Paul’s prayer for the disciples at Philippi was “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that you may discern what is best” (1:9-10). I think it’s safe to say this isn’t a prayer we hear every day and for most of us, it’s not something we personally pray about on any kind of regular basis.
The first thing Paul mentions in his prayer is love. It was James Taylor who sang, “There ain’t no doubt in no one’s mind that love is the finest thing around” and of course, he was right. And love for the Lord is at the top of the list. Paul has just spoken of “how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (v. 8), so it appears he’s referencing their love for the Lord.
His request to God is straightforward—he wants their love for the Lord to be manifested in “knowledge and depth of insight.” We might have anticipated him saying their love should be seen through service to others, kindness, or generosity, but “knowledge” catches most of us by surprise. We didn’t see that coming.
But he doesn’t stop there.
He goes on to say that he is requesting knowledge and depth of insight “so that you may discern what is best.” But he doesn’t stop there either. He wants this discernment so they may 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 the Father” (v. 10-11). And with that, Paul has said a mouthful! He started the prayer with their love for the Lord and brought it all the way around to them living in a way that brings glory and praise to God. In our better moments, that’s what we long for and live for, isn’t it?
But to retrace our steps, knowledge, depth of insight, and discernment are at the heart of this petition that ends so gloriously. There’s a good reason for that. You see, “love” tends to be a wonderful, wandering generality of a word. It can mean so many different things to different people—and not all of them are good. In fact, sometimes “love” can be quite toxic. Much of the sexual brokenness and confusion currently taking place in our culture springs from counterfeit ideas about love. Undiscerning disciples and even churches have adopted a “love is all you need” filter. There is a decided lack of knowledge, depth of insight, and discernment.
Jesus spoke of loving God with our mind (as well as our heart, soul, and strength). When we love God with our minds, we practice a discriminating love—a love that filters everything through the word of God. After all, “love rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Love and truth/knowledge are never in opposition to each other—they are simply different sides of the same coin.
As children grow and mature, they become more discerning. In school, they learn to distinguish different letters of the alphabet, then different words, and soon they are writing sentences and reading books. The same thing is true for disciples. God’s word teaches us right from wrong, good from bad, and true from false. The knowledge and depth of insight it provides enables us to love God discerningly, righteously, and gloriously.