verse 10: that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ,
initial thought — God, who are we to “approve” anything? You’ve set us a little lower than the angels, and yet we will one day judge them. (Note to self: how does this judging in 1 Corinthians relate to Jesus’ analysis of judgment in Matthew 7? It’s the same root word–why will it be right to judge angels and yet so wrong to pronouce judgment against our brothers? Is it a timing/context thing? Or is it simply that in that day we will finally have perfected love?) You could have just told us, “hey, this is the way things are…accept it” but instead You encourage us to test and discover for ourselves.
Approve here is dokimazō. It carries the same connotation of testing/examining metals. God is the refiner of silver and gold, and Sorge says that we buy from Him gold refined in the fire when we allow Him to test our faith through the fire of trial. Thus, when we approve or test those things which are excellent, we’re functioning in God’s kind of judgment. It is when God places His kind of love in our hearts that we grow in the true knowledge of good and evil (not the counterfeit version Satan offered in the Garden of Eden), and are able to test all things and see what remains in the fire of trial. The things that are excellent (diapherō) withstand the fire of testing.
Interesting to note that this word diaphero is a verb and not an adjective. One of the definitions of the word is, “to bear or carry through any place.” So, Paul is praying that our God kind of love would increase over and above the set limits that we place on it so that we may ascertain what things will carry us through any kind of test or trial that we might face in live (a.k.a–the things that are “excellent”).
It is this “reasoning out,” the manifestation of the gift of God’s great love for us, that keeps us without offense. The more we search out the nature of God, the more we see that His ways are best, even when they would ordinarily offend our natural order.
Sincere here is the word, eilikrinēs, which means “found pure when unfolded and examined by the sun’s light.” This makes me think of clean, bleached clothes hanging out to dry in the back yard on a summer day. The natural light of the sun makes any discoloration or stain appear that much more glaring than that which hides in the shadows inside.
In the same way, Paul (inspired by the Holy Spirit–so, in reality, God) wants us to be transparently pure in our motives. We don’t come to God with lip-service saying, “yes I trust You” and really lapsing into unbelief. God hates it when we obey Him out of habit and tradition, professing to honor Him but living far from relationship in our hearts. When we approach Him, we must approach Him with clear motives, sincere in our devotion to Him and towards each other, and without offense (aproskopos: having nothing to strike against, not causing to stumble; without offense, not troubled by a consciousness of sin).
We stumble into offense and unbelief when we selfishly focus on ourselves and not the light of the Son of God. Often, the root of my offenses is that God didn’t do things the way I wanted Him to. It’s relatively easy to admit that I have an offense or bitterness against my brother or sister. It’s much harder to admit that I’m angry with God for letting things take place the way they did.
When we look to Him (through studying His Word and communing with Holy Spirit), we see clearly and know what steps to take because His Word lights our way. He gives us the gift of being able to discern those things that keep us committed to Him so that we don’t develop shadows in our profession of faith in Him. We only use this gift when we apply ourselves to study what He’s given us.