The consumer in the marketplace is exercising good judgment when he or she reads the labels and gathers all the information as to its materials, contents, weight, guarantee, etc. A careful comparison of the products is evaluated so that when the purchase is finally made, it will be done with the confidence and satisfaction that they have purchased the best, or in the language of our text, that which is “excellent.”
In Verse 9, the Apostle Paul prays for the believer. He prays that the believer will increase in his capacity to love.
Prior to salvation, a person is physically alive, but spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1,5). In this condition the unsaved person is called a “natural” man and has no capacity, no human spirit to receive “the things of the Spirit of God.” The things of God are “foolishness” to him and he cannot understand them because they are discerned and examined only by the human spirit (1 Cor. 2:14).
When a person is saved, he receives a new capacity to love through the restoration of the human spirit by a work of God the Holy Spirit (Jn. 3:6).
The new believer now has the capacity not only to know God, understand God, appreciate God, obey God and serve God, but also to love God (Rom. 8:15-16)!
In our text, the Apostle Paul is praying that believers will have a growing love for God and what God loves: namely the unsaved. His concern for the lost is obvious when we take note that this prayer is found in a context which emphasizes the “gospel” (see 1:5,7,12,17,27).
KNOWLEDGE OF BIBLE DOCTRINE
An increased capacity to love comes only through knowledge of Bible doctrine and the proper application of Bible doctrine. This is what the Apostle Paul is talking about when he says, it is “in knowledge and in all judgment.” If these two elements are not a part of the believer’s spiritual growth, then all of his activities become only a meaningless “zeal” because they are not done “according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2).
The honeymooners may embrace each other and honestly say to each other, “I love you!” However, ten years later, having come to know each other’s abilities, talents, attitudes, and character more intimately, can now honestly say, “I love you very, very, very much!”
The Apostle Paul is encouraging the believers to acquire knowledge of Bible doctrine, knowing that love does not grow without increased knowledge; nor do our skills in executing the Christian way of life improve (2 Tim. 2:15).
APPLICATION OF BIBLE DOCTRINE
The injunction for the believer to exercise careful judgment about the application of Bible doctrine to our everyday life, introduces the idea that there are certain details that require a skill or wisdom in using the Bible knowledge we have.
This wisdom involves careful attention to the labels that are attached to the different categories of Bible doctrine. In other words, by giving attention to the labels we are able to “approve” or try the things that are “excellent” (literally the things that are carried away in different directions) in view of making a satisfactory and confident application of Bible doctrine.
READ THE LABELS
When we check the labels on each Bible doctrine, as it is taken off the shelf, we will find that some doctrines are labeled “approved” for universal application for believers of all time. Still other doctrines are labeled “approved” for special application in special circumstances, only at certain times, and for the consumption of certain believers.
The label is that foundational part of any Bible study which will give us such essential information as: who said what and to whom it was said; the time, circumstances and the divine program in operation during which the portion to be studied was written; exactly what was said; and the immediate and general context.
Understanding the labels is an essential preparation leading to the right resolution of such important issues as: (1) The believer’s relationship to Law and Grace in salvation and sanctification; (2) The exact contents of gospel preaching; (3) The relationship of faith and works to salvation and sanctification; (4) The believer’s relationship to Christ in the Old Testament and the New Testament; (5) The believer’s relationship to each other and to the unbeliever in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, etc.
Failure to exercise care in this matter may result in a person being Biblically correct but dispensationally wrong in application! This is the same concern expressed again by the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:15 where he warns that those who fail to “rightly divide the word of truth” will be “ashamed,” unapproved workmen.
THE DIVINE OBJECTIVE
The ultimate concern in all of this is that the believer’s life might be “sincere” and “without offense” (vs. 10), and that they might be “filled with the fruits of righteousness…unto glory and praise of God” (vs. 11).
The word “sincere” has a more descriptive meaning in the original Greek language than the way it is normally understood in the English language. This word comes out of the ancient marketplace where the unscrupulous china merchant would doctor-up a defective and cracked piece of china with wax, making it appear to be better than it really was.
If the consumer was careless and failed to “approve the things that are excellent” by holding the piece of china up to the sunlight and sun testing it for wax, he would one day discover that he had wasted his money on defective merchandise. Sincere means to be sun tested and found to be without wax, hence, pure and genuine.
The Apostle Paul wants to make sure that believers will grow in love through knowledge of Bible doctrine and that they will be careful in their judgment of the things that differ in order to make the best application of Bible doctrine, so that when they are Son tested they will be found out to be sincere (sure-tested and found to be without wax). God forbid that any believer should discover that he has wasted his life on a defective theology and on service with a serious flaw!
He wants the believer’s life to be filled up with the “fruits” that will be to the “praise” and “glory” of God. Anything less than this does not “adorn the gospel of Christ” (vs. 27) and causes an “offense” (vs. 10) to the unbelievers before whom believers are to “hold forth the word of life” and are to “shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15).
THE CONCLUSION OF THE MATTER
Let’s summarize what we have learned about “rightly dividing the word of truth” or what our text has called “approving the things that are excellent.”
First, right division, having tested the things that are carried away in different directions, is a judgment made as to the proper application of Bible doctrine.
Second, right division is best appreciated and best fulfills its objective when it is seen in the context of every day Christian living. In other words, our application of Bible doctrine is not right, we are not approved workmen if: (1) It does not cause the believer to grow in love; (2) It does not promote fellowship in the gospel, the confirmation of the gospel, the furtherance of the gospel, the defense of the gospel and the faith of the gospel; (3) It does not fill us with the fruits of righteousness; and (4) It does not ultimately glorify and praise God.