Philippians 4:8: “…Whatever is just…think on these things.”
If we know we need to stand on guard at the door to our thought lives, then we need to know what to allow in and what to refuse admittance to. We know already from Philippians 4:8 that we need to admit those things that are true and honorable. Now we get to the word “just.” What does “just” mean, and what are some examples of the kinds of things that live in the “just” category?
I don’t know about you, but I so quickly focus on the bad. My brain ignores what’s already good and working right, and focuses on those things that need improvement. That’s why I so often gravitate towards negativity. But that’s not what the Lord wants us to focus on. He wants us to focus on what is right. He wants us to focus not on the injustice, but the justice.
So what exactly is justice? That’s a complex statement that has been debated by philosophers for centuries. I can’t answer that definitively. But here’s a place to begin.
Merriam-Webster* online defines “just” as: reasonable, proper; “acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good”: righteous; deserved.
Zodhiates’ Complete Word Study New Testament describes the Greek word for “just” (see p. 906, under word 1344) as “righteous,” “pious” (see Acts 10:2), and “fearing God” (Acts 10:22).
These definitions assume a standard behavior, meaning that the opposites are unjust.
In everyday terms, it’s hard to grasp concrete examples of what we’re supposed to think about that are considered “righteous” or “right.” Justice, or righteousness, gives the idea of fairness, full of equality.
Injustices, while we should strive to eliminate them, are always going to be around in one form or another. They should not occupy our thoughts like the right should. Pondering about injustices leads to anger or hopelessness. Thinking about justice leads us to praise the One who alone is fully Just and Righteous.
You can help eliminate injustice by focusing on what to replace it with. If you want to eliminate poverty, don’t just focus on how terrible the poverty is; think about a fair and just way that we can provide for the poor. If you want to eliminate abortion, don’t think about how terrible abortion is all the time; think about how you can exalt life and create a culture that values all life. If you want to eliminate injustice, think about how you can offer mercy.
Zechariah 7:9: "This is what the LORD Almighty said: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another (NIV).”
So when the Bible here tells us to think on “just” things, I think it means to think on things that are fair and righteous; the ultimate would of course always be God. It’s always good to think about God’s justice and mercy.
Justice is not only the wicked getting what they deserve, but it’s God giving mercy to us who don’t deserve it, going over and beyond what justice requires. Jesus Christ didn’t just take away our sin and the punishment of Hell. He also then graciously added a home in Heaven and a personal relationship with the Father!
Take note of how many of these verses talk about God’s justice. But notice that we are also then to act fairly and justly.
Deut. 32:3-4: For I proclaim the name of the LORD; Ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He (NASB).
Psalm 89:14: Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you (ESV).
Rom. 3:23-26: For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus (NLT).
1 John 1:9: But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness (NLT).
Prov. 12:5: The plans of the righteous are just, but the advice of the wicked is deceitful (NIV).
Col. 4:1: Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven (ESV).
Prov. 1:2-3: To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
Prov. 2: 6-11: For the Lord grants wisdom!
From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest.
He is a shield to those who walk with integrity.
He guards the paths of the just
and protects those who are faithful to him.
Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair,
and you will find the right way to go.
For wisdom will enter your heart,
and knowledge will fill you with joy.
Wise choices will watch over you.
Understanding will keep you safe (NLT).
I know how hard it is to keep my thoughts on what is right and not on what is wrong with the world. But that’s exactly what God has charged us to do. So when I encounter a problem or an injustice, I will choose to focus on a constructive solution; find the good that I can ponder; and fill my mind with truth, honor, and justice.
What about you? Do you tend to focus on the positive, or the negative? Are there any methods you choose to help direct your thoughts to the positive? Please share!
Next in the series on Philippians 4:8: "Whatever is Pure."
*Merriam-Webster online defines “just” as: 1. a: having a basis in or conforming to fact or reason: reasonable •”had just reason to believe he was in danger.” b: conforming to a standard of correctness: proper •”just proportions.” c archaic: faithful to an original. 2. a (1): acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good: “righteous” •”a just war.“ (2): being what is merited: deserved •”a just punishment.” b: legally correct: lawful •”just title to an estate.”