Philippians 4:8  “Finally, brothers and sisters, 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.”


On first blush, this seems to be a good biblical plug for the power of positive thinking.  Don’t dwell on the negative.  Shut off the news, turn away from negative campaign ads, and keep forwarding those heart-warming stories and cute pictures that float around the internet.  And that has some merit.  Focusing on what is good certainly makes us feel better, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually had some tangible health benefits.


But for those of us reading through the Bible in a year as part of the Daily Walk program, we read the above words from Paul at the same time that we are reading the agonizing, dire predictions and accusations of the prophet Jeremiah.  I can hear the question at our next Bible study now, “How can I focus on what is lovely and praiseworthy with Jeremiah shouting doom and destruction in my ears?  Are we supposed to stop reading the prophets?”  Good point.


I don’t think Paul is trying to be Norman Vincent Peale here.  All Scripture is written to a particular audience in a particular time and place.  Any universal applications need to be drawn from an understanding of what was going on at the time.  From Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, we see that the church there is doing pretty well.  They are on track, growing in faith, and don’t seem to have the major issues going on in other places like Corinth.  The one hint of conflict we get seems to be an interpersonal rift between Euodia and Syntyche, which Paul mentions in chapter 4 verse 2, but even that seems to be simply a difference between two solid women of faith.


After pleading with those two women to resolve their differences, Paul redirects the focus to rejoicing, not being anxious, and thinking about the good and praiseworthy things.  It is Paul speaking as a pastor, reminding a church that has been distracted by a conflict between two leaders that they are really a great church and should focus on all the positive things they have going for them rather than on the differences of two good people.  So the universal meaning to draw from that is not to let one bad thing take away from a multitude of good things.


Paul’s first word, however, is to focus on what is true.  Jeremiah finds himself in the unenviable position of being called to bring God’s message to a completely corrupt society.  When Jeremiah focuses on what is true in Israel in the 6th century BC, it isn’t a pretty picture.  Idolatry runs rampant, and Jeremiah says the corruption reaches to “their kings and their officials, their priests and their prophets.” (2:26)  When the truth is that a society is running headlong over a cliff, focusing on what is true has nothing to do with positive thinking.


But it does have to do with hopeful thinking.  Whether it is the small conflict between a couple of people in a good church or whether it is the large-scale corruption of a nation, both Paul and Jeremiah speak their words with the hope of change.  Euodia and Syntyche can be reconciled if they will it.  Israel can face its sin and turn from its gods of wood and stone to the God who brought them out of the land of Egypt.  Whether we are a little off balance or headed for complete destruction, we can claim the promise of Paul in verse 13, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”  We can turn around and make different choices.  Of course we will still have to deal with the consequences of our past actions, and Israel is about to endure the worst time to date in its history as a nation.  But eventually God provides a renewal and a return.  There is always hope.


Help us to focus on your truth, O God, and to restore the harmony of your peace.  Amen.


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