Prosperity preachers tell those foolish enough to listen to them that positive thinking can change their circumstances. They sprinkle Bible verses into an Oprah Winfrey motivational speech and call it the gospel. It’s not. Perhaps John MacArthur said it best in his book Strange Fire, writing:
The prosperity gospel is more morally reprehensible than a Las Vegas casino because it masquerades as religion and comes in the name of Christ. But like the casinos, it attracts its victims with glitzy showmanship and the allure of instant riches. After devouring their last cent, like a spiritual slot machine, it sends them home worse off than when they came.
Even so, there is something to be said for positive thinking. Near the end of his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul writes, “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” (Php 4:8). Ponder them. Meditate. Focus on these things as you trudge through this fallen, groaning world.
Paul writes in a broad, comprehensive sense. “Whatever is true,” for instance, is not limited to the word of the truth, the gospel (Php 4:8; Col 1:5). He encourages us to focus our frequently distracted minds on truth, period. From God to science to culture to business, whatever is true in all areas of life would fall into this category.
If it’s true, worthy of honor, right, morally sound, and beautiful, Paul insists we fix our minds on it. He should know the advantages of this practice. Despite his false imprisonment, he writes a genuinely joyful and thankful letter to his Philippian brethren—an impossible feat if he were dwelling on the injustice and discomfort of his situation.
Positive thinking won’t free a man from prison or secure health and wealth but it does lend itself to contentment.
R. Kent Hughes suggests a helpful exercise:
The sheer weight of Paul’s six positives demands the rejection of negative input. Listen to their inversion: “Finally brothers, whatever is untrue, whatever is dishonorable, whatever is unjust, whatever is impure, whatever is unlovely, whatever is uncommendable, if there is anything not morally excellent, if there is anything unworthy of praise, do not think about these things.”
I can’t help but wonder whether a glance at Christians on social media inspired Hughes to write this passage. Regardless, he makes a good point. We can focus on excellent and praiseworthy things or their sad alternatives. The former leads to joy and gratitude, while the latter inevitably results in miserable discontentment.