"Finally, 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." —Philippians 4:8
I decided a while back that I like horror movies. I've always liked gothic storylines and art styles, and I have a dark sense of humor. Over the years, I've had multiple people come up to me and ask me renditions of this: "What is 'good and edifying' about [insert my interest here]? It's sick." They're referencing the Philippians 4:8 list and basically asking me why I am attracted to things that were in direct conflict with that list.
At the same time, my awesome, kind and supportive mother has always been encouraging in telling me that I just see the world differently and that my powers—er, interests and passions—can be used for good instead of evil. She assured me that there isn't anything wrong with me being interested in my interests.
Was my supportive mother right? Or were the other people who were concerned about me right? I didn't doubt that both parties spoke out of love, so what was the truth? Were my interests stemming from some sort of sin problem or misplaced focus? Or did my lean toward darker things just reflect one of the ways God made me uniquely me? To be truly godly, did I need to give up all my favorite things? I was ready to, but I wanted to do some more studying before landing on a decision.
What I found was absolutely freeing.
I've often heard Philippians 4:8 quoted in a context of "if something isn't beautiful or holy or lovely and/or doesn't match my definition of beautiful, holy and lovely, don't look at it. Ever."
There's so much ugliness and horribleness in the world that it's impossible to completely avoid. Not to mention that if we're supposed to run away from anything that's not beautiful, holy, and lovely, how on earth are we supposed to step into the darkness and be a light to people who are wrapped up in sin? How do ministries that reach out to prostitutes or porn addicts cope without compromising this command?
One of the first things that I noticed upon my examination of Philippians 4:8 was the use of the word "dwell." To dwell on something is to put focus upon it. Philippians 4:8 is telling us what's important to focus on and pursue in principle and godly perspective. It is not necessarily giving us a list of tangible things to avoid being exposed to.
One of my favorite passages that revealed this freedom to me is 1 Corinthians 10, which addresses the difference between outward obedience and the purity of our motives. 1 Corinthians 10 also talks about how some things are edifying for one person while the same things might be destructive for another.
For example, Paul considered all meat to be edible (1 Corinthians 10:25-27), yet he abstained from eating certain foods because other believers had difficulty viewing those foods as just food. They felt like they were committing sin by eating food sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 10:28-29). The issue here was not with the actual meat, but with the motive behind eating the meat.
At the same time, we are also here in the world to spread the Gospel of Hope (John 17:14-15). To be "in the world" means stepping near or into things that are ugly, sinful, depraved, and dark. But this doesn't need to be a source of fear. God is so much more powerful than the darkness, and by His grace, with His empowerment, we can step into those shadows of a life and shine a light of hope for that person—rather than fearing the taint of their sin.
Let me be clear though: None of this means we don't need to be discerning. There are certain things in life that will be stumbling blocks for us, and those things should be avoided as long as they present a possibility of pulling us away from God. But we should also be growing and, by God's grace and empowerment alone, working toward overcoming those stumbling blocks bit by bit by learning how to be more like Him. The brighter the image of God is to us, the less appealing the dull, paint-peeling image of the world will be when we're making our decisions.
A second thing to keep in mind is that not everyone's stumbling blocks are the same. I can sit down and watch certain horror movies, and generally get something out of it that brings me back to God. However, there are others who might be haunted by grisly, violent images and have difficulty "dwelling" on the aspects of Philippians 4:8 because of it.
Lovely things can be found everywhere. Whether it is in a butterfly landing quietly on a rose, or in that burst of hope in our hearts when someone starts showing signs of coming to God out of a gritty past. God is creative, and people connect to Him in a variety of ways. The way God connects to you is just as beautiful as how He connects to your sister, neighbor or best friend, but bear in mind those ways may be very different.
September is an aspiring novelist, book
hoarder collector and movie watcher. She has an incredibly tolerant cat named Scout, an assortment of plants that seek global domination, and a distinct lack of awareness for where she is at any given moment.