The bitter fruit of the Woke Left has begun to hit a little closer to home. A good friend of mine, and fellow pastor in the URC was doxxed and slandered yesterday by a former member of his church. The individual posted a private message that my friend had sent to him after the Charlottesville Riot in 2017. In his message, my friend had quoted from another article, suggesting that he shared some of the same concerns as the author.
The message was publicly shared as a quote from my friend without any reference to the date. The comments proceeded to mock my friends perceived racism. What I find most concerning of all is the fact that more and more Christians are learning their strategies for cultural engagement from wicked ideologies such as Critical Race Theory and evil organizations such as Black Lives Matter.
Corrections to slander and clarifications about the authority upon which we stand are desperately needed if any church is going to survive the Woke attacks. Unfortunately, as my friends situation reveals, those attacks are just as likely to come from within the visible Church as from the secular world.
Paul prays that the church would possess an orthopraxy that is grounded in orthodoxy. He prays that their love would be discerning, their values would be moral, and their fruit would be righteous.
However, remember who he is writing to. These Philippians have been generous in expressing their love and support of Paul. His prayer is not coming from a place of correction, but warning. The Church is always surrounded by antagonists. If we lack discernment, our compassion may in fact lead to further harm. Many Christians, led by confused pastors, are heading straight for a cliff.
Paul prays for the Philippians in this way because he knows the human tendency to behave in ways that are inconsistent with our beliefs. Even our best deeds are tainted by various impurities.
There are two ways to bear bitter fruit:
1. Your behavior is rooted in wicked worldviews.
2. Your behavior is inconsistent with your Christian worldview.
Paul shows us how to engage the culture in a way that honors God. Unfortunately, it follows a pattern that the culture characterizes as ineffective and insufficient. We can either bear fruit that honors an immutable God, or we can bear fruit that temporarily satisfies a fickle culture. Are we trying to please God or man?
Our primary goal is to glorify God through the faithful practice of our gospel mission.
Read Philippians 1:9-11.
Abound in Discerning Love (9)
Paul opened with a friendly greeting followed by an expression of his gratitude. The central verse in this opening passage (v.6) provides the statement of confidence that grounds his thanksgiving. Interestingly, Paul’s confidence does not lead to a relaxed approach to their ongoing growth. His hope is that his commendation would increase momentum in their conduct.
“Love” does not have an object. Therefore, it most likely refers to a comprehensive love for God and neighbor. As we seek to grow in love for God and neighbor we want it to be joined with knowledge and discernment. Chrysostom and Aquinas speak of an impulsive love that will not “stand the test of time” (Bockmuehl).
“Knowledge” is always found in reference to a spiritual understanding that comes from God (BDAG). Harmon notes that “Knowledge is not the enemy of love for God, but a necessary condition for its existence.” Calvin suggests that our love for God flows from a right understanding of him.
“Discernment” has to do with insight. Although this is its only occurence in the NT, it is frequently found in the LXX especially Proverbs. It refers to a practical wisdom that informs our actions.
Love, knowledge, and discernment are meant to develop alongside one another. Obviously, it is possible to grow in a love that is reckless (which is never a good thing contra Cory Asbury of Bethel Music). That is not Paul’s prayer. He recognizes the temptation to become so focused on love that we lack discernment.
Rob Bell’s Love Wins is an example of this kind of reckless teaching on love that leads to compromise on some fundamental doctrines. Basically, he takes the doctrine of God’s preserving love (v.6) and turns it into an argument for universalism.
Kevin DeYoung has a twenty page critique available online if you’re interested. DeYoung points out several flaws in Bell’s theology, history, exegesis, eschatology, Christology, and gospel. It’s apparent that Bell’s teaching about “love” lacks knowledge and discernment—therefore it fails to properly comprehend God’s love.
The antidote is not to hate, but to love others in light of the truth. John Calvin comments, “For, the greater proficiency we make in knowledge, so much the more ought our love to increase.” Our love is not hateful, but honest. In this sense, truth trumps emotion.
G.K. Chesterton, “Love is not blind. Love is bound. And the more it is bound, the less it is blind,” (Orthodoxy, 71).
We do not minimize truth in order to love, we love others by proclaiming the truth. This requires more than a superficial faith. We must be committed to the constant reforming of our own understanding. This admission that we do not know everything brings us to a humble submission before God.
We seek wisdom to apply what we learn in a way that honors God, equips the saints, and corrects the sinners. This is all part of our sanctification. We never arrive at perfection in this present age. Backsliding is inevitable, but never permanent (lest we forget v.6).
Love is the seed that germinates, takes root, and blossoms. Love is what transformed Lydia’s heart to become generous in hospitality. The same jailer who shackled Paul’s feet (Acts 16:24) later washed his wounds (Acts 16:33). Indifference and enmity transformed into loving and humbling service. As Alec Motyer notes, “Love was their new nature in Christ.”
Repent of any imbalance. On the one hand, there are churches that emphasize love at the expense of doctrine (i.e., “Doctrine divides!”). On the others hand, some churches emphasize doctrine at the expense of love (i.e., theological precision is all that matters). Think about your relationships (marriage, family, church, work). Are we motivated to correct out of love/bitterness/pride? Repentance is a saving grace therefore we must cry out in prayer that God would grant us the gift of repentance.
› Discerning love requires examination in order to…
Approve What Is Morally Excellent (10)
Our love for truth blossoms toward the goal of pure and blameless lives. Paul prays that the Philippians would have no shame upon Christ’s return. In order for that to be true, their love must be genuine, their thinking must be discerning, and their conscience must be clear.
Examine everything: Don’t assume anything. This language (“approve”) was often used in reference to the examination of the quality of precious metals or farm animals. In other words, this language complements the “discernment” Paul just called for. However, the purpose of that examination is the result of “approval” or agreement. It has to do with appreciating what is best.
Treasure what is excellent: The imbalance on both sides of the aisle is equally concerning. We focus so heavily on the need for knowledge and discernment to guard our love (v.9), and the examination for approval (v.10), that we neglect to abound in love and rejoice in what is excellent.
We can become so caught up in correcting what is false, that we under-appreciate what is true. This is not a criticism of doctrine, but of a failure to practice Reformed Catholicity.
Reformed Catholicity is the appreciation for a broad and historic tradition that ought to be prioritized over relatively recent controversies. The magisterial reformers could sift through the writings of the early church fathers and find the thread of gold that united them all to Christ.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “all truth is God’s truth.” That gets at the same sentiment. Whether that truth comes out of the mouth of a political opponent, or from the pen of an atheist, we can acknowledge and appreciate the truth it contains.
In his commentary on Titus 1:12 (where Paul quotes a Cretan philosopher), John Calvin writes:
“From this passage we may infer that those persons are superstitious, who do not venture to borrow anything from heathen authors. All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God. Besides, all things are of God; and, therefore, why should it not be lawful to dedicate to his glory everything that can properly be employed for such a purpose?”
In another place he writes,
“If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising the gifts, we insult the Giver.”
All this to say, in our vigilant attempts to examine everything, let us be quick to find and treasure whatever is excellent. This implies that we should not only withhold approval until we have examined something, but we should also withhold rejection until examined. Whether we are reading, listening, or watching teachers, we ought to look for the truth by which we might glorify God. Trust God’s Word, examine everything else.
› Girded with a proper balance of discerning love and a proper appreciation for what is excellent, we are in a position to…
Accrue in Righteous Fruit (11)
Paul transitions from beliefs and internal motivations to external behavior. Filled with obedience to God in outward expression to others. I use the word “accrue” because it starts with an “a”, but it is also consistent with the meaning.
Motyer, “When Paul depicts people who are filled, he is pointing to the future completion of a process. A fruitful orchard or vineyard does not happen in one day; it is the result of a long process of planting, watering, pruning, and fertilizing…In this setting the daily task of obedience remains hard, but not fruitless. We are often neglectful, frequently failing, ever inadequate; yet the end is secure, for God is at work.”
Harvest time arrives upon Christ’s return and the display of fruit produced in us by his Spirit magnifies the praise and glory God received on that day. The Righteousness that comes from God is the origin from which moral fruit is produced through Christ.
“Righteous” has to do with justice, doing what God requires. Justice has been twisted to refer to an “equality of outcome.” Pursue righteous fruit, not worldly justice.
In Social Justice Is Not Biblical Justice, Scott David Allen points out why it is important to define our terms,
“All cultural change begins with language change. Changes in language—new words, new definitions—can usually be traced to powerful leaders who may have lived hundreds of years before.”
Allen defines “Social Justice” as:
“Deconstructing traditional systems and structures deemed to be oppressive, and redistributing power and resources from oppressors to their victims in the pursuit of equality of outcome.”
We need to guard against worldly philosophy (Col 2:8) rather than opening wide our doors to them. Many in the Church have taken their instructions from the culture rather than Scripture.
Again, in our haste to guard against or correct the errors of others, let us not forsake the pursuit of righteous fruit altogether.
Belgic Confession of Faith (Art. 24): “We believe that this true faith, being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God and the operation of the Holy Spirit, doth regenerate and make him a new man, causing him to live a new life and freeing him from the bondage of sin. Therefore it is so far from being true that this justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that on the contrary without it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation. Therefore it is impossible that this holy faith can be unfruitful in man…”
The internal fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) flow outward in the fruit of righteousness. The later will not occur without the former. And neither internal or external fruit will be produced if we are not abiding in Christ (Jn 15:5).
Pursue righteous fruit, but retain the biblical meaning. The only way to bear righteous fruit is to be planted in good soil and watered by good instruction. We must guard against the poison of worldly philosophy if we want to produce anything other than the bitter fruit of cancel culture, presumptuous entitlement, and crippling dependency. Our pursuit of biblical righteousness/justice must be rooted in the truth, not vague perceptions of injustice.
Genuine, lasting fruit will be produced as we correct the influence of satanic deception (with discipleship in a biblical worldview) and assess the needs of our neighbors with the compassion of Christ. Honor God (not man) in the fruit you produce.
This is the right response to Christ’s redeeming love. The fruit we produce is the result of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Righteousness that is received through faith in Christ (Phil 3:9). Restoration in Christ leads to transformation through Christ.