John Bennett, Pinxton, Nottingham [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
In the long list of salutations found in Romans 16 there is one that is of particular interest in relation to this article. In verse 10 it is said of Apelles that he is 'approved in Christ'.
The significance of the word 'approved' is that it was used after determining whether a coin was authentic. A coin that was 'approved' was one that retained its integrity of weight when put to the test. Whilst we are not given any further information to explain the reason for this approbation given to Apelles we are told a little of the characteristics that meet with divine approval elsewhere in the New Testament.
The Test of Peace
In Romans 14. 18 Paul writes, 'For he that in these things (i.e. the righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit of verse 17) serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved by men'. In the verses that have proceeded this statement Paul has been bringing before his readers the need for consideration and thoughtfulness in the exercise of righteousness, peace and joy, and with the desire to edify their fellow believers. Only in this way will the reality and integrity of their service be seen by men, and be acceptable ('well pleasing'), RV, to God, cp. Rom. 12. 1, 2; Phil. 4. 18.
Hence in verse 19 Paul's appeal is 'Let us therefore pursue' (JND), or 'eagerly and earnestly seek after' (Wuest) 'the things which make for peace, and things with which one may edify another'. Only peacemakers are approved, cp. Matt. 5. 9.
The need that gives rise to such an appeal is found in 1 Corinthians 11. 19. Here Paul writes of 'heresies (sects, JND) among you'. Where there is carnality there is often division, and the seed of division often grows into sectarianism. The assembly at Corinth was riven by partisan groups, with their ardent and uncompromising followers and 'leaders', cp. ch. 1:10-12; and by the self-importance and pride rising from the material prosperity of some, cp. v. 21.
In the midst of this sad and sorrowful scene the hand of God overrules. There are those who emerge from this test as 'they who are approved'. It is from such a scene that they emerge or are 'made manifest' (RV, JND), because of their work to maintain the unity of the assembly and making for peace by resisting and condemning any divisive actions.
The Test of Praise
In 2 Corinthians 10. 17 Paul writes, 'He that glorieth ('boasts', JND 'and goes on boasting', present participle), 'let him glory in the Lord'. It is essential that the ground or foundation of our boasting is appropriate. 'To glory in the Lord is due to Him and good for us; to glory elsewhere is a danger as well as a delusion', (Kelly), cp. Isa. 65. 16; 1 Cor. 1. 29. It must be remembered that it is God who assigns the work and equips the servant to do it. What other ground of boasting can there be but in God who desires and deserves the glory.
Paul's eye was fixed upon God, and he did not expect the commendation of men, but rather sought the approbation of God. What was the importance of man's judgement, cp. 1 Cor. 4. 3? Whilst his critics only had their own self-commendation in view Paul looked to a higher assize where things would be weighed differently, cp. 1 Cor. 3. 13.
Evidence of this is found in 2 Cor. 13. 7. 'Now I pray to God that ye do no evil'. The reason for the prayer is that Paul sought the spiritual progress of the Corinthian believers. When compared with the first epistle it is wholly appropriate that Paul should express his desire that the base, wicked, and injurious things might have been put away from a positive view, 'that ye should do that which is honest (commendable, admirable)'. What Jabez sought for himself Paul sought for others, cp. 1 Chron. 4. 10., which shows the consistency of his ministry; cp. Rom. 12. 17; 2 Cor. 8. 21.
But what makes Paul's prayer remarkable is the situation in which he uttered it. His apostleship was still challenged, his character still assailed, yet his concern was for them and not for his own reputation. The exercise of his apostolic powers upon the erring assembly certainly would have meant 'that we should appear approved'. The lack of a test to prove the integrity of Paul's claim might mean that in some people's minds 'we be as reprobates (disapproved)', v. 7, but that was not the primary motive of Paul. Paul could easily have vindicated his own name. Instead he left any vindication to God.
The Test of Principles
In his second letter to Timothy Paul writes, 'Strive diligently to present thyself approved unto God' (JND), ch. 2. 15. Paul is exhorting Timothy to give himself wholly to the service of God. This is no call for 'half-measures' and, as W.E. Vine points out 'it is one requiring diligence of repetition'! If one is to be 'a workman that needeth not to be ashamed' then it will require exertion. The term 'workman', or labourer, while not indicating any particular sphere of service also shows that there is no human glory attached to the work, cp. 2 Cor. 5. 9.
The test that can be applied is to our skill in 'rightly dividing the word of truth' As this phrase is the translation of a Greek word which only occurs here in the New Testament, a number of metaphors have been based upon it. JND translates it 'cutting in a straight line', which suggests the figure of the ploughman or the Roman road builder. In both cases a straight course is of paramount importance. In handling the scriptures it is essential that there is no deviation from the text or the context, cp. 2 Cor. 4. 2. There should also be a genuine desire to present the whole counsel of God, cp. Acts 20. 27. Only in this way can we hope to gain divine approval.
The Test of Patience and Power
In James 1 the writer is concerned with the believer's trial of faith; 'Blessed is the man that endureth temptation', v. 12. The patient and steadfast endurance of testing is what fames has in mind. This is not the temptation of verse 14 but rather the trials mentioned in verses 2 and 3. These trials are the instruments by which Christian character or maturity is developed. They come from without rather than from within. Thus, they are trials to be endured, not avoided.
You will notice that James does not envisage failure. The idea of failure is absent from the word 'approved'. He deals with success not failure. As JND translates, 'having been proved, he shall receive the crown of life'. If we ask, God does provide us with the wisdom that we need to meet the trial, vv. 5, 6. James reminds us of the example of Job, cp. 5. 11; Job 5. 17, to indicate that our endurance will carry divine approbation and approval. The symbol here is the crown or garland of life. As one has said, 'It expresses in symbol what is expressed in words in the greeting, 'Well done, good and faithful servant'. This is the spiritual prosperity or true happiness that opens the verse, cp. 1 Pet. 1. 7, 8.
Whatever tests may be applied to our motives and activities, will the outcome be confirmation of our integrity and entitle us to the approbation 'Approved in Christ'?