Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. — Romans 16:17-18
Discernment is an oft-misused concept in Christendom today. Many mention it only referring to the discernment of spirits, omitting the fact that discernment is a common occurrence that can take place hundreds, if not thousands of times per day, based on general observation and properly identifying what we see, hear, and experience.
While the discernment of spirits is a spiritual gift (divided severally by the spirits as He wills), the frequency and critical nature of standard discernment can and will impact one’s success in Christ. The ability to discern when one is in danger helps one to deliver himself or herself from the danger. The ability to discern whether or not someone is telling the truth enables one to overcome deceit. The ability to discern that a person is truly standing for the good of the gospel enables the hearers to operate in honor and receive that which God is sending forth. The discernment of spirits can indeed come into play in such cases, but standard discernment can be exercised when the discerning of spirits is not in operation.
To help everyone confirm understanding of standard discernment (and to help remove some of the mystique associated with the concept), consider the following definitions associated with the words “discern” and “discernment” throughout scripture:
- To know by observing and reflecting
- To know by inspecting and proving
- To observe
- To recognize
- To consider
- To distinguish
Those definitions are from the Old Testament Hebrew. Now, consider these from the N.T.:
- To study thoroughly (i.e., to seek the truth by the process of careful study)
- To evaluate carefully
- To examine
- To judge (i.e., to make a judgment on the basis of careful and detailed information)
- To try
- To scrutinize
Notice the similarities between the Old and New Testaments? Each of these acts involves direct activity on the part of the discerning individual and not a “move of the Spirit” per se. Interestingly, the definition of the word “discernment” associated with the spiritual gift means “the ability to distinguish,” referring to an intuitive act via the unction of the Holy Ghost, without any active involvement.
Now, note these general examples:
- Noah discerned that the waters were abating off the earth.
- Isaac failed to discern Jacob disguising himself as Esau.
- It was discerned that Absalom sent forth someone with a report to deceive David, saving David from calamity.
- Ezekiel spoke of how true teachers would help people to discern between the clean and the unclean (Ezekiel 44).
- Paul spoke of how the things of God can’t be understood by the natural man and how they can only be spiritually discerned (i.e., discerned following spiritual guidelines and principles, 1 Corinthians 2).
- People that fail to discern the Lord’s body properly and participate in communion are eating and drinking damnation to themselves (1 Corinthians 11:29).
- The word of God is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (hence, the word of God serves as the major basis for discernment, Hebrews 4).
- One’s handling of God’s word and having the senses exercised enables one to discern between good and evil (see Hebrews 5).
All these things said, I’ll take a few moments to illustrate how general discernment is to be applied, using a real-world example. I recently saw a Facebook post where someone was quoting a popular preacher (identity withheld for now, as it’s more important to see the what and not the who at this time). It read as follows:
“Dear Lord today deposit faith in my account, withdraw stress, transfer understanding, balance my life & add interest!”
Sounds cute. Sounds catchy. The truth, however, is that the statement is full of dangerous, profane, and vain babblings that will ensnare everyone that embraces any part of the words. Remembering that the true child of God is responsible for not being deceived, for taking heed that no man take our crown, AND to MARK AND AVOID ANYONE THAT BRINGS DAMNABLE DOCTRINES, here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how the statement should be discerned:
- Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word. Anybody that wants faith MUST hear God’s unadulterated word. One cannot truly request that faith be “deposited” and have such a prayer honored.
- Proving the latter point, the disciples once asked Jesus to increase their faith. Instead of increasing it, He talked about having the grain of a mustard seed. Therefore, it’s not about “how much” faith a person has. It’s about the quality of that faith. Being that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, if he didn’t “increase the faith” of the requestors then, He won’t do it today.
- Stress is a standard. For the faithful, stress comes via tribulation, persecution, and temptation. For all, stress comes through every day life events. Stress can’t be “withdrawn.” It can only be endured. Hence, asking God to “withdraw stress” is a vain, brattish, childish act. Considering the source (and here’s a slight hint of who made the statement), there’s a great deal of stress in his life due to the many, many reports of adultery, fornication, and having babies by women in “his congregation.” Self-imposed stress is usually prolonged as a means of chastisement, so one surely can’t ask God to “withdraw stress” if they created it. Such a request is inordinate, misdirected, and amiss.
- While understanding is available for the asking (per Proverbs 2), asking God to transfer understanding is nothing more than a cute phrase that just seduces the simple-minded — especially if they’re unaware of the factors presented in Proverbs 2. By the way, the discourse in Proverbs 2 also talks about understanding righteousness, judgment, and every good path, as well as being delivered from evil, crazy talking people. If someone REALLY pursued understanding, they wouldn’t be listening to this preacher. Isn’t it interesting that the person’s statement actually includes a desire to be delivered from people like him? Do you really think he would say such a thing or is there an implication that those who would embrace his words are too dull of hearing to discern the problem-at-hand?
- Asking God to “balance your life” is another foolish request. It’s like asking God to wash you up in the morning (without getting in the shower yourself), getting dressed, and going on your way. Also, the term “balance” is more humanistic and New Agey than kingdom of God oriented. In other words, the word “balance” creates images in the minds of the people (e.g., not being too spiritually-minded so that you’re no earthly good), but the word can’t be connected back to scripture, making it antichristian at best. There are better words to be presented to God’s people. Words such as holy, moderate, temperate, and sober better serve the hearers, but such words rarely, if ever, find their ways into the discourse of a corrupt speaker (and if they do, they’re misdefined).
- Lastly, asking God to “add interest” is the ultimate offense. God’s word says “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. The request is presented as a means of receiving good things from the Lord, but everyone will receive based on what they’re sowing. Figuratively speaking, one can receive good interest or detrimental interest. By listening to the preacher associated with the above-mentioned statement, the last thing these people should desire is interest on such a transaction. Also, the faithful don’t have to ask God for “interest” on doing well. It’s already part of the program.
The person that made the statement I analyzed is Jamal Bryant. If you don’t know who he is, that’s good. When you come across him, mark and avoid him. Through his good words and fair speeches, many have been tantalized and made to be excited, but the prudent will look well to his or her going. Through proper discernment, such words (no matter who the preacher is) will be rejected and cast down. In other words, the prudent will see and hear the danger in his words and respond accordingly.
We’ve defined and clarified elements associated with discernment. The operative question then is….. How’s YOUR discernment today? What says YOUR appetite? Interestingly, one’s appetite can and will impact what and how one discerns. And only those that are truly pure in heart will arise from such a spiritual assault as Bryant’s with their crown still in place.
Until next time, I hope and pray this exhortation find you in a good state. Keep the word and be blessed!