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So, You Thought Philippians 4:8 Was About the Arts?

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Posted in Highlands Blog under Arts & Literature, Community, Relationships

Girl looking at painting. (So, You Think Philippians 4:8 is About the Arts?)

This article was originally published in Every Thought Captive magazine. Subscribe today!


Finally, brothers and sisters, 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.—Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

Do you have art problems or do you have heart problems? Do you have philosophical concept problems or do you have personal conflict problems? Philippians 4:8 is a well known verse. For many years in my mind, it was the “Christian art” verse. “In Philippians 4:8, Paul tells Christians directly what to pursue in art and otherwise.”  Another writer says, “The apostle Paul also alludes to aesthetics in Philippians 4:8 when he exhorts believers to meditate and reflect upon pure, honest, lovely, good, virtuous, and praiseworthy things.”

The Setting of Personal Conflict

Sure, we can profitably apply this verse to a Christian view of the arts, just as one could apply  any verse in the Bible to a Christian view of aesthetics. But is this what Paul is talking about here? Is Paul telling them to think on such noble things as they approach their blank easels, take their hammer and chisel to marble, or when they compose song lyrics on the cocktail napkins of their day?

Like a whole host of other examples, this verse suffers from being yanked out of its original setting. This is very easy to see. Reading from the beginning of the chapter, in verse 1 he calls them to “stand firm” (Phil. 4:1). Then he specifically names two women that have a conflict (Euodia and Syntyche), calling the pastor to help them (vss 2–3). What follows includes several memorable verses: “Rejoice in the Lord” (v 4), “Be anxious for nothing” (v 6), “the peace of God shall guard your hearts” (v 7), and then Philippians 4:8. In verse 9 he calls them to remember his own example.

From the setting, this verse is about personal conflict(s) in the church, rather than art. Each of the commands Paul writes (vss 4–9) relate to resolving such problems.

4 Strong Reasons to Read Philippians 4:8 with an Emphasis on Resolving Personal Conflict:

1. Structure

A parallel structure outlines and emphasizes peace in response to this conflict. It begins with a lack of peace (v 2), ends with peace (v 9), and in the center there is peace (v 7).

A Think together [peace] in the Lord. v 2

B Keep on taking hold of the peace disruptors (these women). v 3

C Keep on rejoicing through patience and prayer. vss 4–5

> The peace of God will guard you. vs 7

C’ Keep on envisioning the true, good, beautiful. v 8

B’ Keep on putting into practice what you saw in me. v 9a

A’ The Lord of peace will be with you. v 9b

2. Plural Verbs

The commands use plural verbs: “you all rejoice,” etc. He is continuing to address the women, as well as the pastor, in these commands in verses 4–9.

3. Feminine Audience

In verse 5 the plural command seems especially relevant to the women: “[you all] let your gentleness” or “forbearance” be seen by “all.” This can hardly mean “let all the church” be seen showing gentleness to “all the church.” When Paul says this kind of thing elsewhere he says, “love one another.” More likely here, “you [ladies] show your gentleness” to each other in the context of all the church.

4. It Works

These six exhortations actually work as a practical and pastoral way to address the stress of relational conflicts. They renew our minds and attitudes toward our “enemies.”

Applying Philippians 4:8 in Context

I have no doubt of the Bible’s relevance to aesthetics, art, and music.  But this verse addresses a topic at the core of the gospel, relational peace. Because we are forgiven, we must forgive. Because we have peace with God, we must pursue peace with others. This is Paul’s counseling ministry in writing. He urges them, in the personal conflicts, pursue peace in the following way:

Praise—Rejoice in the Lord always (v 4).
Patience—Let your gentle spirit be known to all (v 5).
Petitions—Don’t be anxious, but turn worries into specific prayers with thanksgiving (v 6).
Peace—Accept the peace of God which will guard your hearts (v 7).
Positivity—Dwell on whatever is true, honorable, right, etc. in the situation of the conflict (v 8).
Practicality—Practice what you saw in me (v 9).

Just as Paul calls for exchanging worry for specific prayers (v 6), he provides this exercise (v 8) for mental renovation, being hopeful. Paul calls us to “think” (logizomai—take into account, impute, reckon) good in this situation. We are to think positively in the situation of conflict. In conflicts our minds are tempted to spiral into the darkness, thinking the worst of everything and everyone. Rather, we are actively to see and reflect upon present and future positive aspects of the situation and persons.

These six attributes (true, honorable, right . . . ) are three sets, called “glorious excellencies.” Bible translations vary:

NASB: true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good repute
NIV: true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable
NKJV: true, noble, just, pure, good report, virtue, praiseworthy
NRSV: true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable

The overall pattern provides a clue to the meaning. The first two relate to Truth (true-honest), the next two relate to Good (right-pure), and the final two relate to Beauty (lovely-admirable). These six reduce to the familiar classical virtues of the true, the good, and the beautiful.

In our relationship problems, with friends, spouses, children, parents, church members, church leaders, etc. we are to discipline ourselves to think about what is true, good, and beautiful in such conflicts. If we do not set our minds this way, we may stumble away from peace toward the darkness of disunity, bitterness, and strife. Thus, Paul is addressing aesthetics here, just the beauty of harmony and unity in the Church.

Have you ever thought about Philippians 4:8 in this context before? Leave you comment below!

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