Philippians Week 1

Good morning!  You know, I thought this year deciding what to talk about was going to be a breeze compared to last year.  Kathleen Nielsen, the author of last year’s study, really left no stone unturned as we examined the book of John, so choosing a topic to highlight was difficult.  This year, our study has quite a bit fewer questions to answer, so I assumed it would be easier.  I was wrong!

As I was working through the questions, I really felt like the author led me down a clear path that was very true to the scripture, not inserting anything there that didn’t belong.  I hope you all were able to work through the entire week, and that you came away with some new understanding.

I will confess that I struggled with day 5.  She asked a question about how our lives would change if we only approved what is excellent, and then she listed areas of our lives to consider.  Before I get to those areas, though, I think we first need to go back to verse 9.

 “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

I want to talk this morning a little about discernment and that phrase “approve what is excellent.”  By no means am I an expert.  I struggled with this section myself, and just want to share what I have learned.

Paul writes that he prays for their love to abound in knowledge and discernment.  We see from our study that he is speaking about knowledge of the Lord and what he has done.  My hope is that you already know what he is talking about.  The knowledge that Jesus died as a substitutionary sacrifice for your sins so that you may be reconciled to a relationship with him not otherwise possible.  But what about discernment?  What does that mean?  I have heard of people having the spiritual gift of discernment, I have heard people pray for wisdom and discernment.

The word Paul uses here is dokimazo.  The word means to discover or find out the worth of something, usually through examination.  So, what are we meant to discover the meaning of?  I think Paul is still talking about the Lord!    That our abundance of knowledge and understanding would lead us to discover even more the great worth of Christ’s work on the cross, and our justification through grace.  And that by knowing and understanding those truths about Christ, our love would increase and grow for the people and the world around us in a way that reflects His love.

He then tells us WHY he prays that for them.  “So that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”  Remember what I said last week?  Paul is the king of clauses and commas!  At first glance, we might be tempted to think Paul is talking about salvation through works, except for the third clause in: filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.  It is only through Jesus that we are made pure and blameless.  So what is he talking about?

I think what he is referring to here is our sanctification, the process of being made holy.  He says earlier that God will complete the work he began in you.  That work began with your faith in the Gospel.  The work continues as you seek to understand more fully what the Gospel means in every part of your life, and as you change and become more like Jesus.  That work will not be finished until the day Christ returns for his bride, the church.  The approval of what is excellent, or being able to tell the difference between things, comes as we learn more, submit more, and trust Him more, and we rightly respond with obedience to be who we were created to be.

So, as my dear friend loves to ask, What does that look like?  The author this week had us consider what some areas of our lives would look like if we only approved what was excellent.  Our western culture might look at her list of areas to consider, and begin to treat it like recipe for success.  Don’t watch TV, don’t have conversations about anything but the bible, forsake hobbies  in favor of ministry or bible study.  I don’t think that was her intent.  I think this was an opportunity for us to examine our lives, and see if the Spirit shines a light on something specific we need to consider.  I would love to be able to give you a checklist of things to do, or not do, that would help you know what to “approve”.  I can’t.  I wouldn’t trust my sinful heart to make those decisions for anyone else.  What I can give you is this encouragement:  If you are seeking, through the study of His word and fellowship with his people, to increase your knowledge and understanding of the Gospel, the Spirit will teach you, and you will be changed into a better reflection of his image, filled with the fruit of righteousness.

Paul will show us more and more as we go through this letter that our joy is not found in other people, in our families, in our jobs, our living situations, our physical comfort.  Our joy comes through the full understanding of the Gospel, and that when we truly begin to wrap our minds around the truth of what Jesus has done for us, nothing else matters.

So that will be my prayer for each of us as we continue this year, that your love would abound more and more, with knowledge and discernment.


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