Author: Ron Graham
Test the Things which Differ
In Philippians 1:10 Paul states one of the great skills we all need.
"I pray that your love may grow and grow, based on proper knowledge and understanding, and that you'll sort out the things which differ" (Philippians 1:9-10, cf Romans 2:18).
To understand anything properly we need the skill to "sort out (or test) the things which differ".
Without this skill, we won't have a proper sense of values or a sensible view of the world. We won't be able to learn and make progress in life. We won't be able to build stable and loving relationships. Without this skill, we won't understand what we are told, not even what we are told by God. So this is a very important skill.
1 What does it mean to test the things which differ?
Some translations use the phrase, "testing the things which differ". Others have, "approve the things which are excellent".
The Greek word for "sort out" is δοκιμαζω dokimazo 1381. This means testing for approval, or examining things as to which are better than others. The Greek word for "differ" is διαφερω (diaphero) 1308. It means differ in the sense that one thing is better or more important than another.
The skill Paul prays for is the ability to think about things and test them in such a way that we can discover how they differ, and which is better or worse. We can then decide which should have priority or be chosen, and which should be rejected as undesirable or unimportant.
If you were buying a pearl necklace, you'd like to think that whoever selected the pearls could tell a bad pearl from a good one, and knew which pearls were natural, cultured, or fake. A person who could not "sort out how things differ" in looking at pearls, could not be trusted to make a good pearl necklace.
Just think what the lack of this skill would mean to someone looking for a marriage partner, or a career, or a church to belong to, or a new home to buy, or some food to eat? Such a person could make serious mistakes and end up divorced, unemployed, deceived by a false prophet, homeless, or obese!
Just as "star differs from star in glory" (1Corinthians 15:41) so in all our lives and pursuits one thing differs from another in value, and this we need to discern day by day.
2 Bible examples of testing the things which differ
We have several examples in the Bible of people with or without this skill. For instance...
- Mary had this skill, whilst Martha lacked it (Luke 10:38-42)
- Simon the Sorcerer was able to see the difference between his magic and Philip's miracles, but he couldn't tell the difference between a priceless gift from God and an item that can be bought with money (Acts 8:9-13, 18-20).
- Moses had this skill, and saw that suffering with God's people was better for him than luxury with the sinful in Pharaoh's palace (Hebrews 11:24-26).
You may think of many other examples.
A minister of the gospel needs to have this skill —even in simply choosing what to teach. Take for instance the subject, "Who was the Chosen Lady of 2nd John?" It might be a Bible subject (2John 1:1), but surely it differs in importance to many more worthwhile subjects that could occupy pulpit time.
The skill, however, is required for more than just choosing a subject. It's required for proper interpretation of the scriptures.
3 Understanding the Bible by testing the things which differ.
Why do you think people differ so much about what the scriptures teach? It's not because the Bible fails to communicate properly. It's mainly because people treat as equal those things which in the Bible actually differ. It can also be the other way round. People treat as different those things in the Bible which are the same.
For example, in the Bible, death is a thing which differs...
- You may some day be "dead and buried" (Acts 2:29).
- You may be in danger of "the second death, the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:14-15).
- You may be "dead in your trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1).
- Or you may be "dead to sin but alive to God" (Romans 6:11).
Here are four different deaths. Every time we read about death in the Bible, we must understand which death is being referred to.
We must also sort these deaths out in our own minds. Which death is the worst and to be avoided at all cost? Which death is the best and more to be desired? Which death is a gift Jesus gives, and which deaths are problems Jesus solves?
You see how we must "sort out how things differ"? Otherwise we won't make the right choices and follow the best path. We will be confused about death and unable to deal with it.
Many wrong religious beliefs are wrong mainly because people are making distinctions between things which are one and the same, or treating as one and the same things which differ. So let's be more skilled in wisdom for life and in understanding God's word by learning to "sort out the things which differ".