And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. -Philippians 1:9-11
Paul remarks that through the truth, a Christian should progress in his love. Relying on the Lord, he will be able to bear the fruits of righteousness and actively practice Christian love. The growth of such a love in tandem with one's spiritual maturity will bring glory and praise to the Lord.
In his prayer, Paul clearly delivers an important message: Love should be rooted in spiritual knowledge and discernment. We need the wisdom from the Lord to love with spiritual discernment. Love alone without discernment may turn us from the will of God and hinder the Lord's work.
I. What Is Undiscerning Love?
"From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, 'Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!' But He turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men'" (Mt 16:21-23).
Peter was loyal to his master. His love for Jesus seemed greater than that of the others. Why then did Jesus rebuke rather than praise him after he had demonstrated his love and concern?
Peter believed that his Lord was capable of preventing this affliction. Thus he, Peter, would make every effort to help, if necessary. What Peter displayed here was genuine affection and loyalty. Unfortunately, while trying to show his concern, he failed to comprehend the essence of Jesus' words and to exercise spiritual discernment. Meanwhile, Satan grasped the opportunity to exploit Peter's imprudent affection and tried to diminish Jesus' determination to head for Jerusalem. It became obvious that the more such an affection was displayed, the greater the obstructive force to hinder the plan of salvation. Without spiritual discernment, good intentions turn out to be stumbling blocks to God's plan.
Those who are righteous in today's world are often bewildered by the constant change of social and moral values. In the matter of marriage, divorce is often justified on the grounds of love, i.e. the absence of love for one's original spouse and often a newfound love for someone else. People question why they should be bound to a "loveless" marriage and answer that they have a "right" to happiness in their lives. The church must be aware of subtle shifts of morality such as this and she must never relax her beliefs to accommodate human flaws. Since the creation, God has wanted man to honor the sanctity of marriage (Heb 13:4). His will remains inalterable even though the practice of repeated marriage is prevalent today. Any church that tolerates such a fickle attitude toward marriage or condones this licentious practice is accepting adulterous behavior and perverting the truth. This is not compassion but rather an obvious example of undiscerning love.
II. What Is Undiscerning Faith and Zeal?
"Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, 'Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.' While he was still speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!' And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, 'Arise, and do not be afraid.' When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only" (Mt 17:1-8).
Peter underwent a dramatic experience which ranged from the joy of seeing the transfiguration of Jesus to the awe of hearing the voice of God. Witnessing the glorified Jesus and the appearance of two venerable patriarchs of Israel must have exhilarated Peter. Impelled by his religious zeal, he wished to build three individual booths for them. Unfortunately, his faith and fervor were not complemented by spiritual discernment. To Peter, these three transfigured were great and admirable leaders. He probably wanted to serve all of them with equal respect, forgetting to distinguish the Lord Jesus from the other two religious leaders. God reminded Peter through the voice in the cloud to solely concentrate his faith on His beloved son, Jesus.
When faith is not rooted exclusively in Jesus, deviation from His teaching will follow. For example, in today's Christian arena, emphasis is placed on the credentials and reputation of the evangelist rather than the gospel and truth. Many Christian publications and videos go into great detail about the preacher's family life, his likes, and daily activities before conveying the actual message. As a result, the audience may just be overwhelmed by these spiritual superstars and fail to distinguish between faith in a celebrity and faith in Jesus.
Peter's zeal on the Mount of Transfiguration was based on an undiscerning faith. The more intense such devotion is, the worse the obstruction for the preaching of the gospel. Such indiscriminate eagerness will not elevate one's spirituality. Instead, it will most likely create a haze for others in their search for the Lord.
Similar events of undiscerning devotion that impeded the progress of holy work can be found in the book of Acts. While Paul was preaching to the Gentiles, some Jewish believers were so zealous about the traditions of Judaism that they excessively stressed the necessity of circumcision and followed Paul everywhere to affirm the practice (Acts 15:1). Such religious devotion not only hindered the progress of the gospel but also destroyed the essence of Jesus' grace.
Today, such a lack of spiritual discernment continues to exist. Take for example the banners we see on the corners of busy streets. "We are all sinners." "Believe in Jesus and be saved, or else be condemned!" Though the messages are accurate, lack of proper explanation makes them read like threats and curses. These negative statements can unnecessarily annoy the general public. In contrast, warnings and reminders softened by kind-hearted explanations from the Bible demonstrate Christian concern for the spiritual welfare of others. Without a clear and altruistic motive, stern admonition can have a negative impact on the public's perception of Christianity.
The task of visiting is an important part of tending the flock. Often, the purpose of this work is to counsel absent believers. Out of zeal, certain church members actively participate in this task. However, without proper training, some members of the visiting team may speak inappropriately or behave impolitely. Zeal is not the only criteria when carrying out divine work. Such indiscretion may even nullify the effectiveness of other workers.
III. What Is Discerning Love and Zeal?
Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem (Lk 9:51). Our Lord Jesus came to this world for one purpose. Throughout His life, He worked diligently to achieve it. And that was Jerusalem. To Jesus, Jerusalem was a dreadful place where He was to be condemned to the agony and anguish of the crucifixion in order to atone for our sins, and to consummate the task of bringing salvation to humankind. It was, however, also a place where He brought glory to the Father and was glorified (Jn 12:23; 13:31).
For this glorious purpose, Jesus knew that He had to experience unspeakable torment. Recognizing the purpose and resolved to bear the suffering, His steps toward Jerusalem were never hesitant or faltering. Spiritual discernment motivated Him to demonstrate a divine love that was unwavering. About 2000 years have passed and Jesus' unreserved love still deeply touches our hearts.
So Jesus said to Peter, 'Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?' (Jn 18:11).
How did Jesus manifest His divine power and love? He countered Satan's temptation with scriptures, calmed the sea, performed numerous miracles, healed the sick, cast out evil spirits, and even raised the dead. Ultimately, He demonstrated this unyielding love by taking the bitter cup placed before Him.
With His power, Jesus could have easily avoided dangers such as the capture in Gethsemane (Mt 26:53) and the crucifixion on Golgotha (Mt 27:38-40). But He chose not to exercise these privileges. Motivated by divine courage and discipline, He chose to accomplish the noble plan of salvation. He was spiritually filled with such sound discernment that nothing, not even the sacrifice of His own life, could alter His determination.
The author of Hebrews encourages us to leave the elementary principles of Christ and go on to maturity, "not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, the laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment" (Heb 6:1-2). Constantly increasing our spiritual knowledge will help us to know and love the Lord.
Paul shared the same belief:
For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Col 1:9-10)
In short, if we truly know, then we will truly love and truly believe.
Our church is the body of Christ. We ought to reflect the virtues of Jesus: pure, glorious, and full of love. This love should originate from the thorough understanding of the truth of salvation, rather than impulsive affection. Through the church, God is "to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things" and what "the manifold wisdom of God" is (Eph 3:9-10). A church with spiritual discernment will not only have abundant love, but will be able to provide guidance to the correct path. Being members of such a church, we should constantly ask the Lord to grant us spiritual vision so that we can plan for the future. As individuals, we should strive to know the will of the Lord and work to achieve this will.
May the true love of God abound!