9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Now St. Paul reveals exactly what it is that he prays for the Philippians. First of all, he prays that their love may abound and increase. The Greek word translated as “abound” is used to imply a “great overflowing, reckless bounty”; St. Paul uses it in Ephesians 1:8 to refer to God’s abundant grace.
Note that St. Paul does not merely pray that their love may abound and increase; he wants it to also abound in knowledge and discernment. The word translated as “knowledge” is not just gnosis, the regular word for knowledge, but epignosis, which indicates a real, deep and intimate knowledge. As FF writes, “St. Paul in fact doesn’t want them to live and love indiscriminantly. Their love must grow, but it must mature as well. Without this maturity, they might well be deceived by spiritual counterfeits, abundant in those days, who claimed to teach the way of love, while in fact walking in sin and error. It was too easy for the immature to confuse license with freedom!” (24).
Rather than just loving and accepting everything that comes their way, St. Paul prays that the Philippians would “approve the things that are excellent.” This approving (which can also be translated as “proving” or “testing”) is recognizing and acknowledging “true moral excellence and distinguishing it from spiritual laxity and decadence.” It involves finding out what it truly pleasing to God and then doing it (compare Eph. 5:15-17). Only in this way will they be sincere and without offense—i.e., pure and simple of heart—persevering in this state until the Day of Christ, that is before the Dread Judgment Seat after the second coming.
Continually learning about, and then doing, the will of God is the only way that we can be filled with the fruits of righteousness and so glorify God.
FF closes his commentary on this section with an outstanding observation, which merits our full attention:
“St. Paul’s prayer for the Philippians provides an antidote for the deadly modern notion of ‘religion as niceness.’ The only virtue enthusiastically applauded by secular society is ‘tolerance,’ and any form of moral and ethical discernment, any condemnation of a behavior as sinful and wrong, it itself condemned as ‘not nice’ and as ‘intolerant.’ The Lord’s teaching has been reduced to the maxim (misunderstood by the world), ‘Judge not.’ In opposition to this counterfeit version of Christianity St. Paul warns that true love must be critically discerning, able both to approve and embrace the morally excellent, and also to denounce and reject the morally objectionable. Only so can we hope to stand before the Lord our Judge at the dread and glorious Second Coming and endure the full sunlight and scrutiny of His gaze” (25).