This is the second time that St. Paul has made use of this expression—to the Christians of Rome, and now to his spiritual children at Philippi.
Let us see what the Apostle means by it.
I. It does not mean that they are merely to distinguish between good and evil, between what is false and true, for there would be no great difficulty in this; St. Paul means something far higher than this. They are, in fact, to distinguish between what is excellent and what is good, they are to have that sensitiveness of touch in spiritual things, that quick, deep insight into spiritual matters, that they can tell at once whether to do certain things would be good, or whether not to do them would be nobler and better. They are to approve the things that are excellent—the things that transcend—to rise to the higher life.
II. There is a higher life which we should all aim at.—Satan will tell you that this higher life is impossible for you, that if you have been baptized and confirmed, and come sometimes to Holy Communion, this is all God expects of you. This is how Satan tries to discourage us. Deep down in the depths of our hearts there lies the yearning for better things. It is God’s voice speaking to the soul, ‘Arise, depart, this is not your rest.’
III. The message of the Holy Spirit is a call to this higher life.—How can we attain to it? Not at once. An acorn does not become the king of the forest at one bound. So with the spiritual life. We are ever learning; every communion takes us a step higher; and there must be much prayer, much study of the Bible.
Rev. J. L. Spencer.
(1) ‘A certain painter was commissioned to paint a subject. He finished the picture and brought it to his patron, who asked him what his charge was. The artist mentioned the sum. The patron objected and said that as the picture was small it could only have taken him a short time to execute. “Sir, you are mistaken,” replied the painter; “it has taken me a lifetime to do that picture.” Perfection is only to be attained by a “lifetime” of earnest, careful striving after “things that are excellent.” ’
(2) ‘If you will not destroy sin, sin will some day destroy you. I see on a far distant ice-bound shore an eagle soaring high up in air, its spreading wings are tinged with the golden rays of the sun. Its eyes are fixed on some dark object lying on the ice; instead of looking upwards it minds that earthly thing—that dark object lying on the field of ice is more to it than all the sunlight, and the fields of glorious hues through which it might wing its flight. With one great swoop it descends and fastens on its prey. It has got its earthly thing; its appetite has been satisfied, and now it tries once more to rise, to soar up once more into those blue fields above. But alas! its feet are frozen to its prey, and there it remains, a sign to every passer-by of the power of the lower nature to destroy the higher.’