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…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. Philippians 4:8[1]

This Thanksgiving I felt especially thankful. At the end of October, a team of skilled surgeons split open my chest to reach my heart, and then attached four by-passes around the severely blocked coronary arteries. The surgery may have saved my life before I even knew how serious the problem was. The Lord truly has answered prayer, and it’s a privilege to proclaim his praises with thanksgiving!

Think about these things—things that are lovely and honorable. Some might read Paul’s words in Philippians 4 as an ancient version of the “power of positive thinking.” (Sing along now) “When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don't feel so bad.”[2] Well, that’s not exactly bad advice, but we think Paul’s words rise to a higher level. More on that below.

Think about these things—ponder[3] them deeply, the apostle commands us. He borrows language from the best Greek philosophers who lauded civic virtues such as courage, integrity, justice, beauty, and self-control. These noble pagans appealed to the highest of human character traits to stem the moral decay of their culture. They hoped in vain. Yet Paul knew they were onto something. Even in sin’s death-spiral, this is still God’s world, and he always reflects his own image in creation, especially in humanity at its best. Were it not for that “common grace,” this world would be, literally, hell.

To press that point, Paul makes us stare in the other direction, down into the hellish pit of sin’s trajectory: all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice…envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, dishonorable passions, where people are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

And what terrible crime stands at the top of evil’s slippery slope? …They did not honor him as God or give thanks to him…. Now we’re getting close to home. Most of us don’t think of ourselves as “murderers” and “inventors of evil.” But ingratitude and thanklessness reveal hearts in rebellion against the Creator. It’s all downhill from there. Think about that the next time you’re prone to complain that the hole in your donut is too large and a “half-gallon” of ice cream too small.[4]

Think about these things—His command lies at the heart of this great Scripture text about thankfulness. Paul makes a clear choice here that could have gone down a very different path. For one thing, he’s isolated under house arrest in Rome when he writes this letter. Plenty to gripe about. His focus, though, is on Christ: Yes, and I will rejoice… Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Let’s bring this all together with an aspect of Paul’s mindset that is often missed. Those beautiful and honorable things are of a piece with the New Creation, and when he recounts them, he is standing on the solid ground of God’s Kingdom. He views everything from that standpoint. The theologians call this an “eschatological” perspective, relating all of life to its final destination point—Christ’s return in glory and eternal reign in the New Creation. It was constantly on Paul’s mind. The One who began the good work in his people will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. He awaits with anticipation that great day when at the name of Jesus every knee (will) bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. He declares, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, for our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Think about these things—if you’re in Christ by faith, remember who you are and where you stand. Choose to fill your mind with the glories of God’s creation, and rejoice in his final redemption in eternity. Base your life in that Reality! Jesus reigns now. We do not yet see it in fullness, but the Incarnation, the cross, and empty tomb convince us that he rules victorious, and he will fulfill all his promises. With that clear-headed mindset, give thanks this Christmas season, and always—no matter what you go through before you see the Lord face to face!

The Adoration of the Shepherds”Rembrandt Van Rijn, 1646

[1] Texts cited (ESV) or alluded to: “goodness” of creation—Genesis 1:31, 1 Timothy 4:4, Psalm 104:24, Ecclesiastes 3:11; downward spiral—Romans 1:18-32; other texts—Phil. 1:19-21, 1:2, 2:10, 3:14,20

[2] “My Favorite Things” from the Rogers & Hammerstein musical, The Sound of Music. It’s a great story line and a wonderful movie! So don’t take my criticism too seriously.

[3] “Think” is logizomai (“logic”), cf. Romans 6:11: … Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

[4] Do my examples sound suspiciously like the musings of one whose diet has to change after heart surgery?

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