Many people get into trouble because they lack discernment. Maybe you have seen people get into bad relationships, business or personal, because they ignored their discernment radar. When the vibes were negative, they assumed they couldn’t be godly because they seemed so unloving and judgmental.
This misconception is fostered when Christians condemn fellow believers as being judgmental when they are trying, in reality, to be shrewd and discerning. Interestingly, the one declaring the other as judgmental has made a judgment in their declaration! We all must be careful not to judge in the manner which is condemned in the Bible. Yet we are told to be shrewd and discerning, which is a form of judging. This tension is nicely balanced in “be shrewd as serpents yet innocent as doves.”
While critical faultfinding is decried, fruit inspecting is applauded (Matt. 7:1, 15-20). “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit.” So if a person has a pattern of wrong or hurtful behavior we must take note and use that information in order to use sound judgment in our decisions. But only God can judge a person’s heart as to why he is acting that way. Only God knows whether the attitudes, intentions, and actions are coming from a heart of ignorance and confusion, or wickedness and disobedience (I Cor. 4:3-5).
To judge can mean to decide, distinguish, condemn, avenge, or damn. Discernment is listed as a definition for judgment. Discernment is “the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure.” The one who is spiritual is characterized by this quality (I Cor. 2:15).
The Scripture tells us not to judge as in don’t condemn, avenge, or damn another person. It tells us to judge as in be discerning, evaluating and shrewd. It tells us to condemn sinful behavior, to even expose it ( Ephesians 5:11). One of the most familiar passages on judging (Matt. 7: 1-5), “Judge not lest you be judged,” is not saying, “never judge.” It tells us how to judge. If you are not walking in the light of God’s truth, your vision won’t be clear to see the speck in your brother’s eye. By first allowing God to search and cleanse your own heart, you can “see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Continuing in Matt. 7, look at verse 6 – “Don’t give what is holy to dogs and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn and tear you to pieces.” First, Christ is not talking about the animal kingdom here. Dogs and swine describe people. We must judge which people are dogs or swine. Then, we must judge what is holy and what are pearls. God and His truth are holy. Pearls can be the special treasures of insight and meaningful encounters we have with Him. Our children and loved ones are pearls to us and we don’t put them in the care of swine that might trample them, even if they are related to us.
How can we judge accurately? Matt. 7:7-11 tells us to ask God, seek direction from our Heavenly Father. Proverbs 2 also tells us to ask for discernment.
I have observed how God will give His child discernment that something is not right. “Don’t get involved with this person!” But because the Christian feels he is being judgmental, he disregards the discernment and goes ahead with the involvement and suffers the consequences. This is especially difficult when the person our radar tells us cannot be trusted is someone we care about or is respected by others. The individual may be in our own family, a coworker, or even in the Christian community. We need to ask, seek, and knock for God’s discernment on how we are to treat this person. We are not to judge his final destiny or execute vengeance.
The chapter continues – Vs.18 – a good tree cannot produce bad fruit. Vs. 20 – so then you will know them by their fruits. Paul does this in I Cor. 3:3 ” …for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” In Galatians 7:4 Paul says the false brethren “had sneaked in to spy out our liberty … in order to bring us into bondage.” He is making sound judgments based on the bad fruit he sees. He judges the Corinthians as carnal and the second group as false brethren with the intent of bringing them into bondage.
Jesus said in John 7:24, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” We must guard against being critical of others when the truth is we have no clue to what is going on. I recall Chuck Swindoll telling how he was speaking at a retreat and a man who sat up front would sleep through most of his message every night. Swindoll says he’d judged the man to be uninterested in spiritual things until one night the man’s wife spoke with Chuck and told him how her husband was desperately ill and heavily medicated, but had begged his doctors to let him attend this retreat so he could hear Chuck Swindoll preach. You can imagine how Chuck felt. So while sitting in judgment here was wrong, Paul’s using judgment in discerning the spiritual condition of the saints in Corinth was right. We need discernment to understand this!
We are not to: Be critical (Romans 14: 1, James 4: 11-12; 5:9)
Discriminate (showing partiality based on wealth, race, etc. James 2:2-9)
We are to: Critique (Matt 7:6, 15-20, Proverbs 20: 11) Discriminate against sin, foolishness (Proverbs 4: 14-15; Psalm 1)
Paul tells us in I Corinthians 2: 15 that he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. The spiritual man or woman who is allowing the Holy Spirit, instead of the world or the flesh, to dominate his/her thinking, is given ability to discern, determine, judge, or understand. But his/her non-Christian or fleshly Christian friends won’t understand him/her. Hebrew 5: 14 says the mature, because of practice, have their senses trained to discern good and evil. We walk by faith in the light of God’s counsel, practicing what we are learning even though it may go against the way we’ve been trained and our discernment will grow.
A woman came to see me several years ago with a tragic story of how not listening to the radar God had given her had ended in rape. A neighbor came to her apartment door late one night and wanted to come in. Her warning lights went off and she told him, “No!” He persisted saying that he was down and needed someone to talk with and she was the nicest person he knew. She had a debate in her mind. “This man has been drinking, it is late, I don’t feel good about this – but on the other hand this may be my opportunity to win him to Christ. How can I call myself a Christian and turn him away?” So she let him in.
As we talked about this, she said she felt like she shouldn’t let him in, but the accusations that she wouldn’t be a good Christian forced her to open the door. Our enemy is crafty. He uses Christian sounding jargon and even uses Christians to send us these pious sounding half-truths to snare us. Let’s return to Matt. 7 – ask, seek, and knock. We must seek God for His wisdom. Are our apprehensions on proceeding with involvement with this person founded or based on some irrational fear or bad experience from our past? Through practice and a commitment to trust in the Lord and not lean on our own understanding, we will grow to discern His voice from all the rest.
Praise: For a new birth.
Prayer: For this new Christian to become rooted and grounded in Christ.
Praise: For matching funds received.
Prayer: For matching funds campaign, which continues through February and needed monthly support.
Prayer: For protection over our physical, emotional and spiritual health.