Our Need For Discernment
Our Need For Discernment
It’s hard living in an age in which we’re inundated with an excess of information. This makes it all the more important that Christians develop situational insight, otherwise known as “discernment”. “Discernment” comes from a Greek word that means “to thoroughly judge back and forth”, in which we’re able to perceive what is not initially transparent by taking in all the competing input that is thrown our way, appropriately measuring their weights based on a variety of circumstances, and arriving to a correct conclusion that glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15) and Jesus encouraged us “not [to] judge by appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). In other words, discernment is the ability to see things the way they are and not what we or anyone else wants them to be. The following are general areas in which we need discernment:
1. Right vs. Wrong – Solomon prayed to God to be able to “judge Your people to discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9a). But in the story immediately following in which Solomon had to adjudicate between two harlots fighting for custody of a baby, we learn that sometimes what is wrong can look so right and what initially looks right can be so wrong. This is why “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14-15). So, discernment is not just knowing the difference between right and wrong, but as Charles Spurgeon once said, “it is knowing the difference between right and almost right”. After all, the best counterfeit money is designed to be as close as it can be to the real thing without being the real thing. As Christians, we must “have [our] senses trained to discern between good and evil” (Heb 5:14).
2. Good vs. Better – In 1 Cor 7, Paul gives the unmarried his opinion on whether they should seek marriage during the “present distress”. His judgment is they should remain single (1 Cor 7:25-26), being that marriage brings added burden and responsibility. But he also admitted that if they chose to do so, they would not be sinning (1 Cor 7:28). In fact, marriage is divinely given to us by God. So this was not a matter of “right vs. wrong”, rather “good vs. better”. And so, in 1 Cor 7:38, he tells the father who gives his daughter in marriage that he “does well”, but that the one who does not give her in marriage “will do better”. Sometimes we need discernment in areas where it is not necessarily a matter of right vs. wrong, rather the “good path” vs. the “better path”.
3. Better vs. Best – However, in 1 Cor 7, Paul adds another variable. While encouraging those single to remain unmarried, he says in 1 Cor 7:9 – “But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Now it’s no longer a scenario of “good vs. better”, but of “better vs. best”. In the present distress, it would be “better” to remain single. But if they struggled with self-control, it would be “best” if they got married. One situation may cause earthly difficulty, but that is temporary. The other situation will cause spiritual difficulty, and that can be permanent. Discernment will allow us to decide between matters in which spiritual implications must usurp natural implications.
4. Permanent vs. Transient – 2 Cor 4:18 – “while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” In other words, earthly treasures will burn up, heavenly treasures will not. Physical beauty is unsustainable, spiritual beauty is everlasting. Discernment helps me to know “the extent of my days…how transient I am” (Psa 39:4).
5. Primary vs. Secondary – There are so many spiritual subjects worth debating. But in 1 Cor 15:3-4, Paul labels the gospel that he delivered to the Corinthians as “of first importance”. There are primary matters and there are secondary matters. How one ought to worship is a secondary matter to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Determining whether one can fall away once they are saved is a moot point for someone who hasn’t been truly saved in the first place. There are the finer points of “tithing mint, dill, and cumin” and then there are the “weightier matters” of “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23). Discernment allows us to put primary matters first, knowing that with additional teaching, secondary matters often take care of themselves.