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Discerning love

January 2, 2013 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

“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 until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ– to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

This past Sunday, I shared with the church from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I’ve spent a lot of time in that book over the past month, and verses 9-11 in particular have stuck with me. These verses are part of Paul’s prayer for the people of the church that he helped found in Philippi. Paul prays that their love would “abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best.”

Have you ever acted out of love towards someone, only to find out that your well-intentioned actions caused more harm than good? As I read Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:9-11, many such situations come to mind. Paul’s words communicate to me that it is possible to love someone and to act out of love towards that person, but to act in a way that is not full of knowledge and depth of insight, and therefore is not discerning as to what the person truly needs. For example, think of a parent trying to decide how to love an irresponsible young adult son. The parent could, out of love, offer their son a place to live and money to help them get on their feet. Or, the parent could, out of love, refuse to help their son, stop giving him a place to live, and challenge him to grow up and figure out life for himself.

Or, consider someone who is trying to minister to a homeless person. What does discerning love look like in that situation? Is it to take the person into your home and give them shelter? To give them money? To take them to a restaurant or grocery store and feed them? Something else entirely? Anyone who has found themselves in that situation knows how difficult it can be to discern just what is the loving thing to do.

Life is filled with situations like those, where a motive of love is not the only thing that matters. What we really need is a love that abounds in knowledge and depth of insight, so that we might be able to discern what is best. And so, along with Paul, I pray that God might give us that kind of love, so that our actions might not only be filled with loving motives, but also with discernment as to what is truly best for the people in our lives.

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