“Finally, brothers (and sisters), 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. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9 ESV)
I have a lot of “favorite” passages of Scripture. In fact, when I was preaching every week I had to resist the temptation to identify texts with this label because the nature of the term “favorite” would lose its value with the number of times I might have used it to describe that week’s verses. But friends the text above is one of my FAVORITES!! It is a text that longs to be preached and shared in the midst of our culture today. Especially in this season of campaigning where the sound bite of the day ─ especially if it is a real zinger ─ wins you the news cycle! It is a text that I need before me when I begin to sink into cynicism over the reality I just named, or over the reality I see in too many churches where things get, well, pretty nasty at times. It’s so easy to go toward the negative, to take the shot at what we don’t like and to focus again on that which represents the lowest common denominator. And this tendency exacerbates the divisions among us. It widens the gaps and puts us constantly on one “team” or the other, with winners and losers always in the mix.
I love this text. I love it because it calls us as followers of Jesus to a whole different course. It calls us to look for, not just run across, not just land on, not just maybe trip over, but truly look for, diligently seek after those things that are true and honorable, just and pure, lovely and commendable. It calls us to strive for the things that are excellent and (I really love this next part!) engage the situation or the person to such a degree that if there is ANYTHING worthy of praise, we will find it and celebrate it. This is the way Paul invites us to enter the world and view the people around us.
What would happen if we actually did this? What would happen if we took seriously this calling as Christ followers? Could you image the difference in our conversations? Instead of making sure we got together with our like-minded compatriots to disparage the “others” wherever we found them, all-the-while lifting ourselves and our wisdom and perspectives up over theirs. What if we looked for ways to build them up and to celebrate what could be celebrated? Now, I’m not suggesting that we don’t have legitimate differences of perspective and opinion. I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to think alike. How boring that would be! What I am suggesting, and more than that, what I think Paul is suggesting is that as we deal with one another in our agreements and our strong disagreements, we do so in love. We do so looking for that which we can agree on and celebrate together. We do so with love and an appreciation for the fact that we, (perish the thought!) might be wrong or at least don’t have a monopoly on the truth. We do so valuing everything we can in the persons and situation involved.
This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. I hope it’s one of yours.