Think about These Things
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this to our spiritual growth because the battleground for the soul is the mind. What do you do with your mind? What kinds of things do you choose to think about? What kinds of things do you allow your mind to feed on? The music you listen to, the movies you watch, the books your read? That’s all input into the mind, and it affects the soul for good or ill. What do you think about when you lay awake at night waiting to fall asleep? Again, what do you choose to do with your mind? This is where the battle is fought in our striving to be holy. Paul writes in Romans,
Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
Do you set your mind on the things of the flesh or the things of the Spirit? His point here is not to say, “I can only think of ‘spiritual’ things. God is a spirit. Angels are spirits. The human soul is a spirit. These are the only things I can think about.” What he’s saying is that we must think in a spiritual way about everything. He’s not saying, “Don’t think about trees, don’t think about your work, your family, because those things are ‘spiritual.’” He’s saying think about all of the things in a spiritual way, from a heavenly perspective, from a godly or Biblical perspective. Put all of it within a Biblical frame of reference. That’s what it means to think “spiritually” or to live “spiritually.”
Paul goes on to say,
For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
Two very different outcomes, stemming from two diametrically opposed choices in where to focus your thinking. He goes on,
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom. 8:5-8)
So the question is, “Do you allow your mind to be the devil’s playground, permitting whatever evil or impure thoughts he suggests to romp around in it without restraint?”
Let me change the metaphor. The mind is like a plot of ground. Left to itself, it’ll grow weeds and produce very little (if anything) that is useful to man. If you have a plot of ground and neglect it – and maybe at one time it was well tended, a vegetable garden, a flower garden, a well-manicured lawn, an agricultural field that has produced many crops – what happens if you leave it to itself? It will eventually be taken over by weeds.
For the plot of ground to be useful, it must be cultivated. You’ve got to pull the weeds up by the roots; you’ve got to turn over the soil; you’ve got to fertilize it; you’ve got to plant seeds in it, and water it. It requires a lot of time and energy to make it useful and productive.
Your mind is just like this. Left to itself, it grows weeds, thorns, and thistles, that choke out whatever good things might happen to have been growing there. You must do the same thing with your mind that you have to do with a plot of ground. You have to cultivate it. You have to pull the weeds up by the roots (i.e., take active measures to force evil thoughts from your minds); you have to turn over the soil and soften it up to prepare it to receive the seed of God’s word. You’ve got to plant the word. We do this by taking it in, by reading or hearing it read, hearing it expounded. You have to water the seed of his word by meditating on it, pondering it, thinking deeply about it.
We have to take charge of our minds. You can’t always prevent an evil thought from coming, but you can prevent from staying. One old preacher said, “You can’t stop a bird from flying overhead, but you prevent it from building a nest in your hair.” Sometimes thoughts will come from...who knows where? But if it’s an evil thought, don’t entertain it, don’t nurture it – vengeful thoughts, impure thoughts, selfish thoughts, arrogant thoughts, hateful or fearful thoughts. These thoughts are like seeds that produce noxious weeds.
Instead, plant seeds of truth, seeds of love, seeds of honor, seeds of justice, purity, goodness, courage, faithfulness, and so on, and you will reap a harvest of the same. You become like what you think about. Think about that. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7m KJV). Your thoughts both reflect who you are and shape who you are.
Too many people are passive in their thought life. In other words, they allow themselves to think about whatever comes to mind; their minds flit from one thing to another, rather than purposely taking charge of their thought life and actively channeling their mental energy in a godly direction and toward useful, productive, and virtuous ends. But this is what the Lord calls us to do. Paul says in Romans,
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12:1-2)
This is a consistent theme in Paul’s letters. In Ephesians, he says “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds…” (Eph. 4:23)
This is our great challenge. May God give us the grace to do it!