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Love Must Mature

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A little boy was told by his doctor that he could save his little sister’s life by giving her some blood. The six-year-old girl was near death, a victim of a disease from which the boy had made a marvelous recovery two years earlier. Her only chance for restoration was a blood transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the illness. Since the children had the same rare blood type, the boy was the ideal donor.

“Johnny, would you like to give your blood for Mary?” the doctor asked. The boy hesitated. His lower lip started to tremble. Then he smiled, and said, “Sure Doc. I’ll give my blood for my sister.” Soon the two children were wheeled into the operating room—Mary, pale and thin; Johnny, robust and the picture of health. Neither spoke, but when their eyes met, Johnny grinned.

As his blood siphoned into Mary’s veins, one could almost see new life come into her tired body. The ordeal was almost over when Johnny’s brave little voice broke the silence, “Say Doc, when do I die.”

It was only then that the doctor realized what the moment of hesitation, the trembling of the lip, had meant earlier. Little Johnny actually thought that in giving his blood to his sister he was giving up his life! And in that brief moment, he had made his great decision!

True love is this, that a person lay down his life for another (John 15:13). Little Johnny had done just that. At least he had done that in his mind. While his life demonstrates true love, with its other-centered focus and its all consuming passion for the welfare of others, it also demonstrates a crucial aspect of love that needs to be addressed more than ever by Christians today: Love must mature. It must relate to everyday life and be grounded in knowledge and insight.

Love, at its heart, is sacrificial, but it is also wise. Love cannot be reduced to the once-for-all act of offering oneself for another (though this might be the greatest demonstration of it), it must also live day to day with people. It must—if it is ever to approach Biblical love—attempt to clearly understand what it is doing and actions that befit it. It is this day-to-day aspect of Biblical love that is the special burden of this discussion. It is also the special concern of Paul in the book of Philippians, especially Phil 1:9-11. Let’s read the text and reflect on it for awhile.

1:9 And I pray this, that your love may abound even more and more in knowledge and every kind of insight 1:10 so that you can decide what is best, and so be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ, 1:11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

Out of his own great love for the Philippians, Paul prays for their love for one another. He prays that their love may abound so that they may be able to discern what is best…so that they may live lives filled with righteousness to the glory and praise of God. Did you notice an obvious fact, however: Paul is telling them his prayer. He’s sharing with them the actual content of his prayer. Why? Probably because this gives his prayer an exhortational force. That is, by sharing his prayers in this manner he is implicitly encouraging them to act on it!1 While some people pray long prayers which are short on importance, this is a short prayer, long on importance.

Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer told the following story regarding prayer: It seems that a certain minister was in the habit of profound prayers, oftentimes resorting to words beyond the ken of his simple flock. This went on week after week, to the dismay and frustration of the congregation. At last, a wee Scottish woman in the choir ventured to take the matter into her own hands. On a given Sunday, as the minister was waxing his most eloquently verbose, the little woman reached across the curtain separating the choir from the pulpit. Taking a firm grasp on the frock tail of the minister, she gave it a yank, and was heard to whisper, “Jes’ call ‘im Fether, and ask ‘im for somethin’.”

So Paul doesn’t scrape the Milky Way, per se, or review of all of his latest theological insights—you know, to impress God—but calls God “Fether,” so to speak, and then makes his request known to God. Again, it’s a small prayer, but it contains huge, life-changing requests!

Paul says, “And I pray this, that your love abound even more and more….” Paul knows that even though they have struggles in the church and even though there is some selfishness—look at 2:3-4 and 4:2-3—he nonetheless recognizes the love they do have and asks God to grow it. He wants their love to abound (perisseuh) for the day of Christ, that is, to grow magnificently, not just in “dribs and drabs.” 2,3 Theirs is to be a growing, deep, and abiding love.

“True love is a splendid host,” says, John Henry Jewett (The Epistles of St. Peter). “There is love whose measure is that of an umbrella. There is love whose inclusiveness is that of great marquee. And there is love whose comprehension is that of the immeasurable sky. The aim of the New Testament is the conversion of the umbrella into a tent and the merging of the tent in the glorious canopy of the all-enfolding heavens…Push back the walls of family love until they include the neighbor; again push back the walls until they include the stranger; again, push back the walls until they comprehend the foe.”

Paul says he wants the Philippians’ love for one another to push back and to overflow. It is to include everyone. The Greek term translated “overflow” is perisseuh. It connotes the idea of “abundance,” “richness,” and “supply unlimited.” It was a special word for Paul. He employed it to refer to God’s gracious acts on our behalf, and to the attendant blessing in our lives and our ensuing responsibility. Thus it refers to the abundant grace of salvation (Ephesians 1:8) and the abundance of our righteousness which the Spirit wants to produce in us. We have abundant joy because of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13). Further, we should overflow in our work for the resurrected Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58) and as Paul says here in Phil 1:9, we ought to overflow in our love for others. We ought to have an abundance of love for our Christian brothers and sisters.

Therefore, Paul wants our love to richly abound to others, but it is a certain kind of love he has in mind. It is not just warm sentiment. That is, it is not a love that is divorced from practical wisdom, truth, and day to day living. It is a love that is to pour over into the lives of others on the basis of “knowledge” (epignwsis) and “every kind of insight” (pash aisqhsei). Only with such a foundation of knowledge and insight can real love lead to a life of discernment and a life filled with the fruit of righteousness. But what does Paul mean specifically by knowledge and every kind of insight? The first term knowledge is not what we generally think of when we speak about knowledge. We say that a person is “knowledgeable” or we refer to a particular discipline as a “field of knowledge.” In these cases we are basically referring to knowledge as factual information about this or that subject. But that is not what Paul has in mind here. The knowledge about which he speaks and the insight to which he refers is the kind of understanding that is able to bridge the gap between spiritual realities and Biblical truths and their application in every day situations. It is knowledge of God and it’s application in life via penetrating insight into practical situations in relationships. The two terms basically combine to express the single idea of personal, spiritual wisdom for godly living.4

Sydney B. Simon has said that “wisdom is grown when knowledge is lived.” This is the truth Paul is pushing in this passage.

There was once a very wise king. Wise because he knew how to get to the heart of an issue, as it were, and then give a wise and just ruling. One day two women appeared before him, each was a prostitute. The first woman stepped forward and pleaded her case. “My lord, the king,” she said, “I have a complaint against this woman. You see, the two of us live in the same house. I had a baby and then three days after my baby was born, this woman too had a child. Now there were only the two of us living in the house at the time.”

She continued, “During the night, my lord, this woman’s child died, when she lay on him. So, she quietly got up, made her way to where I, your servant, was laying, and took my son. She took my son, put him at her breast, and then put her dead son at my breast. When I got up in the morning to nurse and care for my son, I found that he was dead. But when the sun came up and the light entered the room, I quickly realized that it wasn’t my son after all.”

She no sooner had finished explaining this that the second woman looked at the king and angrily retorted, “No, the living son is mine and the dead son is hers.” Quickly the first woman responded and cried out, “No, the dead son is yours and the living child is mine.” And there they were standing, yelling and arguing before the king.

The wise king thought for a moment and summarized the situation: “The first woman says, My son is alive and the other’s is dead,” and the second says, “No, your son is dead and mine is alive.”

Immediately the king turned to his attendants and requested that they bring him a sword. So the attendant quickly brought a sword. Without hesitation the king said, “Cut the living child in two. Give half to one of the women and half to the other.”

The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved with compassion for her son and asked the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby. Don’t kill him.” But the other woman interrupted her and demanded that neither of them should have the baby. “Cut the living boy in half,” she demanded.

Then the wise king, Solomon by name, gave his ruling. Give the living child to the first woman. Do not kill him. She is his mother.”—1 Kings 3:16-28

Solomon had asked God for wisdom and the Lord certainly answered! Solomon, by the grace of God, was enabled to penetrate into the true nature of people, and according to God’s truth and justice, made an incredible ruling where love and truth were upheld. The lie was rooted out and the correct woman got her child back. So it is with us. Let us pray that the Lord enables our love for him and others to overflow in knowledge and every insight into life and the various circumstances in which we find ourselves. We need to learn to “live out” Biblical truth in a practical, every day kind of way. Vague notions of Scriptural truths, coupled with fuzzy understandings of how those truths apply in real situations, leads to a Christianity which has neither eyes nor a heart: it cannot see where it is going and doesn’t really care that much either. As Aristotle said, “Generalities are the refuge of the weak mind.”

But there are profound reasons Paul wants their love to abound with knowledge and depth of sight. Actually he gives two purposes for this. The first is so that they might be able to discern what is best…and the second is so that God will be glorified by the righteous quality of their lives. Let’s look at the first of these.

First, Paul says that he wants their love to abound in knowledge and every insight, i.e., depth of insight (so NIV), so that they might be able to decide what is best, that is discern what is best. Ah, yes, discernment. That rare ethical virtue that recognizes, as Philip Sydney has said, “that one should never wake a sleeping lion” and “a lean compromise is better than a fat lawsuit.” Discernment is arrived at by hard thinking and attentive listening, by thinking about the way things really are and the implications of one’s beliefs and actions. It involves clear perception or as Winston Churchill has said, discernment “is getting the true picture, whatever it is.”

The verb decide/discern (dokimazein) in Philippians 1:10 carries the idea “to prove something as credible, worthy, or true by testing it.” It was used to refer to the testing of metals and coins to appraise their worth. It is used in Luke 14:19 when a man who was invited to the great banquet said that he could not come because he had just bought five yoke of oxen and he needed to go and test them out, to see if they were any good. The identical expression, “decide what is best” appears in Romans 2:18 where it refers to a Jew approving a higher moral standard according to the Law and the revealed will of God.

In 1995 Jane Brody reported in the New York Times that Boston researchers had demonstrated for the first time that the eye has two functions.

“Just as the human ear controls both hearing and balance,” she writes, “the eye…not only permits conscious vision but also independently registers light impulses that regulate the body’s internal daily clock. Even people who are totally blind and have no perception of light can have normal hormonal responses to bright light.” This second function of the eye, which regulates the body’s twenty-four-hour clock, keeps in order our biological rhythms, such as sleep.5

May I suggest to you that the eye has yet another function as well? According to Jesus, the eye—that is, the “eye of the soul”—has yet a third and most important function, and it too concerns light and darkness: “Your eye is the lamp of the body. When your eyes are good, your whole body is full of light. But when they are bad, your whole body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness” (Luke 11:34-35).

The “eye of the soul”—that discerning function in all of us—regulates our heart twenty-four hours a day. It goes well beyond enabling physical vision and controlling our biological rhythms. It controls us, all right, but at a higher level—at the level of our spiritual experience. Thus, like the physical eye it too responds to stimuli, spiritual stimuli, however, and once trained by God through Scripture, the Spirit, and experience, it refuses darkness at the door of the heart and bids only light enter. When functioning well it gives us our vision of the spiritual world and guards our heart day in and day out. That “eye of the soul” is spiritual discernment; it gives us vision and regulates our moral lives.

This is what Paul is getting at here in Philippians 1:10. The discerning person asks questions about their beliefs and actions—questions such as: (1) what do I believe about God? Is it according to Scripture? Is it a deep personal and accurate knowledge or is it merely academic and powerless? (2) How then should I make choices in daily life? Just because something is permissible for me, does that mean it is beneficial (1 Cor 6:12a)? Is what I’m doing mastering me and, therefore, rendering me an idolater (1 Cor 6:12b-13)? Is what I want to do going to help or hinder someone else’s walk with the Lord? In other words, do I count my freedom in gray areas more important than the faith of another Christian? Concerning my actions, the bottom line is: “Am I acting out of love for others, or out of selfish desires?” The only thing that counts, says Paul, is faith expressing itself through love (Gal 5:6). These are the questions that discernment asks and it regulates it’s answers on the basis of Scriptural revelation, not just how I feel about something.

The goal of this discernment is to be able to know and choose the best course of action in any situation. Let me say at the outset that nobody, except Christ, has ever lived a perfect life, but God wants to train us to live like His Son (2 Tim 3:16-17). So hang in there. Discernment is the art of separating the best thing from the good things. This takes years and experience. According to the Christian Society Medical Journal (Spring 1977), choices are indeed important and it’s important when presented with options to make the best choice: “It may be true that there are two sides to every question, but it is also true that there are two sides to a sheet of flypaper, and it makes a big difference to the fly which side he chooses.”

The reason and goal for the discernment of the things that are best is so that Christians might live sincere and blameless lives for the Day of Christ. The term best (ta diaferonta) refers to that which is excellent, surpassing in value, that which really matters, is critical to spiritual growth and healthy Christian relationships.

The term sincere (eilikrineis) can be translated as “without spot” and refers to moral purity. Originally, the term was derived from two words: (1) “sun”; (2) “judge.” Together the sense was “tested against the light of the sun,” “completely pure,” and “spotless.” The picture may be, as Hawthorne has suggested, of someone bringing a garment or the like out into the sun to see if there be any stain or spot on it.6 From the time of Plato on it has been used in a moral sense, as is the case here in Phil 1:10 and in the rest of the NT (see 1 Cor 5:8; 2 Cor 1:12; 2:17; 2 Peter 3:1).7

The Christian Reader tells the following story of the purity Christians seek when God is working in their heart.

In the spring of 1995, revival broke out on many college campuses across America. One characteristic of this visitation from God was students dealing with sinful habits that they had previously let linger in their lives. Bonne Steffen interviewed several of the students for the Christian Reader; one student named Brian at Asbury College said:

“I was a leader on campus. We had invited Wheaton students to come and share. At first, I was praying for other people, but then I began to think about my struggles. I stood in line for three hours with one of my best friends all the time thinking, ‘How can I get up here and admit that I am less than perfect?’ But I also realized that being a Christian campus isn’t protection from the world. I have really struggled with lust. I found I wasn’t alone. It was an issue for a lot of others. Personally, I wanted the chain to be broken; I wanted that stuff out of my life. If it meant no magazines, no television, I was willing to eliminate them. A number of us signed a paper stating our desire for purity, which we put in a box and placed on the altar. I’m still accountable to other people. My deepest desire is to be pure in my heart and thoughts.”8

Purity is a serious issue and should be given great consideration, not just in the realm of sexual ethics, as Brian was discussing—as necessary and vital as this area certainly is—but also in all areas of life. We need to be sincere and pure in how we run our businesses, conduct our affairs, relate to our children, wife, relatives, non-Christian friends, etc. God demands purity.

God also demands that we be blameless (aproskopoi) that is, that we take great pains not to cause someone else to stumble in the Christian life. This word particularly concerns the use of our liberty in Christ. We ought to give careful consideration to what we do in front of other Christians lest they be needlessly offended. Of course, some Christians are what I call professional babies, grace killers actually. They will never grow up in the truth, emotionally or spiritually, and they want (need?) you to stay where they are. In fact, nothing makes them happier in discussions of liberty than to limit your freedom according to their so-called freedom. In that way they can easily evaluate where you fit and whether you pass their holiness/spiritual measuring test. Then they can decide whether or not to have fellowship with you. In truth, however, they pulled off the road toward growth several years ago, parked their lives (oh yes, and the emergency break is pulled hard), and have never ventured out again. It was too scary. They are more properly referred to as “those who cause both others and the gospel to stumble.” In short, Paul’s point here is that we must not unnecessarily cause others to stumble, but we must not allow our freedom to be limited by Christians who have never grown, nor do they care to grow.

In summary, do you want your life to result in the glory of God when Christ returns? Then live a righteous life; indeed, let your life be filled with the righteousness of Christ. If you want that, lead a pure and blameless life through discernment which arises out of love—a love which is grounded in a personal knowledge of God and the world, and, therefore, has profound insight into the way people are and behave. It is able to work out godly solutions to tough problems which plague many relationships.

Writes a surgeon: I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon has followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove her tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.

Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks.

“Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says. “It’s kind of cute.”

All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a God. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I so close can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.

This is love grounded in personal knowledge of God and insight into people’s needs. It is a day to day love that knows what to do in each and every situation. It is a love which reflects Christ’s righteousness and is to the glory of God. While it is sacrificial, it nonetheless stands in contrast to the love of little Johnny; it is a love that completely understands what it is doing. It is, therefore, a maturing love.


1 So Martin, Philippians, 68.

2 Ethelbert Stauffer, TDNT, 1:50-51. There are several words in his prayer that need discussion and exposition in order to get the richness of what the apostle is asking God for. The first term is love. While Paul speaks only sparingly of love for God (Rom 8:28; 1 Cor 8:3), he nonetheless emphasizes love in relationships between Christians (1 Thess 4:9; Col 1:4; 3:19; Phlmn 5; Eph 4:2; 5:25; 6:23). Stauffer comments on Paul’s use of love (agaph) in his letters:

Paul takes up the command of Jesus that we should love our neighbors, and establishes it in the same way as the Lord. But his true interest is concentrated on brotherly love. The organic principle which is given once and for all with the orientation of love to the neighbour is here worked out in terms of organisation (sic). Neighbourly love, once a readiness to help compatriots in the covenant people of Israel, is now service rendered to fellow-citizens in the new people of God. It implies making the welfare of the brotherhood the guiding principle of conduct.

3 Stauffer, TDNT, 1:51; “Decisive definition is given to brotherly love, however, by the cosmic, historical kairov" [“time”] which demands it. Brotherly love is the only relevant and forward looking attitude in this time of decision between the cross and the tevlo" [“end”]. It stands under the sign of the cross. It is a readiness for service and sacrifice, for forgiveness and consideration, for help and sympathy, for lifting up the fallen and restoring the broken in a fellowship that owes its very existence to the mercy of God and the sacrificial death of Christ…With love the power of the future age already breaks into the present form of the world. As for Jesus, so for Paul agaph is the only vital force which has a future in this aeon [i.e., now until Christ returns] of death.”

Thus love is the active pursuit of other people and those things which are beneficial for them. Paul wanted the Philippians to understand that love, not division (4:2-3) or selfish ambition (2:3-4), should characterize their church. They ought to love one another, caring for the needs of others and humbly stand united in the defense of the gospel (1:26-30). There is an eschatology or future looking aspect to love in other letters of Paul and so also in Philippians. Paul says that it is his desire that their love abound…until the day of Christ.

4 The term epignwsis is used by Paul some 15 times in his letters (cf. the only verbal use in 2 Cor 1:13) and refers to such things as one’s personal knowledge of sin through the explicit demands of the Law (Rom 3:20). In Ephesians 1:17 Paul prays for the Ephesians (and others to whom the letter was sent) that God might give them spiritual wisdom and understanding so that they might have a better knowledge of Christ (cf. Eph 4:13; Col. 1:9). Thus it is a personal kind of knowing that is in view, not just mental assent to certain facts, like the width and depth of the Grand Canyon. Further, it is the kind of knowledge that is also closely related to ethics and behavior. Paul prays that the Colossians will be filled with the knowledge of God’s will so that they might walk worthily of the Lord (Col. 1:9-10). There is a focus in the pastoral epistles on the kind of knowledge that is according to the truth and leads to godliness (see 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Tim 2:25; 3:7; Tit 1:1). Outside of Paul 2 Peter 1:3-4 suggests that God’s power in our lives is made operative through our knowledge of him who called us (cf. 2 Pet 1:2, 8; 2:20). The writer of Hebrews also held a logical connection between epignwsis and moral behavior (Heb 10:26). Thus the reference here is to knowledge and depth of insight as “wisdom.”

The term aisqhsei occurs only here in the New Testament. It does, however, appear 27 times in the Greek Old Testament, 22 of which are in Proverbs. In Exodus 28:3 it refers to wisdom given to men by God for making garments for Aaron. In Prov 1:7 it is associated with the fear of the Lord and must be sought after from God (2:3). It is concerned with practical matters like speaking (10:14; 11:9; 12:23; 22:12) and general prudence and discernment concerning how to live rightly in relationships. It can be referred to as “tact” and the ability to understand relationships and situations with a view to practical action. Cf. O’Brien, Philippians, 77.

5 Jane E. Brody, “Human Eye Is Reported to Set Clock for the Body,” New York Times 5 (Jan 1995): section A, p.8. “Light passes through the retina and travels through a special tract in the optic nerves to a region of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, the brain’s pacemaker. The light impulses then go on to the pineal gland, stopping to release a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin, the so-called hormone of darkness, normally reaches a peak in the blood at night when the lights are out. But when bright light is shown in the eyes, melatonin production shuts down.”

6 Hawthorne, Philippians, 28.

7 Friedrich Büchsel, TDNT, 2:397-98.

8 Bonne Steffen, “Cross-country Revivial,” Christian Reader (Sept/Oct 1995): 80.

Related Topics: Love