Philippians 4:8 used to get you to shut up?
[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.]