In Philippians 1:9, Paul prays, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.”
“Love” is such a common word to us that it is easy to miss Paul’s concern. We mistake love for a flimsy emotion, often mistaken for lust. This pseudo-love is portrayed as just as easy to fall out of as it is to fall in, but such love is foreign to the biblical teaching of love.
The love spoken of here refers to the Philippian believers love for one another. This kind of love is a divine love, a love which Christ had as we are told that while we were still sinners (his enemy) He died for us. It is a sober kind of love, a love that means placing the highest value on a person or thing.
And this is what Paul now prays will abound, yet more and more among the Philippian believers. A love that is not an affection, but a love that is an action. Now it is not shocking that Paul opens his prayer with the notion of love.
In his introduction to the Ephesian letter, he talks about love. In his introduction to the Colossian letter, he talks about love. In his opening in 1 Thessalonians, he talks about love. In his opening in 2 Thessalonians, he talks about love. And a lot of other places he talks about love.
And in those introductions in his letters, he very often links love with two other things: faith and hope, as he does in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, where he says, “And these three, faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.” There were many great spiritual virtues; faith was one, and hope was one, but the greatest is love.
Love is that unique bond that ties us to one another. In 1 Corinthians 13:7, Paul says, “Love believes all things, love hopes all things,” which means that faith and hope are embodied in love. So love is the surpassing virtue.
Because no matter what you do, it says in 1 Corinthians 13, no matter what you know, no matter how sacrificial you are, even if you give your body to be burned, if you have not love you are – what? Nothing – absolutely nothing; that’s very, very direct. The single greatest virtue in spiritual life is love, and Paul says that one of the main characteristics of a Christian’s growth is the Spiritual love abounding more and more.
Now what does Paul mean for this love to abound more and more with knowledge and all discernment. Love is a very easy thing to pervert, we see the unfortunate fruit of an unbiblical view of love growing vigorously in our culture, and unfortunately even in the church. Love is not an unregulated impulse. It is linked with truth in verse 9, that your love may cascade more and more, wave upon wave, in real knowledge. The thing that confines love and conforms love is true knowledge, epignōsis, advanced knowledge, real knowledge, true knowledge, full knowledge. Of what? God’s revelation, God’s truth, God’s Word. Our love will rightly abound as our knowledge of God’s word rightly abounds. Our love must reflect God’s love, and God’s love is revealed in his word.
This love is also discerning. In Philippians, chapter 1, verse 9 we read at the end of the verse that this love is to abound not only in real knowledge, but in all discernment. The word for discernment is a very interesting Greek word, aisthēsis, which we get the word “aesthetic” from. It is the only time this word is ever used in Scripture, and it means insight or perception. It has to do with moral perception, moral insight. It has to do with the practical application of that deep knowledge.
Many say, “Love is blind.” Love is not blind, not biblical love. Biblical love is very insightful, very perceptive. It knows exactly what is right and what is wrong, what is false and what is true, and it can make the right application at the right moment in life. Beloved let our love abound with the knowledge of God’s word, and with the discernment of what is good and true as we lavish one another in this great love. Let us be known for our abounding love as disciples of Jesus Christ.