Sunday, January 18, 2015

Philippians 1:10- Why do we want to abound in all discernment?

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; (Philippians 1:9-10)

Let's look specifically at verse 10. Whenever there is a 'so that' or a 'in order to' it means there is a causal relationship. We are supposed to DO something in order that a result can come about.

Here I'd like to focus on the "all discernment". Why does Paul want the Philippians (and us) to have all discernment? Because discernment is a critical ingredient in an important process. The result Paul is praying for his people to have is to be pure and blameless on the day we stand before Jesus. So now let's look at this process and see how in honing our discernment it helps us strive toward this end.
Literally, “With a view to your proving (and so approving and embracing) the things that excel” (Ro 2:18); not merely things not bad, but the things best among those that are good; the things of more advanced excellence. Ask as to things, not merely, Is there no harm, but is there any good, and which is the best?
Source: Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 361). 

Now this is interesting. There are three questions the Commenter said we ask in discerning.

--Is there harm?
--Is there any good?
--Which is the best?

We already know that at the basic level, discernment means sifting between what is good and what is bad. That's the part in asking 'is there harm?' In addition, as Spurgeon said, "Discernment is not simply a matter of telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather it is the difference between right and almost right." That's the second question.

And now here we have a third part of the process of discernment, distinguishing between what is good and what is best. This is an often overlooked part of discernment.


If your son or daughter is choosing a college to attend, if you're able, don't you want them to choose the best? If you're buying a book to read, all other things being equal, don't you choose the one with the best reviews? If you are a Sunday School Superintendent choosing new material to use in class, don't you want the best? No one says, 'Nah, I'll pass over the best and settle for the merely good.'

It's like if a tsunami is coming. The waters are rising and you've gotten to high ground. It's good ground. You're pretty sure it's good enough. But you still have time to reach the best ground, where you can be sure you won't get swept away. Do you stay put? Of course not. To save your life you strive for the best and highest ground.

Discernment is like that. I remember reading a Christian woman's essay about this very thing in practical terms. Sunny Shell, on why she chose to no longer follow John Piper.
I've found the teachings from John Piper and "Desiring God" (after testing it with God's word) requires more discernment than I currently possess. And since there are other Christian teachers/ministries I can learn from (e.g., John MacArthur/Grace to You, Alistair Begg/Truth for Life, R.C. Sproul and son, R.C. Sproul, Jr./Ligonier Ministries) that don't give me tired-head, I've chosen to only follow those who are clearly and faithfully following the Lord (Heb 13:7).
Discernment includes searching out the best holy ground we possibly can, so that Jesus is MORE glorified rather than LESS glorified. Seek out what you know to be the best, and stick with that.

Keep going up and up
Our ultimate aim always is to glorify Jesus. However there are several additional reasons why we want to "abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10so that you may approve the things that are excellent". The first reason is so that others will benefit.
all discernment - The term aisth─ôsis refers to the ability to make decisions for the benefit of others. 1:10 what is superior When the Philippians’ love abounds, they will be able to determine what is most valuable or beneficial to the community of believers.
Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Php 1:9–10). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

What if you were running from the rising waters of the tsunami again. And you were not too familiar with the ground and you thought you'd reached the highest you could go, and sat down to see if the waters would reach you or not. But along came someone who had hiked that hill before and knew there was a narrow pass that led to even higher ground? Would you stay put? Of course not, you'd be grateful someone came along and showed you that though where you were was good, it was beneficial to move to where it was best.

The second reason we discern is so that our minds can be renewed. And here we have the most critical reason why discernment is important. (along with the other items Paul prayed for us to have). The process of discernment helps to sharpen the mind and to renew it according to Christ's likeness. This is the process I spoke of at the beginning.

Gills Exposition explains this aspect of the Philippians 1:10 verse
Or "try things that differ". There are some things that differ one from other; as morality and grace, earthly things and heavenly things, carnal and spiritual, temporal and eternal things, law and Gospel, the doctrines of men and the doctrines of Christ; all which differ as much as chaff and wheat, as gold, silver, precious stones, and wood, hay, stubble.
These are to be tried and proved; they are not to be received without distinction, but should be examined, which is right and best to be chosen and preferred; and to such trial and examination it is necessary that a man should be transformed, by the renewing of his mind, that he should have spiritual light, knowledge, and experience, have his spiritual senses exercised to discern the difference of things.
Let Jesus freshen and open your mind
as you practice discernment. EPrata photo
Gill said these things are not to be received without distinction. In today's Christianity we are barraged with the notion that we are to let the false teachers alone. We are not to point out the false doctrine. We are not to say this or that is a bad book. 'Let God judge' they say. 'It will be taken care of in the end' they say. However, failure to participate in the important process of discernment means you are choosing deliberately NOT to renew your mind.

The process of choosing, testing, weighing, examining, reading, comparing...all these are part of the process of how the Lord transforms our mind. As we hear a teaching and go back to the word, He transforms our mind. Through hard work, trial and error, we gain experience.

It would be nice if we were sitting around and Jesus simply plopped discernment and experience into our minds. This is what many of the false teachers say happens to them. They sit on their porch or sequester themselves in a cabin or shell peas and all of a sudden presto, a new revelation from God and a new 'level' of 'fresh experience.' They say, "God told me." "God wrote the book for me." "I saw Jesus and He said..." But that is not how it works.

When Paul said 'persevere in the struggle' and 'run the race', he didn't mean as a sidelines armchair quarterback waiting for a personally dove-delivered epiphany. LOL, that is hardly running, now, is it? The practice of discernment is part of the struggle and through it, we gain experience and a transformed mind.

The more I practice discernment the more my love for Christ abounds, because that means I see Him more clearly than the day before. We still see through a glass dimly, but in practicing discernment, it's like when we walk into a dark room, instead of choosing to turn on only a flashlight, we are using a floodlight.

So we end as we began, with Paul's prayer:

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; (Philippians 1:9-10)

5 comments :

  1. Especially in politics, the trend of the culture has definitely been to promote the idea that "if it doesn't hurt anyone, then it's okay." Discernment says otherwise.

    Ask not only, does it hurt?
    Ask not only, does it do good?
    Ask not only, does it do better than it might otherwise?
    Ask, does this pursue and accomplish the best possible goal for the best possible reasons?

    "Discernment is not being able to tell the difference between right and wrong. Discernment is being able to tell the difference between right and almost right." ~ C H Spurgeon

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  2. Amen.
    In the 6.5 years since I was born again, I have never in a church service, had discernment explained as a necessary action, like you did here in this blog. I believe that is where the problem begins. Pastors are not teaching their people to be discerning.
    The settling for good instead of striving for great is demonstrated too in peoples unwillingness to grapple with proper understanding of doctrines. They pull the "we can disagree" card. Which is true on non essentials, but thats not the point. We should be working put what is the best position of understanding for the same reasons you mentioned above. But people never think of it that way. They have been conditioned to avoid disagreement so they miss out on the benefit of renewing their minds. All in the name of unity.
    Jennifer

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    1. I liked how you explained the 'we can disagree card'. I was listening to Reformation Network this AM, an online radio ministry from Ligonier. I'd listened to a sermon from MacArthur from last year, explaining John 3:16 and Nicodemus. At the end of the sermon was a brief Q&A in which the announcer asked John, "Why are there so many disagreements about doctrine?" MacArthur said "Because people don't understand the bible."

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    2. I just lauged audibly,reading your comment, and everone in the room stopped and asked me what was so funny. MacArthur is exactly right!
      Jennifer

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    3. Totally agree....the "we can disagree" card gets really tattered and torn about the edges! I could give some personal examples, but y'all have them as well, so I don't need to do that!

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