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Studying God’s Honor

“The last thing, brothers, is that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is upright, whatever is holy, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, if there is virtue and if there is praise, think on these things.”

(Philippians 4:8)

Though in English the words praise and praiseworthy come from the same root, Paul employs two different words here in the Greek to emphasize his point. We already spoke above about that which is worthy of praise, as he closes this verse, he is speaking of that which generates admiration or approval within us. When applied to humans, this word is sometimes translated as “fame,” but perhaps honor is a better term. Towards God, it reflects the notion of giving praise and honor to His name (see Philippians 1:11).

All of that which Paul speaks about culminates in this…honoring God. It is this notion that drives our sanctification and our life as believers. Yet how often we choose to set our minds and thoughts on other things during the day, during the weeks, and during the years. How often we set our affections on the things of this world rather than on the one who is most worthy of our honor.

It has long been my position that while most relationships begin in the shared experiences that people have with one another; lasting and mature relationships make a transition. Instead of falling in love with the person through the things that are done together we fall in love with the person because of who they are — their attributes and personalities and things like this. Genuine love and relationship with God is nurtured in the same way. We may begin our relationship with God through a deliverance from sin, through a grace that was given, or through a recognition of our own wicked and fallen state. Yet don’t stop the relationship there, because the relationship you have with God will mature as you grow deeper in your understanding of God’s character as revealed in his Word.

Thus, spend time focusing on a character trait of God. He is love, he is Truth, he is a God of justice and grace. God is creative and powerful and while loving toward his own, he pours out his wrath upon the wicked. Think on these things. Study how God reveals these character traits of his in the Scriptures. Pursue him through his character. And note too, Paul’s language…think on these things. God has given us minds to understand; he expects us to use our minds to understand his character as he reveals it. Such an understanding will draw us closer to him but such an understanding will also draw us away from the things of the world that distract and pull us away from godliness.

Pursuing Virtue is a Virtue

“The last thing, brothers, is that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is upright, whatever is holy, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, if there is virtue and if there is praise, think on these things.”

(Philippians 4:8)

Virtue is again one of these words we don’t hear a lot in our modern, western culture…perhaps apart from a phrase that no one really seems to take seriously: “Patience is a virtue.” Indeed, patience is a virtue but few people seem to want to work on practicing patience as they live out their lives. Everyone seems to want the things they want… “And we want them, NOW!”

Yet there is more to the idea of a virtue than just patience. The meaning of the term is to have “excellence of character.” Interestingly, this Greek term only shows up 4 times in the New Testament…in each case, commending us to live virtuous lives, but never giving us a detailed exposition of those traits that one might consider virtuous. Yet, as we study the Bible, we are not left to our own imaginations as to defining the term for virtue, because it is also used 6 times in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) and in each case, the term is applied to the character of God. Thus, it is God’s character that defines what is virtuous and as we seek to model our lives after the example of Jesus Christ, we then seek virtue.

In historic Christian theology, virtue was often defined as “Faith, Hope, and Love,” reflecting Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 13. During the reign of King Louis IX (1226-1270 AD) in France, the notion of Christian virtue was nuanced slightly to become “faith, wisdom, and chivalry,” but again, embracing the notion of excellence in character. In the Roman Catholic Catechism, they present 7 virtues (to contrast with the “Seven Deadly Sins”) by combining the ancient Greek “Cardinal Virtues” of prudence, justice, temperance, and courage with the three “Theological Virtues” of faith, hope, and love.

However you construct or deconstruct these lists, the end result should be the same…we should emulate the character of God as we live our lives and in doing so, that produces virtue within us. God is the source and seat of all virtue, we will only find that virtue in emulating Him and His ways. Further, Peter reminds us that adding virtue to the faith God has given to us is not simply a virtuous thing to do, but it is commanded lest we remain “nearsighted to the point of blindness” (2 Peter 1:9).

That Which is Worthy of Praise

“The last thing, brothers, is that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is upright, whatever is holy, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, if there is virtue and if there is praise, think on these things.”

(Philippians 4:8)

Whatever is worthy of praise…it is upon this that we should set our minds. Indeed, there are many things in this world of which are worthy of our honor and praise (though not worship). The beauty found within a sunset or the majesty of a bright, starry night; the eagle as it soars through the heights yet plummets to the ground with precision to grasp its prey; the complexity of the human body or the art with which one uses that body for dance, making music, or athletics are all examples of things that are genuinely worthy of praise. We give honor to a chef for an exquisite meal, we give honor to a painter for a lovely painting, and we give honor to an author who has written a book that has influenced the way we live. Again, all these things are worthy of praise…even to the extent that it would be dishonorable and disrespectful to deny such praise where that praise due.

Yet, while humans are indeed worthy of praise, it is God who excels the praiseworthiness of humans on an infinite level. We may revel in art or music but God is the one who gives art and music and who defines that which is lovely within art and music. He is the chiefest of all who are praiseworthy. Yet, how often it is that we are quicker to set our minds on the praiseworthy things of humanity and fail to give the infinitely more praiseworthy God his due. How often we will rearrange our entire schedule to attend a sporting event or a community engagement yet we fail to arrange our schedules around the worship of the Living God? If it is dishonorable and disrespectful to neglect giving honor where honor is due when it comes to humans, is it not infinitely more dishonorable and disrespectful to not give praise and honor where praise and honor are due for God? If we want to set our minds on that which is praiseworthy, we must begin by setting our minds on God and his praiseworthiness lest our perception of the praiseworthy things in the world become overinflated.

Holiness

“The last thing, brothers, is that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is upright, whatever is holy, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, if there is virtue and if there is praise, think on these things.”

(Philippians 4:8)

The word aJgno/ß (hagnos) belongs to a word group that derives from the root word, a¢gioß (hagios), a word that we typically translate as “holy.” These refer to things that have been set apart for divine use and preserved from blemish or being defiled by worldly things. God is the example of holiness par excellence, but he also calls his people holy (Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:19; Ephesians 1:4) because he has set us apart for his own purposes and he calls us to strive toward holiness in lifestyle (Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15-16).

Like the vessels used in the temple worship, everything they did was dedicated to needs of the Temple and could be used in no other context, we are described in the same way. Thus, all we do, we do in the name of Christ for the glory of God (Colossians 3:17) and all that is not done in faith is sin (Romans 14:23). If we live, we are to live to Christ; if we die, we die to the glory of Christ — everything for the believer revolves around Christ (Philippians 1:21).

Does that mean that Christians are only able to pursue sacred professions? Yes! But every profession that is given by God to man is a sacred profession when done to the glory of Christ. So, whether you are a farmer, a lawyer, a mechanic, a carpenter, a secretary, a banker, an engineer, a pilot, a soldier, or a minister…or any other moral profession…you are called and gifted by God for that task so that you may do that task to His glory.

So we are holy because of God calling us to his Son, Jesus. Yet, as we are fallen and yet imperfect, we must strive towards a life that reflects our holy calling. This, Paul says, we should set our minds upon that we might live it out. The question we must all be asking ourselves is what patterns of behavior, what habits, what practices, and what things in our lives take away from the holiness to which God has called us? It is my suggestion that the deeper and more honestly you look, the more you will find. Such is indeed my own experience.

The Upright

“The last thing, brothers, is that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is upright, whatever is holy, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, if there is virtue and if there is praise, think on these things.”

(Philippians 4:8)

If you have spent any time in construction, the term “upright” has a very specific meaning in your mind. It has to do with those posts or rods that stand vertically in a structure which usually are used to support the structure. Whether these are upright walls or pillars, not only must they stand vertically, but they must be structurally sound to bear the weight placed upon them and to bear up against wind and weather.

When applied to a person, we see the significance of this notion. For those who are upright are those who live according to a standard of righteousness set forth by God in the Bible. The upright are men and women of integrity who can be relied upon to uphold their promises and strive for what is right regardless of the cost. The upright are those who seek to model Christ’s life for others.

In addition, the upright also provide the moral backbone of a society. When a society has no upright, but is ruled and filled by the corrupt, like a house with leaning walls, it will fall. When a community undergoes a great tragedy (whether from a tornado or another sort of crisis), it will be the upright that preserve the society from collapsing. My wife and I were living in Mississippi when Hurricane Katrina struck the coastline. Even more than 100 miles inland, we lost power to 80% of the city of Jackson, roads were closed everywhere due to downed trees, and many people in our state lost everything. Yet, what was notable, was the distinct contrast between the events in Mississippi and the events that took place in neighboring New Orleans. For while neither city was without corruption, it seemed that the upright were far more dominant in Mississippi than in their neighboring state. While there were repeated stories of hoarding, theft, looting, and murders in the news of New Orleans, there were largely stories of communities coming together to help one another in Mississippi. Why? It was due to the upright in the communities holding our communities together. Much like the strong pillars that hold up the great architectural wonders of the world, believers should be those pillars for our communities.

And Paul relays to us to think on these things. Why? For if you strive for the things that reflect Jesus Christ to the world, you too will grow to be more like Christ in your character.

Nobility

“The last thing, brothers, is that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is upright, whatever is holy, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, if there is virtue and if there is praise, think on these things.”

(Philippians 4:8)

Nobility is a term that we do not use much on this side of the pond anymore and thus the notion of why Nobles were referred to as “noble” is largely lost in our culture. The Greek word that we translate as noble is semno/ß (semnos) and it refers to a person that is dignified, serious about what it is that they are setting out to do, and worthy of respect. Another way to word it is that those who are semno/ß (semnos) are above reproach when it comes to their integrity — they live out the beliefs that they hold. At one time in history, these things were the earmarks of those who were considered nobles…not just their bloodlines. Sadly, as with many things in this world, we focus on that which is easier rather than striving toward that which is beyond our mortal grasp. We emphasize the bloodlines and not the character.

Indeed, this notion is not new and is what Paul was reacting to when he wrote that “not everyone who is from Israel is Israel” (Romans 9:6), and “not all of the children of flesh are children of God but the children of promise are considered as descendants” (Romans 9:8), and  again, “for if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring; heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).

So, what does it mean for the Christian to set their minds on noble things? It means that the Christian is called to set their mind on striving to be noble in every area of their life…the idea that their life would have fidelity toward the teachings of God. It is the notion, as Paul regularly applies to himself, that if people strive to imitate us they will be growing to imitate Christ. Thus, the nobility of the Kingdom of God is not rooted in a bloodline but in faith and in the character of Jesus Christ…he is the true Noble who demonstrates to us what it means to live with nobility — a nobility toward which we are called to intentionally strive.

A Pure Spring in our Lives

“The last thing, brothers, is that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is upright, whatever is holy, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, if there is virtue and if there is praise, think on these things.”

(Philippians 4:8)

If we were ever to want advice on a way to live out the Christian life, resisting the distractions of this world, here it is. If there was ever a piece of worthy advice that was ignored by professing Christians, here it is. As a young man I used to canoe along stretches of the Patomic River with my Boy Scout troop. At one point along the river is a natural spring that comes up from its source with so much force, that the spring holds back the water of the river from filling it. If one canoes into the well of the spring, an area that was probably 12’ in diameter at the time. one can look back and see what looks like a vertical wall coming up from the riverbed where the muddy, brown Patomic river flows across the opening to the spring without coming in due to the spring’s force.

What Paul is saying is to allow those things that are good and pure…those things of God…to act like that spring in your life, holding at bay the filth of this world and remaining incorruptible.

While we all know that Christians will stumble into sin and disobedience, what is sad is how rarely many Christians actively seek to live this out. And further, when Christians seek to live this out, it is sadder still that other Christians often seek to mock them as being over-zealous in their faith. Beloved, if you are mocked in your faith for seeking to live this out, do not be discouraged from doing so; it is a sign that you are doing the right thing…remember our Lord’s words about acceptance by the world.

It would be a sad thing were that spring to fill up with mud and simply be absorbed by the river…it has been several decades since I have been on that stretch of the river, it may have already filled up, I do not know. But it is a thing, sadder still, when Christians succumb to the pressures of the world around them and fill their minds and hearts with that which defiles instead of that which edifies. Loved ones, hear the words of the Apostle Paul and heed them. Set your minds on these things and allow the force of these things cleanse your life from the muck and the mire of this world.