Wanted: Godly Thoughts

“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” (Phil. 4:8). Most serious Bible users are familiar with at least the gist of Paul’s statement here. And most regular and semi-regular television viewers are all too familiar with the world‘s approach to thought habits: whatever is frightening, whatever is a cheap thrill, whatever is scandalous, whatever is inadequate, if anything is coarse or offensive—think about those things. Mass media has changed a lot, and not for the better, since the days the good guys always won soundly and most humor was G-rated and sentimental.

Psychology Today reported in 2010 that “No matter what happens to us in life we tend to think of it as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ And most of us tend to use the ‘bad’ label three to ten times as often as the ‘good’ label.” Blame the “path of least resistance” rule. “Everybody else” (including, sadly, many churches) focuses on the negative, so it’s too much trouble to go against the crowd. Employers’ and acquaintances’ expectations keep us constantly busy, so it’s too much trouble to make time for prayer. Our brains are already well-programmed for unhappy and dissatisfied thoughts, so it’s too much trouble to fight back. For some people, stress and despair progresses to total emotional collapse, and it becomes too much trouble to even get up in the morning and face a life presumed hopeless.

Paul may well have recalled temptations toward a similar situation as he cried, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). Although we tend to read the context of that verse as a struggle with the more blatant sins, the example Paul cites in verses 7-8 is “coveting”—a sin of pure attitude. Likewise, the sin of denigrating God—which is exactly what we do when we imply through our thought-focus that He is too uncaring to forgive completely, too weak to conquer our problems, or less deserving than evil of our attention—quickly digs us into a hole of self-condemnation and hopelessness.

Thankfully, there is a rope available to pull us from that hole. Paul makes the first move toward showing us that rope in v. 25: “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Then in Chapter 8, he fleshes the thought out in detail: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free…  our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…. the Spirit helps us in our weakness… we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him… in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us…. [nothing] in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:1—2, 18, 26, 28, 37, 39).

For those having difficulty finding “noble and praiseworthy” things to think about, the whole of Romans 8 is a perfect place to begin.

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