Philippians 4: 8-9
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Was this the end of a separate letter, one which has been pieced together to make one book? Some scholars believe that is what the “finally” would indicate. Others believe Paul is simply completing a thought. This translation is the NRSV; I like its use of the word “beloved” for a non-gender specific translation – the original is “adelphi” or “brothers” by which Paul referred to all the members of the church, not just men. But this custom served for many years to exclude women. Elsewhere the NRSV translates it as “brothers and sisters”. If I am reading from the NIV, I automatically add “and sisters” when it reads “brothers”.
Enough about those translation details! What Paul then includes is a list of virtues taken from Greek ethicists. Lists of virtues and of vices were common in the culture. These virtues are not necessarily exclusively Christian, but they are worthy of practice and of thought. We can embrace the good things that others do, the things that are honorable and just, even if they are not Christian. In our own culture, more and more, we see that people are first attracted to a church by sharing in a mission in the community, the reverse of the time when they first came to church and eventually went out in mission. Also, today, we are working alongside Muslim relief agencies to care for the refugees scattered across the middle-east and Europe. These things are good, admirable, and worthy of praise.
Paul’s belief was that one God created all of us and all things, and in grace, God encourages us to do good things. John Wesley would have called this Prevenient Grace – the grace that comes before belief. All good things come from God, through grace. And so, when we see good, even in people we do not believe to be Christian, we should think on that – sometimes, when they are doing good and we are not, it is to our shame. We who claim the name of Christ should be on the forefront of feeding the poor, caring for the refugees and the homeless, educating the children, providing health care, and providing for the elderly.
Another way to look at these brief two verses is to think about what it is that we do spend our energy and thought on – do we focus always on the negative, on what is wrong with someone else, on violence and war, or on what we fear, or what we do not have? Here Paul says that what we should be thinking about, what we should be dwelling on, is whatever is honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. If these things occupy our thinking, especially our thinking about other people, then our outlook would change drastically!