“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment…” (vs. 9).
A similar form of the word discernment is used in Hebrews 5:14 “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”. It is also used in Luke 9:45. Jesus predicts his death in vs. 44 and then Luke states, “But they [the disciples] 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 verse in Hebrews and verses 10-11 of Philippians 1 point to the interpretation of discernment as conscience. The verse in Luke points to discernment as not deciding between right and wrong (like a conscience does) but as perception or understanding. I Googled the definition of discernment and found a specific definition for Christian contexts, which is “perception in the absence of judgement with a view to obtain spiritual direction and understanding”. That definition joins together the two meanings of conscience, “spiritual direction”, (Philippians 1 and Hebrews 5) and perception, “understanding” (Luke 9).
Still fascinated by this word, I looked into online commentaries from BibleHub.com and found commentators that described this discernment as a sense of moral feeling. Paul wants the Philippians to have both knowledge in Christ, as in a cognitive understanding, but also a mature conscience in which the knowledge of good and evil is felt. Deciding right and wrong by our feeling, our conscience, seems dicey. What if our conscience is different from someone else’s? Wouldn’t that make unity quite difficult? But Paul doesn’t encourage the development of conscience so that the Philippians can argue over right and wrong and who’s conscience is purer. He prays that they “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.” Later in the letter he will admonish the Philippians to fill their minds with things that are excellent, true, noble, wise, lovely, just, pure and praiseworthy. It is important to discern and meditate on what is right, not so much so that we can condemn what is wrong, but so that we can gain a deeper understanding of what is right and be able to better choose right from wrong. This will lead to the fruits of righteousness that glorify and praise God (vs. 11).
We can gain discernment through love and knowledge, which form a chain reaction in every direction. Love for God invokes curiousness to learn more about Him and closer intimacy with Him helps make our feelings and perceptions align with His. Likewise, knowledge and understanding invoke more love for God. This is one of many instances where different aspects of Christianity are connected so that they lead to a continuous cycle of growing infinitely closer to God. These patterns shut off my analytical mind and make me pause in awe and worship of the perfect completeness God as Father, Son and Spirit have provided us.