Philippians 1:10: “…so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (NASB).
In the Greek language, the word translated “approve” referred to assaying metals or testing money for its authenticity. Having knowledge and using discernment enable the believer to distinguish between the pure and the impure, the valuable and the worthless, the authentic and the counterfeit. When mining for precious metals the valuable metals are intertwined with rock and sediment that is often of no value, and it is necessary to separate the two in order to eliminate impurities and isolate the valuable metal. Likewise, we live in a world in which we are surrounded by and bombarded with impurities and worthless dross. We are called to approve only those things that are excellent–true, and God-honoring.
The word “sincere” in this verse, when understood in its original context and meaning, provides what I find to be one of the most fascinating word pictures in Paul’s writings. In Greek the word translated here as “sincere” means genuine, and in Latin it means pure or clean. There are many historical accounts of the prevalence of this word among pottery makers in the Roman empire. Pottery making was a lucrative business. After all, there was no plastic, and thus no Tupperware or Ziploc bags. Many of the storage containers we take for granted today did not exist, and pottery was used for the majority of storage. As with any business that proves to be lucrative, many people wanted to get in on the pottery business, and whenever there is competition there is usually a price war, too, as sellers try to beat their competition.
Pottery, of course, is shaped and then cured in an oven. Well-respected and high-quality potters would inspect their pottery after it cured for any cracks in the pottery. Items with cracks would be discarded, and the potter would start over. Of course, this meant that the price of his pottery was higher, because it was a more time consuming process to ensure that only quality pots were produced. Less honorable potters, however, would fill the cracks in their pots with hot wax, and then glaze or paint the pot, thus concealing the filling. This enabled them to sell their pots at cheaper prices, because damaged or imperfect pottery was not discarded.
Since finished pots looked the same to the naked eye whether they had filled cracks or no cracks at all, it became important to test the quality of the pottery. The way to identify if the pottery has wax-filled cracks was to hold the pottery up to the sunlight. If wax had been used to fill cracks, the bright light of the sun would reveal the filled cracks. As this practice grew, makers of fine pottery would mark their pottery sine cera, or hang a sign over the doors of their shops that said sincerus. This were indicators that the pottery was genuine…without wax.
So, what about the application? Just as the pottery had to be held to the light of the sun to reveal any imperfections, we must regularly hold ourselves up to the light of the Son. When we do so, we will discover our imperfections. The question is, when we find those imperfections, what do we do with them? Do we fill them with wax and cover them up, putting on an attractive outer covering? Sadly, many of us have mastered the art of concealing our imperfections. We look great on the outside, we do what we are supposed to do, say what we are supposed to say… Jesus had very harsh words for people like that…people who look great on the outside but are hiding sinful attitudes and imperfections on the inside. If we want to be sincere–if we want to be genuine and without wax–we must, like the honest potters, refuse to cover up our imperfections and instead do what is necessary to be genuine. Obviously we cannot “discard our pot” to the extent of throwing our lives away literally, but we can discard our “self” and allow the Master Potter to remake us. When we live for self and try to do things our way we are filling our cracks with wax. When we die to self and let Christ take over, then we can be marked sine cera.