VIRTUE AND PRAISE
Philippians 4:8 ends with the two matters of virtue and praise. Virtue is toward us, and praise is toward God. The eight items mentioned in verse 8 are divided into two categories. The first six items are categorized as “whatever is”; the last two, virtue and praise, are categorized as “if any.” This indicates that the last two are a summing up of the six foregoing items, in all of which are some virtue or excellence and something worthy of praise. The first six items of truthfulness, honor, rightness, purity, loveliness, and being well- spoken of are human virtues summed up by the phrase “if there is any virtue.” “If any praise” sums up the entire verse including all the foregoing items. “Praise” refers to the expression of God. Praise means that God is expressed to such an extent that others praise God. The expression of God causes others to praise God. Virtue and praise indicate that humanity with its virtues expresses God. These seven items in Philippians 4:8 eventually consummate in praise.
In writing these words, the Apostle Paul must have had a great deal of consideration. Out of hundreds of human virtues, Paul selected only six. Then as a conclusion, he used only the two items of virtue and praise. Virtue sums up the six foregoing items, and praise concludes the entire section. When our human virtues express God’s divine attributes, praise is offered to God. This is exactly the same thought as that in Matthew 5:16. When others see our good works (human virtues), they glorify (praise) our Father who is in the heavens. The Christian life is a life which always expresses God in human virtues. As a result, such a life always brings glory and praise to God.
The way to live a life which is full of virtues expressing God and bringing glory and praise to God is in Christ, the One who empowers us (Phil. 4:13). The Chinese ethical scholars taught concerning the development of human virtues. But the development of human virtues taught by them could never produce any glory and praise to God. When we love and honor our parents, our love and honor must be different from the human honor taught by the Chinese ethical scholars. Their honor does not have the taste or flavor of anything divine. Our honor to our parents should be full of humanity, and it should also have the flavor of divinity within it. This flavor and taste of God is the difference between the unbeliever’s honor and the believer’s honor. The Christian’s honor has the smell and flavor of the divine attributes. In our experience, quite often our honor seems to lack this quality of divinity. This is because we fail to live Christ. If we do not live Christ, we may still honor our parents, but this honor will have no divine flavor. Therefore, we need to grow in the divine life and live Christ. Then the honor toward our parents will have the divine flavor.
When the Western missionaries went to China, the Chinese scholars asked why they should become Christians when their own teaching concerning honor was stronger than the teaching of honor in the Bible. Many of the missionaries may not have known what or how to answer them. Today, however, we have the answer. Regardless of how high the Chinese ethical teaching of honor may be, it still does not have anything divine in it. Though the Christian honor may seem to be a little lower than that of the Chinese scholars, in reality, the proper Christian honor is much higher because it has the divine flavor.
In the societies of the Western world, the matter of loving our neighbor is highly appreciated. Even atheists may talk about loving others. Some wealthy men have given their wealth to hospitals or other charitable causes. They may love others by donating their wealth to hospitals or schools, but there is no flavor of God in their giving. Rather, the flavor is one of vainglory. This is because whoever donated the money for the hospital may receive some recognition of his donation by a memorial stone commemorating his gift. This kind of love is void of the flavor and taste of God. Yet a brother who does not have much money may show his love by giving a needy saint most of his savings without anyone’s knowledge. This kind of love bears the flavor of God, and it is different from mere human love. The difference is in the nature and source of the love. To have the love which has the flavor of God depends upon the person who does it, not on what you do. If you do it in yourself, there is no flavor of God. But if you do it through God and God does it through you, there is much flavor of God.
Philippians 4:8 begins with truthfulness and ends with praise. The Christian life is a life full of human virtues which produce glory and praise to God. Verses 5 through 8 show us that the proper Christian life is a life of the mingling of divinity with humanity.
(The Experience and Growth in Life, Chapter 15, by Witness Lee)