Book traversal links for Chapter 21 Exhortations
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you. (vv. 8-9)
These verses conclude the instructions of the apostle. All that follows being in the nature of a postscript—and, while of deep practical value, not directly addressed to saints as homiletical teaching.
Having throughout the epistle put Christ before his readers in so many different aspects, the apostle now sums all up in this brief exhortation to think on things holy, thus recognizing the Old Testament principle, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Many have missed the very point, however, which it seems clear he is pressing, by taking all these things in an abstract way. It will be found exceedingly difficult to think on things true, honest, just, pure, and lovely, if there be not some definite, concrete example before the mind. Mere occupation with beautiful sentiments and poetic ideals is not, I take it, what he would here inculcate. But all are found fully exemplified in our Lord Jesus Christ as the perfect Man here on earth, and, in measure, these qualities are reproduced by the Holy Spirit in all who have been made partakers of the divine nature. In a certain sense we may think of these words as linking with the exhortation already given to Euodia and Syntyche, who needed to see in each other what the Spirit had wrought.
Let Euodia look coldly and critically upon Syntyche, and occupy her mind with whatever she can find in her character or ways that is contrary to the virtues here mentioned, and the breach between them will be immeasurably widened. Let Syntyche retort by exaggerating every defect or shortcoming in her sister in Christ, and she will soon become so alienated from her that reconciliation will be almost impossible.
But, on the other hand, if Euodia, realizing that Syntyche has been redeemed to God by the same precious blood as herself and is indwelt by the same Holy Spirit, determines to think of the virtues or anything worthy of praise in her life and personality—to magnify her graces and minimize her faults, refusing to indulge in unkind criticism—she will be so attracted by what is of Christ in her that she will find herself linked in heart to the one from whom she had previously turned coldly away.
Is not this what we all greatly need in our dealings with each other? In every truly converted soul there are the manifest inwrought virtues of the Spirit of God—things that are honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report—the activities of the new nature. If we think on these things, instead of dwelling upon the failures to which all are liable, our fellowship one with another will become increasingly precious as the days go by. And even when there is actual cause for blame, if we stop to consider the circumstances that may have led up to that which seems to us so blameworthy, Christian pity and compassion will take the place of criticism and unkind judgment, which cannot help to restore but only serve to drive farther into sin the erring one. “To err is human; to forgive divine.” And even a poet of this world has taught us the folly of judging that which the eye cannot see when, in his quaint Scottish way, he has written,
We only ken the wrang that’s dune,
We ken na’ what’s resisted.
We may severely blame the wrongdoer for things that have already deeply exercised his heart and conscience, and been long since cleansed away by the washing of water by the Word as applied by the Lord Jesus Himself.
And, of course, in all our ways it is important that we should never permit our minds to feed, like carrion vultures, on the wicked, filthy, and unholy things of the flesh. This is thoroughly natural to the carnal man, and the carnal mind is still in the believer and will be until the day when our bodies of humiliation shall be changed and made like His body of glory. But we are not to permit it to dominate us, since the Holy Spirit dwells in us to control us for Christ. There is so much that is honest, so much that is just or righteous, so much that is pure, so much that is lovely and loveable, so much that is of good report, so much that is virtuous and trustworthy that it were folly to be occupied with the opposites when we might be taken up with positive good.
And, as we meditate on these things, we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ; for, as we have already noted, all these beautiful traits were fully exemplified in Him, and they have been imparted, in large measure, to each of His servants; probably to none more so than the writer of this epistle. Therefore, without pride, but as an example to the flock of Christ, he can add, “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do.” And as thus practically walking, according to the power of the indwelling Spirit, we have the sweet assurance that “the God of peace shall be with you,” thus connecting all this with the promise of verse 7 above where we are assured that “the peace of God” shall garrison the minds and hearts of all who cast their every care on Him. Here we learn that the God of peace will walk with those who seek to walk before Him in piety and holiness of mind and ways.