In this series of three posts we are going to look at verses 9-11 and see how Paul is praying for the Philippian church and their love. These three verses are one sentence at the end of the opening paragraph and this prayer is a prayer for sanctification. This prayer is not simply a list. As we work through these verses you will notice that each clause of this sentence builds on the next one.
This is how Paul “always prayed with joy”1 for this church and it serves as an example for how we should pray for ourselves and for each other. What we will see is that we don’t pursue spiritual growth instead of praying, we pursue spiritual growth because we are praying. And it shows us that God is working in response to our prayers. God is the one who grows us in Christ-likeness through the power of his Holy Spirit. And when we pray in faith, believing that God will make us more like Jesus, we diligently pursue a life that looks more and more like Jesus.
A Model Church
Philippians 1:9 And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment,
In many ways the church at Philippi was an example of what it meant to be a loving church. But just because they were doing well didn’t mean they could coast. So Paul prays that their love would keep growing. He prays similarly for the church at Thessalonica.2 So even though churches like the Philippians and the Thessalonians were in many ways examples of love, Paul is calling them to continually grow in that love. There is no coasting in our walk with him. We can’t sit back and think we are okay. God wants out love to be continually increasing. What is interesting about this challenge to grow in love is that the love here has no direct object. Throughout Scripture we are called to love God and love others.
Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest? ” He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
When we let Scripture interpret Scripture we can see Paul is praying that our love would overflow up to God and out to each other in limitless abundance. We can’t go on auto-pilot just because things seem to be okay. And there is a temptation here that we all have to wrestle with. It’s easy when things are going well, or life is comfortable, to not intentionally pursue after spiritual growth. But Paul encourages these churches, that are great examples, to keep pressing in love. Keep on growing in being like Jesus.
But then he shows us what informs our limitless love. Biblical love is not an open-ended thing without definition. It is more than just a sentimental feeling that gives us the warm and fuzzies. Biblical love must conform to the truth of God’s Word. Often times people equate love with total acceptance. Love is love. Whatever emotional attachment I have must be accepted as love and any type of disagreement is un-loving. But Paul tells us that genuine love is rooted in God’s objective truth. And the more we grow in our knowledge of God, the more loving we become.
Love Grounded In Knowledge
Paul makes it very clear that the foundation of their love was knowledge and discernment. The Greek word for knowledge is epignosis.3 It means a precise and correct knowledge. When Paul uses this word it is almost always in connection with knowing God. Take Colossians 3 for example.
Colossians 3:9-10 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self. You are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of your Creator.
Walter Hansen said “Knowledge of Christ multiplies love.”4 The more we know of God, the closer we grow to God, the more reason we will have to love him and the more driven we will be to love others. Love is rooted in the knowledge of God. Otherwise we wouldn’t know how to love appropriately. We learn from Christ what it means to serve, forgive, and lay down our lives for others.
Ephesians 5:1-2 Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, and walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.
Paul is showing us that Jesus is the example and model of what true love looks like. And as we spend time in his presence, surrendering to his Spirit, he will enable us to walk in that love following his example. If you go on to read Ephesians 5:3-5 Paul doesn’t just say what it looks like, he also tells what love doesn’t look like. He is rooting love in truth. Throughout the Bible we see that the key to growing in our sanctification, the key to growing in our love for God and others, is growing in our knowledge of him.
Love Grounded In Discernment
Christian love is never a matter of mere sentimentality. Christian love comes from the work of the Holy Spirit bringing the knowledge of Christ through the Word of God. The more you are in the Word, the more your knowledge of God will increase, and the more your love will overflow.
But not only is knowledge supposed to inform our love, so is discernment. The Greek word for discernment is aisthesis.5 This means perception. It’s moral discernment in ethical matters. This verse is the only place in the New Testament this word is used, but in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, it is used 22 times in the book of Proverbs where it means practical insights that informs choices and conduct. The idea being communicated by including knowledge and discernment is prayerfully answering the question:
“What is the best way for me to love this person based on what the Word of God says?”
The more we saturate our minds in God’s Word, the more we will learn how to live out God’s Word with wisdom and discernment. This is truth saturated love and love saturated truth.
- Philippians 1:4
- 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
- Hansen, G. Walter: The Letter to the Philippians. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009