Richard G. Moore is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hull, Iowa.
In this day in which we are called to live as the children of God, it is very important that we walk with a spiritual sensitivity towards all things. The apostle Paul expresses this in the verses nine through eleven in the first chapter of Philippians. “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”
When the Scripture speaks of righteousness, it calls our attention to that which is right before God. And the apostle in the above text would have God’s children have their lives characterized by a being filled with that which is right before God. And this simply is that we stand before God in righteousness, and bring forth the works of righteousness, through which God is glorified. And this for us as God’s true children is our joy, that is, that God receives all glory.
Of course, the only criterion for righteousness is God Himself and is expressed in His law and word. He is the only standard to measure against, whether something is right or not.
To be filled with the fruits of righteousness is to have our conversation, our whole life, with its source, in righteousness. This means that our lives then are grounded in the righteousness of Christ, for all righteousness on our part is possible only through the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
There is no sense in which we can be filled with the fruits of righteousness of ourselves. This is true, in the first place, because there is no righteousness in us which could bring forth fruit. We are in ourselves wholly without righteousness, for the wages of sin is death. Thus we are debtors before the judgment of God as we stand by nature. In the second place, we are so dead in trespasses that we cannot even will the fruits of righteousness, as by nature we live as slaves of darkness, and unrighteousness.
So then it is only as we are ingrafted into Christ that there shall ever be fruits of righteousness in our lives. Christ must rule our lives by His Spirit and Word, if we shall ever bring forth these fruits. The Scripture says, except we be born again, we cannot see the things of the kingdom of heaven. And again, in John 15:5, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”
But in His church, eternally given Him of the Father, Christ works righteousness in our hearts and gives us the desire to walk in the fruits of that righteousness, by the operation of His Spirit through the preaching of the word of righteousness. The God of our salvation does not treat us as stocks and blocks, but powerfully, efficaciously calls us by His Word to a walk of righteousness. And in the text we quoted at the outset of this article, the apostle exhorts us unto a spiritual sensitivity unto this end, that we might manifest the life of Christ in all that we do, and so be blessed, and so be to the praise of God.
The apostle therefore desires for the church an increase in knowledge and in all judgment. When the apostle speaks of knowledge, the reference is not to natural knowledge of natural things, but to the spiritual knowledge of all things in Christ Jesus. The Lord instructs us that we be increased in the knowledge of the grace of God and of salvation, of the manifold riches of God’s mercy, of His will and purpose with all things, of His laws and His ways, and of the purpose for which we have been called out of darkness into the marvelous light of His fellowship. In the knowledge of these spiritual things of the kingdom of God and of His covenant, believers must grow.
And this knowledge may not be just a head knowledge, whereby we are only intellectually founded in the things of God’s Word, and yet have our hearts far from the Lord. But the apostle would have us grow in the knowledge of the reborn heart, into which the love of God in Jesus Christ has been poured forth and shed abroad. It is the knowledge of the heart that knows no greater delight than to keep the commandments of God as it responds by the grace of God to the marvelous love that God has for us. What a wonderful blessing it is for the Christian pilgrim to possess this gracious knowledge and to grow therein.
Along with this knowledge there goes hand in hand spiritual judgment; as we grow in true knowledge so shall we grow in judgment. This judgment is not the discernment of reason, but a true spiritual discernment or judgment of true love rooted in God. It is a spiritual power to recognize and to know at all times what is pleasing to the God of our salvation.
The apostle in the instruction from the text in Philippians would have us to be acutely sensitive to the horror of sin, and to the temptations of the world and of Satan. And on the other hand he would have us to know and experience the joys of walking in those ways that are pleasing to God, that we might walk in the constant light of His Word as our guide and joy.
It is so very important that we be inspired by this word of Christ to seek grace to grow in this knowledge and judgment. Especially is this true in the days in which we live. For with increasing intensity is there a growing disdain for the true spiritual things of God’s kingdom and its righteousness. The Scriptures and the preaching of them is being cast to the winds, and the doctrines of God’s Word are being swept under the carpet of the modernism of the new hermeneutics. If the Bible is time and culture conditioned, as so often is stated, then all true knowledge and spiritual discernment is doomed. But the Bible is still the infallible Word of the sovereign God and always shall be. Oh, how necessary it is for us to hear the word of the apostle in this text.
According to Paul, this growth in knowledge and spiritual judgment is the only way that we will be able to “approve the things that are excellent,” and to disapprove of the things that are corrupt. Then only will we recognize as genuine the things that differ from all else, because of their true goodness. These things are recognized as distinct because of their truth, of their righteousness, their holiness, their purity, and mercy. And we shall see the blessedness of the meekness, lowliness, and kindness of true faith.
As by the grace of God we grow in the knowledge of God, and hence grow in our trust of His way, and are given true spiritual judgment of those things round about us, we shall also be given the ability to distinguish and approve the things that are excellent from the things that are of darkness. We shall recognize sin, those things that are of Satan, of this ungodly world, of deceit, of pride, of hatred, malice, or envy, etc.
The things that are excellent are excellent because they are of the Spirit of God in Christ. And that Spirit is the Spirit of light, in whom is no darkness at all. These things we must approve. That is, we must desire them, relish them, and long for them alone; and on the other hand we must grow in our abhorring all vile things of darkness and corruption.
By nature we would not, for we love darkness. But by grace we receive a new principle of life, so that according to that new principle of life sin becomes repulsive to us, and the things of righteousness and holiness become the objects of our desire and activity. Unto this spiritual sensitivity Paul encourages us and instructs us through the Word of God.
The apostle in Philippians 1:9-11 urges us to grow in love, in knowledge, and in judgment, in order that we may be sincere and without offence until the day of Christ. Understand that our being spiritually sensitive with true knowledge will become manifest in a walk of sanctification. If we are so spiritually discerning, we will walk as children of the light in the midst of the world. And this is the fruit of God’s grace in His children, and is for His children their greatest desire. For if we are spiritually dull and undiscerning, then we shall not be sincere and without offence. But we shall be the cause for the stumbling of unbelief. May God forbid! Besides, it will lead us to enter folly’s temple, to run with the priesthood of darkness. Again, may God forbid! But the keener we grow in spiritual sensitivity the better armed we shall be to battle the enemies of the living God.
That we might so grow in spiritual knowledge and judgment is the apostle’s desire for us, that God shall be glorified by all that we undertake. And this motivates his prayer for the church that love may abound in us. For all of this is impossible without the principle of the love of God in our hearts. That love is the deepest spiritual source, from which all the above may spring as from a fountain. The apostle’s prayer and mine is that that love manifest in Christ may become the abiding principle in our lives. May God’s richest grace and love be granted us that we may so know Him, and that we may so serve Him with all spiritual knowledge and judgment, abhorring all that dishonors God’s precious name. God hears this our prayer, of this His children may be assured.