We live in an age where fellow Christians say that to speak of someone specific being a false teacher is mean, or ill-mannered, or inappropriate. “Just let them alone, God will take care if them,” they say. Or they claim that speaking against false teaching is uncivil, and to “Just pray for them.” Many of thems ay, “You can’t know if he/she is false, you don’t know their heart.”
The skill of discernment (and the gift, too) involves vigilance. It is extremely important. John MacArthur wrote,
In its simplest definition, discernment is nothing more than the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. In other words, the ability to think with discernment is synonymous with an ability to think biblically.
Every book of the New Testament (except Philemon) has some passage or chapter devoted to its writer urging fellow Christians to practice discernment in order to combat some false teaching or other. Jude is entirely taken up with the topic. And the exhortations in those books of the Bible are not to stand by and let false teachers be. Those admonishments are not to tolerate false teaching and wait until Jesus comes back to judge it. Not only the NT writers, but Jesus also has some very explicit thoughts about churches that practice discernment. And those instructions are not to overlook it, be passive abou ti, or ignore it. Quite the opposite.
You might know that the book of Revelation is a considered an apocalyptic book. It deals with last things, and Jesus’ return in victory. However the first two chapters are letters to churches of the time, but also warnings and encouragements for us in this day and all present days. Some churches received a commendation only, some received a hard warning only and most churches received a little of both.
In the letter to the church at Ephesus, we read that Jesus directed the apostle John to write,
I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. (Revelation 2:2).
In this letter, Jesus opens by congratulating the church for being discerning. They are lauded for their persevering efforts to retain the highest purity possible in their church. How? First, they can’t bear the evil ones in their midst, and second, they tested those who call themselves teachers. Their discernment was apparently a skilled discernment, because Jesus congratulates them for worming out which teachers were false.
Never, ever let anyone tell you that discernment is unnecessary.
John MacArthur preached on this verse from Revelation, saying in part,
Beyond that, verse 3 says something else about them: ‘You cannot tolerate evil men. You cannot tolerate evil men.’ They were intolerant of sin. They were sensitive to the presence of evil. They hated evildoers as God hates evildoers. They resented evil; they resented evildoers. They resented sin; they resented sin in the church. They recognized the damage that sin does to the fellowship and the testimony. They saw that sin in the church destroys the unity of the church and destroys the testimony of the church. They hated all that was morally bad, all that was spiritually bad. They knew that a little leaven leavens the whole lump.
…Or, you could say this: ‘You put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false.’ This is a church with discernment.
Where does discernment come from? Well, where does discernment come from; clearly, it comes from a knowledge of the truth, right? The only way you can discern error is know what? Truth. You have to have the truth in order to see the error.
Many evil people come into the congregations, particularly in the early church. Satan was infiltrating these early churches all the time. Judaizers, false teachers were everywhere. This church took the warning seriously.
Read or listen to the full sermon here
Practice discernment, whether you have been given the spiritual gift or not. It matters to Jesus. And if it matters to Jesus, it should matter to us.