Dwell on These Things: Learning to Apply Philippians 4:8

by Helen Hummel

“Whatever is good, whatever is right, whatever is lovely, let it be on my mind.

Let my heart be present here with You.…

Whatever is pure, whatever is just, whatever is honest, let it be true of us.

Let my heart be present here with You.” 

I still remember the first time our church sang these words on a sunny Sunday morning in early spring. We had been in a sermon series on the book of Philippians, and our worship team had written a song inspired by Philippians 4:8, a well-known verse that reads: “​​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 moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things.”

I’m not normally one to get overly emotional during worship, but something about this Sunday morning in particular—as these words of truth and beauty were sung over me—opened a floodgate of emotion. Instead of standing and singing with our congregation, I found myself glued to the pew as I wept. 

As the service ended, a kind older woman came up and asked me if everything was okay. I’m fine, I assured her, a soft smile painted across my face, slightly embarrassed at my uncharacteristic show of emotion. But weeks and months later, I found myself singing those words over and over again, unable to get them out of my heart and mind. 

Why did these words impact me so much? As I’ve taken the time to reflect and pray, I think it is because they are so countercultural, so opposite of the way our world operates. 

Turn on the news, and you will instantly see stories about conflicts around the globe and injustices in your own community. Go to social media, and it won’t be long until you’re sucked into the latest crisis or controversy. Engage in conversations with those around you, and you will quickly discover that we are all wrestling with hurt, brokenness, and unmet expectations.

Often, it seems like our world is slowly spiraling out of control. And in some ways, it is. Since the fall of mankind, all creation has been rebelling against its Creator and His good design. 

Constantly confronted with the reality that our world is not as it should be, it’s hard not to dwell on the sin and brokenness around us. Over the past couple of years, in particular, I have found myself lying awake in the middle of the night, consumed by all the problems in the world and in my own life. As the events of the day and the worries of tomorrow endlessly loop through my mind, I often feel utterly unable to shut off my brain, and before long, I find that these fears and anxieties start to shape my life. 

But Philippians 4:8 challenges Christians to do the opposite. 

When I first read this verse—and its encouragement to dwell on so many good virtues—it felt like I was being instructed to exhibit a cheery, out-of-touch optimism that simply ignores the real problems of the world. But I’ve slowly come to believe this is not the point of the verse at all. 

Instead of focusing on the lies that swirl around in our minds, this verse invites us to focus on what is true. 

Instead of focusing on the world’s evil and immorality, we are invited to focus on what is honorable and morally excellent. 

Instead of injustice, we are invited to be those who seek justice and righteousness. 

Instead of corruption, we are invited to pursue holiness and purity. 

Instead of what is ugly and marred by sin, we are invited to look for what is lovely. 

Instead of all that is unworthy of our attention and worship, we are invited to focus on what is truly praiseworthy and commendable. 

Philippians 4:8 doesn’t push us toward blind optimism, advising us to ignore real problems or mindlessly hope all will work out. Instead, Philippians 4:8 encourages us—grants us the freedom—to dwell on what is good. 

Our ability to dwell on what is good springs out of a deep, abiding trust that we don’t actually have to carry the weight of the world’s worries and fears. We don’t have to deal with the lies, evil, immorality, injustice, corruption, and sin of this world on our own, for we have a strong and steady Savior who has already declared, “It is finished” on our behalf (John 19:30). In freedom, we can abide in Christ and let Him transform and renew our minds (Romans 12:2). 

The verses that come just before Philippians 4:8 are perhaps some of the most well-known in the entire book—and some of the most often-quoted verses to anyone struggling with worry and anxiety. In Philippians 4:6–7, Paul writes, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” However, if we go back one more verse, we find four simple yet powerful words that set the tone for this whole passage of Scripture: “The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5b). 

Ultimately, we can be freed from our racing minds and our anxious thoughts—we can dwell on what is good—because the Lord is near. Because of Christ, the sin that once separated us from God is fully removed. With nothing separating us, we can enjoy the gift of God’s presence. Even when we can’t see Him, we know He is near.

We can also remember that Christ’s return is near. The brokenness that seems to consume us now will not last forever. One day, the Lord will usher in the new creation, wiping away every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more because the previous things will have passed away (Revelation 21:4). 

Because our God is good and He has come to dwell with us, we can dwell on what is good. That powerful truth is what brought me to tears in a church pew one Sunday morning last spring, and it is a truth I cling to now when I feel the weight of the world pressing in. 

Dear sister, I pray you will find peace in God today. And as you abide in Him, I pray He will help you dwell on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, morally excellent, and praiseworthy. You don’t have to carry the burdens and brokenness of the world, for the Lord is near. 

Want to take a deeper look into the book of Philippians? Check out Fighting with Faith: A Study on the Book of Philippians, available at thedailygraceco.com

Works Cited: 

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