The apostle Paul prayed that the love of all the saints in Christ Jesus who were in Philippi, also of those that exercised the leadership, should increase in knowledge (spiritual wisdom) and in discernment in all situations, to always choose the best and so to be sincere, pure and irreproachable, and prepared for the Coming of the Lord. It was the correct way to be fruitful plants (John 15:8) in Christ, showing always the perfection of God, the Redeemer, for His glory and praise.
Paul knew, and here teaches us that one of the basic subjects for prayer for a church in development is the growth of the love among its members in knowledge and discernment. The love of God above all things, and of one’s neighbour as oneself is the summary of all the law of God, but it is not only an emotional love or just of words. In the service of God, where all the believers in Christ are involved, we have to use our intelligence and to use discernment to be effective, otherwise our efforts will be in vain.
Discernment in a general way consists of the ability to understand situations, to separate right from wrong, to evaluate options with understanding, common-sense and clarity. In other words, it is intelligence to make the best decisions. The Christian acquires the capacity to make a decision by means of the Biblical prism in all the spheres of his life, without compromising with the world that surrounds him. This is the discernment that God gives in His Word! Without it, Christians risk being “like children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Ephesians 4:14).
Discernment is without a doubt desirable in a general way, but for the disciple of Christ it is not only an option: it is an obligation. Every believer has the responsibility of using discernment, putting everything to the test, holding fast what is good and abstaining from every form of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21 - 22).
Thanks to God, His Word enables us to do this. The apostle Peter declares: “… (God) has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (2 Peter 1:3,4).
When arriving at spiritual maturity we are in perfect condition to discern good from bad. We receive solid spiritual food contained in the Bible, having already grown in the knowledge of its elementary principles (Hebrew 5:14). Knowing its precepts well and obeying them we can make the best judgments of spiritual order so as to escape moral and doctrinal dangers.
Through the “full knowledge of Christ” God has given us everything we need to live a life within the divine standard in this sinful world. Through the Word of God, the Bible, we discover His “precious and greatest promises” that qualify us to become participants of the divine nature - something totally out of the reach of the sinner.
Unfortunately, it is in discernment that the majority of Christians stumble. Even those who are armed with a good Biblical knowledge, which is fundamental for good discernment, demonstrate little desire or firmness to always use the infallible standard of the Word of God in their day-by-day actions, and carelessly decide and adopt defective and even disastrous lines of conduct. This is because they lack the determination of standing firm with the knowledge they have, against the pernicious attacks of the world and the false doctrines they constantly face.
A life dedicated to God is only possible when there is discernment in all its areas. If there is lack of discernment between the truth and error in Biblical doctrines, for example, the believer in Christ will be subject to all kinds of false teaching. False teaching leads to a defective spiritual vision, which results in an unfruitful and disobedient life, which is a sure way towards compromising with the world and sin.
Under the doctrinal aspect, the apostle John warns us: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1). From the context, we perceive that “spirit” refers here to the false teachers. It is necessary to have discernment to distinguish those who support the truth from those who, even professing to be Christians, open and cite texts of the Bible apparently to support what they teach, but in reality teach another Gospel.
The wise Christian uses his discernment to evaluate what he hears, and to retain what is good, true and legitimate, and to use his freedom to abstain from all kinds of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21,22). As the standard by means of which he makes his decision is found in the Word of God, it is necessary to grow in its knowledge, as Paul prayed for the Philippians.
It is sometimes necessary to abandon personal preconceptions and ideas, as they can be enemies of the understanding of Biblical truths. For example, we read in Luke 9:44,45… “While everyone marvelled at all the things which Jesus did, He said to His disciples, ‘Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men.’ But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.”
The disciples evidently did not want to believe in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, so much so that, even after dying as He had predicted a few times, they did not believe in His resurrection until they saw Him personally. When the Lord Jesus said that he was going to be delivered into the hands of men, they could not believe it because they knew that He had the power to prevent this event. They had not yet understood the nature of His redemptive, sacrificial mission, holding onto the hope of earthly glory. They were blind to understand His true mission; therefore they could not discern what the Lord said to them.
On the other hand, in view of the knowledge acquired, Christian maturity allows one to discern the things that are “excellent”, those that distinguish themselves or stand out among others. In all areas of life there can be two or more options acceptable for not being sinful, but we should always opt for the one which will be best, the excellent one. Often an option which is not the best can harm the one which is.
Paul gave us an example of this: there are several gifts of the Spirit, and the local church must wish to be gifted well. The best gifts are those of greatest practical use. Although none must be rejected, some produce more benefit for the church than others, and it is these that the church must pray to God to give them. In the church of Corinth to whom Paul wrote, there were members that liked to show off their gift of speaking in public in a language that they had never learned, but it was useless to the others, who were left listening to something meaningless to them.
With his discernment, Paul teaches us “a more excellent way”, which is love: the simple existence of gifts in the church is not as important as the exercise of gifts in a loving spirit. Love thinks about the others, it is not selfish. It is good to have a gift, but better still to use it for the edification of the church in love and not to attract attention to oneself (1 Corinthians 12:31 - 13:13).
The love with discernment allows us to avoid what is doubtful or even wrong. It also leads to sincerity, which is total transparency. Who has a clean life, lives in the light of the Word of God, loves and serves his brethren, has nothing to be ashamed of nor is tempted to lie, being pure and irreproachable, ready for the coming the Lord (at the rapture of His church). Let us pray, as Paul did, that our love may abound still more in the knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in discernment, in order to reach this objective.
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.
Philippians chapter 1, verses 9 to 11