Discernment is an Imperative

I’m not a big fan of the majority of internet memes (or info-graphics) that get shared all over the blog-o-sphere and Facebook. Occasionally, one gets shared that I think… “awesome”… and they stick with me for a while. I have a confession to make: I have only recently become familiar with Charles H. Spurgeon and some of the other influential church leaders in the past. Okay, moving along, this one meme in particular was a quote from Charles H. Spurgeon regarding Discernment. It is easy to practice Biblical discernment when you disagree with what is being said, or dislike the person saying it. Especially if what you are countering is clearly wrong according to scriptures. But it is an altogether different experience to discern between “right” and “almost right”… especially if you are trying to establish the “rightness” of a statement you already agree with, or one being made by a person you look up to (or, dare I say it, idolize) or someone a dear friend looks up to.

discernmentIs Discernment Really an Imperative?

Yes. Let’s look at what the Word of God says:

Matthew 7:15-23 (ESV) 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

1 John 4:1 (ESV) 4 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Galatians 1:6-7 (ESV) 6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

There may be more references worth including here, but here I’ve listed the Authoritative warning by Jesus, and the reminder from 2 witnesses John and Paul. As I’ve said before, the entire book of Galatians focuses on this point… on the point of discerning between Gospel (“right”) and  Law (which cannot be considered wrong, but if you’ll read Galatians, you’ll see that it’s an “almost right”).  Before you start explaining away these passages as being about paganism, Satanism, or Mormonism… stop. Jesus said they’d be in sheep’s clothing… meaning they’d look like you and me. In 1 John, he goes to explain that some of these men had gone out from them… from the church in Jerusalem… and they were false. And Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, is talking about men from Jerusalem who were of the circumcision party of believers. We aren’t talking only about the obviously wrong teaching, or the in-your-face blasphemies… we are talking about a distortion of the Gospel of Christ.

Well, You are Entitled to your Opinion…

Yes, you are. But that has absolutely nothing to do with Biblical Discernment. In fact, if your opposition to (or defense of) a message, a prophecy, a sermon, or a theology begins and ends with “I feel like” or “what this passage means to me” you are engaging in opinion-sharing. While everyone has an opinion, it doesn’t mean there are no right, almost right, and wrong opinions. Furthermore, Biblical Discernment is not about opinion, it’s about understanding what the Word of God says, according to the Word of God. I submit to you that very little… if anything… is open to personal opinion when it comes to the God-breathed Scriptures. Don’t let anyone discourage you from comparing what is being said in the Name of God to what we find written in the Word of God. And if there is still a hesitation in your mind… well, let’s see what Paul thought.

Galatians 1:8-12 (ESV) 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. 11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 5:7-12 (ESV) 7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

And we also have this warning from Peter:

2 Peter 2:1-3 (ESV) 2 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

So, this is what is at stake. Any deviation from the Gospel of Christ is to be rebuked. But this isn’t just about calling out falsehood! Discernment is also about establishing what is true in light of the Word of God. Going back to 1 John 4:1, we weren’t told to test to see if they were false, but to test to see if the spirit is of God. When you grade a test, you don’t compare it to what is wrong, you compare it to what is Right, what is Truth!

Acts 17:10-12 (ESV) 10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.

These were Jews, described as being more noble than those in Thessalonica (because those in Thessalonica were jealous of the following that Paul and Silas gained, and stirred up the crowds to persecute Paul and Silas) and they examined the Scriptures daily. Paul and Silas were bringing them the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and these men were weighing what they were hearing by what they already knew was the Word of God! And it proved to be Right, and True according to God’s Word (the Law and the Prophets, our Old Testament) and so they were already obeying 1 John 4:1 before it was even written! And because God’s Word is True, they believed the Gospel as preached by Paul and Silas in the Grace given them by Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I don’t want to grieve the Holy Spirit…

Nor do I. Take great care in how you characterize the message and the messenger as you go about searching the Scriptures as the men in Berea did. But the solution to this concern is not to shy away from obeying what is clearly a Biblical Imperative. Based on Jesus teaching in Matthew 22:37-40, “And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Let us look to 1 Corinthians 13 to see how Love is defined in Scripture:

1 Corinthians 13:1-6 (ESV)1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

When you choose to speak up (which you should) do so in Love. I also strongly recommend that you do so in private, first. Why? Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother…” so yes… do so in private, and in Love. Will it be welcomed? No. Will you always gain your brother? No. Will you always be right? only so far as you rightly use the Word of God, and don’t fall to your own sin of misinterpretation of the Word of God.

Again, it is not easy confronting false teaching that comes from a friend, or even a mentor. However, if you are not engaging in the opinions of men, and you’ve searched out the Scriptures, and proceed in love, it is a good thing to do. There is no prescription or mandate, to tolerate false-teaching. In fact, we are told not to fear the false teachers, nor to listen to them.

Titus 1:5-11 (ESV) 5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. 10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.

listentomenPaul is not instructing Titus to do something Paul had not already done. In fact, Titus was there when it happened. Let’s return to Galatians:

Galatians 2:1-11 (ESV) 1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. 11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

Titus witnessed was taught the value of conferring with Elders, submitting to Biblical Discernment (or Paul wanted to know that he had not run in vain) and in the necessity of rebuking hypocrisy and false doctrine (though it was the behavior of Cephas that was silently bearing testimony to the false teaching of the Judaizers). Cephas, was one who seemed to be influential, to be a pillar. The final thought for this post is this, that we dare not take the word of a leader over the Word of God.

I pray this has been of some encouragement to you. God’s Word isn’t open to individual interpretations and opinions… because it is Truth, Objective and Absolute Truth. We do not define Scripture by our emotion or by our opinions, but by the Word of God. The Elders of your assembly bear a great deal of responsibility. You, too, having all of the Word of God made readily available to you in this present age, learn to love God’s Word and search it out. No issue is too small, nor trial too great for answers to be found in the written Word of God.

May the Lord Bless and Keep you,
In Him,
Jorge

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