23 Aug 2020

“For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 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, fill with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God ” (Philippians 1:8-11).

We have just noted in Ephesians 3 Paul’s prayer for the believers to be rooted and grounded in love and to know the full and complete dimensions of the love of Jesus. In this prayer in Philippians 1, we see a complementary aspect of love that is required in outworking: discerning love – love with knowledge and all discernment that leads to approving what is excellent, pure and blameless, and that results in righteousness, praise and glory to God.

Before we look at this, notice Paul’s fervent affection and longing for the brethren in Philippi, one that is so strong that it can be described as yearning with the heart of the Lord Himself. It was as if Christ Himself was expressing His love through the personality of His servant Paul. Having them in his heart, Paul longed for their spiritual welfare that prompted his supplication on their behalf. It is a prayer that love for fellow-believers may develop in the qualities of knowledge and judgement (discernment).

Love requires instructing. Love is necessarily connected with knowledge for its inception, continuance and development. Love not only needs to be fed and nourished; it also needs to be taught, if it is to act intelligently. Spiritual love should not act by blind impulse, but be scripturally regulated. It is painful to witness sincere and affectionate believers making mistakes and falling into wrong courses through lack of light. Unless love is regulated by an enlarged and exact knowledge of the Word, and by that good judgement which is the result of matured discernment and experience, it soon degenerates into fanaticism and unwise exertions. A wholesome love is “love in the truth” (2John1), love informed and controlled by the truth.

Some Christians have apparently a ‘good’ understanding of the truth, yet are considerably carnal in their walk (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). Others, though defective in knowledge and unsettled in their faith, are yet warmhearted, having much zeal toward God and His cause. God’s people should labour for both. Only as love is regulated by light, and light is accompanied by and infused with love, are we well-balanced.

Something more than bare knowledge, even though it is a knowledge of the Word, is needed if love is to be duly regulated and exercised. This ‘something’ is termed “judgement”. Not only do we need to be thoroughly familiar with the Scriptures; if we are to make proper use of such knowledge, then good judgement is required in the governing of our affections and the ordering of our affairs. There is a vast variety of circumstances in our lives. These call for much prudence in dealing with them aright. If our hearts are to be properly governed and our ways suitably ordered, much instruction and considerable experience are required. Besides a knowledge of God’s will, the spirit of discretion is needed. There are times when lawful things are not expedient, and wisdom is indispensable to determine when those times and those places are, as well as by which persons they may be used or performed. Indiscretion and folly remain in the best of us. The chief work of our judgement is to perceive what is proper for the time, the place, the company where we are, that we may order our behaviour aright (Psalm 50:23). It is also that we may know how to conduct ourselves in all relations, civil and sacred, in work or in recreation, that we may conduct ourselves wisely as husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, or children; as employers or employees. Love needs to be directed by good judgement in all its exercises and expressions.

The two Christian qualities of knowledge and judgement are necessary in a community if we are to prevent disunity, fault-finding and to ensure that what is wrong is put right. The most effective way to influence another is to pray for him, and if a word of rebuke or correction has to be spoken let it be prayed over first and then spoken in love. A twofold result of acquiring these qualities is that believers would be able to approve things that are excellent, on the level of Christian character and demeanour, to become sincere and without offence in preparation for the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.

The fulfilment of the Apostle’s prayer will be that the believers will have the ability to discern, and then to practise in their Christian living, the really important issues in their corporate life as a believing Christian community. Such things would certainly include a closer harmony and the cultivation of a brotherly spirit, replacing bickering and dissension. Augustine’s dictum that the only thing which really unites men is a common desire for the same ends.

A further aspiration of Paul for his fellow believers is that their lives might be filled with the fruits of righteousness, for their present experience and influence as well as until the day of the Lord, unto the glory and praise of God. He longed to see the affections of the believers intelligently directed so they might fulfil the above aspiration to attain those fruits of righteousness. A love that is directed by an enlightened mind and a holy heart not only has the capacity to detect counterfeits, but sweetly realises the excellence of divine things and delights in them. So Paul longed that their love might be so informed and their understanding so guided by spiritual judgement and sense that on all occasions they would be able to distinguish between truth and error in doctrine. Paul was burdened that, in all matters of practice, in cases of conscience or where courses of duty were concerned, amid all the vicissitudes and perplexities of life, they might be able to rightly discern and judge, and that they might know this clearly so as not to be mistaken or deluded, but be able to act in comfort and confidence, assured that they were doing the will of God.