On Various Subjects
By Pastor Ron Thomas
Rodgers Baptist Church
801 West Buckingham Rd. - Garland, TX 75040
Opening passages: Psalm 119:66. "Teach me good judgment and knowledge: for I have believed Thy commandments." I Thessalonians 5:19-22. "Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22 Abstain from all appearance of evil."
Introduction: An elderly woman stood on a very busy street corner in rush hour traffic. She was fearful, confused, and therefore hesitant to cross by herself. Finally, a gentleman came up to her and asked if he could cross the street with her. Grateful and very relieved, she took his arm and stepped into the busy intersection. As they proceeded, she grew progressively alarmed as he zigzagged randomly across the street, to the blare of horns and screech of locked brakes. Finally, after reaching their destination, she turned to the gentleman and complained, "You almost got us killed! You walk like you're blind." "I am," he replied. "That's why I asked if I could cross with you."
That dear lady did not make the best choice. The man who she thought was a steady arm and sufficient guide, was actually desperate for guidance himself. He didn't have a clue! I remember Jesus speaking of "blind guides." When the blind lead the blind, they both end up in the ditch!
We live in a fast paced, fast changing culture. Living in Post-Christian America, we are constantly blitzed by powerful influences such as the media, peer pressure, social trends, moral relativism, culture driven religion and cults, each of which can lead us astray! Just think about the various ideas and voices that are drifting through our culture. Everyday we hear things like: "There are no moral absolutes. All religions lead to the same god. You are one with nature. If it feels good, it must right. No one has the right to tell you how to live your life! You can be anything you want to be. You can do anything you want to do. If what I am doing doesn't hurt anyone, it's okay. Women should have a choice to abort their babies. It's their bodies. Animals are people too. People have no right to cut down a tree. It damages the environment." Ideas, voices, and choices like these, can place us on a course of destruction.
What is even more disturbing and dangerous, is the reality that there is a growing lack of discernment among Christians these days. This lack of discernment results in a failure to see the issues clearly, to think things through, to see the implications of actions, choices and decisions.
What is discernment? The two main Greek words translated "discernment" are anakrino (an-ak-ree'-no), meaning to examine or judge closely; and diakrino (dee-ak-ree'-no), to separate, to investigate, to examine. Discernment is the ability to make discriminating judgments, to distinguish between and recognize the moral implications of situations and courses of action. Discernment involves distinguishing the right from the wrong, the primary from the secondary, what is essential from what is trivial, the good, the better, and the best. The apostle Paul speaks to our need to discern when it comes to questionable things in I Corinthians 10:23. He says, "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient (necessary): all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not(do not build up). 24 Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth."
The simplest definition for discernment is the ability to decide between truth and error, between right and wrong. It involves making careful distinctions between shades of gray. Someone defined discernment as, "...thinking God's thoughts after Him." Christian discernment therefore is seeing things as God sees them.
In Matthew 7:1, Jesus warns us of legalism, or being super judgmental. He says, "Judge not that ye be not judged." Jesus however does not stop there. In verse 6, Jesus urges us to exercise discernment when it comes to holy things. He says, "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." These words of Jesus of course are allegorical. The "dogs" and "swine" speak of those individuals who do not appreciate or care about what is wholesome and holy. The "pearls" are our very lives, our children, our teens, our own time, energies, opportunities, talents, including the truth we teach and preach. These are God's pearls! We must use discernment when it comes to God's possessions. It is possible to waste them by casting them before people and influences that can contaminate them. This requires discernment!
Why is developing our ability to spiritually discern important?
First: We need discernment, because everyday our lives are full of choices. Two frogs dwelt in the same pool. When the pool dried up under the summer's heat, they left it and set out together for another home. As they went along they chanced to pass a deep well, amply supplied with water. When they saw it, one of the frogs said to the other, "Let us descend and make our abode in this well: it will furnish us with shelter and food." The other replied with greater caution, "But suppose the water should fail us. How can we get out again from so great a depth?" One frog obviously was more discerning than the other!
Stop and think about the choices and decisions you make everyday. Think about the thought process you go through to arrive at those choices and decisions. Some of those choices and decisions hit us very quickly and gives us little time to make up our minds. A choice or decision can seem innocent, even harmless on the surface, but over time, it can deliver a situation that is deadly. Everyday, Christians are challenged to think critically and think biblically. Living in this present world, the line between right and wrong can get fuzzy. Sometimes, the line disappears altogether.
Second: We need discernment, because evil doesn't always present itself as evil. Satan, the enemy of our souls, is cunning and subtle. Paul writes to a church that was gifted, but extremely gullible in II Corinthians 11:13-15, "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.
14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.
15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works."
Right and what is wrong is not always obvious! Minus discernment, we will not be able to recognize the truth about a person or situation. Christian discernment protects us, guards us, from being deceived and keeps us free from the consequences and bondage of sin. Using discernment, we are less likely to become ensnared in Satan's traps.
The consequences suffered from an individual with a lack of discernment is illustrated in a particular story from the life of Elisha, recorded in II Kings 4:38-41. In a time of famine, Elisha sent his servant to prepare a pot of soup or stew for his school of the prophets. The servant went out in the field, gathered a lap full of wild but poisonous herbs and gourds, and added them to the recipe. The servant did not intend to harm anyone, he simply did not take the time to do the research, and assumed the ingredients were harmless. When the stew was fully prepared, it was served and immediately made them sick. The sons of the prophets cried out, "There is death in the pot." Elisha instructed that meal or flour be put into the pot, which miraculously acted as an antidote to the negate the affects of the tainted stew.
These poisonous herbs represent false doctrine, foolish actions, foolish, self-serving individuals, that can come into our lives, our homes, our churches, under the guise of being "harmless." The servant who gathered up the lapful of herbs and gourds reminds us of those believers who lack spiritual discernment and gather up false doctrine, worldly influences, and innocently, perhaps enthusiastically, introduces it into the assembly of God's people, mixing it with what is good and endangering their welfare. Discernment is the meal or flour added by Elisha to the pot! Oh how we need discernment in our lives!
Third: We need discernment, because it is synonymous with spiritual growth and maturity. Hebrews 5:13-14 says, "For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."
This passage makes a direct coloration between the mental, emotional, physical development from childhood to adulthood, to spiritual growth and maturity. Have you ever asked yourself, "I thought he or she would know better than that?" We expect babies to act like babies, children to act like children, but when we witness adults acting like babies and children, we are troubled, and rightfully so!
The goal of the believer is to go on to full maturity. Every Christian has the responsibility to grow and learn to discern. Hebrews 6:1. "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God." When the Bible talks about discernment, it is speaking about assessing spiritual things. It is speaking about a rational assessment based on objective criterion. In order to discern, you must use your head! This involves taking mental inventory of the Word of God. More and more I see Christians take their values from their hearts, how they feel, rather than a diligent search to find and listen to the voice of God's Spirit and Word!
Fourth: We need discernment, because it the key to living a blameless or uncompromising life. A. W. Tozer once said, "The red corpuscles are like faith, they carry the life giving oxygen to every part of our body. The white cells are discerning, in that they spot and pounce upon dead and toxic matter and carry it out to the drain. In a healthy heart, there must be provision for keeping dead and poisonous matter out of the life stream."
This cleansing agent in the lives of Christians is discernment. It is God's grace active in our lives, that helps us clean up our act. Notice Titus 2:11-12. "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world." There is so much misuse of God's grace. Jude 4 tells us that some actually turn God's grace into "lasciviousness," which is a lack of restraint, indecency, or wantonness! Discernment, which is a dimension of God's grace, intersects the Christian life at every point, helping us to walk on the side of caution, rather than corruption. We need to be like the children of Issachar mentioned in I Chronicles 12:32. It says, "And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment." The Hebrew word for "understanding" has a root which means discernment, wisdom, perception and knowledge.
We desperately need to cultivate this spiritual skill that will enable us to know right from wrong. We must be prepared to distinguish light from darkness, truth from error, the best from the better, righteousness from unrighteousness, purity from defilement, and principles from pragmatics. But how? How can we develop spiritual discernment? Here are:
Six Principles To Develop Spiritual Discernment
Principle one: Never trust your heart alone. Jeremiah 17:9-10 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? 10 I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings." The first enemy of discernment is trusting your own heart. Why? We are fully capable of deceiving ourselves. The apostle Paul re-enforced this principle in I Corinthians 4:3-4. He says, "But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. 4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but He that judgeth me is the Lord." When it came to discerning and judging his own motives, actions, and attitudes, Paul didn't trust himself at times. His only confidence was in the Lord!
Principle two: Seek the counsel of godly, wise, experienced, spiritual, Bible saturated people. I Thessalonians 5:21. "Despise not prophesyings." The word "prophesyings" speaks of forth telling. It describes someone who is representing and declaring God's perspective and Word. The first person we think of is a pastor. When a church member or leader disregards a pastor's advice, leadership, teaching, it is a serious matter. Pastors are not perfect, they are not "gods," but it is their responsibility to present God's perspective, and warn those who are going astray! We see this in II Timothy 2:24-26. "And the servant of the Lord must not strive (engage in a war of words); but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach (skillful in teaching), patient, 25 In meekness instructing (to chasten) those that oppose themselves (place themselves in opposition); if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth (what is true in any matter under consideration); 26 And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will."
Usually those who are set in their hearts to do what they want to do regardless, silence the voices who oppose them. Proverbs 18:1-2 reads, "Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom. 2 A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself." Basically this says that people who seek their own ways and desires, isolate themselves. They rebel against and scoff at the voice of wisdom, whether it be a godly parent, pastor, or friend. In doing this, they manifest themselves to be fools, revealing to everyone by their words, attitudes and actions, their own hearts! We must involve ourselves in the lives of others, particularly people of faith such as church people.
Principle thee: Refuse to be naive or accept things on face value. I Thessalonians 5:21. "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." The word "prove" means to discern, examine, to scrutinize. We are instructed to test, prove, examine everything! Everything includes movies, music, video games, trends, fashions, ideas as well as individuals. Whatever comes your way, it doesn't matter if it comes from a friend or a Sunday school teacher. Put it to the test!
Principle four: Avoid people, places, and things that even have the appearance of evil. I Thessalonians 5:22. "Abstain from all appearance of evil." The word "appearance" in the Greek has basically two meanings. One speaks of the outward or external shape or form, and the other speaks of a specific kind or form. This could be understood as all "forms" or "kinds" of evil. Either way, discernment is required of the believer, and when the person or thing is revealed to be evil, we should respond accordingly!
Principle five: Make it your business to read, study, and know God's Word. The Bible provides the criterion, the standard against which all things must be tested. Paul affirms this in II Timothy 3:16-17. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." Unless each Christian makes a committed effort to carefully study the Scriptures, he or she could easily be on the road to destruction. We see this in the Old Testament with Israel. Hosea 4:6s laments, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee." It is by exercising and applying our knowledge of God's Word by "reason of use," that we grow stronger and more acute in our abilities to perceive truth and falsehood.
Principle six: Ask God for discernment. I Thessalonians 5:19 says, "Quench not the Spirit." Psalm 119:66 is a request, a heart cry to God. "Teach me good judgment and knowledge: for I have believed Thy commandments." Paul teaches us in I Corinthians 2:14, that the lost, unregenerate world lacks spiritual discernment, which comes by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." We who are saved possess the Holy Spirit. We have a relationship with God who can reveal things to us that are beyond our understanding! All we have to do is ask. James 1:5 says, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."
The need for spiritual discernment among God's people is greater today than it ever has been! Sad to say, in most churches today, discernment is long in demand, and short in supply. The Word of God commands us as believers to cultivate spiritual discernment. What about you? Do you see the world around you clearly? Christian Discernment!
We must be open to God's direction, and obey His voice!