If love were a profile on a dating site, would you recognize it?

In his remembrance of the Philippians’ faith, Paul prays that their love would abound. Increased love in the world is something everyone wants to see. It’s also something everyone thinks they understand, but Paul’s understanding of what love is goes completely against how the world recognizes it.

If you follow Hallmark’s or Hollywood’s description of love, it is something blind, arbitrary, emotional and uncontrollable. People fall in and out of love seemingly for no apparent reason.

And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment. (Philippians 1:9)

When Paul prays for the Philippians’ love it does not fit the world’s description at all. When he prays, he prays their love would grow in knowledge, judgment, discernment and sincerity, and that it would grow in a deliberate fashion, filled with the fruits of Christ’s righteousness. According to Paul, if love were on a dating site, the average person wouldn’t recognize her.

Contrary to what the world believes, love is not blind or arbitrary. Bible love is very well informed by the truth of Scripture and while love often has emotion attached to it, love itself is not an emotion. It is an act of the will. God did not fall in love with the world. When He found us, we were His enemies (Romans 5:10). God chose to love us. He did this, not with blind emotion, but according to His knowledge and wisdom. This is exactly what Paul prays for the Philippians to have when he prays that their love would “abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgement.” “Knowledge” in this verse is a word that means full discernment, recognition. The word translated “judgment” is a synonym to knowledge but also carries with it the idea of perception. Both these words show us that love is not blind. It lives with its eyes open and its mind well-informed.

Paul goes on to pray that the Philippians’ love approves things that are excellent. “Approve” is a word that means to test something to determine its integrity. It is a word used in reference to testing the strength of metal. For believers, most of our choices are not between what is good and what is bad. Most of our choices are between what is good and what is best.

Paul also wants the Philippians to have a love that is sincere. This means “judged by sunlight.” In ancient times, unscrupulous merchants would sell carved stonework with cracks in it that were filled with wax to hide the flaws. The only way to test if it was sincere was to hold it up to the sunlight to discover the cracks. Again, Bible love is not blind. It is wise, discerning and well-informed.

When Paul says he wants the Philippians to be without offence, he means they should be without glaring flaws in their character or morality. When he says he wants them to be filled with the fruits of righteousness, he means that he wants their love to be evident in their lives. Bible love is defined more by its actions than its words. Anyone can say, “I love you.” Biblical love does not just say those words, it backs them up by sacrificial action. John 3:16 starts with: “For God so loved the world, that He gave.” What did He give? Only His most prized possession (if I can put it that way): His only Son.

The idea that love is not an emotion, but an act of the will is shocking to many. It’s also the reason so many marriages, including those between Christians, end in divorce. Because they misidentify love as a feeling, when that feeling goes away, they assume the love has died. Yet God commands us to love one another. He specifically commands husbands to love their wives. Not even God can command an emotion out of us, but He can command us to action, and He commands us to love. Yes, love has lots of emotion attached to it, but the real test of love is the grace to love someone even when the emotion is not there. The emotions will follow if we faithfully obey, but sometimes we must love people past our emotional ability to do so. That’s why Paul prayed for the Philippians’ capacity to love to increase. Love is sacrificial commitment. If we cannot see that, we wouldn’t recognize love if it was staring right back at us.

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Photo by Glenn Haertlein on Unsplash

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