Admittedly, an entire book on one verse makes me nervous. So, when I picked up Jamie Rasmussen’s new book How Joyful People Think, I was skeptical about his aim to remove the mystery from Philippians 4:8. And this particular text has an exhortation that can be misunderstood as works-based rewards: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Moving into the next verse (which Rasmussen also touches on...so two verses made me less nervous) Paul writes: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Unfortunately, we’ve all heard these verses filtered into a message of: “Think X, and you’ll get Y.”
Just like every verse misunderstood as a formula for your best life now, Philippians 4:8 demands contextualization based on its opening phrase, Τὸ λοιπόν, which is usually translated “finally” in English. As Paul prepares to close his letter, he insists that the Philippians keep the rest of his words at the forefront of their minds. These verses contain important words, yes, but they are not written in a vacuum.
From the start, Rasmussen underscores this point providing a framework for how his readers should approach the book: “Unlike any kind of cognitive therapy our world offers today, this way of thinking promises to transform. How could it not? It comes from God.” He makes it clear that the transformation of our thinking does not come about through our own power. God is the transforming agent.
At first, I found the word studies veering toward the romanticized, as they often fit Rasmussen’s teaching point a little too neatly. But they soon became my favorite part of the book. If you’ve ever found yourself flipping through a lexicon to find the right word or definition, you’ll appreciate the hard work he has put in on your behalf. Even more refreshing is his ability to make the word studies relatable and interesting for every reader.
Each chapter includes anecdotes, research, and quotations that bridge his word studies to a practical realm. His desire to shepherd readers into a biblically grounded way of thinking surfaces in every piece of advice offered. Rather than getting bogged down in academic language, it is bathed in practicality.
Want to experience self-control? “Willfully create time and space so that God’s Holy Spirit can slow us down.”
Craving to know what is right and just? “It is found in the character and the revelation of God. It is found in everything the Bible says about him.”
Searching for instructions on how to live a holy life? “We need to emulate the way Jesus trusted in God the Father and the way Jesus interacted with those around him, the way he loved them.”
Do you long to enjoy that which is lovely? “Let us never forget that when it comes to pleasure, we need to give more than we get.”
Rasmussen’s pastoral love achieves a balance between practical, helpful advice and a dependence on the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of the believer.
Recently, while reading the Gospel of Luke I paused at his claim to have rooted his writing in the accounts of eyewitnesses. I marveled at the passage’s simplicity. Luke’s assertion was a testament to the trustworthiness of his account, to its believability.
Rather than rely on rumor or legend, Luke sources his authority in that of firsthand accounts as well as parts of his own witness, all of it culminating in what he experienced in the person of Christ. There is no hidden communication between Luke and God, no secret message in need of unlocking, and no hidden power to tap into. His text is supernaturally influenced, yes, but it is also very much present in a physical world, which makes it all the more real. Because scripture anchors itself in a recognizable world we glean far more depth and meaning from it than we could from an over-spiritualized understanding.
Toward the end of the book, Rasmussen concludes with the following thought: “God’s presence—the reality that he is ‘with us’—is the most meaningful and powerful gift God could give us in response to our right thinking.” Like many, I find myself in the middle of a busy time that often feels overwhelming. As I read this book and immersed myself in Philippians 4:8–9, I experienced rest in the profound meaning of these verses.
While it’s tempting to summarize Philippians 4:8 by its closing words—“Consider these things”—How Joyful People Think forces readers to savor the richness of every single word. The focus is not necessarily on a newfound understanding of the passage or a hidden message you could never find on your own. The focus is on a closer knowledge of scripture, which leads to a deeper love for God himself.