Approving Things That Are Excellent

By Bryan Vinson, Sr.

“And this I pray, abound yet more and that your love may more in knowledge and all discernment; so that ye may approve the things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and void of offence unto the day of Christ; b e i n g filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God”. (Phil. 1:9-11)

The above statement by the apostle embodies a most laudable desire prayerfully voiced as touching that that is designed to effect in its culmination the Philippians’ salvation eternally. All that we are, that we do and that we become here is to be esteemed in relation to our final destiny. In this prayer there is the looking to the day of Christ, and relating the present to that time. Standing between them and the final state of being sincere and void of offense in the day of Christ is the growth in knowledge and discernment to the end they may thereby be enabled to approve the things that are excellent; and the ability and practice of approving the things which are excellent renders one capable of being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which, in turn, secured the final end contemplated in the day of Christ.

To the Corinthians Paul said that it is “not he that commendeth himself (that) is approved but whom the Lord commendeth.” (2 Cor. 10:18) That is, we may be disposed to commend ourselves apart from being approved–tried, tested; however, that one whom the Lord commends is he who has been thus approved–approved through the means of having been proved or tried. James tells us, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to them that love him.” Notwithstanding, however, the fact that God thus exercises discernment by means of testing or trying those whom he will ultimately reward, it is essential that we, in order that we may emerge victorious from all such testing, also cultivate the quality of discernment to the end we may approve the things which are excellent. The footnote in the R. V. on this expression says: distinguish the things that differ. This is the act of discerning.

A very serious rebuke was administered to the Hebrews in the following language: “For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that someone teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God, and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food. For everyone that partaketh of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for full-grown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.” (Heb. 5:12-14) The senses here are those of perception, and the capacity of spiritual apprehension. The full-grown are those, then, who by their knowledge of the truth are thereby enabled to exercise these spiritual faculties of perception and apprehension of the spiritual as distinguished from that which differs therefrom. Herein is found the explanation of that which so besets and afflicts the people of God even in our present time. Spiritual infantilism characterizes the great generality of the children of God today. They are children in that very sense in which they are told not to remain such, whereas too often they fail to be as little children in those respects in which we all must be in order to please God. There must be that humility, docility and guilelessness in our hearts and lives so eminently manifested in little children; whereas those elements of mental discernment and judgment are the product of growth and development essentially dependent on time, interest and effort, and thus not associated as characteristics of children.

The ability, therefore, of distinguishing between those things that differ is required of us, and possessing this ability is not inherent within man. We are constitutionally finite, fallible and thus liable to error in thinking as well as in action. The latter grows out of the former. This liability in varying degrees ever remains with and characterizes the lives of all men. Truly, “it is not within man that walks to direct his own steps,” and the Lord orders the steps of a good man. It is, then, recognition of one’s dependence on the Lord, and this leading to a complete reliance on His Word to direct us, which can mature the capability of exercising our senses to discern good and evil and thereby enjoy the security the Lord promises His people, which we need so much today.

The mind of the world insofar as the quality of good or evil is concerned is largely, if not wholly, confined to principles of morality. And these principles are subjected to a great torturing by man. Morality is never for long enthroned in the hearts and lives of men, when not undergirded and sustained by a just conception of God and proper relations with Him. In confirmation of this one has to but read the description of the moral decline and degeneracy of the Gentiles described in Romans the first chapter. What preceded and led to this course but the repudiation of God from their hearts? Man never can improve his character apart from Divine guidance, and influence. Where the morals of a people who aren’t Christian can be regarded as elevated such must be attributed to the indirect influence of Divine Truth on them. Thus, then, has affected beneficially these, and enabled to do so by instilling proper concepts of good and evil and thereby the power to discern between them. The children of God, while obligated to influence for weal the world, often succumb to the influence of the world. Therein is found the primary cause of the spiritual immaturity that lacks the powers of discernment we are enjoined to possess. We have taken recourse to the world to form and mold our thinking rather than being content with and informed by the mind of God. Conduct which formerly was condemned by the children of God is indulged in by many of them now, and is regarded as such to be alright since we see nothing wrong with it; and the reason we see nothing wrong or evil in such things is because we are thinking as the world thinks and does.

Also, and of great seriousness, is the disposition to evaluate spiritual matters by a moral standard, thereby failing to distinguish the difference in whether a given thing comes within the spiritual or moral realm. Recognizing that a thing may be wholly free of all moral wrong, we lack discernment if we thus adjudge such to be spiritually acceptable. Jerusalem was charged by Jehovah with having profaned holy things in failing to put a difference “between the holy and profane.” (Ezek. 22:26) That which is holy is such because it is so made and designated by Deity. Man cannot transmute the unholy into the holy by any decree of his own. Too, he cannot intrude the profane into the realm of the sacred. A given thing or action may be good species in that and a counterfeit in this. The sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, made the fatal mistake of failing to distinguish between that which God commanded and that which “he commanded them not. ” Jehovah warned Aaron that neither he nor his sons should drink strong drink when they went into the tabernacle to the end they should put a difference between unclean and clean. (Lev. 10:9-11)

A most vital lesson bearing on this very point is found in l Cor. 8. There is depicted by Paul a given action, that of eating meat; in the one instance it is all right, and in the other it is wrong. Basically, there is acknowledged by the apostle “that meat commendeth us not to God, for neither, if we eat are we the better, neither, if we eat not are we the worse.” That is so far’ as the moral aspect of the matter is concerned the eating of meat is amoral–it lies outside of being either morally or immorally considered. Furthermore, the Lord taught while here that it isn’t that which goes into the mouth of a man that defiles him, but that which comes out. So, then, starting from this base, we are confronted with the need of recognizing that one man may eat meat without being guilty of wrong doing, whereas another brother in Christ may do the same thing and thereby effect his ruin. What is the difference? The first one has knowledge; the second one has not this knowledge. But what is the knowledge the one has and the other has not? It is that an idol is nothing, and thus meat offered to an idol has no essential significance therefore attaching to it. But back of this immediate knowledge is the more fundamental concept that meat does not commend one to God, and therefore the eating it or not has no bearing on one’s standing before God. This being true, then, one cannot eat meat as an action performed in relation to God, and hence as designed to commend him to God. To do this is to sanctify to a purpose that which has not been so done by God.

In the case of the one, therefore, the eating of meat was without effect on his standing before God; whereas the same act by the other did affect his standing before God, because he attached to his eating a religious significance. It results in his condemnation. (vs. 13) So, then, we see in the one instance the act of eating meat as being an innocent one, and in the other instance a guilty one, and all because of the different concepts of the act as thus performed by the respective parties involved. The former was done as by one possessing proper knowledge and thus as exercising becoming discernment. The latter did the same act, that of eating meat, but was condemned by the’ identification in his mind of the wrong concept of the meaning and significance of that which he did as related to God. It was a non-religious thing done, but had assigned by the latter a religious connotation. Every “fellowship dinner” in which brethren participate they are unwittingly becoming the victims of the same erroneous reasoning that underlay the reasoning of the brother who was lacking in knowledge and discernment in the case instanced by Paul.

Spiritual matters are restricted to those instrumentalities and actions designated by the Lord. Man has been granted no prerogative in utilizing the one and performing the other apart from Divine authorization. To do so is to be guilty of confounding the profane and the holy.. The economy of the Jews was sanctified by the blood of animals, even the vessels employed in the service of God. (Heb. 9:18-22) Corresponding thereto, all that is within and a part of the Economy of Grace has been thus sanctified by the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ is the blood of the New Testament, and thus that which has been authorized therein is so sanctified. Herein lies the vital objection to instrumental music in the worship–it has not been sanctified by the blood of the New Testament. Consequently, it is profane as distinguished from that which is holy. This same principle of distinguishing between that which differs and thus the approving of things which are excellent is to be employed throughout the whole area of our service to God in the work and worship of the church. Let us, therefore, prove all things and hold fast to that which is good.

Truth Magazine VI: 6, pp. 21-23
March 1962