The fifth point in Philippians 4:8 is “things that are lovely.” How can we focus on things of beauty without being blind to all the ugliness in today’s world?
The next concept in Paul’s list of meditation concepts in Philippians 4:8 is “whatever things are lovely.” At first glance, this may seem somewhat superficial. Why would it be important to meditate upon—think about and spend our time focusing on—what is lovely?
- Grotesque and violent body horror or nightmarish, ghoulish creatures slashing through the flesh of innocent people in all forms of comic books, novels, movies, TV shows and video games?
- Public celebration of casual sex in all forms of media, often portrayed in a violent way, with love and tenderness miles away or not considered at all?
- Chaotic music with profanity-laden lyrics about degrading and using women, celebrating arrogance or greed, or even murdering others?
These are just a few examples of things that are the opposite of lovely.
With millions of people spending billions upon billions of dollars on these kinds of things, it seems that what many people in our world desire is chaos, violence, objectification of women, sex without love and confusion.
These things are, in fact, the opposite of lovely.
So, what does it mean to meditate on “whatever things are lovely”?
What does lovely mean?
According to Thayer’s and Strong’s concordances, the Greek word translated “lovely” has some unexpected definitions: friendly towards, pleasing and acceptable.
When we think of something being “lovely,” we probably first think of something pleasant (like a bouquet of flowers or a bride in a beautiful, flowing dress). We may think of calming melodic music as “lovely,” or we may use that word to describe the personality of a particularly pleasant person.
The primary emphasis of “lovely” in Philippians 4:8 is on things that are pleasing and acceptable to God. But, based on the Greek word Paul used, “lovely” in this passage describes something that is pleasing to God—something worthy of Him. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think and focus on the many beautiful aspects of physical life—we should! But the primary emphasis of “lovely” in Philippians 4:8 is on things that are pleasing and acceptable to God.
Consider the following situations that would be considered “lovely” in God’s eyes:
- A loving family with all members caring about each other and supporting one another (Psalm 133:1).
- A virtuous worker showing integrity and honor in his or her work and service to others (Titus 2:6-8).
- A child who helps and respects an elderly person (Leviticus 19:32).
- A group of longtime friends meeting together to enjoy good, clean conversation laced with much laughter and joy (Proverbs 27:17).
Those are all examples of things that are lovely in God’s sight—and should be lovely in ours too!
Let’s look at some ways to think and speak what is lovely.
Thinking what is lovely
To think what is lovely, strive to avoid:
- This world’s confused ideas of what is lovely. If a movie is depicting marriage as a hopeless, angry boxing match instead of the lovely relationship it should be, why watch it? If a song is making women seem like sex objects with no other purpose than to satisfy an arrogant man, why listen to it? If a novel is glorifying the depravity of its antihero, will we derive any lovely thoughts from reading it? If the news is endlessly reporting on a tragedy, over and over for 24 hours straight, is continuing to consume the regurgitation of the horrific facts really helpful? These are just a few examples.
The point is, Christians should be avoiding things that are the complete opposite of lovely.
- The base sensualism that permeates our society. In God’s eyes, a pregnant woman carrying a baby inside her that is the fruit of the love between her and her husband is lovely. But our world often portrays loveliness as a woman sensually posing half naked on a magazine cover.
In God’s eyes, an inspiring story about good triumphing over evil is lovely. But in our world, stories often focus on graphic violence, pervasive profanity and so-called mature sexual content. Dancing and various other forms of art can indeed be lovely. But our world almost always sexualizes and distorts every art form.
Base sensualism is often the counterfeit of what is genuinely lovely.
To think what is lovely, strive to embrace:
- The pure loveliness of God’s Word and the truths found within it. Focus on the things the Bible particularly describes as lovely and beautiful. Here are a few examples:
- Holiness (1 Chronicles 16:29; 2 Chronicles 20:21).
- A gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:3-4).
- A loving family that models God’s intent for the family (Ephesians 5:25; 6:4).
- Obeying God’s law according to its original spirit and intent (Romans 13:10; James 1:25).
- The beautiful attitudes Christ described in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10).
- The beautiful vision of God’s law being taught to all humanity during Christ’s millennial reign (Isaiah 2:3).
- Imagery and media of what God has deemed lovely. If a movie is depicting a troubled marriage, mentally contrast that to how to solve marital challenges in a way that is lovely and pleasing to God. Watch videos of human beings performing acts of kindness, as well as uplifting media of good triumphing over evil without the add-ons of the worst of human nature.
Walk outside in God’s creation and notice all the sights and sounds He created for us to enjoy.
There is lovely media out there! But it takes some thought and work to sift through the ugly garbage and find the gems.
Speaking what is lovely
To speak what is lovely, avoid:
- Focusing on the ugliness that is so easily reported on and discussed in conversation. That doesn’t mean we should put on rose-colored glasses and ignore the evils of our world. We can, however, make a conscious effort to focus on what is still lovely in our world, and all that will be lovely in the world to come (Revelation 21:4).
Those who suffer from depression and anxiety can find themselves focusing solely on the ugliness in the world and in their personal life. People in this situation often have to be helped to consciously focus on the positive. We can all make an effort to focus primarily on what is lovely, not on what is depressing or stressful.
To speak what is lovely, embrace:
- Being optimistic in conversations. If we are struggling with something and need to share it with others, make sure it isn’t all death, doom, gloom and hopelessness. If we can’t find anything lovely or anything nice to say, we can follow the kindergarten advice of not saying anything at all.
While we shouldn’t have toxic positivity or unrealistic optimism, we can embrace a lovely tint to what we talk about, or at least a passing mention of something positive.
We should try to have a generally positive outlook, even when parts of life get really ugly. The Bible tells us, “A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken” (Proverbs 15:13).
Do what is lovely
Thinking or speaking what is lovely is a great start, but to really change our lives or others’ lives, we need to do more.
We can do our part to be lovely—to be a positive light or a bright spot in the lives of others (1 Peter 2:12). We can take the time to learn of our friends’ likes and preferences and try to do something that shows we notice and care about them!
We can even do this with total strangers by simply adding a compliment or some kind of positive comment in our interactions with them.
Meditate on what is lovely
We don’t have to pretend that ugliness is loveliness, and we don’t have to develop a delusional reality that is full of only optimism or beauty.
In fact, “things of good report” is the next item Paul mentions in Philippians 4:8. We’ll examine that in the next blog post in this series.
Here are the links to the rest of this series:
- Meditate on These Things: “Whatever Things Are True”
- Meditate on These Things: “Whatever Things Are Noble”
- Meditate on These Things: “Whatever Things Are Just”
- Meditate on These Things: “Whatever Things Are Pure”
- Meditate on These Things: “Whatever Things Are Lovely”
- Meditate on These Things: “Whatever Things Are of Good Report”
- Meditate on These Things: “If There Is Any Virtue”
- Meditate on These Things: “If There Is Anything Praiseworthy”