Every day we’re surrounded with a dizzying amount of choices. At every point in our lives, we have option upon option set before us.
There are decisions of all sizes: What career to choose? Should we serve on this committee at church? Should we take a five-minute break now? Should we quit our job and become a missionary in China? Should we spend today working on project A or project B? Should we exercise tonight or spend time with family?
How do we choose? How do we prioritize well?
And then how do we summon up the motivation to live out those priorities? Let’s be honest: Sometimes procrastinating on the internet is way more tempting than work.
In the first chapter of Philippians, Paul gives us divine wisdom on this issue. Tucked into his opening greeting, Paul gives us two simple ingredients for having wise priorities and robust motivation.
The Godly Cascade
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
In this passage, we see one thing leading to another, leading to another, leading to another – a cascade of godliness as I like to call it.
Start at the end of the passage and trace Paul’s logic backwards: One way that God receives glory and praise is from the fruit of righteousness, which comes from believers being pure and blameless, which comes from approving what is excellent, which comes from two crucial ingredients.
The first is love, the second is knowledge and discernment.
Knowing and Doing What’s Best
The phrase “that you may approve what is excellent” goes beyond what we may typically think of approval. This is not us rating something five stars or merely observing that something is recommended.
It carries with it the idea of action. We deem something to be an excellent option and then we move forward.
And the word there for “excellent” literally comes from the word meaning “to differ.” We have a variety of choices that differ from one another – and we choose the one that is the “most different” in its superiority.
“Approving what is excellent” is evaluating and pursuing the best choice. And I like the way John MacArthur elaborates:
Now listen carefully: it is not the ability to distinguish between good and bad. Everybody can do that. It is the ability to distinguish between good and best, and only a few seem to be able to do that.
What is the role of love? What is the role of knowledge and discernment?
Love provides the fuel for our fire. Love inspires us to run headlong down the path. Love for God and love for our neighbor is our source of motivation.
All of our lack of motivation can be traced back to a lack of love.
How to Love Well
Love also is the fulfillment of the law. Jesus said loving God and loving our neighbor encapsulated everything that we as Christians are to do.
So love provides the standards and criteria that discernment uses. Discernment and knowledge help us execute love well.
Approving what is excellent occurs when we can discern the path that is the most loving and then head down that path with all our might.
Simple but not Easy
I said these ingredients of love and discernment are simple. And they are.
However, they are not easy.
Knowing that love and discernment lead to effective priorities and motivation is about .00001% of our battle. Actually getting that love and discernment is the struggle. It’s not like we can just order more off of Amazon or grit our teeth and force ourselves into more love and discernment.
Chasing Love and Discernment
Yet, let’s not discount the power that comes from realizing that love and discernment are the keys to a fruitful life.
We can now pray fervently for these two ingredients.
We can search the scriptures for instruction on these two ingredients.
We can read books, we can study, we can talk, and we can think about these two ingredients.
We now may view cultivating a love of God and our neighbor as one of the most important productivity practices we engage in.
And we may focus a little less on the various goal-setting methods and focus more on the spiritual dimensions.
We now know the recipe for right priorities and right motivation.
Photo credit: Jameel Winter (Creative Commons)
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