It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But is beauty only determined by the one observing or is there more to the story? This is not some strange philosophical pondering. We need to explore this to understand and rethink what Paul meant by dwell on whatever is lovely. Unlike truth, honor, and justice which are highly objective, lovely appears to be in the eye of the beholder. Or is it?
Welcome to our reThink48 series as we consider Paul’s instruction to the Philippians. “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8, NASB95) As you’ve seen from above, this entry explores “whatever is lovely.”
Paul doesn’t make it easy for us, but I’m sure that his readers in Philippi knew exactly what he meant. The Greek word translated “lovely” is only used this one time in the New Testament. Various sources suggest that it means pleasing, lovable and gracious, agreeable, or delightful. It’s a compound word that could be literally rendered as “towards brotherly love.” It is perhaps in that rough literalness that we find Paul’s meaning. Whatever moves us towards brotherly love – dwell on that.
Our major problem is that our definition and expectation of lovely is shaped by another Greek word for love, “Eros.” Eros, from which we derive the word erotic, is sexual love. How much of what the world considers attractive, desirable, and lovely is determined by eros? I think you know the answer to that one – a lot. And that often shapes our view of what is lovely more than whatever is towards brotherly love.
The obvious opposite to lovely is ugly. But the same problem exists. What is considered ugly is often seen through the eyes of eros and not brotherly love. It would seem that something is either attractive or repulsive. But what eros would throw away, brotherly love is often drawn to.
Of all the attributes Paul lists I wonder if this is the one that is most difficult to change. We are so wired by our culture, experiences, peers, advertising, and expectations that we are often blind to what is truly lovely. It means changing the lens we see through from what is outwardly attractive and desirable to the lens that can see what moves us towards brotherly love.
Let me give you an example. There is a category of folks that I call special people. (Special in my mind is neither sarcastic, a put-down, or an elevation beyond reason.) Some would look at them and only see deformity and brokenness. Sometimes these folks are aborted. They’re lives ended before they can draw a breath when a prenatal tests show the chromosomal markers of Downs Syndrome. But I see in them something lovely, an innocence and purity of love that most of us never know. In my experience, these folks are quick to forgive and eager to help. Yes, they move at a different speed and require more love, care, and patience. But to be honest, I’d rather spend time with one of those special folks than any of the so called supermodels.
But even as I see this one example of rightly dwelling on whatever is lovely I also know that there are thousands of ways that I am still shaped by something different. It’s here that we must combine the compound word into the synergistic whole that Paul’s word choice suggests.
See the possibility
Does what we see draw us towards brotherly love or repel us away? There are movement and direction that isn’t immediately visible if we only consider the English word “lovely.” Dwelling on whatever is lovely is not just aimed at what is lovely but also on what moves us towards an increase of brotherly love.
As we’ve noticed with all the other attributes, people are a mixed bag. The only pure example of loveliness is God. So, here we must dwell on what is lovely or moves us towards brotherly love and not on what is ugly or repulsive. It means looking deeper than the shallowness of outward appearance and the pain of past experience. Sometimes we may see nothing in someone that moves us in that direction. It is then that we must see the overarching truth that God loves them; Jesus died to provide the way, the life, and the truth for them as well.
One more thing. There’s a bonus to dwelling on whatever is lovely and whatever moves us towards brotherly love. As we work on changing this lens, this piece of our internal wiring, we also affect the others that we are seeing and reacting to differently. Not only do we change but they are also moved towards brotherly love in some small way as well. Finally, my brothers and sisters… dwell on whatever is lovely; whatever draws us towards brotherly love.