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The Better Question



When Paul prays for the Philippians’ love to continually increase, he specifically prays for a discerning love. Why? “[So] that you may approve what is excellent” (Philippians 1:10 ESV). The benchmark is not what is average, okay, or tolerable, but rather what is excellent and outstanding.

In fact, later in the same letter Paul tells the Philippians that their entire thought life should be steeped in that which is honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). And if this describes your thought life, then what will come out of your mouth? Words that are consistent with this standard: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29 ESV) That’s the standard: “no corrupting talk”, “only” edifying, fitting, and grace-giving talk. Which means that your affections and thoughts must be healthy and in order, always gravitating to what is best.

And this brings me to a simple but powerful thought I heard many years ago from Pastor John Piper. In one of his sermons he was reflecting on Hebrews 12:1, which imparts a clear vision for our lives as Christians. This Scripture says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV).

In his reflection on this instruction, Piper contrasted two questions that represent two radically different approaches to the Christian life. When it comes to setting priorities and making decisions for your everyday life, and specifically when it comes to evaluating whether a particular course of action is permissible, the flawed approach is to ask “What’s wrong with it?”[1] as if this alone is an adequate question. In this way of thinking, as long as the thing in question – the movie or television program, the video game or music, the book or magazine, the friendship or social outing, the choice of entertainment or recreation, the way you do or don't take care of your physical health, the Facebook scroll or Twitter feed – as long as the thing in question is not obviously and overtly wrong, then the person feels okay about doing it.

While we obviously must avoid things that are wrong, the mere avoidance of obvious wrong is not God’s standard for our lives. His standard is much higher. Scripture encourages you and charges you “to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 1:12 ESV) As a Christian, having been gripped by God’s excellence and glory, you are equipped by “his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). Walk in a God-worthy way. Participate in the beauty of God’s holiness. That is the standard.

Back to Hebrews 12:1-2. When it comes to setting priorities and making decisions for your everyday life, and specifically when it comes to evaluating whether a particular course of action is commendable, the faithful approach is to ask, in Piper’s words: “Does it help me run the race? Does it help me run for Jesus?”[2] In this way of thinking, what really matters is the call to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). If a particular decision or course of action or use of time will help me “run with endurance”, if it will help me to keep “looking to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2), if it will help me to live a peaceable and holy and morally upright life (Hebrews 12:14-16), if it will help me to walk in love (Hebrews 13:1-3), if it will strengthen my marriage (Hebrews 13:4), if it will promote contentment (Hebrews 13:5-6) and generosity (Hebrews 13:16), and if it will keep my heart in an attitude of worship (Hebrews 12:28-29, Hebrews 13:15), then it is worth doing. But if that thing in your life doesn’t help you run but actually hinders you from hitting full stride, then it is a weight that must be laid aside: “let us also lay aside every weight”.

J. Wilbur Chapman, a late 19thcentury and early 20thcentury evangelist, understood the high standard of following Christ. He said: “The rule that governs my life is this: Anything that dims my vision of Christ, or takes away my taste for Bible study, or cramps my prayer life, or makes Christian work difficult, is wrong for me, and I must, as a Christian, turn away from it.”

What are the things in our lives that, though perhaps not wrong, are nevertheless not beneficial? What are the things in our lives that are weighing us down, that are having a dimming or cramping effect on our spiritual life? Let’s aim not for the low bar of what might perhaps be permissible, but for the high bar of what is manifestly good, helpful, excellent, and worthy of our God.

Always be asking the better question.


[1] and [2] John Piper, “Running with the Witnesses,” August 17, 1997. Published by Desiring God and available online:

NOTE: Header Image/Featured Image Photo by Hennadii Hryshyn on Unsplash

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