James Nisbet Commentary - Philippians 1:9 - 1:9

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James Nisbet Commentary - Philippians 1:9 - 1:9

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:


‘This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all discernment.’


In the school of God, the heart is even more important than the head. But the intellect is important also; and we must not forget that another text had long ago asserted the converse truth—not contradictory but converse—when it said, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy mind.’ Thus Moses announces that the intellect is a help to love; and St. Paul declares that love returns the debt, helps the intellect, abounds in knowledge and discernment.

Granting that the love of God should be a practical guide to us, do we ask, How is it qualified to play such a part? It is not hard to answer.

I. Love ponders character: it knows the mind of its beloved: it has a surprising tact. An affectionate child is not only more willing to obey its mother than one who is more clever with a colder heart; he is more wise to do so, because no selfish pleasure nor desire is strong enough to mislead his impulse or to warp his judgment. So, if any man wills to do God’s will, he shall know of the teaching.

II. As the mother of such a child will make her wishes known to him, not only when it is her duty, when if need be she must command, but freely, for the sheer joy of seeing his glad compliance with her slightest wish, so is the secret of the Lord with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant. And, on the other hand, since the Spirit of God is the Spirit of knowledge and wisdom, it is inevitable that men who grieve the Spirit, who do not like to retain God in their knowledge, should be given over to a reprobate mind, and their foolish hearts be hardened.

III. Not only does love discern a character and read its wishes; it assumes that character itself; the wishes of the beloved become its own. No two characters ever drew very close together, but the stronger gave something of its very self to the weaker; as a metal beside a magnet becomes magnetic: as all magnets feel the influence of that mightiest magnet of all, the earth itself.

Bishop G. A. Chadwick.


‘It is quite possible that St. Paul had the mutual love of Christians for each other partly in mind when he prayed that their love might increase in knowledge and discernment. But while the mutual love of Christian men for each other may have had some place in the Apostle’s thought, it is quite certain that in such a prayer, in the prologue of such an epistle, it was love to God which he had most in view. Their love of the Father should abound more and more in knowledge and discernment.’



The text reveals a great law in the Divine economy and treatment of Christian souls.

I. The understanding of God’s treatment of us, the understanding of the inner teaching of God’s Word written, the appreciation of the various means of grace, the grace of Sacraments, the blessings of prayer, of communion with God, the uses of temptation, and all such like—all this knowledge or discernment of spiritual things is not a thing to be expected as the provision for the outset of the Christian life, but is the gift of God to those who persevere in the Christian life. It is not the preparation for Christian living, but comes as God’s reward or blessing to those who live the Christian life in the right spirit. It is a thing which Christian men reach unto, but do not begin with. And it is a thing which God gives and which they could not get by their own natural power. You see this from St. Paul’s prayer on behalf of the Philippians. He prays that their love may abound more and more in all knowledge. Thus they already have love, i.e. they already have that love—or charity—which is of the essence of Christianity; and having this love he prays that now, in the next place, they may also abound in knowledge. Love first, knowledge afterwards.

II. This is a very broad and sweeping principle, and it is one which, in days like these, when men insist on knowing ‘the reason why’ about everything to a degree which perhaps they never did before, it is especially important that we should insist upon. For, if it is true, it necessarily underlies all Christian progress whatsoever. It shows us what is our part in Christian progress and what is God’s part. Our Christian progress, the Christianising of our whole being, head, heart, and life, is a joint work, partly God’s, partly our own. We have our part to do in it, but we cannot do that part which God has chosen to keep for Himself to do. Our part is to set about the work of religion in the right temper. God’s part is to teach us the knowledge of Himself and of His ways as we advance.

III. And this is a truth, too, which may need the more insisting on because this is a day in which—blessed be God—we see many men coming in to the appreciation of the reality of religion, who have not in their earlier years enjoyed the advantage of a true Christian training. I do not necessarily mean men who have led vicious lives in every gross sense, but men who have simply left religion out, and lived much as respectable heathens might, except that, being in a Christian country, they have had a kind of external head knowledge of the Christian doctrine, and gone to church like other people. Now, when such a man is by any circumstances led to turn over a new leaf, and set about being a Christian in good earnest, and not only as a part of social respectability, he has a good many real difficulties in his way.

IV. It is precisely in your bearing of these difficulties in the spirit of faithful patience that God discerns that you are one of those righteous to whom the sound wisdom, the full understanding is ultimately to be vouchsafed. And why so? Because this is the exact test or criterion whether your repentance is that of a real faith.


‘The whole of this Epistle bears one stamp upon it. St. Paul expresses his confidence that God will not suffer the perseverance of his flock to fail, but that as their religion was God’s doing in its onset, so God will take care it shall be brought to a happy completion in the end. The day of Jesus Christ is uppermost in St. Paul’s mind: and his anxiety is that it may not find his converts unprepared.’