“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.”
- Philippians 1:9–10 -
The word translated “sincere” in this passage is a fascinating word in Greek. It’s a compound word: eilikrineis, from helios, which means “sun,” and krinō, which means “to judge.” Literally, “judged by the sun.” Now, what does being judged by the sun have to do with sincerity?
Well, in the Roman world one of the largest industries—if not the largest—was the pottery industry. And, just like anything else, the various kinds of pottery differed in quality. The lowest quality pottery was thick, solid, and easy to make. But the finest pottery was thinner and therefore more fragile. Often, when thin pottery was being fired, it would crack in the oven. Now, rather than discard those vessels that were cracked, dishonest merchants would fill the cracks with a hard, pearly wax that would blend in with the color of the pottery when it was painted. But if the jar was ever heated, the wax would melt, and the pottery would crack once again, and potentially become useless.
In ordinary light, no one could tell the difference between a truly flawless pot and a pot with a superficial correction. But when you held a piece of pottery up to the sunlight—to test it—you would be able to see the imperfection, because the wax appeared darker than the rest of the vessel. Honest merchants would often stamp their products with the Latin term “sine cera,” which means “without wax.” And “sine cera,” is where we get our English word for “sincere.”
And so just as this kind of pottery was “sun-tested”—held up to the sun to reveal cracks or imperfections, Paul prays that the Philippians’ love would abound in real knowledge and discernment, so that they would approve the things that are excellent, so that they would maintain their integrity. He would have them hold their lives up to the sunlight of God’s Word, and examine themselves to see whether they were who they said they were.
What about you? The call to integrity is not a call to perfection, but it is a call to be above legitimate reproach—a call to be open and honest about the sins you do do battle with, and to not hold yourself out to be something you’re not. Are there cracks in your character that you’re making room for?
And what sort of wax do you use to fill them in? Church attendance? Going to Bible study? Regular prayer time and Bible reading? Maybe even Bible teaching? Evangelism and other outreach ministries? Maybe just an “Everything’s just fine” Sunday morning façade, when there’s really a lot of trouble at home. No amount of religious activity will make up for the lack of integrity. When held up to the light of God’s Word, the wax will be revealed, and will be burned up on that last day with the wood, hay, and stubble.
But the Good News is: Christ has purchased godly integrity for His people. And He has united His people to Himself by faith. And as we look to Him for our identity, shaping our lives in order to receive the manifold benefits of His sovereign grace towards us, He will graciously empower our efforts to bring our practice in line with our position—to work out our communion with Him based on our union with Him—and walk in the integrity that was purchased for us on Calvary.