“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.
“In so far as it is right for me to think this way regarding all of you, because you are in my heart, in both the chains and in the defense and validation of the Gospel, all of you are partakers of grace with me.”
This is one of those points that, when I look at our modern translations, I just want to say, “Bah!” and “Shame on you!” Grump… Okay, now that I have that out of my system, let me explain why. You see, in our modern culture, people tend to make decisions based on their feelings and not based on their reason. People say, “what do you feel” about such and such when they ought to be asking, “what do you think” about such and such. The heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9) and we ought not to rely upon it for life decisions…we ought to rule over our hearts with a renewed and sanctified mind (Romans 12:2).
Okay, with all of that in mind (not in heart), we arrive at Philippians 1:7 and we find (in our modern translations) the Apostle Paul telling the Philippian church how he “feels” towards them. Bah! Shame on you, ESV, NIV, NASB, and other translation committees for bowing to the culture on this. Yes, this is how the culture communicates, but it is not how the Apostle Paul communicated. And while I am not always fond of the KJV/NKJV translations, to ye who have provided such, may God be praised, for you have chosen to be faithful to Paul and not to the modern culture. For the word that Paul uses here in the first part of this verse is frone/w (phroneo), which means “to think about something, to hold an opinion on a matter, to reason in such a way, to give careful consideration to something, or to develop an attitude on something because of careful thought.” The term has nothing to do with one’s feelings and everything to do with the way one thinks. Let God be true and every man a liar! Ha, it is truth we are after, it is what is reasonable that we seek, not what the fickle heart might set its affections upon; it is not about what we may feel. How far we have fallen as a culture to permit feelings to trump reason!
Thus, as the Apostle Paul reflects on the Christians in Philippi, he discerns that it is correct, accurate, and proper to think in this manner concerning the other believers (to rejoice in them, as he speaks in the previous verse, and to count them fellow partakers, as he speaks in this verse). Why is it right to think of these believers in a positive way? Because through their gift and through their prayers they have become fellow workers, even partakers, with Paul in his labors — even his labors from behind chains.
It is a remarkable statement that Paul is making here, that through prayer and support, we become partakers in the work of the Gospel just as we are partakers in the grace of the Gospel given to us by Jesus Christ. At the same time, ought that not be the case? Ought it not be the case that having received the grace of God, we would desire to support those called to take the Gospel to other regions in the world? Ought it not be the case that having received the grace of God that we would be burdened with a desire to pray for those who are actively laboring in such a task and for those facing difficulties and persecution for having done so? Ought it also not be the case that we find ourselves yearning to share this good news also with those in our own midst, to participate in the task of the Gospel actively by living it out and by reasoning with others about Christ? Or, have we become too busy, too distracted, and too self-centered to do so? My prayer is that were the Apostle Paul with us today, he would say of our church, “It is right for me to think this way of you.” And it is my prayer that when we hear the judgment of Christ, what we hear is, “Well done.” May Jesus think this way about us as well.