What Paul does in Philippians 4:8 is similar to what he does elsewhere. He majestically describes the Christian soldier in Ephesians 6 and the Spirit-filled Christian in Galatians 5. In Philippians 4:8, he elucidates the moral character of the believer. The mature man in Christ will have all these moral attributes in beautiful symmetry. The Christian will contemplate and practice whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, of excellence, and worthy of praise. Believers pursue God; they pursue after holiness without which no person shall see the Lord; they strive to be holy because God is holy.
We must be careful to not divest Philippians 4:8 from the gospel. Morality cannot save a person because “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” (Rom. 3:20). In Philippians 3:3–11, Paul makes it clear that placing confidence in the flesh and being found in Christ are diametrically opposed. All works of the flesh are as rubbish when compared to “the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (3:9). Believers are to work out their salvation, but they cannot work for it. Paul knows very well that the moral character he describes in Philippians 4:8 is never perfectly formed in any Christian until he is perfected in holiness at his death. Every believer will be stronger in one or more of these attributes than he is in others. Thus, Paul himself presses “on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ” (3:14).
There is a descending scale in the arrangement of these attributes. The first four of them—true, honorable, right, and pure—are the absolute qualities that we must pursue. The last four—lovely, good repute, excellence, and worthy of praise—deal with the approbation and motives for pursuing these characteristics. Christians are to meditate on things that are true, not on those that are false; on things that are honorable, not on those that are frivolous and foolish; on things that are right, not on those that are unjust; on things that are pure, not on those that are filthy; on things that are lovely, not on those that are excessive and riotous; on things that are reputable, not on those that are disreputable; on things that are excellent, not on those that are blemished; and on things that are worthy of praise, not on those that are condemnable. This is not all that Paul has to say about the Christian in his epistles, but it is an important and beautiful description of the Christian’s character. Let us dwell on these things.