Is it discernment, or is it judgment?

Progressive 30

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:17-18)

Fundamentalist Christians must be aware that they sound judgmental. I’ve always wondered how they can square that with the Bible: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1) However, they continue to make judgments on others, in and out the church, and argue that they are not being judgmental. Recently, I heard someone say, “I’m not judging; I’m discerning.” He was involved in an online argument over (what else?) gay rights. I want to understand the Bible, so I don’t make snap decisions. I prayed, and I did a quick study on discernment. This is a portion of what I found. I included some context here (because context is important).

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5

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For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12).

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The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)

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Paul and Timothy to all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi … “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:10).

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Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:13-18)

None of these passages say we should “discern” others. In fact, they indicate that it’s pointless, because discernment comes from God Himself and from the Holy Spirit.

According to the dictionary, Christian discernment (anakrino) is perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding. It is related to wisdom. The passages here lead me to believe that I am to use discernment regarding my own walk with God and my relationships with fellow Christians; I found nothing here requiring me to go out into the world and “discern” other people’s sins. I urge anyone who is interested in discernment (and who thinks they’re required to “discern” other people’s sins) to read these chapters in full.

Certainly, discernment is important. But I continue to believe that nearly all of us should be the best example of Jesus’ gracious love that we can be, practice discernment only within the church (Matthew 18:15-17, Galatians 6:1), and leave judgment to God.

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