Philippians 1:9-11 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Many Christians are content to settle for second-best. They don’t ask questions like “What is the best that I can do?” but rather “What is the least I can get by with?” Paul wanted so much more for the Philippians and it seemed apparent by their growth that they did too. He wanted their love to grow in knowledge and discernment so that they could determine and choose what was excellent.
Nowhere is the disparity between those seeking excellence and those seeking mediocrity more clearly seen than in the realm of “gray areas”. What are gray areas? These are those areas which the scriptures do not clearly address. In other words, there are no chapters or verses which explicitly state these things are right or wrong. We need not fret however. Although the scriptures might not explicitly address these issues, God has not left us without the ability to determine the best course of action. By taking what we know from explicitly stated truths and principles in the Bible, we can not only discern right from wrong, but we can distinguish between what is good and what is excellent (cf. 2 Peter 1:2-3).
Gray areas are the favourite playground of those Christians who want to walk the line of rebellion. They seize upon questions of morality or behaviour which are not explicitly forbidden in the Bible and consistently choose the path of self-indulgence. Because these are “gray areas” they can flaunt their liberty with impunity and they do – while daring others to judge them.
Such behaviour is the mark of spiritual infants or worse, unspiritual rebels. The Philippians were far beyond such immaturity and Paul prayed they would continue down the excellent path.
When we face questions of “gray areas” in our lives, it would be helpful to consider the standards which the Apostle Paul established for the Philippians:
a. The Standard of Scripture
What does the Bible say? It may not address your question directly but it most certainly offers principles which can be applied to it. This is where discernment is necessary in addition to knowledge. Knowledge may help you bring to remembrance what the Bible says, but discernment will enable you to apply what you know to a variety of life circumstances.
When deciding on gray areas the mature believer will be able to discern the spirit of God’s explicit commands and determine if there are principles which can be applied to those areas which are not explicitly addressed.
b. The Standard of Love
Having considered what the Bible says and what principles can be gleaned from what it says, the next standard to apply is that of love.
The standard of love requires us to consider the interests of others before we make life decisions (2:4-11). We see a wonderful example of this in Paul’s epistle to the church at Corinth.
1 Corinthians 8:9-13 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
In this passage the Apostle Paul addresses an issue which was peculiar to the Corinthian church at the time. Was it OK for them to eat meat which was first offered to idols by others? If you read the context you’ll see that Paul states clearly that idols are not real and that for this reason, eating meat which had previously been offered to idols was not an issue. Yet, even after stating this, he went on to give stern warnings regarding eating this meat.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians strongly cautioning them against eating meat offered to idols. Why would he do this immediately after stating that idols were not real? Because the scriptures did not have to directly address meat offered to idols for Paul to see another principle at play. The Bible does explicitly state that we must love fellow believers and in Paul’s estimation, it would be unloving to do anything which wounded their conscience.
Paul, in his discernment, applied the standard of love to the situation and so chose the most excellent way (see also, Rom 14:15-23; 1 Cor 10:31-33; 1 Cor 8:13).
Such a willingness to sacrifice one’s liberty for the sake of others is a rare quality – but it shouldn’t be. While most are fighting for their rights and demanding justice, the mature believer is limiting their liberty and sacrificing rights out of love and concern for others (Eph 2:1-11; cf. 1 Cor 9:3-27).
c. The Standard of Excellence
The Apostle Paul wanted the Philippians to abound in love, knowledge, and discernment so that they could determine and pursue what was excellent. He did not seem to accept the notion that he as an Apostle was to pursue excellence while other believers were free to settle for second-best. He taught that pursuing excellence was simply a mark of spiritual growth and Christian maturity.
When determining how we should respond to gray areas, one of the questions we should ask ourselves is simply “Which decision leads to excellence in my Christian walk?” It should be the desire of every believer, whether they eat, or drink, or whatever they do, to do all to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).
Paul’s prayer for the Philippians was a prayer for spiritual growth. With maturity comes abounding love, scriptural knowledge, and wise discernment. These are essentials if we are to pursue excellence in our Christian walk. This pursuit of excellence was Paul’s prayer and expectation for the Philippians just as it is God’s expectation for us.
The above is an excerpt from Pastor Rick’s study through the book of Philippians