“Philippians 4:8 it.”
It’s not a bad motto, really. The verse provides a great filter for parsing through various things vying for one’s attention. The text of the verse reads:
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.
The things which prove honorable, right, pure, etc., these things should occupy our minds. We should consider them instead of their opposites. Many of our Christian forebears executed Paul’s imperative here well. John Owen’s Meditations and Discourses on the Glories of Christ serves as a book-length exercise in dwelling on excellent things worthy of praise. Theologians possess a reputation for dwelling on whatever is tertiary, whatever is nuanced, whatever is technical, whatever is obscure, and whatever requires more than 300 pages to say, but in Meditations, the man devoted his energies and smarts to saying all the different reasons he loved Jesus and loved him a lot. I doubt the man would blush if you told him he used his pen to gush over Christ. He would likely respond to the charge by humbly saying, “Indeed, and I pray thou wouldst submit unto him and receive redemption as well that thy tongue wouldst also gush.” Through thick prose, the Puritan accomplishes the positive imperative of Paul: he ponders on the praiseworthy things of Christ.
We inhabit a world with some distinct differences than that of Paul or Owen. We have more content for our mental and spiritual intake than they ever imagined. From social media to blogs to the dozens of specialized news outlets, we do not suffer for lack of content we can receive on demand. How much of it promotes good things, things which bring to mind honor or loveliness?
The quick and easy ready-made application continues to be the eschewing of media promoting sex, dirty language, and violence (in that order). It’s a fine application of Philippians 4:8, but I think for the most part, it pulls the top off the weed, never getting to the root.
How much of what we consume, particularly through the internet and social media exists only to criticize something or someone else? If we feed ourselves a steady diet of criticism, we’ll learn to do one thing: criticize. Have we a biblical command to constantly and publicly criticize things?
Someone will say, “Well, hold on. Are we not to follow Hebrews 5:14 and train ourselves to discern good and evil? Radio shows, news programs, podcasts, and blogs all serve this purpose.”
Perhaps some do, at times. Sift through the small archive of posts on this site, and you will find more than one post criticizing something. As people seeking to exercise the wisdom of serpents while remaining innocent as doves, we will certainly criticize some ideas.
However, when an outlet’s content serves mainly to stir up listeners, readers, or viewers to be bothered by the outlet’s selected subject matter, we must question if we should partake in the content delivered by someone who traffics daily in being upset or angry. Again, we do not seek to gloss over the lack of accuracy or precision of an influential life lived according to the Bible, nor do we blithely say, “Live and let live.” However, if an outlet fails to deliver good news, make a positive and edifying contribution, or accomplish the constructive of promoting active Christlikeness, I think we can safely disregard it.
I encourage my readers to think on two different things we observe in the New Testament.
First, consider the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We see a Jesus much more complex and dynamic than much of the world would have us believe. The Jesus of the Gospels refuses to boil down to one person’s preferred adjective. He’s kind to some people, and he deals harshly with others. Sometimes he teaches with quick, easily understood and remembered sayings; other times, Jesus teaches via parables to conceal their meaning. He heals people, but sometimes his methods seem strange. Matthew 23 records Jesus’s letting loose in a diatribe against the religious leaders of his day, and Matthew doesn’t tell us Jesus’s words peeled paint off of walls, but no one would act surprised if they did.
Yet, for as harshly as Jesus speaks to the Pharisees in Matthew 23, it stands out as a fairly unique chapter in the Gospels. Luke writes of the same instance in Luke 11:37-54. We do not know every last thing Jesus said and did, but if the Holy Spirit thought the imitation of Christ mainly consisted in blistering criticism of everything wrong he ever encountered, the Gospels would contain much more in the realm of his woes to the Pharisees. At the risk of pushing it, if we ingest and consume criticisms and critiques, it might prove wise to partake of them in a ratio analogous to the narratives of Jesus in the Gospels.
Second, think on the epistles of Paul and John. If anything in the New Testament consistently constitutes responses to bad doctrine and bad practice, these letters do. We praise God for his providence (which often seems so strange to us) for the churches who needed correction in some big ways. We have Galatians due to a problem a lack of understanding of faith and works. The letters to the Thessalonians arose from brouhahas over the return of Jesus. John wrote 1 John to combat some sort of Gnostic-like doctrine infiltrating a church he loved. Finally, 1 and 2 Corinthians addressed a hot mess of a local church. Each of these letters had specific causes, false teaching based on a misunderstanding of Paul or John’s teaching, or false doctrine receiving promotion by those who assumed some level of influence in these churches. Yet, do either Paul or John delve into the lives of the false teachers, when they said what? Do they make an attempt to pull skeletons from closets or dig up dirt (because apparently dirt is buried under something else?)? No. Instead, they focus their efforts on the constructive task of explaining again the glories of Christ and their implications. Sometimes, we must take pains in researching exactly what these apostles combatted because they do not provide specifics and details in their letters! Rather than ruminating on all which pulls the people away from faithfulness to Jesus, they magnify him in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let our consumption follow these examples from Jesus and two of his apostles. Think, meditate, promote, and practice what brings honor to Christ, what brings out his praise. Let us no longer drink from the polluted rivers of outrage and attack media.
Further reading: In the Crosshairs of the Discernment Bloggers by Tim Challies