Thursday, June 16, 2005

What's wrong with it? vs. What would please Jesus the most? (Phi. 1:10)

Philippians 1:10 εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τὰ διαφέροντα, ἵνα ἦτε εἰλικρινεῖς καὶ ἀπρόσκοποι εἰς ἡμέραν Χριστοῦ,

1:10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;

Verse 10 identifies the reason Paul is praying for the Philippians’ love for God to abound in knowledge and discernment: so that they would be able to “approve the things that are excellent” (NASB). Or as the HCSB puts it: “so that you can determine what really matters.”

As a kid growing up, I developed a set of mental criteria by which I made my decisions. One of the primary questions in my criteria was “Is there anything wrong with this?” That is, of course, an important question. But the more I study what it means to love God, the more I am convinced that that question is not the most important question I should be asking.

In verse 10 Paul prays that the Philippians would be able to distinguish not just the good from the bad, but the better from the good, and ultimately the best from the better. As the saying goes, “It is often the good that is the greatest enemy of the best.” It is easy to get swept along doing good things, legitimate things, even ministry things—but things that aren’t the best use of our time, our talents, our resources.

The word translated “excellent” refers to “the essential things, the things that really matter or are of greater value” (Friberg, BDAG).

So how do I discern the best? How do we figure out what “really matters.” Paul’s answer: The ability to figure out what really matters flows from your love for God abounding in knowledge and discernment. The more you know and love God, the more clearly you will be able to see what pleases Him and the more deeply you will desire to please Him. Not that such discernment will always be a cinch. The word “approve” involves rigorous testing to determine the nature of a thing.

But the ability to discern what really matters isn’t the ultimate purpose of Paul’s prayer. That is really just a means to the larger end. The greater end to which he prays is that they would be sincere and blameless until the day Jesus the Christ returns.

I’ve never forgotten what William Barclay says about the word εἰλικρινεῖς aylikrinaise “sincere” in his New Testament Words. He notes that this adjective was used in secular Greek in reference to pottery or sculpture from marble. One of the dangers of working with marble is the potential for cracking or chipping in the process of producing saleable goods. A skilled artisan knew how to color wax properly and work it into such cracks or chips in a way that blended perfectly with the marble. The only way to tell if a sculpture or vase had such wax covering a blemish was to hold it up to the sun and slowly rotate it. The sunlight would reveal any wax. A piece of marble sculpture that had no wax-covered blemishes was called εἰλικρινεῖς “sincere.”

That is the kind of integrity God desires in my life, our lives. We can be held up to the scrutinize of His Sun – His Word – and no waxed over blemishes will be seen. No unconfessed sin. No unreconciled relationships. No unChristlike words spoken without making them right..

The final word that describes the character the flows from God-loving discernment is ἀπρόσκοποι aproskopoi “blameless.” The word denotesbeing without fault because of not giving offense” (BDAG). This is essentially a relational descriptor. It characterizes the way we have related to other people.

Love for God necessarily bears upon how we relate to others. God-pleasing discernment also results in others-loving actions. As we determine and do the things that are best, our lives will not only avoid giving offense to others, but as Solomon says, they will be living-giving springs (Prov. 10:11).

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