Dear Parish Faithful,
At yesterday evening’s Bible Study, we read this marvelous passage from the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (4:8-9):
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
The Apostle exhorts us to “think about these things.” That may actually take some effort on our part. For without having the time to pause and “think about these things,” we may have lost the inclination to do so. It would be spiritually hazardous to think that such virtues as enumerated here somehow come to us automatically, simply because we are “church-going” Christians. I therefore believe that it is imperative that we listen to the Apostle Paul and “think about these things” and in so doing give ourselves the opportunity to search out all that is wholesome in life. In this passage, St. Paul has essentially borrowed a list of virtues that were common within various Greek philosophical schools current in his lifetime. The pursuit of such virtues would lead to the “good life,” for only a life dedicated to such a pursuit would be considered worthy of living. St. Paul apparently continued to respect this centuries-old tradition. We should bear this in mind whenever confronted with other religious beliefs or serious philosophical schools of thought. As much as we may disagree with them about some fundamental issues from our Christian perspective, there is also much to be found that is honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and worthy of praise that are taught and promoted by these other religions and philosophies. To think otherwise would be to succumb to the temptations of a sectarian mind. A sect is a group that cannot find anything of value outside of its narrowly-defined borders. This eventually breeds some form of obscurantism and narrow-mindedness, if not eventually fanaticism. A “catholic” mind as understood by the great Church Fathers can rejoice in whatever is true even if found outside of the Church.
At the same time, the Apostle has included this exhortation in an epistle that is thoroughly and consistently Christocentric. The living reality of Christ permeates all of St. Paul’s thoughts and actions. There is nothing that is worthy of pursuit that is outside of Christ. For the Apostle Paul nothing will be able to compare with the knowledge of Christ. And this “knowledge” is not intellectual but deeply experiential. In one of his most famous passages in Philippians (3:7-8) he writes:
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse (Gk. skivala = rubbish, dung, excrement,) in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him …”
Anything that is of the truth somehow belongs to Christ and comes from Christ – even if not acknowledged. So the virtues that St. Paul exhorts the Philippians to pursue are found in Christ in a most preeminent form. Those virtues – though taught and found elsewhere - will find there most perfect manifestation in Christ. Yet the point remains that we can rejoice in all that is good wherever we encounter it. The Apostle assures us that with such an approach to life, the “God of peace” will be with us.