that is beautiful in this creation. Need I
enumerate all the magnificent natural wonders? Need I describe the daily beauties
of sunrises and sunsets, cloud formations, a night sky full of stars? Not to mention
the beauty of the design of the natural laws of science and the design of the human
body and its functions. There is much here to meditate upon.
* "Whatever is admirable" - Paul here is speaking of things and people who are
(rightly) spoken well of. We personally come into contact of much that is worthy of
meditation, but we also hear second-hand of much that is "admirable". We must
focus on that which is "admirable" when reading what others have experienced
and written, and when listening to what others are saying. Stick to the "admirable".
Avoid gossip of every kind. We should apply this also to what we read in the
newspaper, what we watch on TV, what we browse on the internet, what movies
we see, etc. Stick to the "admirable". Avoid the trash.
* "If anything is excellent or praiseworthy" - Paul, knowing that in his
enumeration of things to think upon he was not close to being exhaustive, includes
here a catch-all, so as not to exclude anything that is "excellent or praiseworthy".
So, there is much that is approved by God with which to fill our minds. When you
find your mind wandering into the trash of this world, turn to this verse, take it to
heart, and fill your mind with the "excellent" and"praiseworthy".
Having spoken of what to think, Paul turns to what to do: "Whatever you have
learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice" (vs. 9).
Thinking right thoughts is one thing, doing right things is quite another. To
meditate upon that which is "excellent" is important; to "put it into practice" is a
necessary follow-up. To paraphrase Thomas Brooks: "If it be not strong upon thy
heart to practise what thou [meditate on], to what end dost thou [meditate]? To
increase thy own condemnation."[Footnote #3]
Paul put these things into practice. By inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he holds
himself up as an example to follow: "Whatever you have learned or received or
heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice." The most important trait of any
teacher or preacher of the Word of God is to exemplify his own teaching. "The first
thing in a preacher is that he should speak, not with his mouth only, but by his life,
and procure authority for his doctrine by rectitude of life."[Footnote #4] Paul
practiced what he preached, and so, held himself up as an example. Oh, that we too
would be able to truly hold ourselves up as an example to be followed! Note also
the different ways that the Philippians received their teaching from Paul: They
"have learned... received... heard... seen..." Teaching need not be confined to
preaching in a pulpit ("heard"). It can and should be "learned" through the study of
the Bible; "received" by meditating upon and taking as one's own what is "learned"
and "heard"; "seen" by observing the example of others.
The result of all this is: "And the God of peace will be with you" (vs. 9). In verse 7,
Paul told us that, through "prayer and petition, with thanksgiving" the "peace of
God will guard our hearts and minds." Here, we learn, through meditaton upon
wholesome things, and putting sound teaching into practice, "the God of peace
will be with us." So we may have the shield to both our hearts and minds in the
"peace of God", and the joy of the presence in our lives of the God of peace. May
the Lord be praised!
Yes, we praise You Father for Your peace and Your presence. What more could we
ask for? We thank You for this teaching of Paul's. May we follow it, and learn to fill
our minds with wholesome thoughts, all that is excellent and praiseworthy. May
these thoughts then overflow into our lives, as we put the teaching of Your Word
into practice. In the name of Christ, who is our supreme example, we pray these
2. F. B. Meyer, Devotional Commentary on Philippians, pg. 231.
3. Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices, from the Introduction.
4. John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle, pg. 291.
Bibliography and Suggested Reading
Calvin, John. The Epistles of Paul the Apostle. Grand Rapids: Eerdman's, 1965.
(Originally published 1548).
Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. A Commentary: Critical,
Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments. 3 Vols. Grand Rapids:
Eerdman's, 1993. (Originally published in 1866).
Meyer, F. B. Devotional Commentary on Philippians. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1979.
Moule, H.C.G. Philippian Studies. Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature
Crusade, 1975. (Originally published 1927).
Silva, Moises. Philippians. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992.
Strauss, Lehman. Devotional Studies in Philippians. Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Bros.,
Vaughan, Charles John. Epistle to the Philippians. Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1985.
(Originally published 1872).
© 1994-2018, Scott Sperling