Discernment is important.
Let me rephrase that.
Discernment is important.
Discernment is the skill of understanding and applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong. ~Tim Challies
Charles Spurgeon drills down even further:
Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.
Some believers are given a heightened ability to discern by virtue of possessing a gift from the Spirit.
and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:10).
For spirit-gifted discerning believers AND all others, we must practice discernment in our walk. (Hebrews 5:14). That means both identifying it AND acting on it. It’s non-negotiable.
Sheep, or Wolf? A Call to Discern
by Dr. Colin Eakin
Discernment: The Neglected Imperative
Where does God command believers to exercise spiritual discernment? Perhaps a better question is, where doesn’t He? The answer is Philemon. Of all the books in the New Testament, this letter of twenty-five verses is the only one in which there is no instruction for the believer to be on guard against falsehood. All remaining twenty-six books of the New Testament (and many of the Old Testament) exhort the believer, to a greater or lesser degree, to discern truth from falsehood and to act upon it.
Satan downplays the importance of discernment. How? He twists scriptures such as the ones under discussion today, two of the most abused scriptures in the Bible, plus one more-
Judge not, that ye be not judged. (Matthew 7:1)
And this one:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. (Matthew 18:15).
And this one:
Be nice. Jesus ate with sinners, you know.
Sadly, when I write an essay discerning a false teacher, or speaking against a false doctrine, inevitably I receive a slew of comments from women who insist I perform one or the other of the verses above. This makes me sad, because I know from such comments these women are not operating at peak Christian condition. Their insistence that I employ one or both of these verses usually reveals two things about them:
— they hold to an errant understanding of the verses above
— they hypocritically have failed to follow their own advice and ‘come to me privately’, and to ‘judge not’.
Wise people treasure knowledge, but the babbling of a fool invites disaster. (Proverbs 10:14).
Here is my rebuttal to the commenters lobbing the most abused discernment verses:
Judge not, that ye be not judged. (Matthew 7:1).
‘Do not judge’ cannot mean ‘do not discern.’ There are calls to discern in every book of the New Testament except Philemon, and many of the Old. (1 John 4:1, Philippians 1:9-10, Hebrews 5:14, Romans 12:2, 1 Corinthians 2:14, 1 Kings 3:9, & etc.)
Judge not can’t mean do not judge, because in John 7:24 we’re told to judge. Wisdom would suggest that rather than there being an inconsistency in the Bible, there is an inconsistency in our understanding.
So if Matthew 7:1 doesn’t mean not to discern and it doesn’t mean judge not, what does it actually mean? Well, first, read the verse in context. Here is Matthew 7:1-5,
Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
It means when we do have to judge something, as in test, discern, check, etc, do not do so hypocritically, harshly, or wrongly. More here: GotQuestions- What does the Bible mean that we are not to judge others?
If a commenter reads one of my discernment essays and ignores the scriptures, the facts, and/or the point, but gently or harshly or anywhere in between, urges me to “judge not”, I will delete the comment but reply by pointing her to this essay.
2. Have you gone to her privately?
In this one, commenters are referring to a section in Matthew 18, where the Bible outlines procedures for church discipline. Here is the passage:
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17 NASB)
This verse is about church discipline, when one member of a local body has sinned against another person in the local body. It is a local, internal procedure. It is not referring to our response to book reviews or other public statements false teachers have made.
Phil Johnson explained here, in a 2006 blog essay:
It would be a serious mistake to imagine that a private meeting is always a mandatory prerequisite before any Christian can legitimately express public criticism of another believer’s published work or public behavior. On the contrary, sometimes—especially when we’re dealing with a public and scandalous transgression—open rebuke may be warranted as a first response (cf. Galatians 2:11-14). Matthew 18:15-17 outlines instructions for dealing with private sins and personal offenses. These are not guidelines for dealing with false teaching or public behavior that might cloud the truth of the gospel or besmirch the reputation of the whole church.
Here is a link to a pdf “Editorial on Abusing Matthew 18” by Don Carson
Here is Tim Challies with an easy button version of Don Carson’s essay on Matthew 18 abuse.
If a commenter reads one of my discernment essays and ignores the scriptures, the facts, and/or the point, but gently or harshly or anywhere in between, urges me to “go to her privately”, I will delete the comment but reply by pointing her to this essay.
3. Jesus ate with Sinners
Strangely, in a third most abused verse in the discernment world, many of them say ‘Be nice. Don’t condemn. Jesus ate with sinners.’ What they are referring to is Mark 2:16.
And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
If you think about it, you realize how massively ridiculous their statement that one should not cry out against false teachers or false doctrine is.
The only sinless person who ever lived was Jesus. Of COURSE He ate with sinners. He ate with sinners every time He ate. Jesus eating with sinners verse was about the Pharisees complaining that Jesus was eating with tax collectors and prostitutes whom the Pharisees believed were “sinners”, outcasts unworthy to be in polite society, while at the same time believing that they themselves were NOT sinners and worthy to eat with Jesus.
Jesus ate with sinners, having compassion on them, because they were lost sheep. However He never expected them to remain in their sin. He told the adulteress to ‘go and sin no more,’ for example. He also was very harsh with many other sinners. He whipped up a fury against the merchant greed-mongers in the temple. He called the Pharisees blind guides, fools, wicked, and greedy.
Of course we (forgiven) sinners will eat with (unforgiven) sinners because we are to be in the world. But if we see a friend involved in a false doctrine, do we take their food but leave them with a poison in their soul? No.
Jesus, Friend of Sinners: But How?
By Kevin DeYoung
As precious as this truth is—that Jesus is a friend of sinners—it, like every other precious truth in the Bible, needs to be safeguarded against doctrinal and ethical error. It is all too easy, and amazingly common, for Christians (or non-Christians) to take the general truth that Jesus was a friend of sinners and twist it all out of biblical recognition.
Jesus was a friend of sinners not because he winked at sin, ignored sin, or enjoyed light-hearted revelry with those engaged in immorality. Jesus was a friend of sinners in that he came to save sinners and was very pleased to welcome sinners who were open to the gospel, sorry for their sins, and on their way to putting their faith in Him.
If a commenter reads one of my discernment essays and ignores the scriptures, the facts, and/or the point, but gently or harshly or anywhere in between, urges me to “judge not”, I will delete the comment but reply by pointing her to this essay – and urge her to read the beginning section about the importance of discernment.
It’s the biggest problem.
People ask me this all the time, “What is the greatest need in the church today? What is the most compelling need? What do you see as the biggest problem in Christianity? The biggest problem in the church?
It’s simple for me to answer that. The biggest problem in the church today is the absence of discernment. It’s a lack of discernment. It’s the biggest problem with Christian people, they make bad choices. They accept the wrong thing. They accept the wrong theology. The are prone to the wrong teaching. They’re unwise in who they follow, what they listen to and what they read. ~John MacArthur, 2002.
You can enhance your discernment through constant training, (Hebrews 5:14), prayers for wisdom, (James 1:5) and staying in the word (Psalm 119:11). Then perhaps at some point you can help advise a sister and encourage her in her discernment walk. 🙂