Doing my Bible study yesterday, I became obsessed with Philippians 1:9-10 which reads “9 And I pray this, that your love may abound even more and more in knowledge and every kind of insight 10 so that you can decide what is best, and thus be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ.”
I think it caught my eye because of a meme being circulated:
This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered comments by people who don’t seem to really understand what love is. In fact, in the Mama Bear Apologetics book, I count it as the most linguistically thefted word of all. “Everyone loves love, provided they get to define it. . . Since God IS love, I propose HE gets to define it.”
That’s why I think the Philippians verse really stood out to me. We all usually point to the “love chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13 to define love–which is awesome. In fact, there’s one line in there that I find often gets left, but which reinforces the concept found in 1 Philippians: that concept is truth. Paul says that “love does not delight with evil but rejoices in the truth.” And we are not talking about my truth. We are talking about the truth. So if we are really concerned about love, we will be equally concerned about truth because we now have two different passages that express that knowledge of truth is a necessary component of love.
The concept of and objective truth has been completely left out of many people’s definitions of love. Love is turned into a feeling or a sense of comfort for the person whom we are loving. After all, joy and peace fruits of the spirit. (Galatians 5) So loving another person must result in joy or peace or else it’s not love, right? This is the going narrative. Philippians 1 seems to go much deeper than joy and peace as the fruit of love.
There were 5 words (or clauses) that really stuck out to me in the passage I was studing today: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” (Philippians 1:9-10, NIV)
So let’s go through these each one by one.
I’ve always heard that there are 4 words for love in the Greek – agape, phileo, storge, and eros1I was at a Bible study in Florida earlier this year where they told me there six forms. I can’t remember the other two. These are the main two you will hear preachers discuss.. Agape is divine love, the unconditional love that God displays for us. Phileo is brotherly love and affection (i.e. Philadelphia – the city of brotherly love). Storge is a parental or familial love between those who are related and eros is the erotic, sexual love. There may be more technical definitions than these, but these should give an idea. The word Paul uses in the Philippians passage is agape.
So I looked into agape love. I knew it was unconditional divine love, but there was another connotation in the Greek that I had never heard before. That in secular usages, this kind of love denoted a preference. I think I need to do more digging to properly understand how that works in with divine love. But it makes me think of a story told to me by a grandmother once. She would tell each of her grandchildren “You’re my favorite.” She didn’t hide that she said it to all of them, and they all loved hearing her say it to them. Because out of all the humans that might in any way be like each of those grandchildren, each one was her favorite one. A person can have a favorite kind of candy and a favorite kind of ice cream and a favorite kind of apple. Maybe in God’s kingdom, we are each created so unique that he can say to each one of us, “You’re my favorite.” We are each his preference.
Preference also assumes an elevation in importance. When Jesus cast the demons out of the man into pigs in Matthew 8, he didn’t seem to care what happened to pigs. His preference was for the the man who had been bound by these demons. He preferred that man to be free and alive more than he preferred the pigs. That’s divine love accompanied by the concept of preference.
“That your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” This is also where many people miss the mark when it comes to love. Just like 1 Corinthians 13 which tells us that love rejoices with the truth, so our agape love towards one another is to increase with knowledge and depth of insight. This kind of love is not blind.
So what does Scripture mean by knowledge? The Greek word for knowledge is typically gnosis. However, word used here is epignósis. Epi – “on, upon, or one the basis of” and Gnosis – “knowledge, doctrine, or wisdom.” Gnosis is also related to having a functional, applied or first-hand knowledge of something. So this knowledge that is supposed to help us increase our love is a knowledge based on functional, applied, first-hand knowledge, doctrine, or wisdom. What an amazing call to not only know Scripture (doctrine) but also know God and our fellow humans! This ain’t no namby-pamby “you need to have warm fuzzy feelings towards me based on whatever version of myself I present to you.” This is a call to deeply know others through experience. And don’t be thinking that everything that we’ll discover about them will be delightful.
The second way our love is to increase is through depth of insight. This Greek word is aisthésis, which means “perception, understanding, discernment.” I love the way Strongs helps define it underneath the minimal definition; “properly, the brand of sense-discernment which “cuts through” hazy ethical (moral) matters to really “size things up” (used only in Phil 1:9).” This isn’t just an experiential knowledge. This might be a kind of spiritual discernment knowledge which, let’s face it, can often give us knowledge that we can’ get through just sizing things up objectively from the outside. We are both body and spirit. Our physical senses can teach us about the physical aspects of someone, but like the poetry in Psalms 42, “deep calls to deep.” Our spirit can tell us things about another person’s spirit which our brain and physical observation may not have picked up on.
I think the gist of this verse is that the more we know someone like Christ knows them, the more we will love them. and the more we know, the more we can love. This post is getting long, so I’ll go into the why we are to have this love tomorrow. (hint: verse 10) and how it differs from the contemporary view of love.