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A Beautiful Mind (# 9)
by David Smith

". . . if anything is . . . praiseworthy. Think about such things." (Philippians 4:8 NIV) If you've kept up with this study, you may have been a bit surprised by the meaning of the six words the Spirit nudged Paul to use to describe the Christian mind: true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. And as Paul summarized that list of six and condensed it into just two words - excellent and praiseworthy - the surprises don't stop.

A fine New Testament scholar, G.B. Caird, writing about these very words, once observed:

    "The remarkable fact � is that the list contains nothing that is specifically Christian. The first six ... might have been taken from any Stoic primer of moral instruction. The seventh ... is the typical Greek word for moral excellence ... and the eighth ... denotes all that men hold in high esteem."

Surprised? Shocked, even?

Don't be. After all, I suspect you've had similar thoughts many times. Really.

  • How many times have you watched a particular person's life and asked yourself: "How can _____ be "so good" and have absolutely no interest in Jesus or His people?"

  • Have you ever secretly wished you could be like so-and-so because they live such an ethically consistent and pure life - then you were blown away to learn that though they're religious, they don't even consider Jesus to be God's Son?

  • Have you ever questioned whether God's Spirit really lives in you because, quite honestly, your moral qualities don't appear to even equal the qualities of some people you know well who aren't even believers?

    These questions aren't new, nor are they unusual. Every thoughtful Christian that has been in the faith for some time has asked themselves questions like these more than once.

    But what of them? How do these experiences square up with Paul's words concerning the Christian mind?

    First of all, Paul obviously wasn't saying: "It doesn't matter if you're a Christian or not, all you need to do is think well and you'll live well." No, Paul laid his life on the line daily for decades to preach otherwise. And in this same letter to the Philippians he said:

    ". . . I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I might gain Christ and be found in him . . ." (Philippians 3:8-9a NIV)

    Nor was Paul embarrassed by the fact that there is good to be seen in this world and even among people who are yet to believe.

    Fred Craddock, in his fine commentary on Philippians, put it like this:

      "� Paul faced a phenomenon with which he and all Christians have had to deal: Outside the circles of Jewish and Christian faith are those men and women whose conduct and relationships exhibit qualities enjoined upon those within those circles. How can persons nurtured in philosophies and religions broadly classed as pagan embody virtue appropriate to believers in God and in Jesus Christ? The fact that this was and still is an undeniable fact has been to some Christians a strange embarrassment rather than a condition to be celebrated."

    And "celebrate" it Paul did, indeed! In fact, he didn't merely commend it, but went on to command it when he filled his list of things for the Christian to think about it with words which didn't have a peculiarly Christian origin.

    Caird captured Paul's intent well when he said:

      " In short, Christians are to be appreciative of the moral standards of their pagan neighbors and be ready to learn from them."

    I know what you're thinking, you're thinking: "But how can this be? We're not to learn from the world, we're to learn from God!"

    In response, I believe Paul would have said something like this: "Truth is truth, wherever truth is found. Rejoice in the truth, wherever you see it lived out. For all truth is God's truth and everything good is from God."

    Which only makes perfect sense.

    Does two plus two equal four only if Buddhists aren't doing the math? Is gravity a law only for those who are theists? Are Christians the only ones who can look at the creation and conclude that there must be a God and that He is a very powerful, benevolent being? Must of necessity an agnostic live an immoral life?


    So why would we think Christians alone can see ways to live out our lives which are truly good and just plain work well?

    If nothing else, this passage tells us the church can learn much by being willing to learn of God wherever goodness is found. For all truth truly is God's truth. The church must not ever be too proud to learn a bit even from those yet to believe.

    Craddock reminds us:

      "The church that takes a rigid over-against-the-world posture is now and again forced to go in search of a more adequate theology."

    Yes, the world in which we live is a dark, fallen world, but it is not totally black or Satanic. There are shafts of light and God's goodness sprinkled all over. And though Satan wreaks havoc and creates chaos hither and yon, God has not left Himself without witness, even in the darkest of regions. God can, and will, use whoever He will to give testimony of the righteousness, truth and goodness of any, and every, aspect of His character and will.

    An illustration. As surely as Cornelius needed to learn of Jesus Christ (that's why God sent Peter to him), Christians can learn a great deal from Cornelius' exemplary life prior to his knowledge of Jesus! If you'd like to learn from the non-Christian, as well as the Christian, Cornelius, you can read the account of his experiences in Acts 10. As you do so, you may want to linger over vs.1-2 with the thoughts we've shared here in mind. There was much that was "praiseworthy" in Cornelius' life before, and after, he began a relationship with Jesus Christ.

    "Praiseworthy" thinking and living is to be embraced and imitated, encouraged and supported, wherever it is found. And as the Christian does so by imitating all good found as good from God, the Christian's testimony of Jesus has the potential to be received all the more by those who are yet to believe, perhaps even by those from whom the Christian himself is learning a bit.

    ". . . if anything is . . . praiseworthy. Think about such things." (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

    In the name of Jesus, Father, work with my mind in the way I see this world and those yet to believe. May I have the eyes to see good and praise You for it, wherever, and in whoever, I see it. May I be willing to learn from You in whatever means You see fit to show and tell me of the ways of living an abundant life. May I not become proud and defensive, willing to learn only from those who already claim faith in You. Rather, may I affirm good wherever I find it as evidence of Your constant presence and subtle, victorious work. As I grow from Your instruction, may I be transformed in mind and life so that others will see You in me and be led to see You more clearly in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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