Philippians 4:8 used to get you to shut up?

phil filter


[September 11, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]

Have a peek into the backroom of ACFJ. Here’s a discussion we had the other day:

Me: Anyone else encountered this?

One of the responses I’ve gotten when I express concern about potential abuse situations is:

As I was considering your concerns, Ellie, I thought of Philippians 4:8  [ESV] — Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

To which I’d like to respond:

(Acts 17:11-12  ESV)  Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.

It seems that Philippians 4:8 is being misapplied to abuse victims and used to tell us to suck it up and Pollyanna our way through life. Thoughts? Has this happened to anyone else?

Jeff: 1 Corinthians 13 could also be misused in this manner — verse 7 says:

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  (1 Corinthians 13:7  ESV)

But the verse right before this says:

it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  (1 Corinthians 13:6  ESV)

And gee, it seems like Paul had lots of moments when he didn’t take his own “advice” about thinking of true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable things?????? Or just maybeee Philippians 4:8 doesn’t mean what the present day abuse-enabling knuckleheads claim it does.

Here are some of the dishonorable, unlovely, unjust, un-commendable things that Paul thought about and wrote about in his letter to the Philippians:

and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.  (Philippians 1:28  ESV)

For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.  (Philippians 2:20-21  ESV)

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.  (Philippians 3:2  ESV)

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.  (Philippians 3:18-19  ESV)

Wendell: That comment from your ‘friend’, Ellie, is proof texting at its finest! Paul was talking mental attitudes here. The whole context of the book is the attitude Christians should have in general!

I haven’t had Philippians 4:8 pulled on me, but 1st Corinthians 13 has been.

Me: Could you explain proof texting and elaborate on how this passage is meant to be applied?

Wendell: Ellie, to proof text is to pick and choose a verse or verses to support your point without considering the original intent of the verse or the context. In some cases, even fragments of verses are used. For example, Romans 10:10 has been used to justify Word Of Faith teaching, but by completely taking it out of context.

For it is with your heart you believe….and it is with your mouth you confess….

Here is the whole verse:

For it is with your heart you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth you confess and are saved.

The former is used to try to convince people that all you have to do is confess something and it will happen while the context shows that the verse is referring to salvation and not confessing to get things. It is even more clear when you add Romans 10:9 to the mix!

There are several levels of context to consider. First are the verses immediately around the verse in question. What do they say? Do they support the premise of the person quoting a verse to you? Are they opposed or indeterminate? Then go to the chapter level and then the book level, keeping in mind there are no verse / chapter divisions in the original. Ask the same questions. Ask how that verse fits in with the author’s obvious intent in the book.

Now look at Philippians. What are some of the common themes you see? In chapter one you see Paul rejoicing in his imprisonment. He is looking expectantly to the next life, while acknowledging that there is a tension between his desire to be with Christ and to be with them. He encourages them to have no fear in the face of coming persecution and to stand firm.

In the second chapter, he encourages them to have the same attitude as Christ, who gave up the prerogatives of being God in order to humble himself by becoming human and dying on a cross. He encourages unity, love and humility. He exhorts them to not complain and grumble. In other words, let joy reign. All these are attitudes.

In chapter three he begins by telling them to rejoice, and then warns them to watch out for those who do evil and those who “mutilate the flesh” (probably Judaizers). He encourages them to keep looking forward to Christ, understanding they have not attained perfection but that some day they will and again warns them about those who live for selfish means.

Chapter four seems to be a wrap up. Final exhortations and summarizing what he has told them earlier; verse 8 specifically seems to be a good summary of the whole book. In other words, don’t live the Christian life as a series of negatives, thinking bad about everything. Don’t focus on the evil in the world, but focus on the positive things in Christ. He is telling them to not be thinking about evil all the time as it will drag them down. Verse 9 basically seems to be saying that all of these attitudes that I have shown you here are ones you should have.

It is not a verse saying that one should not confront evil and only think positive thoughts. It is more geared toward a general life attitude. Paul himself decries those who are evil in this book. In others, he confronts evil all the time and doesn’t just ignore it for the sake of peace.

Postscript added by Barb:

no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed,
and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.
This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD
and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.”  (Isaiah 54:17  ESV)

Extra note from Barb for logophiles: my 2002 hard copy ESV has ‘confute’ in this verse, but the online ESV has ‘refute’.

I looked up the difference between the two words. It seems that confute is more formal and less well known.

  • ‘confute’ means (1) To overwhelm in argument: refute conclusively; (2) (obsolete) To confound.
  • ‘refute’ means (1) To prove wrong by argument or evidence: show to be false or erroneous; (2) To deny the truth or accuracy of (usage 2 is more recent but pedants rightly object to it).

Dear reader, how have well-meaning (or not) believers misapplied Scriptures in their efforts to silence you? How have you responded?

[September 11, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to September 11, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to September 11, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to September 11, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (September 11, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]

27 thoughts on “Philippians 4:8 used to get you to shut up?”

  1. I’d like to know how you respond to those who say “Jesus never spoke out against those who tried to hurt him. He didn’t respond or lash back at their insults etc.”

    1. I don’t know that I would respond to a person who asks that. If that person were talking at me and not to me, I’d mark him / her as an abuser’s ally and steer clear. If that person were concerned for my soul and merely misinformed, I’d ask him / her “Is that true? Can you show me in the Bible where Jesus NEVER spoke out against his abusers?” This meme might come in handy.

      [Internet Archive link]

      You could ask such a person if his Bible contains Matthew 23…. But if that person is an abuser’s ally, if that person, for whatever reason, is bound and determined to chase you back into the pit, he / she will have a pithy retort for every Scripture you offer in answer to that question. And you can be assured of this: That person doesn’t believe that Christ’s sacrifice was enough to save your abuser. That person expects you to offer your life, to DIE if that’s what it takes, to save your abuser. You can’t save him. Only God can change a sinner’s heart.

      1. And you can be assured of this: That person doesn’t believe that Christ’s sacrifice was enough to save your abuser. That person expects you to offer your life, to DIE if that’s what it takes, to save your abuser. You can’t save him. Only God can change a sinner’s heart.

        ….as an atheist, I am accustomed to “Jesus died for our sins” being a cudgel to beat me about the head. To see it used as a shield, to see Jesus’s sacrifice as being in place of us being sacrificed….it is as disconcerting as being given shoes that fit after a lifetime of hobbling around in ones that don’t.

      2. Packbat, would you permit me to offer you this? The Bible teaches that Jesus sacrifice was indeed in place of us being sacrificed. Jesus, the one and only human being who never sinned and therefore deserved no suffering, no punishment, no wrath of God, became sin for us. He was our substitute. This is summarized in this sentence from the Bible:

        For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

        May I explain that to you, because it’s such a pithy sentence?

        For our sake — and that includes your sake, Packbat, He, [God the Father] made Him [Jesus Christ His only Son, who is fully God and fully man] to be sin. Huh? How can Jesus be made sin? We cannot comprehend, but we know it is true. On that cross, He became sin, all sin, all the sin ever committed, at any time, past, present and yet to come, all the sins committed by every person, Jesus became that sin. And God poured out His wrath for all sin on His Son Jesus, on that cross. Why? Because God loves us, and He wants us to be in restored relationship with Him. He had to deal with the sin that separates us from Him. Our sin — Jesus bore it for us. He was our substitute, so that in Jesus we might become the righteousness of God.

        This is substitution — Jesus becoming our sin and bearing the punishment for it, so that we can, by faith in Him, be reconciled to God, forgiven for our sins (because Jesus has already taken the penalty) and made one with Jesus. When we believe, when we trust Jesus as our Saviour, Jesus’ righteousness is accounted to us.

        You said:

        It is as disconcerting as being given shoes that fit after a lifetime of hobbling around in ones that don’t.

        Would you like to receive these shoes, Packbat? The offer is open and free: Come to Jesus, confess you are a sinner and ask Him to forgive you, trust in His substitutionary sacrifice, believe in Him as fully God and fully man who bore your sin because He loves you, and He will give you these shoes — and a new life with Him.

        If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

        Would you like to receive these shoes, Packbat?

    2. The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”
      (John 18:19-23 [ESV])

      Just for starters.

  2. “Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
    to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
    (Isaiah 58:6 ESV)

    Scripture simply cannot contradict / confute / refute itself. Every instance in which Scripture is invoked to imprison an abused wife to bonds of wickedness, to hold her fast in a yoke of slavish submission, to enable her husband’s oppression, etc., is simply evil. Any “pastor” who would hold an abused wife in bondage to her tormentor is at the very least a pawn in the army that issues from the depths of the abyss; his “church” is a very synagogue of Satan.

  3. Someone quoting Philippians 4:8 in regard to abuse tells me that either that person just is completely ignorant of the nature of abuse, or they are of the no-divorce-for-any-reason camp.

    Philippians 4:8 is very applicable to a marriage relationship when finding oneself in a hyper-critical mode. Something most of us experience from time to time, when we’re annoyed and looking for reasons to stay annoyed. In this situation, it’s not that our spouse has done anything specifically wrong….they have simply managed to strike a nerve that elicited a negative response. For this situation, Philippians 4:8 is a good passage to keep in mind….to remind ourselves that we are to focus on what is good rather than on feeding our complaints and annoyances.

    However, this scenario has little in common with abuse….and anyone who thinks it does is simply very ignorant and naive in regard to the nature of abuse.

    The other possibility is that they are of the no-divorce-for-any-reason perspective. Viewed from this perspective, divorce is not an option, so there is nothing to be done about the abuse. Much like Paul’s imprisonment, it is something to be simply accepted and endured for what it is while trying to see blessings and opportunities despite the situation. So, quoting Philippians 4:8 might make sense from this perspective….but it is a horribly warped and twisted perspective….idolizing marriage to the point of being willing sacrifice human lives to avoid divorce.

  4. I don’t see any problem with using this passage in a discussion about abuse:

    True — Revealing truth, exposing lies, false doctrine, and hypocrisy.

    Honorable — Staying the course, not backing down, not being swayed through intimidation. Not by abusers, not by their enablers. Protecting the innocent and vulnerable. Standing up to bullies. Choosing not to remain naive. Choosing instead to bear the reproach of the oppressed, and all of its discomfort.

    Just — Recognizing what is just and what is unjust, and crying out for justice.

    Pure — Seeing those who have been abused and manipulated as God sees them. Through the pure lens of empathy and compassion, not the muddied lens of tradition and bias.

    Lovely — Creating a safe place for victims, and sharing the burdens of hurting souls.

    Commendable — Giving the downtrodden a voice, shouting it from the rooftops.

    Excellent — Biblical studies (in context).

    Worthy of Praise — Things which are done with the heart of Christ are worthy of praise.

    I believe all of the above fits that.

  5. I agree with Ellie that this type of comment is either from an abuser or an ally or perhaps from someone woefully uninformed about the Truth. I have sometimes responded by saying, “excuse me while I make a whip & join Jesus in the temple”. And yes, some people often point to Jesus being silent; yet to clarify, He was (largely) silent following His arrest, scourging & crucifixion, when He “set His face like flint” toward the cross. He knew what He came to do, and just as important, HE HAD ALREADY SAID EVERYTHING HE NEEDED TO SAY!! But, during His earthy ministry, He often took on the religious leaders of the day, and sometimes with anger! When He healed the man with the withered hand, in Mark 3:5, it says “after looking around at them in anger, grieved at their hardness of heart”, He healed the man in direct opposition to their false teaching about the Sabbath. Their response? They began plotting how to destroy Him! There is a lesson there: when someone plots to destroy us, falsely accuses us, works to undermine us, it is evil and not of God. In Mark 3:7, Jesus withdrew. So shall I.

  6. I get Phil 4:11 thrown at me a lot —

    Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am in.

    He makes the decisions based on him and we’re all to fall inline and if we don’t like it, then we’re not content and therefore in sin.

  7. interesting….
    Years ago two family members betrayed me (my childhood antagonists). I memorized this verse as a way to ease the horrible stress and pain I was feeling. I didn’t want to give in to feelings of anxiety that were taking over my day-to-day life.
    I have heard that this verse is a “mini biography” of the Lord Jesus Christ. HE is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent and worthy of praise! In fact, I was just reading this passage this morning.

    1. I’ve heard that too, and it stands to reason. Same with 1 Cor 13. “God is patient, God is kind….” I think anything He tells us to do is going to reflect Him. The fruits of the Spirit are, of course, just like Him! 🙂

      I think what we can safely infer from that is that our thoughts should be in accord with the mind of Christ on the matter. That refers back to what Randy said above. Whatever is true is, unfortunately, not always pleasant or nice. But there is a grace that goes along with truth even when it’s hard truth. (Incidentally, truth does not need to be hard to be true, and all that is hard is not necessarily truth.) It isn’t there in denial and other avoidance techniques we use. God is present with the truth such as “what he did was evil” and won’t support untruth such as “it wasn’t that bad / he didn’t really mean it” when in fact it was and he did.

  8. I worked as the ministry assistant at my church and was abused by the pastor for 4 years. The abuse did not become sexual until a few months before he left to pastor another church unbeknownst to the church. It was about a year after the pastor left that the truth came out that he was a “sexual predator who had affairs with 3 women.” While the Elders of my church called what happened to me as “abuse” they also considered it an affair. It was NOT an affair! I was placed under church discipline for a year and let go from my position at the church. What I endured was minimized and my suffering downplayed. They felt I needed to understand my sin, more than I needed to heal from the abuse. The Scripture they applied to what happened to me was 2 Timothy 3:6. I was a weak woman led astray by my sinful passions! I corrected them by stating that what happened to me was “abuse!” One of the Elders was my family doctor and another was a family court judge; both said they “understood” abuse. True healing finally began after my husband and I left our church. I continue to struggle!

    (Godlessness in the Last Days)
    (1) But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. (2) For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, (3) heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, (4) treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
    (5) having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (6) For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, (7) always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (8) Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. (9) But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.
    (2 Timothy 3:1-9 ESV)

    1. Wow, that’s a mean and nasty application of 2 Tim 3:6, Rickster!

      Verse 5 emphatically says Avoid such people. Those Elders accepted this man as their senior pastor, and it sounds from your account like they knew he had sexually abused two other women and that was known to them for some time….they should have denounced him to the church and excommunicated him and done whatever they could to stop him getting a job in another church! Those Elders should have condemned themselves for how atrociously they had been doing their job of guarding the sheep from wolves!

    2. Wow, that’s a mean and nasty application of 2 Tim.3:6, Rickster!

      It sure is! How awful! 😦

  9. Perhaps some of the talented authors and / or regular visitors of this website can create memes. It’s a great way send a clear message around Pinterest where many Christian women browse and it would bring them to this website. Just a thought.

    1. UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.


      Denise, good idea! Our team members at the back of the blog, often post memes from other domestic abuse sites on our FB page. But it would be great if we had memes for our own gems!

      If anyone wants to volunteer and start doing this, please don’t email them to me or Jeff as our inboxes are overflowing already. Contact our team member as she manages our Pinterest page. She can then either send them to the team members who manage our FB page, or advise you how to do that yourself.

  10. Yes, I have seen this verse used to “guilt” the abused. However, when I think of what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, etc., I think of Jesus Himself. No human has those attributes and positive thinking isn’t going to turn evil into something “pure” and good. I believe the verse exhorts us to focus on Christ!

  11. This post is an answer to prayer and I just want to give you a huge HUG for writing this piece. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have been shut down with this verse many times. I believe it is used in the cult and abuser tactic of “thought stopping.”

    Food for thought: If God Himself, had simply refused to think about the unpleasantness of sin….He would not have sent Jesus. But He listened, heard, and responded!

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