Some wise author observed an inescapable link between our thoughts and our destiny, like this:
Watch your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.
Watch your words, for your words become your actions.
Watch your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Watch your habits, for your habits become your character.
Watch your character, for your character becomes your destiny.
Perhaps this transition from thoughts to destiny doesn’t happen overnight. After all, no one gets a cavity because he forgot to brush his teeth once. But a pattern of neglect leads inexorably to tooth decay. So too, our thoughts gradually set a pattern which results in our destiny (Matt. 6:22-23).
How can we govern our thoughts? By choosing carefully what to dwell on. Thus, Philippians 4:8 deserves our attention, in which Paul tells us the things to focus on, things that will produce the thoughts that carry us to Heaven.
Brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
Dwell on What is True
There is an objective standard by which all things can be measured and declared true or false—God’s word (Rom. 3:4). People wrangle about the benefits and liabilities of things like abortion and co-habitation. While truth has nothing to fear from investigation, beware, for falsehood dressed up and repeated enough times becomes attractive.
Dwell on What is Honorable
The other three times the word semnos appears in the New Testament it refers to people. If “bad company corrupts good morals,” (1 Cor. 15:33), good role models promote good morals. Hang out with people whose habits, speech, and deeds you want to rub off on you.
Dwell on What is Right
This word dikaios is translated various places in the New Testament as “righteous.” It represents those things that God has declared to be ethically good, because they are in accordance with His will and His nature.
Dwell on What is Pure
This word is from the same root hagios from which we get “holy” and “saints.” Things which are clean and wholesome. This is especially important in realms of sexuality and media.
Dwell on What is Lovely
Paul is not saying we learn to appreciate flower arrangements. The Greek word is pros-philes literally, “toward love.” Meditate upon things that speak of the quality of love, and encourage you to show love to others. Witness good deeds, and notice the effects they have on the recipients. Get involved in work to help the needy, and the compassion of Christ will bubble up within you.
Dwell on What is of Good Repute
Another way to say this is things that have a good reputation. There are subjects of conversation that build up a person’s relationship with God, rather than tear it down. Have those conversations.
Dwell on What is Excellent
This does not mean drive the best cars and root for the winningest football teams. The Greek word is arete means “virtuous” and refers to anything that makes a thing a good specimen. It certainly is worthwhile to be a tip-top student and athlete and musician. In the context, Paul means moral excellence. Concentrate on things which display moral excellence, rather than moral degradation.
Dwell on What is Worthy of Praise
Things that are celebrated by world are often not worthy of a Christian’s praise. If you have the Spirit of Christ, then you know when it is time to change the channel.
Where Do We Find These Influences?
Certainly we can find good influences hanging out with brethren, in a worship assembly, in study of God’s word. Be discriminating enough to find the positive aspects of people, examples, experiences, life. While it’s increasingly hard to find, seek out programming that is a little more virtuous, or at least less offensive.
Want an interesting comparison? Go back to Philippians 4:8 and reverse Paul’s statement to get the full impact of his warning:
Brethren, whatever is false, whatever is dishonorable, whatever is wrong, whatever is immoral, whatever promotes hatred, whatever is of evil reputation, if there is any corruption and if anything loathsome, avoid dwelling on these things.