“for you to examine that which is superior in order that you might be sincere and blameless for the Day of Christ,”
Many of our English translations render the first part of the phrase, “that you may approve,” or something very similar. This is one of those remnants of the old King James English. In the 17th century, the word “approve” meant “to prove, to demonstrate, to show worthy” whereas today the idea of approval carries with it the connotations of permission. I might “approve” of that movie or of how you spend your money…or I might not approve.
The word that Paul uses here is dokima/zw (dokimazo), which carries with it the idea of examining something to determine its quality. The NIV chooses the word “discern” to insert here, which is arguably a better term. I chose the word “examine” to capture the idea that dokima/zw (dokimazo) implies a critical examination of such ideas…as we spoke above in verse 7 of the word frone/w (phroneo). Paul is not calling the Philippian church to give permission to those things that are superior and excellent, but he is calling them to examine that which they encounter so that they can critically discern that which is good and excellent…those things that will keep them sincere (we might say, “transparent” here) and blameless for the Day of Christ.
What is the Day of Christ? This is a reference back to the Old Testament notion of the “Day of the Lord” (see Isaiah 13:6; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 30:3; Joel 2:1; Obadiah 15; Malachi 4:5 and elsewhere). There was a notion in the ancient Mid-East that there would one day rise a king who was so mighty that he would defeat all of his enemies in a single day. That which the Old Testament prophets looked forward to was completed by Jesus on the Cross. Yet, the New Testament authors carried the idea into the Church age as a time when we anticipate the return of our Lord (see 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10). Indeed, on that great day, all of the enemies of God will be gathered together and destroyed underneath his crushing foot (Revelation 20:7-10). Will you be ready for that day?
Until that day takes place, Paul sets before us once again the significance of examining things around us carefully…not with our passions but with a renewed mind (Romans 12:2) where you examine (and pursue) that which is good and pure and excellent and right so that we will have nothing to hide from or be ashamed from on that great and awesome day. How far short of that goal we tend to fall, though. Will you, this day, this minute even, turn to God and repent of your wayward heart and draw closer to Him? Discern what is good and excellent and flee from that which you would keep hidden in the dark recesses of a wicked heart.
“being persuaded of this: that the one who began a good work in you will accomplish it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
This verse is well known to many of us, and what a beautiful statement it is and indeed, it is the true source of joy for Paul as he reflects upon the dear saints in the Philippian church. Yes, they have been his helper and have provided him with a gift so he may continue the work of ministry in Rome, but more importantly, Paul has the assurance that the work the Spirit began in this church will be continually worked out in faith until that glorious day when our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ will return.
The language of the “Day of Christ Jesus” is a reference to the Old Testament language of “The Day of the Lord.” In the ancient cultures there was a notion that one day there would come a king who would be powerful enough to defeat all of his enemies in a single day and thus conquer the known world. Indeed, the ancient world never saw such a king for the one to whom that pointed was Christ Jesus. And indeed, on the cross, Jesus slew the great and powerful enemy, Satan, and demonstrated that he had defeated death by raising from the dead on the third day. In addition, when our Lord comes again, the scriptures speak of a time when all of the armies of the world will raise up against the righteous one and will be crushed under the foot of our Lord’s judgment. Indeed, what a glorious day that will be!
In the meantime, there is a promise that we can cling to as well. The work that has been begun in us by God is not work that rests on our skills or abilities to bring to completion. Indeed, it rests on God for His completion. And that is good news. How easy it is, sometimes, to get discouraged that the work you are seeking to do in a church, in a community, or even in a family is not bearing much fruit or any fruit at all. We set our timetables and our agendas for such things, but God has his own timetable and it is in God’s timetable that we must learn to trust and it is in his power (not our efforts) we must learn to rely. For indeed, as Paul says of this church, I too am persuaded that our God is able to continue his work in this world and even in this particular church until that day when he sends his Son to bring judgement upon his enemies once and for all time.