Whatever you look for in another person is what you will find.
There was a time in the seventies when personal metal detectors, right along with Disco music and CB radios, became all the rage. It was hoped that by scanning city parks and beaches you would find that rare 1913 Liberty Head nickel, or a 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle.
Maybe this kind of discovery was what Paul had in mind when he wrote the now famous commands of Philippians 4:
8 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. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
The need for these verses seems to have originally played off a situation that involved two warring women in the church, Euodia, and Syntyche (4:2). Though they had apparently assisted the Apostle Paul in his gospel work, and were in many ways commendable, they could see little good in one another.
The Bible offers no backstory about the particulars of their quarreling. Paul had only mentioned that they should “agree” (v. 3). From the sounds of it, no deep, dark evil was involved, and no heresy, or predatory behavior, just two difficult personalities, with different ways of doing things.
I’m reminded how easy it is to take each of Paul’s positive “whatever” statements, and invert them into whatever is dishonorable, whatever is unjust, whatever is impure, whatever is ugly, whatever is abominable. Once we “think about these things,” we’ll find them every time.
Every. Single. Time.
It’s as though we’re set to the wrong frequency.
You know what happened to most people who rushed out and bought a metal detector thing-a-ma-bob? Instead of the elusive coins they had hoped for, amateur collectors found their weight in bottle caps, and old nails. As it turns out, there is a coin setting frequency that helps users find valuable items, and not waste their time digging up scraps of tinfoil. But even with that setting activated, it still takes practice to tell the difference between signals.
While our frequency isn’t set right, we’ll discover a bonanza of darkness in one another—reasons, actions, words, and motives which we will appraise in the harshest possible way. I wonder if that’s why we find ourselves a little too eager to label the quirks and annoyances in one another as “toxic,” or “narcissistic,” or some other clinical-sounding word that validates our decision to steer clear of them.
Paul mentioned the word “practice” in verse 9. Practice means doing something that you’re not good at, until you’re good at it. If you want to find the virtue in people and situations, practice is what it will take. And don’t bother to call it hypocrisy. When it is something the Bible commands, and something you want, and something the Spirit assists, that’s sincerity of the highest order.
Looking for the good in others could lead to saving a friendship. Or a marriage. Or a church. Or a ministry.
It will definitely lead you to look like Christ.