Why is it important to love? When you think about the call of the Christian throughout the pages of the scriptures, we are frequently called to love. Not only this, when the character of our God is described, we are frequently told that God is love. When Jesus was asked what is the great commandment, Jesus responded, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).
Not only this, you will notice in the apostle Paul’s section of thanksgiving and expression of joy for these Philippian Christians, he says that it is his prayer that their “love may abound more and more” (1:9). So why is love important? Why is love the building block for a life of faith in Jesus Christ? To consider this another way, we are thinking about what love does and what love looks like in action.
Love Abounding (1:9)
First, let us consider the primary point of Paul’s prayer. He prays to the Lord that their love would abound more and more. We are able to grow in love and should desire grow in love. Paul is praying for these Christians that their love would grow and overflow. This teaches us something about love. Love does not happen to you but is a decision. Love is a choice within our control such that the apostle desires for these Christians to have a love that grows and overflows. Love is not merely a feeling that have for others but a choice that we make in our minds and hearts. It is a decision to love the Lord our God with all of our heart. In the same way, it is a decision to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is a decision to love one another. It is a decision to love in marriage. It is a decision to love our children. It is a decision to love our parents. It is a decision to grow in love and abound in love. Please consider love as a work in progress. Love expands and grows as we make the decision to act in the interests of God and the interests of one another.
But notice that Paul does not say that you simply must love more. Rather, Paul makes the point that love must be purposeful and directed. The prayer is that love would grow and overflow with knowledge and discernment. Love must be guided and directed by discerning wisdom. Love must possess with it a knowledge of God and Christ and the things of God. Love must also possess a moral discernment. We must see that according to Paul love does not exclude the mind. How often we may speak like this or hear people speak like this! Love acts in concert with the mind. Our society likes to separate these things. But love is not be to be pitted against discernment. We need wisdom and discernment to know what will be the proper act of love to show. Love is not blind. Love is not foolish. Love is wise, discerning, and judicious. In the scriptures, godly love is never spoken of as following your heart and disregarding your mind. Love must have moral discernment. Love for others must be based on the love of God. Some will try to criticize Christians that they should be loving. Yes, we are to be loving but we are to love with moral discernment and the knowledge that comes from God. We do not just love without discernment, which is the world wants. But that is not what God says. Many times love requires doing hard things, like correcting a fellow believer or disciplining our children or even withdrawing from a person who has turned away from the Lord. Discernment is necessary so that we will actually do what is loving, not what we think is love. So Paul wants love to abound, grow, and overflow but to do so with wisdom. Why does love need to act wisely? Why does love need to be discerning? Why is this important? Paul gives three reasons or three outcomes for love that grows with knowledge and discernment.
Three Outcomes of Love Abounding (1:10-11)
You may approve what is excellent (10).
First, the apostle Paul prays that their love would grow and overflow with the knowledge of God and his ways and with moral discernment so that they will be able to approve what is excellent. We must be able to judge what is right and good. We are called to be discerning people. Love abounding in the knowledge of God and in moral discernment is how we walk in Christian purity. Out of our overflowing love for God we will be able to comprehend the excellent and holy things of God. This is an exciting outcome when we consider the holiness of God which we have studied recently. God is holy and this is the means by which we will able to know judge what is excellent. Not only will we know right and wrong but we will be able to live at a higher level of spiritual devotion and obedience. Growing in our love for God is how we are able to make the right choices spiritually. This is the way to move from spiritual immaturity. Notice that we see this in the rest of the statement in verse 10. We will be able to approve what is excellent, “and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” The NASB, NKJV, and NET read, “sincere and blameless.” I think this carries the right idea. Our actions will come from pure and sincere motives and desires. This is spiritual maturity!
Let us think about this sentence in reverse. You will become what God has called you to be, that is, pure and blameless as you await the day of Christ, by determining what is excellent and having spiritual discernment, which only comes from a deepening and growing love for God. Loving God changes how we evaluate life and make decisions. If you wonder why people make decisions that seem so wrong, so illogical, or so strange, this is one of the primary reasons. Drawing nearer to God changes us so that we will discern what is excellent and make decisions that follow the excellent things of God.
Filled with the fruit of righteousness (11).
Second, as our love grows for the Lord we will be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. This is going to lead to explosion of fruit in our lives. I continue to love the imagery of fruit that is found in the scriptures. You cannot make fruit happen. You cannot will fruit to grow. It is like saying that I am going to make my kids grow. I cannot make my kids grow. All that I can do is give the proper care and my kids grow. When growing fruit, all you can do is make the soil ready for planting. Fruit is a natural occurrence. Growing love will result in right living. We do not need to look at the fruit of the Spirit and wonder how to grow in those areas. We must grow in those areas when we draw near to God and abound in love. We cannot help but grow in righteousness. Paul says that we will be filled with righteousness. It is not your working; it is the outcome. Listen to how the psalmist described this idea in Psalm 1.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1–3 ESV)
The blessed person is the one who takes his delight in the law of the Lord and meditates on God’s word day and night. Now notice that the person who delights in God’s instructions and meditates on the word of God is “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in it season.” What did this person do so that fruit is flourishing? He delighted in the law of the Lord. Do you see that this is Paul’s prayer to these Christians? Paul is praying that their love will abound, grow, and overflow because it will result in the fruit of righteousness. We see Paul explicitly say this in verse 11. We will be filled with fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus. Fruit is not humanly generated by divinely generated, which is what Paul said in verse 6. God is doing this work in you. Fruit will occur when we delight in God’s instructions and meditate on them. Jesus said the same thing to his disciples.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4–5 ESV)
To the glory and praise of God (11).
Finally, the goal of the transformed life is that glory and praise are given to God. We see the apostle Paul in the letter to the Ephesians constantly speak of all that has occurred in our rich blessings in Christ is for the praise of his glory. Paul makes the same point here to the Philippians. The purpose of our existence is to be to the glory and praise of God. This is the ultimate reason for our actions. We grow in love which will cause us to be able to choose what is excellent and bear the fruit of righteousness so that God is praised and glorified. We can never pay enough attention to this idea that everything we are doing on this earth is to cause God to be glorified.
Three wonderful results occur when we draw near to God, abounding in love, and delighting in God’s instruction. A transformation will occur in your life. You will be able to discern what is excellent. You will be able to have the spiritual aptitude to choose the right path. You will bear fruit as God desires for you. Your life will be a picture book and monument that brings glory and praise to God. Love the Lord your God and enjoy the rich benefits of a relationship with him.