Love for God abounding in knowledge & discernment (Phi. 1:9)

Philippians 1:9 Καὶ τοῦτο προσεύχομαι, ἵνα ἡ ἀγάπη ὑμῶν ἔτι μᾶλλον καὶ μᾶλλον περισσεύῃ ἐν ἐπιγνώσει καὶ πάσῃ αἰσθήσει

1:9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, (NASB)

As an inspired prayer, this passage reflects God’s desire for His people. In exegeting this passage there are multiple questions to be answered.

1. Paul prays for their love to abound. Love always has an object; therefore, we should ask, “Love for what?” Is Paul praying that their love for others would abound or that their love for God would abound? Or is it both? Is one primary and the other secondary?

Theologically, love for God always precedes and is the source for love for others (1 John). Hence, if it is both, is the primarily love for God. Verses 10 and 11, while mentioning blamelessness which does have an others-focus, seem to focus primarily on our spiritual condition. That leads me to believe that Paul is talking about the Philippians’ love for God.

2. How then does love for God abound more and more in knowledge? What is the relationship between love for God and knowledge?

When I married my wife, I knew her as well as I could at that time. After four years of marriage I know her much better than I did then. My increased knowledge has resulted in increased love and appreciation for her. This is the way it works in our relationship with God. The more we know about Him and of Him, the more we love Him. As knowledge grows, love grows. The inverse of this is also true, love for my wife has motivated me to get to know her better. The more we love God, the more we want to know Him.

Whether epiginwskw denotes “real knowledge” as the NASB, or the prepositional prefix has lost its intensifying force and as a result the word is merely a synonym for ginwskw is difficult to tell. Taking a minimalist approach insures that we exegete the bare minimum Paul intended.[1] I’m inclined to think that making anything of epiginwskw as opposed to ginwskw would be reading into the text what isn’t there.

3. Not only is our love for God to grow through greater knowledge of Him and into greater knowledge of Him, but our love is to abound in discernment. What is this discernment (KJV: judgment)?

Marriage, again, supplies a helpful analogy. The more I know about my wife, the more my discernment with regard to her is refined. I can discern when she is pleased and when she isn’t. Little facial, body, hand movements that would have meant nothing to me four years ago are now clues to what she is thinking and feeling. Beyond discerning what displeases her, I have also grown in my discernment regarding what pleases her.

In like fashion, as my love for God abounds in knowledge of Him, my ability to discern the things that please Him and displease Him should increase.

In summary: In Phil. 1:9 Paul prays that the Philippians' love for God would abound in greater knowledge of Him and in discernment of the things that please Him.

... exegetical thoughts will continue later ...

[1] EDNT offers “knowledge as recognition of (the will of) God that is effective in the conduct of the one who knows God.” BDAG offers “knowledge, recognition.”


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