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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Discern What is Best

Discernment. It's a word that conveys the ability to judge things well and it's a bible word. In other words it's a quality that God wants his people to display. Here's how Paul puts it in his letter to the Philippians, "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ" (Philippians 1:9-10).

The aim of Paul's prayer for the Philippian believers is that they grow in their ability to discern - we might say - judge - what is best. And in making that good judgement, and all the more as the day of the Lord Jesus approaches, that they may be found pure and blameless. And then he says this, "filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God". He seems to be saying, when Christians make good decisions - when they discern what is best - those decisions result in righteous fruits and those righteous fruits are going to count for something (a purity and blamelessness) on the day when the Lord Jesus appears.

Now we know from the rest of Paul that no one is counted righteous on the basis of their good choices but on the basis of believing in the work of Jesus on their behalf. Here's how Paul says it to the Ephesians, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).

On the one hand Paul is saying that the good choices we make will be a kind of purity and blamelessness at the last day, and on the other he's saying nothing that anybody does can make them pure and blameless before God - only what Jesus has done on their behalf.

The reason he can talk like this, is that in Ephesians he's talking about a righteous root - something we can't produce, and in Philippians he talking about righteous fruit something we can produce (because of the root). The reason that righteous fruit will be valuable at the last day is because it will testify to the reality of the righteous root and, that righteous root was created by the blood of Jesus. Just as a bumper crop of beautiful fruit points up the expert gardener, so the fruit of righteousness in a believer points up the work of the great gardener - Jesus. We know this is the case, because Paul says to the Philippians that the 'fruit of righteousness comes through Jesus Christ [his death on our behalf] and is to the glory and praise of God'.

So we should ask, how is the kind of discernment that produces the kind of fruit that results in the kind of purity that Jesus is looking to see when he returns, obtained? And, Paul says, it's through 'knowledge and depth of insight'. And that knowledge and depth of insight increases as Christians abound in their love for God. So, as we see more of the goodness and purity and holiness and blamelessness of God day by day, and as we appreciate it more and more, we grow in our ability to discern or judge between the things that are valuable for producing fruits of righteousness in us and things that prevent or attack the crop.

To give us a helping hand, Paul becomes even more explicit at the end of his letter to the Philippians. Here's what he says, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (4:8).

This is especially applicable to media. Like in every age, the world is very good at creating appealing media that is the opposite of all those qualities. The world thinks its media are full of those qualities, but Paul is talking about qualities that align with God's qualities, not humanity's qualities. When he says lovely, he means God-lovely. When he says admirable, he means that which God would admire. When he says praiseworthy, he means that which God would praise.

And to make things worse, unlike every other age, this age is unique in its ability to make that media accessible. When we get in the car, we have access to that kind of media. When we take a shower we have access to it. As we go about our work we can avail ourselves of it. It's affordable, ubiquitous, and therefore it is one of the Christian's most present challenges.

Therefore, Paul is calling us to analyse our media. He's saying to us that the crop of fruit that grows on the tree of our lives will be limited by the choices we make with respect to media. He's saying, if we let the world's music wash over us undiscerned; taking no account of whether its lyrics are lovely, or pure, or admirable, or excellent, then we should expect that to impact our fruitfulness. He's saying, if we let our movie choices dictate to us what we think about, then expect that to result in lean crops.

And conversely he's saying, instead of turning the radio on when we get in the car, with all the access to media we have, choose the media that is wholesome. Choose the media that points him up. Think on those things. In other words in the choices we make - the discernment we exercise - as we walk through this world encountering its media offer, we are being encouraged by Paul to think carefully about them. To choose what is better and reject what is worse.

Paul is calling us to think forwards every time we put our ear buds in or turn to our favourite binge watching app. He's calling us to think forward to the day when the Lord Jesus appears and we'll see him face to face. He's calling to think of all the delight God is looking to receive on that day when he comes to find the fruit of the root - that is Jesus' shed blood. And in that moment of looking forward, to choose more fruit, not less. To choose more glory for Him, not less. And therefore to choose soul nourishing quality media and not the soul sapping media the world has to offer.

That is going to be a challenge, but it's one each of us must engage with, not just today and tomorrow, but every day of our lives. It might seem like an ascetic way to live, but it's actually a way of living that is noble, and pure, and loving, and glorious, and admirable, and praiseworthy, and excellent. These are the stunning adjectives Paul multiplies in these verses. It's better than the alternative, not by a bit but a lot, because it carries eternal benefits.


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