Nurturing A Healthy Christian Mind

UpPhilippians is a love letter to a young church for which the Apostle Paul has a great fondness. It is written while he is under house arrest in Rome, awaiting a sentence that may condemn him to death.

One of his counsels to believers is — to think! Not stream of consciousness thinking but thought in an elevated and disciplined way. Here’s how he puts it:

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 . . .  And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8,9).

Ponder with me these targets of wholesome thought.

Whatever Is True. There is mathematical truth (two plus two equals four, everywhere and always). And there is historical and scientific truth. But the truth Paul has in mind is spiritual or moral truth. Elsewhere he writes of truth “as it is found in Jesus.” (Ephesians 4:21). Jesus himself said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6). And throughout the Gospels countless times he introduces his teachings with, “I tell you the truth.”

We Christians are to hold truth in high esteem. Therefore, we turn to the Gospels often and search for its words of truth in a spiritual sense as grounds for our meditation. As a consequence we are lovers and practitioners of truth.

Whatever Is Noble. Weymouth translates the word as “whatever wins respect.” We might say, whatever is honorable, or whatever we are inspired to look up to. There is so much in our world that is crass and vulgar. Paul calls us to avoid reflecting on that which is cheap by consciously fixing our thoughts on that which is noble.

Whatever is Just. There is a connection in the original language between the words “just,” “right” and “righteous.” Paul’s counsel is, think on whatever assures of fair play or meets just standards. When moral concerns are so readily set aside by deception and favoritism in our times Christians are called to reflect on what is just in order to practice being just.

The psalmist wrote in the Shepherd’s Psalm, “He guides me in paths of righteousness”(Psalm 23:3). That imagery of a righteous or straight path is repeated again and again in the Old Testament, suggesting the path the Good Shepherd leads us on is always free of hidden obstacles that would trip us up (Jeremiah 31:9).

Whatever is Pure. The prophets of the Old Testament, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, constantly preach that God is not pleased with the mere external ceremonies of religion, however elaborate and well performed; he wants the hearts of his people to be pure and undivided toward him.

And that of course requires a Spirit-disciplined thought life, and active avoidance of whatever would sully a pure heart — such as internet pornography, movies that promote lust and literature that excites lewd thoughts. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8).

Whatever is Lovely. Weymouth translates this word, “loveable.” The NRSV uses the word, “pleasing.”

A vase can be lovely. So can a flower garden, a bride – or the life of a saintly person of our acquaintance. We are to align our minds to see such lovely things as we move through each day.

Whatever is Admirable. This is an extremely rare word, used only once by the apostle according to The Expositor’s Greek New Testament. It might call us to look for what is of value in any situation and to speak in a kindly spirit. It is not a call to forgo judgment when moral integrity is under siege but to affirm goodness insofar as that is possible.

If anything is Excellent or Praiseworthy, Think on These Things. The Contemporary English Version gives this rendition: “Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.” It strikes me that the Apostle, having finished his list, is doubling back to be sure the list will have a permanent place with his readers as they think Christianly about all of life.

This brief scripture gives us a pattern for nurturing a healthy Christian mind across a lifetime. And the conclusion of this passage assures us that as we do this, “God who gives peace will be with us” (Philippians 4:9).

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Photo credit: ND Strupler (via flickr.com)

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One thought on “Nurturing A Healthy Christian Mind

  1. I look forward to each Monday when the ‘Just Call Me Pastor’ blog arrives. Whatever the week’s subject ,I like to respond & follow up with Bible reading and thinking on the week’s theme.. ’Just Call Me Pastor’ is a weekly ideas springboard , inspiring me to consider and contemplate my Christian faith in fresh ways, more deeply and more broadly.

    Ever since I learned there were a group of Paul’s letters called the Prison Epistles, I intended to one day start looking closely at the circumstances of their writing and what makes them different from Paul’s other letters.What is their special signigicance and what makes them a distinctive group of writings ?

    This weeks blog, ‘Nurturing A Healthy Christian Mind’, gives me the perfect launch pad to explore Paul’s prison letters. At the same time , it’s about Christian thinking itself,the very thing ‘Just Call Me Pastor’ inspires me do each week.

    On first reading the New Testament , in page order ,I read the events of Christ’s life ,death and ressurrection in the four gospels. Then I read how,from Pentecost, His Spirit inspired the birth of the church in ’ The Acts of The Apostles’, written by Luke, whose feast day we celebrated just last Saturday.

    After ‘Acts’ came the letters of the apostle Paul, whom Luke was sometimes missionary companion to.They travelled around the Meditternean sea spreading the good news of Jesus and setting up Christian churches. Paul’s epistles, or letters, are words of pastoral guidance and encouragement to these churches.

    Paul’s letters reveal his careful ,disciplined, clear thinking and ordered mind.. He explains and demonstrates , carefully and methodically,sometimes highlighting his message with powerful enthusiasm , sometimes with a wit that hold our interest

    After Paul’s letters, come letters from John ,Peter and other evangelists or preachers. These too are products of tclear thinking ,in a disciplined ,methodical and elevated way.

    Finally ,at the culmination of the New Testament I came to the one book that came across like a ‘stream of consciousnessness ‘ when I first read it .This is ‘The Apocalypse of John’ ,or’ Revelations’.It was difficult to understand. Then I realized this wasn’t stream of consciousness or probably even thought as we know it .This is a vision.As one reads,noting the language,it’s not even like John the Beloved’s usual writing style – either in his gospel or his letters .It’s strangely written. It’s not the product of elevated methodical thought so much as an open-minded reception of a showing or vision. John’s mind is perhaps in a silent,receptive dream state. Reading the Apocalypse as a strange mystical vision,it made more sense.

    ‘ The Book Of Revelation’is not methodical truth, but a richer ,more symbolic truth ,full of colourful and meaningful imagery . Yet I have faith in it ,feeing sure there are great truths here.I ‘ve now learned to read it alongside the’ Book of Daniel’.Both are concerned with War in Heaven & things to come,it seems.’Daniel’ helps me understand ‘Revelations’ and put it in context ,as do good commentaries and a good modern English version ,like the J.B.Phillips New Testament.

    Unless one is blessed to receive visions , then thinking in a clear, disciplined,methodical and elevated way about our Lord is the best way to draw from from Christian thinking ,great benefit to the way we live our lives,I believe.

    Paul in his letters, John Wesley in ‘A Plain Account Of Christian Perfection’, Benjamin Titus Roberts in’Fishers Of Men’ & ‘Ordaining Women’, C.S.Lewis in’A Grief Observed’,’The Four Loves’ and ‘The Problem Of Pain’,in fact all good Christian writing- is enabled by clear ,methodical ,elevated thinking ,I believe, ‘Just Call Me Pastor’,’The Pastor’s First Love’ & God’s House Rules’ are further fruit of this clear Christian thinking.

    With this ‘Just Call Me Pastor’ , I’m seeing Philippians 4:8 & 9 like never before. I’m certainly going to ponder these 7 maxims,these targets of wholesome thought.Some ring a bell with me very strongly ,making me recall things I’ve learned through prayer.

    So I’m going to dwell on each target carefully in the weeks to come ,as Christian thought is one of my greatest joys and I want to think the best I can.

    WHOLESOME CHRISTIAN THOUGHT – 7 MAXIMS
    (based on Pastor Don’s exposition of Philippians 4:8,9 )

    Truth 1. Spiritual Truth ……. This and the fourth target ,Beauty ,call to mind the last two lines of Keats’ ‘Ode To A Grecian Urn :

    ‘ “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. ‘

    Noble 2 Honour or Nobility.

    Just 3. Purity or Righteousness.

    Pure 4. Loveliness or Beauty – The Beauty of Holiness .

    Lovely 5. Appreciation or Highest Valuation – seeing the Best or drawing out the Best in everything, seeing the Highest Value in all or true Admiration.

    Admirable 6. Focus on the best. This makes me think of the idea of Christian Perfection.

    Praiseworthy 7. again, Focus on the Best .Focus and focus and focus on the Best. Maybe, like New York,New York,so good & important,Paul named it twice.

    This week’s ‘Just Call Me Pastor’ has given me so much food for thought I’ll be considering it for weeks.I’m going to embark on that study of Paul’s prison letters I’ve long intended – Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, Philippias.

    I’ve started by considering why Paul wrote his letters at all,what is his mission.I found it in Acts .

    “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.’’ Acts 20:22-24

    Paul’s mission is ‘’the task of testifying to the gospel of God”s grace.”

    Pastor Dee Lawrence McCroskey ( 1902-1901) , preached in Portland Oregon & Vancouver, I think.I came across his ‘Rightly Dividing Paul’s Epistles’ in which he says there is a dividing line of a 3 or 4 years gap between Paul’s pre – prison Epistles and his Prison Epistles.

    Pastor Dee suggests that in this 3 or 4 year gap, Paul realized most of Jerusalem was not going to accept the good news ,not going to accept Jesus as their Saviour,not going to accept the Word of God.From now on Paul’s mission was to be to the gentliles.Paul tells them :

    ‘’ Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.’’ Acts 28:28.

    In the prison letters – Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians & Philippians – Paul testifies the gospel of God”s grace to the world beyond Jerusalem.

    Paul tells the new churches that Jesus Christ is King of Creation ,Lord of the Universe

    .Paul explains that believing Christians are to be part of Christ,of the body of Jesus,in union with Jesus Christ.

    Paul explains that Christians must live a special way ,that special ethical ways of living are required of all Christians ,that we must follow Christ’s Way and follow Jesus.

    I want to focus on each of these aspects in Paul’s preaching as I study his prison letters.I’m going to consider the Christian prison letter as a distinctive genre and look again at the prison letters written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer,then see if John Bunyan wrote any letters from Bedford County Gaol on either of his two incarcerations for preaching..I’m sure he must have ,in addition to his accounts of Christian’s progress and Christianna’s progress to the celestial city..

    Paul’s prison letters hold a special place in the story Christianity If ‘Acts’ is about the birth of the Christian church,the Pauline prison letters could be seen as the birth of the worldwide Christian church ,the global outreach of Christianity which goes on to this very day.

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