Like most letters, Philippians has an introduction. Paul and Timothy identify themselves as the writers, give warm greetings, and explain why they love this church so much.
Then Paul and Timothy give the church their wish list. This is not like a Christmas wish list, in which you say everything you want to receive. In this case, it is a wish list of what they want to see in the lives of the believers at the church of Philippi. Verse 9 begins this list that they regularly pray for and desire to happen:
“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment,” (NKJV, Philippians 1:9).
They want the believers at this church to exhibit the first fruit of the spirit: love. However, they go a bit further with this concept. Two parameters are given: knowledge and discernment.
Love without knowledge lacks substance. It is like a relationship in which two people genuinely love the other, but they know hardly anything about the other. And that is completely normal at the start. However, over time, you should expect that they are learning more and more about each other, their preferences, interests, etc. If this is not happening, it will stifle the connection between them. People have to “get to know each other” for anything long-term to be possible.
Love without discernment is dangerous as many ways of expressing love exist, but not all are in God’s design. Discernment is simply being able to distinguish right from wrong. This involves applying the knowledge one has. In regular life, this means applying what you have learned from experience. Spiritually, this means applying God’s truth that is found in His Word.
If you do not know what is right and what is wrong and you have no way of differentiating between the two, the situation becomes quite problematic. You cannot express love God’s way that cultivates trust.
You have to know someone to be able to connect with someone. Without knowing someone and discovering something in common or at least something interesting, it makes it quite difficult to communicate. And communication is the lifeblood of any relationship. Without communication, it is almost impossible to express love.
The ability to know what to say or do to show love to people makes a big difference. The words and actions you say and do can have a profound impact on their mood and how they approach their day. As noted earlier, most people glean a lot of discernment from life experience, such as knowing it is neither loving nor in your best interest to ask a woman how old she is. However, the fine details of knowing how to discern with regards to love require help that only God can give.
Paul and Timothy do not want the church to express love in a diluted manner that is void of knowledge and discernment, and that is why they are praying for the church. They explain even further in verse 10:
“that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ,” (NKJV, Philippians 1:10).
Paul and Timothy not only want the church to shy away from having a diluted love relationship because of a lack of knowledge and an inability to discern, but they also want them to be on the offensive and take action.
Approving things that are excellent is much more difficult than allowing life to dictate its own course. It takes a proactive mindset. One can choose not to do the wrong thing in many cases without too many repercussions. However, choosing to do the right thing often comes with resistance from others. It often means going against the grain.
God wants us to be unapologetically for that which is right. He wants us to be sincere in what we believe so that those around us have no questions where we stand. This does not mean abrasiveness, but it does mean sincerely and consistently standing for what God wants us to stand for and standing against what God wants us to stand against.
Verse 11 tells us how and why they should do this:
“being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (NKJV, Philippians 1:11).
In all of these things, we ought to exhibit fruits of righteousness. We can only be filled with these fruits of righteousness if we are connected to God. He is the vine; we are the branches. If you try to be loving with knowledge and discernment and approve what is excellent sincerely and consistently on your own, it does not work. It may in the short-term, but it cannot produce a healthy, sustainable relationship with anyone. We have to be connected to the source. God is love, and through Him we can love others well.
By loving God’s way, we bring glory to Him. Others notice a difference. The Bible tells us that we, as Christians, should be known by our love for one another, and we can only do that by following God’s design.