Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa. Beethoven composed his Ninth Symphony. Shakespeare penned Hamlet. What should Christians think about these masterpieces? None are explicitly Christian in their themes or composition—can we enjoy and appreciate these works of culture?
Today’s passage helps to answer that question. After assuring these believers that the peace of God would guard their hearts and minds (v. 7), Paul concluded this section of the letter with specifics about a Christian heart and mind and a final exhortation to follow his example.
The list of qualities in verse 8 is an unusual one in Scripture. Commentators have noted that it resembles lists of recommended virtues in Greco-Roman philosophy more than lists like the fruit of the Spirit. We can draw two conclusions from this: first, Paul readily accepted those things from culture that were lovely and right. All truth is God’s truth, and He is the author and definition of what is beautiful and good (cf. James 1:17). When presented with cultural choices about how to fill our minds, we need to choose what is excellent and praiseworthy.
Second, Paul defined these attributes in light of the gospel. In other words, culture says that loveliness is a good thing—and that’s correct. But how do we know what loveliness is? Only through knowing God better. We can determine what is true and noble only after becoming praying, rejoicing people who are filled with gentleness and peace. This list limits what we use to fill our minds by telling us to think only on what is right and pure. But it also expands what we can think on; the use of cultural content here means we can have discernment in enjoying and appreciating God’s creation and the work of those who create masterpieces of art, literature, or music.
Paul then moved from what to think about to how to live. His life was a good model to follow, and he gave a benediction: “the God of peace will be with you.”
Apply the Word
Take some time today to appreciate something true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy. Perhaps you need some extra time out of your home or office to be outside marveling at God’s creation. Or listen to a beautiful piece of music, feeling praise for a Creator who gives such talents to His created people. If you struggle to decide what sorts of things fit with this list, ask the Lord to give you the discernment to know what should go into your mind and shape your heart.