And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:9-11 ESV
It was Paul’s desire that the love of the believers in Philippi would grow more and more. He knew how important love was in the life of the believer. He fully understood that, because God has loved us, we are obligated to love others. God is love, and as His children, we are to express His nature. But Paul also qualified His request for increasing love by requesting that it be accompanied by knowledge and discernment. He was not asking for a sentimental sort of love, but a well-reasoned and Christ-like love founded on an understanding of the truth of God. Our love is not to be without discrimination or discernment. The psalmist writes, “You who love the Lord, hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10 NLT). Paul himself wrote to the believers in Rome, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” (Romans 12:9 ESV). In his prayer for the Philippian believers Paul gives his reason for requesting love accompanied by knowledge and discernment – “so that you may approve what is excellent.” The NET Bible translates that phrase as “so that you can decide what is best.” Our love, as it grows, if accompanied by knowledge and discernment, will help us establish right priorities and enable us to focus on what really matters. The problem today is that love has become non-discerning and indiscriminate. We love without thought or priority. We love food, cars, entertainment, pleasure and people all equally and without considering what it is that God loves. What does His heart beat fast for?
There are things in life that we are NOT to love. God hates pride. So should we. God hates injustice. So should we. But there are also things that are not immoral or unethical, that we have made priorities or “loves” in our lives, that have taken the place of God. We love convenience more than God or others. We love our own comfort more than we love God or others. We love acceptance, the praise of men, the things of this world, our own agendas, and a host of other things more than we love God or others. But Paul prays that our love will be marked by knowledge of the truth and a Spirit-provided discernment that will allow us to see what really matters. True love can be costly. God showed His love for mankind by sending His own Son to die. It cost Him dearly. God knew what needed to be done and He did it. His love was driven by what was best. Jesus’ love for us was also driven by what was best – what His Father wanted. We are to love, but always on God’s terms. Sometimes, our brand of love can do more harm than good. In our day and age, we have confused tolerance with love. We are told to love everybody. But what we are really being told to do is approve of what everyone is doing. Our love is to be all-accepting and non-discriminatory. We are not to judge. We are not free to disapprove. But the Word of God would have us love – within reason and with truth as our standard. In the Proverbs we read, “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19 ESV). God will not overlook sin. He can’t. So neither should we. That does not mean that we should refrain from showing grace. But at no point are we to show love without discernment. Sometimes the greatest form of love is that which points out the sin in another person’s life. If sin separates us from God, then letting someone know that what they are doing is putting a barrier between them and God is the most loving thing you could do for them. Telling them you love them while knowing that their behavior is an affront to God is anything but loving.
What if we prayed this prayer for one another today? Can you imagine what it might be like if each of us, as believers, were more knowledgeable and discerning in our love? What would it be like if we truly learned to love as God loves? Peter tells us, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 ESV). But notice that he says, love covers a multitude of sins, not accepts or ignores them. Yes, we need to love more. But we need love that is based on knowledge and discernment. We need love that approves of and agrees with what is best – God’s best. How did God love us? While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. God loved us at our worst, but He was not wiling to leave us that way. The apostle John reminds us, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV). “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5 ESV). God’s love was based on redeeming us and renewing us into the likeness of His Son. He didn’t love us by leaving us just like we were. He loved us so that He might justify and sanctify us. And we are to love in that very same way.