The need to approve those things that are excellent - put away all else

Philippians 1:9-11

9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment,

10 that you may approve the things that are excellent [NIV uses best], that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ,

11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.


Philippians is a letter to Christians, encouraging them on their walk with Christ.

The 104 versus mentions God more than 50 times (17 times as Christ alone, 3 times as Jesus only, 10 times as Jesus Christ, 9 times as Christ Jesus and 22 times as God) showing its Godward aspect.

You need to have read the Letter to the Ephesians first, as its shows the believer’s position in Christ followed by Colossians which gives the glory of Christ being the head of the body in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells, and Philippians describes the walk of the Christian in Christ.

Chapter 1 is in particular about Christ, the controlling principle of the believer’s life.

We have seen the greetings of Paul and Timothy as servants (v 1) rather than an apostle in verses 1 to 2.  In verse 3 to 8 Paul is confident of the work of Christ being made complete in the Christian. Last week we spent a little time on verse 6 and in particular the word "complete", where complete means one who is perfect in Christ, attainable when we reach glory but also means one of growth. And I think Paul here is encouraging the Philippians to press on towards full maturity or completeness. Therefore I think the key verse of this letter is:

Philippians 3:12 (NKJV) Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.

Some of the aspects of completeness are:

A complete man obeys the truth (Galatians 5:7)

I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. John 14:6 (KJV)

Our focus in life needs to be heavenward

Matthew 6:19 (NKJV) "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;

A complete man has a good conscience

1 Timothy 1:19 (NKJV) having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck

A complete man is contented

1 Timothy 6:6 (NKJV) 6Now godliness with contentment is great gain.

A complete man follows righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience and meekness

1 Timothy 6:11 (KJV) 11But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.

A complete man lives for God’s glory

Philippians 1:11 (DNT) being complete as regards the fruit of righteousness, which [is] by Jesus Christ, to God’s glory and praise.

We now move on to the next section (verses 9-11) where I want to focus on the outcomes or better put, the ends of pressing on.

Main Principle

While the work of God for us has been accomplished once and forever by the Lord Jesus, the work of God in us by His Holy Spirit is a progressive thing.

Verse 9: And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment,

The verses (9-11) presented is an inspired prayer by Paul for his fellow workers in Christ, but is also an inspiration to all of us. The basis of our life is pursuant of the great commandment to:

Matthew 22:37 - 40 (KJV) 37Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Love needs to abound – it should know no boundary, and flood you life like the tide rising and flood over the sand.  Love that is in knowledge and all discernment,

            Love cannot tolerate evil, wickedness, sinfulness

            Love of this type is from a heart fixated on Christ Jesus

            Such a heart will have discernment

Proverbs 15:21 (NKJV) Folly is joy to him who is destitute of discernment, But a man of understanding walks uprightly.

So here we are talking about godly living, with the heart full of discernment. This of course comes from the Bible and hearing the Holy Spirit. The seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor all command that the ear hear what the Spirit had to say. To discern we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:14 (NKJV) But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Merely reading the Bible is not good enough. We cannot ever be satisfied with mere reading, as if the books were a novel. We must get into it, line upon line, study and meditate on it. We must continue to ask question: how can I apply the passage just read to my life? What can I change in my life that better reflect Christ?

Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV) For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

The Jew had zeal for God, but neither loved Him or obeyed Him because they did not have knowledge of the love of God (Rom 10 :2). Indeed, history bears out the violence in to which this zeal extended, and which is recorded in the book of Acts. The love for God is not blind, but is one that is rooted in knowledge and judgment – the power of which is provided by the Holy Spirit.

Love has a pure form that needs to be practiced – this comes from a pure heart, devoid of all evil. Love to gain or overcome is love without knowledge and is wrong. A person growing in faith, also grows in love – one without the other is hopeless.

1 Corinthians 13:13 "Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love."

Verse 10: That you may approve the things that are excellent [NIV uses best], that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ,

This verse I see has two aspects:

1.      The approval of the things of God because they are indeed excellent

2.      The approval of things we chose to do, to ensure they are excellent.

Therefore this verse is an exhortation to both examine carefully our conduct and ensure it is excellent, and to examine the things of God to see what excellence is. It is an exhortation to observe and obey the truth of Christ and his excellent precepts. We need to approve these: this means actively giving consent to them. We do this by actually practicing them.

It is one thing to open a present and say how nice or lovely the item is and another to take the present and use it, apply it or perhaps wearing it. We give approval to clothes given us by wearing them; to a present by using it. The things we approve or do not approve will be noticed by others. The smutty joke in the office, if disapproved will be noticed. Your colleagues may not like your disapproval, but it will be a testimony of your faith to God. What we approve will determine what we become involved in. Indeed our journey through this world will ultimately be directed by what we approve of and what we disapprove of – these drive what we become involved in. Approving those things that are excellent, if more than "lip-service", means we will become involved. Hence the love of Jesus can be shown to be excellent by the way we conduct our love: it suffers long, is not rude, is forgiving and all those other attributes written in 1 Corinthians 13. We must enter right into his love – meek, patient, and longsuffering.

The other important word in this verse is "excellent".

God’s ways are excellent and these are the things we need to demonstrate approval. The NIV unfortunately uses the word "best", which does not conjure up the same image.

Psalm 8:1 (NKJV) O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, Who have set Your glory above the heavens!

His excellence extends from His glory, to His creation, indeed all things, in, under and above the earth. He is the most excellence, and we need to approve of this, especially in front of anyone who does not know. The sentiment of these words is that of pressing on to perfection (which again, the NIV waters down) and therefore these principles need to be applied to any activity or thought.

The second aspect makes use of discernment. We are to approve of things that are excellent – Christ is the benchmark, the universe, created by God is the benchmark, the Bible is the instruction manual. How are we to do this? The discerning instrument; the Word of God and the means; the Holy Spirit.  Discernment (verse 9) has to do with judgment (which the KJV uses) – the actual word is aisthesis – from perception or discernment, the only time this word is used in the Bible.

The other important word here is "dokimazo" (dok-im-ad'-zo) or the word to approve, allow, discern or examine, prove or try. It is the same word found in 2 Corinthians 13:5:

2 Corinthians 13:5 (NKJV) Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.

The need for discernment is to ensure a man of God sees, learns, senses and grasps what is the best or most excellent way of conduct or walk. The Amplified Bible puts this verse thus:

Amp "So that you may surly learn to sense what is vital, and approve and prize what is excellent and of real value (recognizing the highest and the best, and distinguishing the moral differences)."

Discernment is not natural – it takes wisdom

Proverbs 14:8 (NKJV) The wisdom of the prudent is to understand [or discern] his way,

We are not left in the dark:

Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV) For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Again we see that faith requires discipline, and a life trained in habits. Bad habits breads poor discernment and a journey through life that lacks hope or love or meaning. It stems often from heart attitude that looks in-ward, that seeks to satisfy self, and often only self, filled with the lust of the eyes and pride. Contrary to these characteristics our habits need to be seeped in the desire to please God in all things. This means pleasing ones wife or husband (I make no apologies for not using the word "partner"), walking the talk, doing an honest days work etc. The basis of this is a pure heart – one from which the fruits of righteousness will flow.

Psalm 24:4,5 (KJV) He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

Our habit must be to seek excellence – it is not good enough to seek mediocre. The Laodicean church seeks mediocre – it is neither hot nor cold. In modern Australian parlance it is such a church is considered "average" meaning hopeless. Holiness requires perfection – full maturity without blemish.

Hebrews 5:12 (NIV) In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!

Verse 11: Ultimate Goal

The ultimate goal is given in verse 11 – it is to the glory and praise of God. This requires a heart that is pure and Godward in focus. An inwardly looking heart will only see the failings of a poor and wretched human, if we are honest. The wordily man or women often are too dishonest to see their life in its true light. A Godward looking heart will see the excellence of the work of Christ and fruits of His righteousness and want to display its character, or flavour, to the world. So also the truths and precepts of Christ. We need to try them, put them one, and let them rule our life which gives approval for them. We need to recommend them to our searching and discerning mind. This fits with the prayer of Paul in order for a Christian to become:

1.  A loving people, caring and compassionate, full of meekness and mercy, as commanded by beatitudes.

2. A people of the knowledge of God

3. A people of discernment

4. A people who are honest and upright with a heart that is clean of all impunity

5. A people who are inoffensive, giving no offence to Christ (verse 10)

6. A people whose fruits are seen and discernable (verse 11(

7. A people the glorify God.


David L Simon (15 June 2008 CCC)
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