The More Excellent Way

Phil. 1:9,10.---' And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment; so that ye may approve the things that are excellent '[R.V.].

We speak of love sometimes as if it were a mere sentiment, a mere emotion. Though why we should speak of a mere emotion it is hard to conceive. The very word ought to have saved us from such a foolish collocation. Emotion can never be ' mere,' since it is that which moves us to some course of action. There is no mental characteristic of our age more short-sighted than our disparagement of feeling and emotion. The average man is oftener moved to action by his emotions than he is by his reason. Indeed, men are never moved to vigorus and effective action until their affections and emotions are engaged. Certainly, love was not to the Apostle a mere sentiment. It was a force, a power, an energy. It drove men to action. 'The love of Christ constraineth me.' And it not only drove men to action; it had also a mighty effect on character. It cleansed the heart; it illumined the mind; it made the spirit sensitive. It is this particular effect of love that the Apostle has chiefly in his mind here. 'This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment.' 'Knowledge' deals with general principle; 'discernment' with practical application. We might state what is in the Apostle's mind by saying that love increases the sensitiveness and accuracy of our moral perceptions. When moral issues present themselves we see more clearly, and we choose more surely. Knowledge and discernment are born of love. Love is not blind; it is sight. It is the gateway to the highest knowledge. It is so even on ordinary human levels. A man must have a love for art if he is ever to become an artist or even to understand and appreciate art. A man must love music if he is ever to know what good music is. And a man must love his fellows if he is to understand them. You will never get a fair or true account of a man from someone who is opposed to him. It is not, perhaps, that the opponent wishes to be unfair, it is simply that he does not know.

It is only the lovers who really see and understand. And it is just like that in the moral and spiritual realm. When the fishers had tossed all night and taken nothing, and the grey dawn was breaking on the beach, it was the eye of him who loved that discerned the figure of the Master standing beside the fire of coals, and John said to Peter, 'It is the Lord.' And not only does love make a man sensitive to the presence of the Lord, but it refines the whole character; it puts a fine edge on the spirit, so that a man becomes ever quicker to know the Lord's will and to respond to it. That is why Augustine wrote that sentence which sounds so daring, "Love God and do what you like"; for if a man loves God he will know what things are beautiful and pure and true, and only such things will he choose to do.

St, Paul desired this gift of knowledge and discernment to those who follow Christ for a definite and practical reason---'that ye may approve the things that are excellent. It is not so much a case of distinguishing the good from the bad as of distinguishing the better from the merely good. There are degrees in fineness and delicacy of taste. That is so on the ordinary levels of life. Some are quite satisfied with the merely good; others will be content with nothing short of the best.

Take literature, for example. There are those who are content with the average output of the press; there are others who can find satisfaction only in the works of the immortals. he average man is satisfied with music which is quite obvious and plain. But the man of fine musical taste revels in the mighty harmonies of Bach and Beethoven. Or take Nature. There are some who are frankly bored by Nature's widespreading spaces. They want movement, excitement, sensation. There are others to whom mountain and glen and moor and sea and the silence that is among the lonely hills bring unspeakable delight.

Now, there are similar differences of appreciation and taste between men when we pass from the realms of art and literature and music into that of religion. Some men are content with the good; and some are content only with the best. We have an old saying to the effect that "the good is the enemy of the best." So it is. People are content to pass muster. They are satisfied with a Christianity that is more or less of a veneer. But Paul covets for his friends not the good but the best; not a Christianity that is little more than a profession, but a Christianity that expresses itself in fine and beautiful living. One reason why the Christian faith has made so small an impression on the world of today is that for the most part we are such second-rate Christians. The world does not see Christianity as the fine and exquisite thing it really is. We are content with the good; we have not sought the best. For there is a good and a best. One man may do a good thing, but another may do the same thing with so fine a grace that he invests it with so fine a grace that he invests it with an absolutely new glory, so that the good thing becomes an excellent thing. Take the matter of giving, for illustration. One man will offer a gift, but he will at the same time either complain of the multiplicity of calls, or indulge in so much scolding that the recipient is hurt and bruised and but for his desperate need would like to fling the gift back at him. Again and again we take all the grace off actions in themselves good by the way in which we do them: "We practice one virtue at the expense of another." Christian people should strive not only to do good things but do them in a fine way, with such a grace as will convert them into excellent things.

One can understand why the little girl prayed, 'O God, make all the bad people good'; and then added, 'and make all the good people nice.' Paul made exactly the same distinction when he said that scarcely for a righteous man would one die, but for a good man one would even dare to die. The righteous man is the man who is merely good and just, the good man is gracious and helpful as well.

And may we not illustrate the truth by reference to the Christian life in general? There is a conventional view of the Christian life---that it means joining the membership of a church, attending worship regularly, avoiding anything in the nature of open and flagrant sin, doing the decent thing in the way of benevolence and charity. That is the popular idea of what Christianity means. But how far removed that is from the New Testament conception! For to be a Christian in the New Testament is to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness; it is to follow Jesus to the place of prayer and the place of service, and the place of sacrifice. Laity seems to take it for granted that the Christian life in its fullness is impossible to men and women who play their part in the workaday world. They confine the term 'religious' to those who give themselves up to lives of devotion. But it is in the world that our Lord means us to take up our cross and follow Him. It is in the world He means us to live the life of sacrificial love. Christ is not satisfied with the good; He wants the excellent.

What an impression we should make upon the world it, of two possible and legitimate courses of action, we always chose the nobler, and if we did our noble things in a gracious way! But how can we arrive at such a sensitiveness and refinement of moral perception? The text supplies the answer---by abounding in love more and more.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha