Writing to the church at Philippi, Paul advanced the principles of practical Christian decision-making (Phil. 1:9-10).
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 offence till the day of Christ (KJV).
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ (ESV).
And this I pray, that your love may abound more and more [displaying itself in greater depth] in real knowledge and in practical insight (AMP).
Good judgment, high-quality discernment, and effective practical insight are the subject of this verse and of this article. These are required of us. But what do these terms mean, and how do we accomplish cautious Christian decision-making?
In a Word
There are two too-easy options; (i) reject everything and everyone, and (ii) accept everything and everyone. Saying "No!" to everything has a false impression of wisdom because it sounds severe and exacting (see Col. 2:23). Saying "Yes!" to everyone has a false impression of graciousness because it sounds magnanimous and forgiving. But neither of these too-easy extremes requires any discernment or any hard moral work.
Commanding judgment, discernment, and practical insight, Paul employed the Greek word aisthesis. This word speaks of the higher-level thought processes of (i) gathering information and (ii) using that information to reach best conclusions. Christians are obliged to cut through the haze of complications, accurately size things up, and then follow the highest and best course of action.
In the Context
Decisions are not made in a vacuum; aisthesis is not described in a vacuum; the context of Philippians 1:9-10 contains a lot of helpful explanation. Speaking of the highest and best kind of love, Paul first prays that our love (Greek: agape) will increase. Instead of sicky-sweet emotional love that sticks to the closest conclusion, agape honors God above all else and sticks to the difficulty of cautious decision-making. "In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands" (I Jn. 5:3). In this honor-of-God kind of love, we are to constantly make progress.
Second, Paul attaches knowledge to aisthesis. Instead of "Luke. Search your feelings. You know that I am your father!" Paul describes decision-making that flows from more thoughtful sources. Paul is referring to knowledge gained from God's word. Books, chapters and verses - not Darth-Vader, Dark-Side feelings - are the grist for the Christian decision-making mill. Too often, Christian decision-making abandons the scriptures for "the wisdom of this world (which) is foolishness in God's sight" (I Cor. 3:19).
Instead of being a mere philosophical exercise, aisthesis results in practical applications. We are to, third, "approve things that are excellent." This approval is not just a nod of the head. After testing, screening, and considering, we are to make the hard distinctions between what is evil, what is middling, and what is of more advanced excellence. We are to "Hate what is evil; cling to what is good" (Rom. 12:9). Ambiguity is just as abhorrent as the too-easy options of always rejecting or always accepting. The bad news is that we eventually have to decide and to do.
"Things that are excellent" are literally "things that differ." The force of Paul's words move us to make the fine distinctions necessary to distinguish what is the very best from everything else. Shopping for the perfect dress of the perfect suit of clothes, we by-pass much more than we buy. Similarly, Christian decision-making rejects much more than it accepts.
We have been conditioned to believe that the two too-easy options of (i) rejecting everything and everyone, and (ii) accepting everything and everyone are the only options available to us. But Christians cannot take the easy way out of the game of life. In order to be "pure and blameless for the day of Christ," we must first be knowledgeable and then be courageous in our discernment, never resting until we have reached conclusions that are the very best.