Categories of Morality
Philippians 4:8, 9
Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure…

Conclusion announced. "Finally, brethren." This is his second attempt to conclude. In the usual form he intimates that all he has to say, in addition to what he has already said, he is now to state shortly. In other Epistles Paul gives a considerable place to ordinary morality, including the relative duties. He does not deem it necessary (there being no urgency) to write at length to the Philippians upon this subject. He only puts it into his conclusion, where brevity is a necessity. And there is not that plain mode of expression which is found elsewhere: ' Let him that stole steal no more." But, as for advanced or skilled Christians, there is a certain transcendental mode of expression, with an added reference to apostolic interpretation.

I. CATEGORIES OF MORALITY FOR THOUGHT. The summarizing under "virtue and praise" points to morality, as does also their being presented for practice in the ninth verse. They are emphatically separated as categories by the repetition of "whatsoever things," while the summary is made emphatic by the repetition of the words, "if there be any." They seem to be arranged in pairs, according to the following division.

1. Things in themselves.

2. Things in relation to law.

3. Things in relation to the estimation in which they are held.

4. Summary.

It will be most suitable to our homilectic purpose to name them separately. "Whatsoever things are true." There are things that are true in themselves - that would have been true if there had never been a Bible, that would have been true if there had never been the placing of man under law. There is an eternal standard by which things are to be judged. There are immutable principles which lie at the foundation of morality. The things that are necessarily true subsist in God, and as subsisting in God he is immutable - a rock on which we can absolutely depend. The things that are true are also to be in ourselves. That certainly means that we are to speak the truth. For veracity belongs to the eternal order of things, while a lie, however glossed over, is an infringement of that order. But our whole life is to be founded in truth. If it is to be founded in the work of Christ, yet is it in the work of Christ, as wrought out in accordance with eternal principles, and in that work as giving, relatively to us, added sanction and lustre to those principles, as what must regulate our life. We are, therefore, under all temptation to have to do with falsehood, to hold close by the true as that alone which can give stability to our life. "Whatsoever things are honorable." There are things which are honorable in themselves. They are more than venerable from antiquity. They are to be honored from their essential and eternal worth. As subsisting in God, they are the ground of his being infinitely to be honored. The things that are honor-able are also to be in ourselves. That certainly means that we are to be honest, as the word used to be in the translation. For there is disgrace necessarily attaching to a dishonest action. But more than that, it means that our whole life is to be based on what can be thoroughly respected - on what can bear looking into as in its nature and bearings honorable; on what is to be honored, whether men honor it or not; on what we cannot respect ourselves if we do not honor. If we, amid all temptation to act basely, keep our mind open to the honorable, then we shall have a dignity, gravity, taken from that to which we look and with which we converse. "Whatsoever things are just." This brings in relation to law. The things that are just are in God in the position in which he is placed as Lawgiver and Administrator. He absolutely fills up what belongs to him in the position; he acts according to the eternally true and honourable, i.e. according to his own eternal excellence as moral Governor. He is just in placing us under law, in the nature which he has given us, in what he exacts of us, and in all his dealing with us as under law. He never can do wrong to any of his creatures. Though clouds and darkness are round about him, yet judgment and justice are the habitation of his throne. And the things that are just are to be in us, as placed under law to God. We are to fill up the measure of duty that belongs to us in the position. Obedience, compliance with the Divine will in all matters, is what we owe to God. Justice requires that, as dependent creatures, we should humbly acknowledge and worship him. We are to do the duty of every relation in which we stand to our fellow-men. We are to be in subjection to the higher powers, and not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience sake. We are to honor all men, whatever their condition, because of the dignity of their nature. And far be it from us that we should do any of our fellow-men the injustice of defrauding them or of treating them uncharitably. We are to be characterized by universal, deep-reaching conscientiousness. "Whatsoever things are pure." There is not only justice, but purity in relation to law. The things that are pure are absolutely in God. He is so pure that even the stars are not pure in his sight. He rules in the interests of purity. He holds up before us a high conception of purity in his Statute-book. "The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times;" "The commandment of the Lord is pure." He looks upon purity wherever it is with complacency, and it has a place with him; but he is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and evil shall not dwell with him. The things that are pure are also to be in ourselves. We are to be pure in the narrower sense. We are to be chaste in our thoughts, in our words, in our actions. More than that, we are to have chastity as a preservative and a defense to our whole nature. We are to be kept within the Law, by our great sensitiveness and strong attraction to snow-white purity, to heavenliness, and by our repelling the slightest suggestion of impurity, by our shrinking from the slightest touch of worldliness. We are to have God's own love for that which makes and keeps us pure, and his own abhorrence and loathing of sin as that which defiles. "Whatsoever things are lovely." This brings in relation to the estimation in which things are held. For the Greek word seems to point to things which are worthy of love. There are, indeed, things which are lovely according to the eternal standard of taste. As subsisting in God they are the ground of his being infinitely to be loved. We read of the beauty of the Lord our God. He is beautiful in his whole character, but especially in his love in Christ. God is love; and herein is love. In this he as it were surpasses himself. He magnifies his Word above all his Name. He is beautiful as he comes forward and does not spare his own Son, but delivers him up for us all. He is beautiful in his forbearance towards sinners and his exercising towards them the prerogative of pardon. His beauty is manifested in him who, standing upon our earth, said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will. draw all men unto myself." And the things which are lovely are to be in us. It is true of virtue as a whole that it is lovely. Cicero says, there is nothing more lovely than virtue, nothing which more allures to loving." But the things that are lovely are especially those that rise to a high standard. We must not be merely righteous; but we must be good. Even Lot is called righteous in Scripture; but there was one that towered high above him, having the things that are lovely. How beautiful to see Abraham exercising the grace of hospitality! How beautiful to see his generous treatment of Lot, his not standing on his rights with him, his forgiving his selfishness, his heaping on his head coals of kindness! How beautiful especially to see him going so far in his self-denial toward God as not to withhold from him his son, his only son! Did he not have the qualities of a noble, royal nature? "Whatsoever things are of good report." This is distinctly estimation. There are things which sound well in the ear. Of even God in connection with the redemption from Egypt it is said that he had gotten himself a name. It sounded well in the cars of the Israelites, and of the uncovenanted nations too. And so God has gotten him a name in connection with the great redemption from sin. It can be said of the name of Redeemer that it sounds well. And we are to have the things of good report in us too. Virtue, says an ancient philosopher, is the concurring voice of the good. The things that are well reported of are especially those that rise above the common standard - that show disinterestedness and devotion. If a thing is lovely in itself, it is an additional advantage that it is well spoken of, especially among the good. "If there be any virtue." This, showing a change of form, but still universality, seems to summarize the preceding, with the sole exception of the last. The derivation of "virtue" points to manliness or valor. But it is to be taken as inclusive of every form of moral excellence. We are to have the excellence that comes from the true, from the honorable, from the just, from the pure, from the lovely. But, lest that should not cover the whole ground of excellence, he adds, "If there be any virtue." "And if there be any praise? We are not to understand anything that is praiseworthy, but the actual bestowment of praise. It covers the things that are of good report; but points rather to the distinct embodiment of moral judgment regarding things in eulogy, such as Paul's praise of love in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, and our Lord's praise of humility and other virtues in the beatitudes. "Think on these things." We come to the things which have been mentioned partly by intuition, but we must dwell upon them and converse with them, if we would have a clear apprehension of them and have skill in detecting their counterfeits. The thought of the psalmist is that the use of the understanding is necessary to the right keeping of God's Law. If we allow the intellect to slumber, do not examine into circumstances and carefully investigate the moral character of what we are doing, we may go far enough astray from the true, and honorable, and just, and pure. It is by constantly judging our conduct by these things that they come to have the shaping of our life. "To cover human life with beauty, to carve it into nobleness, requires thought as truly as to cover canvas with lovely forms or to make the hard and unwilling marble assume a shape of majesty and grace. Is there any nobler use of the intellect of man than this, to serve the conscience and the heart with faithful loyalty, to master the moral laws by which life should be ruled, and the motives which may assist the vacillating will in keeping them? Among common men, what restless, incessant thought there is about how they may extend their trade and increase their profits, come to live in a larger house and keep a better table, and how little thought about the eternal law of righteousness and their obligation to keep and honor it! Do Christian men believe that he who gave them their intellect meant them to think incessantly of the price of iron, the rate of wages, the condition of the money market, the furniture of their houses, the fruit in their gardens - never or only sluggishly about his own awful majesty, his glorious perfection, his ideas of what human life ought to be?


1. Interpretation of his teaching. "The things which ye both learned and received." The only difference between these verbs seems to be that in the former we are pointed more to the activity of the taught, in the latter more to the activity of the teacher. The fact that Paul holds up these high categories before the Philippians shows that they were in an advanced state. At the same time, it was not long since they had come out of heathenism. And the apostle refers them to such simple rules as he had laid down for their conduct, of which there are examples in other Epistles.

2. Interpretation of his example. "And heard and saw in me." They heard when he was absent and saw when he was present. It is well when both teaching and life go together. It was a great advantage to the Philippians that, when the rules of their life were completely changed for them, these were not only presented in their particularity, but were exemplified in their teacher of whom they heard, or, what was better, whom they saw among them. Thus could they be led on from the state of childhood to the state of maturity, in which they could be thought of as conversing with the high categories of morality. "These things do." Calvin properly remarks, "Meditation precedes, practice follows." Once we have carefully thought of our conduct in the light of the great categories, there is the carrying our thought into practice. If we have thought well beforehand, we have a great advantage; but it will never be but difficult, considering the treachery of our hearts, the strength of our temptations, to bring our daily practice up to our thought. It is difficult enough to do the things that are true, that are honorable, that are just, that are pure; how much more to do the things that are lovely, that are of good report!

III. PROMISE ATTACHED TO PRACTICE FOLLOWING ON THOUGHT OF THE CATEGORIES, "And the God of peace shall be with you." There is a recurrence with a difference of form to the thought of Ver. 7. There peace was to guard those who prayed. Here the God of peace is to be with those who practice the moralities. He has peace in his own mind, in his own balanced perfections; and he has peace in what he thinks of us. And, as we strive to carry out his holy purposes, he stands by us to banish our fears, to soothe our minds. "Great peace have they who love thy Law; and nothing shall offend them." Let us bring the six great categories into our life, and we shall assuredly have the peace which God himself has in their absolute possession. - R.F.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

WEB: Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things.

Avoid Doubtful Things
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