By William C. Sexton
If we are to succeed individually or collectively, we must recognize, embrace, and support things that are “excellent.” Paul, writing to the church at Philippi, prayed for them that their love might abound more and more in knowledge and all judgment-to the end that they would be able to approve things that are excellent, so they might be sincere and without offence till Christ comes, being filled with fruits of righteousness. I wish to succeed myself, and I want everybody who reads this to be successful along with everyone whom I can influence in any way; therefore, this article is designed to challenge all to consider seriously the prayer of Paul and its implications for us today.
Love Leads to Recognition of “Excellent” Things
“Excellent” may be defined, “Unusually good of its kind; of exceptional merit, virtue, etc. . . surpassing.” That which may be classified as “excellent” stands out separate and distinct from the average or common things. It is that which is better, excelling in value. If one has a scale of values, the “excellent” is that which is at the head of the list. We see such recognition of “excellence” in school when there is a big “E” on the report card; in the community we give rewards for “excellency” in service.
The love of God is the motivating force, according to the scriptures, which moves one to seek knowledge! Love is that great force in the universe that moves the unmovable, and achieves that which cannot be achieved by any other or all other forces. Love brought Jesus Christ, the Son of God down from heaven to die for the sins of mankind (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:8). No other power or force could have achieved that. That love caused Jesus to lay down His life for His friends, and “greater love hath no man than this,” said Jesus (Jn. 15:13). The love of God will cause us to find the good and right, it will, likewise, cause us to find the wrong and abhor it.
The lack of Love is the downfall of many. Paul wrote of the second coming of Christ being surely preceded by a “falling away” and the development of the man of sin, who is the son of perdition. That one is to be consumed by the spirit of the Lord’s mouth and destroyed by the brightness of His coming. The man of sin was after “the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders.” It was to be “with all deceivableness of unrighteousness.” This was to be “in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10). Because they did not have that love of the salvation-truth, God would “send them a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (vs. 11-12). Thus we see that the love for the truth would have them to desire and seek till they found the truth; but in absence of the desire or love for it, God will allow them to be satisfied with something else-due to the fact that they love the pleasure of unrighteousness. Consequently, we had better have genuine love for the soul-saving message! Otherwise, we shall be lost eternally. The scriptures instruct us to “buy the truth,” then once we have purchased it by paying the price we are to refuse to “sell” it. (Prov. 23:23). The value of it is seen in the statement of Jesus, “ye shall know the truih, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32).
Knowledge that one learns as he is motivated by the love will enable him to make proper judgment; he can discern, distinguish, and discriminate between evil, common, and excellent. One must be able to see the distinguishing features of sin and of good. Therefore, the very young and underdeveloped’ are unable to make some of the finer distinctions; they need time to grow and they require exercise of the faculties so as to discern good from evil (Heb. 5:11-14).
Love Leads to Approval of Things that are “Excellent”
With the intensified love of God in one’s heart, he will leave no stone unturned till he finds the truth, the facts, and with this knowledge he will understand things as they are and he’ll approve the things approved by God! He will see immediately the incompatibility of the Love of God and the love of the world (1 Jn. 2:15-17). The love of the world, consisting of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-these can’t exist in the same heart that has the love of God. He will see, also, that, the things approved of God are right and thus they do produce happiness, they rejoice the heart (Psa. 19:8).
His love for right will of necessity produce “hate” for all that is not in harmony therewith (Psa. 119:128). Jesus “loved righteousness, and hated iniquity” (Heb. 1:9) and the same attitude must be developed and manifested in the hearts of his followers. “Hate” does not necessarily mean malice and the feeling that we usually associate with the state of mind in which resides what we call hate. In some instances it means love less (Lk. 14:25-33). One must truly love less: father and mother, brother and sister, son and daughter; yea, even his own life, than he does Christ. Else, he cannot be His disciple. Therefore, love and knowledge and judgment enables one to put “first things, first.”
There are a number of “excellent” things. The “more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31; “excellent wisdom” (Dan. 5:14); “excellent spirit” (Dan. 5:12); “more excellent sacrifice” (Heb. 11:4); “more excellent ministery” (Heb. 8:6); “more excellent name” (Heb. 1:4). We need, then, to be able to identify each one of these, first. Secondly, we need to embrace then, take them for ourselves. Thirdly, we need then to spend our time, energy and resources supporting them. In time we hope to look at each one of these.
Love Leads to the Support of “Excellent Things”
Love, knowledge, judgment, and approval of things enables one to be sincere — that is honest and without hypocrisy. The Christian surely needs to put away all that is deceitful (1 Pet. 2:1). There is no need for one to pretend that he is something that he is not; such is the opposite of the character of one who belongs to Christ, the Lord Jesus.
Being sincere, then, one is able to be without offence-that is without falling down and being unable to get back up. All will make mistakes; however, he can and will correct them and turn to the Lord and be forgiven. He will not remain down and out of service, if he is sincerely seeking to serve the Lord. This will last till the second coming of the Lord, which is essential if one is to be saved ultimately (Matt. 24:11-13; Rev. 2:10). We see many who have gone a ways in serving the Lord, but then they grow tired and give up or give in. Somehow they seem to think I have done my part. Such will never be acceptable to the Lord; one must keep on keeping on!
As he sincerely serves without offence, he is looking for the return of the Lord, and he uses the message of the second coming to comfort the troubled and worried (1 Thess. 4:16). The Christian does not know the time of the coming of the Lord, but he is ready at all hours of every day, (Matt. 24:42-51). He will not have gone after the things the devil has held before him to intice him to leave the Lord and His cause to enjoy the pleasures of sin which are for a season (Heb. 11:25).
With these conditions prevailing, then one can be filled with the fruits of righteousness. He was created, actually, that he might produce fruit, (Rom. 7:4); that relationship is not productive unless one is active in the selective activity that is designed to bring forth others into this saved condition. “Filled” indicates that there is abundance-much fruit is being produced, and it is of righteousness, approved of God and beneficial to mankind.
One must be in the vineyard of the Lord, however, if he is to produce fruits of righteousness. One gets into the vineyard only by the process of hearing the gospel message of the Sonship of Jesus (Jn. 8:24; Rom. 10:17), repenting of one’s sin (Lk. 13:3-5), confessing one’s faith in Jesus (Acts 8:37), and is baptized in water for the remission of sins, (Acts 2:38). Many try to produce fruits of righteousness without being in the vineyard, and such is impossible. We need to see that if we have not been made righteous by God’s plan of righteousness (Rom. 1:16-17; 10:1-3) we cannot possibly be producing fruits of righteousness, even though we may be doing a lot of what is classified by some as “good works.” At the judgment all who depend on such will be disappointed, as we have been warned before hand (Matt. 7:21-23).
Thus the question that needs to be asked by all who read this is: Am I in the kingdom of Christ, having been born again by water and the Spirit, having had a love for the truth that I searched the truth till I found it and then obeyed it (Rom. 6:16-18)? Has that love motivated me to gain more and more knowledge, that I might make the proper judgment, discerning the truth and approving things that are “excellent” according to the scriptures? Am I sincere and without offence, continuing to produce fruits that are righteous? If such is the case, then the prayer of Paul is being answered in my life. If on the other hand, I have stopped short and been satisfied with less than that which is “excellent” then I need to know that the prayer is still unanswered it my life. But, while I am alive, I still have the opportunity to correct that and allow the prayer of Paul to be answered in my life.
Beloved, the potential for each is so great-for evil or good. What will it be? May we strive for excellence!
Truth Magazine XXI: 24, pp. 380-382
June 16, 1977