What the Bible says about Discernment
(From Forerunner Commentary)
God personally appointed Bezaleel and Aholiab: "I have called by name"; "I have put." They were given favor by God to carry out this responsibility in His behalf for Israel. He gave them wisdom. The basic concept behind the Hebrew word translated wisdom is synonymous with the English word "skill." It is a word with wide-ranging application. For instance, Proverbs 4:7, Solomon advises, "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom." In that context, it means skill in living, in common sense, in relationships with other people. We are to become skilled at doing these things.
The widsom of Bezaleel and Aholiab is skill in supervising and teaching others how to do things, as well as being able to do intricate, artistic things themselves. Another way of putting it would be "strength of capacity" or even "expansion of their minds." In addition, God gave them understanding, which means "discernment." In this context of building the Tabernacle, it would mean being able to arrange or connect all the different parts.
God also increased their knowledge, which means "a particular acquaintance." Cunning works implies "inventiveness," having a mind that can look at something and say, "We need this kind of a tool to accomplish this task," and then produce the tool to make it. By inspiration, God added to natural ability so that they could execute God's design. He gave them skill far beyond their natural abilities.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 6)
This is the earliest formal warning to God's people that attacks against their faith would take place within the fellowship of His children, and the pattern has occurred repeatedly. God raises up a prophet or minister to instruct His people. Opposition arises, usually in the form of ministers who see things differently, who force the people to choose which way they will follow. Understand, God is not passively watching. He actively tests His children's loyalties through such calamitous situations.
John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part Two)
The first factor added here is that God recognizes that false prophets, through the power of Satan, can accomplish signs and wonders. The magicians of Egypt imitate Moses' staff-into-a-serpent miracle before Pharaoh (Exodus 7:8-12). The end-time False Prophet will do similar signs as the Two Witnesses, causing most of the world's population to worship the Beast (Revelation 13:11-15). Paul warns in II Corinthians 11:13-15 that Satan's servants are clever counterfeits of Christ's. Signs, wonders, and miracles, then, are not conclusive proof that a prophet is from God.
The second factor Deuteronomy 13 adds is our need to recognize the spiritual message accompanying the prophet's signs and predictions. This is the essence of the apostle John's admonition, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (I John 4:1). No matter how impressive or accurate a prophet's miracles or prophecies, his credibility hangs on whether he leads people toward or away from God.
The following questions, then, must all be answered before we judge a person as a true or false prophet:
1. Does he claim to prophesy in God's name or in a false god's name?
2. Do his prophecies come to pass?
3. Does he do signs and wonders?
4. Does he teach the truth based on God's Word?
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Was Herbert Armstrong a False Prophet?Related Topics: Discerning the Spirits | Discernment | Discernment, Growing in | Discernment, Spiritual | False Doctrine | False Ministers/Prophets | False Miracles | False Prophet | False Religion | Satan as Source of False Doctrine | Satan's Deception | Satan's Heresies | Satan's Ministers | Satan's Power | Satan's Religion | Signs and Wonders | Signs, False | Test the Spirits | Testing the Spirits | Two Witnesses | Worship the Beast | Worship, False
God clearly shows that, just because He makes something available to us—even things that might ordinarily be considered as good—it does not mean that it will be good for us, His called and chosen people. God's eyelids look at the sons of men. He is always testing us to see whether we understand how intimately He is working with us. We are to be a self-controlled people. Our conduct is to be motivated by faith, because we are a distinctive people summoned by the great God for His purposes and His purposes only. God is drawing us into His oneness with Him, and this is why there is so much stress in His word on His one way.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 7)
The ancient Hebrews associated wisdom with our modern term “skill,” even though “skill” is not a direct translation of the Hebrew term. “Skill” implies what wisdom is in actual practice: excellence in quality or expertise in the practice of one's occupation, craft, or art. People may acquire many skills in life, but the Bible focuses on human life and its God-given purpose. Therefore, a practical definition of biblical wisdom is “skill in living according to God's way of life.”
To refine it further, biblical wisdom is unique to those truly in a relationship with God. That biblical wisdom is a gift of God reinforces this fact, and according to James 1:1-8, we should ask for it and He will give it. James cautions that we must be patient because God gives it through the experiences of living within a relationship with God. Living requires time, and in some cases, a great deal of time because we are often slow to learn. God gives wisdom for us to make the best practical use of all the other gifts He gives, enabling us to glorify Him by our lives. As it is used, it displays a host of characteristics similar to the fruit of the Spirit (see James 3:17-18).
Proverbs 1:1-7 helps to clarify wisdom by showing that it consists of such other godly characteristics as knowledge of God Himself, the fear of God, understanding, discernment, discretion, prudence, justice, judgment, equity, etc., all of which, melded together and used, produce a skill in living that—this is important—is in alignment with God's purpose and way of life.
Undoubtedly, some people are worldly-wise. However, biblical wisdom and worldly wisdom are not the same skillset. Biblical wisdom contains those spiritual qualities that are in alignment with and support God's purposes. Though wisdom may provide a measure of worldly success, that is not its primary purpose.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eight): DeathRelated Topics: Biblical Wisdom | Discernment | Discretion | Ecclesiastes and Christian Living | Ecclesiastes and Christian Living-Death | Equity | Fear of God | Judgment | Justice | Prudence | Relationship with God | Skill in Living | Understanding | Wisdom as Skill | Wisdom as Skill in Living | Worldly Wisdom
Modern versions replace "vision" with "revelation," but the choice is negligible because God's revelation is the true and most important vision (foresight, discernment, insight) for our lives. The Living Bible paraphrases this verse as, "Where there is ignorance of God, the people run wild, but what a wonderful thing it is for a nation to know and keep His laws!" An old English version based on the Latin Vulgate provides a fascinating rendering in light of what has happened recently in the church: "When prophecy shall fail, the people shall be scattered." Adam Clarke comments, "Where divine revelation, and the faithful preaching of the sacred testimonies, are neither reverenced nor attended, the ruin of that land [or church] is at no great distance."
All these renderings show a measure of cause and effect. The vision a person has is the cause, and the effect is the way he then conducts his life. Where there is a true vision, or revelation of God, it motivates those who have reverence for it to conduct their lives in a way that produces good fruit - happiness. If the vision that guides is not from God, the people are motivated to "run wild" or "cast off restraint." That is, they will not discipline themselves to take proper responsibility, and the result is they perish - quite a contrast to the satisfying result of keeping God's laws!
There can be no doubt about what vision produces. It enhances our perception of what will occur or be produced if a certain course is followed. Thus, it increases our discernment and sharpens our judgment about which way we should go. If the vision, the foreseen result, seems good to a person, he is motivated to proceed in that direction. When vision and the fear of God combine, they produce a strong stimulus to obey Him. Vision gives a mental picture of results, and the deep and abiding respect for God produces a compelling inclination to please Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Two): Vision
The word "justice" used in verse 7 is associated with end-time circumstances in nearly every prophecy where social conditions are described in a nation on the verge of collapse. The Hebrew word is mishpat, translated justice, judgment, or ordinance. Because he is spiritually blind, the Laodicean, too, has lost his ability to judge between right and wrong. He can no longer discern, as the Bible phrases it, "between the clean and the unclean."
God speaks of this lack of judgment in terms of their courtship, their relationship, with Him. Similar to the situation today in the church, Christians need discernment, the ability to distinguish right from wrong, to make true judgments. The Laodicean lacks this ability and it shows in the decisions he makes.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
This beatitude, like all the others, has both a present and future fulfillment. Paul says in I Corinthians 13:12, "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known." To "see" God is to be brought close to Him. In this instance the sense is that what we are far from cannot be clearly distinguished. That, as sinners, we are far from God is proclaimed in Isaiah 59:2: "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He will not hear." Thus James 4:8 admonishes us, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."
The pure in heart are those who with all their being seek to remain free of every form of the defilement of sin. The fruit of this is the blessing of spiritual discernment. With spiritual understanding, they have clear views of God's character, will, and attributes. A pure heart is synonymous with what Jesus calls a "single" (KJV) or "clear" (NKJV margin) eye in Matthew 6:22. When a person has this mind, the whole body is full of light. Where there is light, one can see clearly.
The sense of this beatitude's promise to see God carries over into the Kingdom of God. In one sense, all will see God, as Revelation 1:7 prophesies: "Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they also who pierced Him. And all the tribes of earth will mourn because of Him." They will see Him as Judge.
Jesus' promise, though, is stated as a blessing, a favor. Revelation 22:4 says of those who will inherit God's Kingdom, "They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads." I John 3:2 reads, "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." To see someone's face is to be so near as to be in his presence. In this case, the term indicated the highest of honors: to stand in the presence of the King of kings. Certainly David understood the greatness of this: "As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness" (Psalm 17:15).
God places great value on being clean, especially in terms of purity of heart. Also, we can easily become defiled, whereas remaining clean requires constant vigilance, a determined discipline, and a clear vision of what lies before us to serve as a prod to keep us on track. Since it is sin that defiles, this beatitude demands from us the most exacting self-examination. Are our work and service done from selfless motives or from a desire for self-display? Is our church-going a sincere attempt to meet God or merely fulfilling a respectable habit? Are our prayers and Bible study a heartfelt desire to commune with God, or do we pursue them because they make us feel pleasantly superior? Is our life lived with a conscious need of God, or are we merely seeking comfort in our piety?
To examine our motives honestly can be a daunting and shaming but very necessary discipline, but considering Christ's promise in this beatitude, it is well worth whatever effort and humbling of self it takes. It is good for us to keep Paul's admonishment found in II Corinthians 7:1 fresh in mind: "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 6: The Pure in HeartRelated Topics: Beatitudes, The | Cleansing | Defilement | Discernment | Discernment, Spiritual | Double Mindedness | Drawing Near to God | Prayer | Pure in Heart | Purity | Purity of Heart | Seeing God | Seeking God | Self Examination | Sin Destroys Innocence | Single-mindedness | Spiritual Defilement | Spiritual Discernment | Vigilance
Christ's mandate to us that we become "wise as serpents and harmless as doves" implies that we must develop discernment, the ability to detect motivation and the spirits that motivate. The gift of discerning the spirits will become increasingly important as we approach the end of this age because deception will be the hallmark of these extremely dangerous times.
In the Olivet Prophecy, the disciples ask Jesus to reveal the sign of His return. Jesus does not give one sign but several. At the top of the list, he warns the disciples of deception, and follows it up with warnings of false prophets, false miracles, and the warning not to be deceived (see Matthew 24:4-5, 11, 23-26).
We deduce from this last warning that false "Christian" ministers and ministries will have the capability of performing convincing lying wonders and signs. These false ministers will demonstrate power—occult power—for the specific purpose of leading all people astray, including the most sincere believer.
We have a clear warning from the apostle Paul that the battles we face on a daily basis cannot be won by conventional weapons that we can attain from the world. The weapons we must seek should be spiritual, having the power to destroy arguments and every false claim that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and God's Word (II Corinthians 10:3-5).
David F. Maas
The Gift of Discerning SpiritsRelated Topics: Avoiding False Apostles | Deception | Discerning Between Good and Evil | Discerning the Spirits | Discernment | Discernment, Growing in | Discernment, Physical | Discernment, Spiritual | False Ministers/Prophets | False Miracles | Gift of Discernment | Olivet Prophecy | Spiritual Weapons | Wise as Serpents, Harmless as Doves
The apostle John declares that sin is the transgression of God's commandments (I John 3:4, KJV), including the two great commandments Jesus spoke in Mark 12:28-31. The word translated as "sin" literally means "to miss the mark." Combining these principles gives us a very broad definition of sin: Sin is imperfectly loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and imperfectly loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Romans 3:23 declares that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." In other words, all have sinned in the past, and in the present all fall short in reflecting God's love, which is a major part of His glory. Godly love does not have to grow cold for it to be shown imperfectly. It will be shown imperfectly when it is demonstrated by God's still-imperfect children. We all are in this state.
This is not to say that we should give up trying to perfect God's love. On the contrary, we have every responsibility to do our utmost to perfect it (I John 2:5; 4:12, 17-18). At the same time, it should not shock us when our spiritual brothers and sisters show God's love to us imperfectly, for we are guilty of the same toward them—and toward God.
Perhaps we find ourselves in a situation where it appears that God's love in others is growing cold. Maybe we see God's standard of holiness being ignored or compromised, and some form of lawlessness is beginning to show up. We may see little evidence of sacrificial love, and relationships are beginning to be strained. What should we do?
There are two possibilities. The first is that our discernment is correct, and what Jesus Christ foretold in Matthew 24:12 is coming to pass, perhaps not in its ultimate fulfillment, but at least in type. The second is that our discernment is incorrect, and that God's love is actually present and not growing cold, but we are having trouble seeing it.
If our discernment is correct, and we truly are in a circumstance where agape love is waning, Jesus has already indicated what He wants us to do. Matthew 24:13 says, "But he who endures to the end shall be saved." When many are letting their relationships with God deteriorate, the emphasis is on patient, active endurance.
I Corinthians 13 gives a beautiful description of agape love, which parallels Jesus' exhortation to endure in several points. Verse 4 says that godly love "suffers long." It displays patience and endurance, even in the face of being loved imperfectly. Verse 7 adds that godly love "bears all things" and "endures all things." However, if we are not showing patience or endurance in response to imperfect love, then we are simply responding with carnality rather than with God's love.
Similarly, verse 5 says that godly love "thinks no evil." True love pays no attention to a suffered wrong, nor takes account of the evil done to it. It does not keep a running list of all the ways it has been offended or loved imperfectly. That, again, would be responding to imperfect love with carnality. So, if we find ourselves in the midst of a fulfillment of Matthew 24:12, we really have our work cut out for us because we will have to endure patiently and continue to display God's love rather than allow our own agape to also grow cold in response.
Conversely, God's love may be present, but our discernment may be incorrect, and we are missing it by looking for agape only in one application. We may be continually waiting for a specific type of sacrificial love, and if we do not receive it, we may suppose that God's love is absent. However, we are not all the same in how we show love or how we recognize it. We may need to take a step back and look for facets of God's love that are present, rather than focusing on what may be absent.
In addition, given that human nature is still present within us, we also have to remember that nothing inhibits or damages our ability to see things clearly like focusing on the self. That is, we tend to evaluate whether God's love is present based on how we feel or how we are affected, rather than on objectively looking for God's spiritual workmanship in the overall situation.
David C. Grabbe
Is the Love of Many Growing Cold?Related Topics: Agape Love | All Have Sinned | Compromise | Discernment | Enduring to the End | God's Workmanship | Godly Love | Lawlessness | Longsuffering | Love Growing Cold | Patience | Perfecting Godly Love | Sacrificial Love | Sin | Sin as Missing the Mark | Sin as the Transgression of the Law | Strained Relationships
In verses 23-28, Jesus sounds a warning to those who are so eager for His return: Do not be snookered by those who claim that Christ has returned. He is not out in the desert or hiding in some inner room. He cautions us that “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (verse 24). We need to be discerning about the information we swallow.
We can extend this in principle to cover those who think they know when, how, or where Christ will return. These are only distractions and deceptions because He has told us Himself what to look for. His return will not be secret or sneak up on us! It will be a tremendous show, as it were, like a massive flash of lightning and a roll of thunder that encompasses the whole of the sky (verse 27). His coming will be a worldwide phenomenon that no one will be able to miss. And it will happen during a time of war (verse 28).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The End Is Not Yet
When we show pity, compassion, and kindness to those in difficult straits, we are practicing the merciful attitude that God expects each of His children to exhibit at all times. Of course, He does not want us to be so soft-hearted that we become an easy mark for those who would take advantage of us, but He does want us to develop a keen sense of discernment that realizes when mercy is a better option than the strict application of rules.
Undoubtedly, each of us would lend a helping hand to another who was in physical need, but there are other situations in which a physical need is not apparent that also require us to extend mercy. Particularly, we need to learn to employ mercy in our dealings with each other on a daily basis. To put it into today's language, everyone has bad-hair days, and on some days, even a normally lovable person can be very difficult to live with.
Age differences lend themselves to misunderstandings. We may still carry prejudices that rear their ugly heads from time to time, causing friction. Oftentimes, we just do not think before we speak. Mistakes made in the past can seem to hang over us like a cloud and never go away, and thus we do not feel forgiven, affecting our attitudes. And of course, we all have different backgrounds and came from situations in which we perhaps lived our lives in certain shameful ways. Each of these problems can ignite trouble with our closest family members and friends.
The problem that all of us face in making righteous judgments is that we cannot see into the other person's heart; we do not really know their intentions and attitudes. We have a hard enough time understanding ourselves, let alone someone else! In Jesus' comments about judgment in His Sermon on the Mount, He cautions us about being too critical: "And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3). Therefore, if we have to make a judgment call, it is far better to lean toward patience, forbearance, and mercy.
So, when we find ourselves offended by anyone, rather than responding in kind, we should apply the principle of giving a soft answer (Proverbs 15:1), turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), and extending tender mercies (Colossians 3:12).
Satan would like us to hang on to evil thoughts about another, to hold a grudge against a brother, or to arrive at church with a resentful attitude toward a fellow Christian, but Jesus Christ wants us to remember Matthew 18:35: "So My heavenly Father will [pass judgment against] you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses." Just as He forgave each of us from the heart, He wants us to learn to forgive others in the same generous, merciful way.
In my forty-plus years in the church, I have made almost all of the mistakes a person can make with his mouth, and realizing this, I have truly appreciated those who have extended mercy and forgiveness to me. They have taught me a great lesson by their spiritual maturity: that I, too, had better extend mercy and kindness to others.
What does God require of us? He tells us plainly in Micah 6:8: "He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?"
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Mercy: The Better Option
How were Simeon and Annaable to recognize the Messiah three decades before His first witness actually began? Luke provides the answer. He shows us that, in aggregate, the people of this group displayed the following characteristics:
1. They had God's Spirit. As a result, they were able to understand "the deep things of God. . . . No one knows the things of God except [by] the Spirit of God" (I Corinthians 2:10-11). When He promised the Spirit to His disciples, Christ called it
the Spirit of truth [which] . . . will guide you into all truth; for [it] will not speak on [its] own authority, but whatever [it] hears [it] will speak; and [it] will tell you things to come. (John 16:13)
The Spirit taught Simeon and Anna, just as it taught the apostles—just as it teaches us today.
2. They heard God's Word. Anna "did not depart from the Temple . . . night and day." She often heard the reading of God's Word, which Christ defined as truth (John 17:17). That Word "is profitable for . . . instruction in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16). The Devout received frequent instruction from God's Word.
3. They talked with others of like mind. Simeon was not alone; neither was Anna. Luke 2:38 says Anna "spoke of [Christ] to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem." An unspecified number of other people also waited for the Messiah! They fellowshipped with those who were "just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel" (verse 25).
4. They fasted often. Notice the plural: Anna "served God with fastings" (Luke 2:37). These were not the fastings of vanity (see Matthew 6:16-18), but she fasted in service to God. A result of proper fasting is knowledge (see Daniel 9:1-22; 10:1-21). Surely, Anna's frequent fastings contributed to her ability to recognize the Messiah.
5. They prayed regularly. Again, notice the plural, "prayers" (Luke 2:37). Many hours of prayer lay behind Anna's recognition of her Messiah.
Solomon writes in Proverbs 2:3-5, "If you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, . . . then you will . . . find the knowledge of God." Solomon should know. God greatly increased his knowledge and wisdom as a result of his prayer (II Chronicles 1:10).
6. The Devout made the right connections. As a result of hearing God's Word, they were aware of the Seventy-Weeks Prophecy (Daniel 9:20-27). They realized that it was about 69 prophetic weeks since the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the Messiah's coming was imminent. That is what Luke 2:26 tells us: God's Spirit revealed to Simeon that he would not die before seeing the Messiah.
7. The Devout saw the Day approaching and did not forsake the assembling of themselves together (Hebrews 10:25). They understood the value of Christian fellowship. The prophet wrote of them and their sort through the ages: "Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them" (Malachi 3:16).
Discussing God's Word in frequent fellowship, with humble fastings and prayers, the Devout received understanding from God. Thus, they recognized their Messiah while the superstitious and the proud did not.
Recognizing the Second Witness
The source of the vision most of us receive is through the Spirit by our calling. God gives it just as surely as He gave Paul's, but it is a gradually accumulating one in which the pieces that complete the picture are added through the normal processes of study, comparing, analyzing, and applying what we learn.
Consider how the revelation of God changes the course of a person's life. If those who killed Christ had the vision to know who He was, they never would have killed Him. Why? They would have had an entirely different perspective of the consequences of their actions. That foresight would have generated prudence in them, and they would not have permitted themselves to kill Him. Notice also how verse 9 shows us that what God has done gives us a perspective involving things not literally seen, yet in verse 10 they are nonetheless revealed.
Through the entire section concluding in verse 16, Paul tells us that, because of God's gracious action in giving us His Holy Spirit, He has predisposed, enabled, or granted us the foresight or vision to make right choices in spiritual matters. God's Holy Spirit gives us discernment as to where spiritual and moral choices will lead. This is wonderful, but something further must be understood. This quality, ability, or skill must be developed. It must grow. It does not instantly and miraculously appear upon conversion.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Two): Vision
The reason the rulers of the world did not understand (verse 8), did not put into the proper perspective, did not grasp what they saw in the Lord of glory is that God did not reveal to them who Jesus was, what He was doing, or why He was doing it. Those things cannot be discerned by physical means - eye, ear, nose, mouth, the senses - but they have to be revealed. A spiritual miracle must take place for a person to understand and to see these spiritual things.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 3)
The verb Paul uses in verse 10, translated "revealed" (Greek apokalupto), is a strong term, usually used in the New Testament to indicate divine revelation of certain supernatural secrets or with the resurrection and judgment of certain people and events. These verses in I Corinthians 2 stress the work of the Holy Spirit in revealing the wisdom of God.
In verse 14, the verb anakrino, translated "discerned," is the same verb translated "judges" and "judged" in verse 15. The idea in each case is to make intelligent, spiritual decisions. Anakrino, though meaning "examine," includes the decision following the examination.
Members of God's church are to examine all things ,including our own lives, with the help of God's Spirit, and then we are to make an evaluation as to what our strengths and weaknesses are. Then we decide what we are going to do about them. No one in the world has a right to examine and evaluate us on spiritual matters because, without the Holy Spirit, they canno rightly and justly understand or evaluate. There is no need to feel slighted or put down by anyone in the world who disagrees with God's truth or with your obedience to God's truth. The same holds true in all judgments and criticisms from the world - that is, those without God's Holy Spirit - who try to tell us our doctrines are wrong.
This is a major reason the Worldwide Church of God went into apostasy, because the leaders believed and accepted the criticisms of the worldly churches. They accepted judgment from people without God's Holy Spirit and from organizations without a spiritual foundation of truth.
The mainstream Christian churches are worldly, are not led by people with the Holy Spirit, and they do not base their doctrines on truth. Two cases in point: neither the Sunday Sabbath nor the being that is called the Holy Spirit of the Trinity can be proven honestly and truthfully with God's written Word. Do not be fooled by mainstream Christianity's false piety! They are not God's people. They are not baptized members of God's church. They do not have God's Holy Spirit. This is not to say that there are not wonderful people in some of these churches in the world. In addition, when they do follow some of God's laws, blessings will automatically accrue to them.
Martin G. Collins
The Law's Purpose and IntentRelated Topics: Anakrino | Apostasy | Criticism | Decision | Decisions | Discernment | Discernment, Growing in | Discernment, Spiritual | Evaluation | Examining | Examining Ourselves | God's Holy Spirit | Holy Spirit | Judging | Judgment | Judgment, Distorted | Spiritual Discernment | Sunday Worship | Trinity
Because of the action God took once Adam and Eve sinned - they were cut off from the Holy Spirit - all of the cultures of mankind have been built on reasoning apart from God's Spirit. Man has been doomed to produce the kinds of cultures that are based on his own reasoning, because access to God's Holy Spirit was closed off, and therefore there is a missing dimension in mankind's reasoning processes.
Thus, the separation can only get wider - unless God acts to heal the breach. Mankind is unable to bridge the gap because spiritual things are not physically discerned; eyes, ears, nose, mouth cannot sense and understand spiritual things. So mankind is trapped - he is doomed in that regard. Even though God created mankind with a spiritual capacity, it is so limited that it cannot find the true things of God. Man, therefore, is easily overpowered by Satan.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Reconciliation and the Day of Atonement
Notice the contrast in verse 14, "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." The "natural man"—as opposed to the spiritual man—is one who is governed and influenced by natural instincts and drives. His senses and lusts motivate his behavior and choices in opposition to godly reason, conscience, and obedience to God's law.
Martin G. Collins
Comparing Ourselves Among Ourselves
How can one imitate both Christ and Paul unless he can discern they are both living by the same code of behavior? How can one study God's Word for instruction in righteousness without self-evaluation? The Bible instructs us, "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (I Thessalonians 5:21). Doing this requires judgment, discerning what is good from evil.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Judging Our Brothers
Understanding Christ's sacrifice properly determines the quality of our observance of the Passover. To prevent taking it in a careless and unappreciative manner, Paul charges us to examine ourselves, discerning the Lord's body. "Examine" means to test, prove or scrutinize to determine whether a thing is genuine. "Discern" means to separate, discriminate, to make a distinction for the purpose of giving preference.
An example will help to illustrate what this should accomplish. I have twice had the opportunity to observe a day's play of the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia. After a short time, I became aware that the spectators there were different from fans at other professional sporting events. Besides enjoying the professional golf, I began watching and listening to the spectators just as closely and found them to be the most appreciative spectators I had ever seen. I soon discovered why. They had, for the most part, personally attempted to make the same shots that the professionals seemed to do so effortlessly. And most of them had failed! This realization drove the spectators to appreciate deeply the professional golfers' skills.
Our pre-Passover preparations should involve this principle. A major factor that enables us to take Passover in a "worthy" manner is seriously reviewing our spiritual and moral failures in contrast to the perfect glory of our Savior, Jesus Christ. This Man lived thirty-three-and-a-half years without committing even one sin!
To avoid taking Passover unworthily, we should not take it without seriously considering its meaning. If we fail to do this, instead of honoring Christ's sacrifice, we share in the guilt of those who crucified Him. However, awareness of sin should not keep us from taking Passover. It should drive us to it, for our grateful participation in eating and drinking the symbols enables our sins to be paid.
Despite our self-examination, the focus at Passover is not on ourselves but on the payment for our sins, the means by which we are forgiven. It is a time to concentrate on the most elementary precepts of our salvation, especially on the part Jesus Christ plays in it. Only by a thorough understanding of the fundamentals of any discipline, and energetically and skillfully using them, will we produce success in an endeavor. In this way of life, if we do not understand and use the fundamentals, we will not overcome sin.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Christ, Our Passover
Asking for the gift of discernment or any other spiritual gift should not be to give us a more special or holier status than our brother or sister in Christ, but instead, to promote the common good for the entire body of Christ. If we think of it this way, it should deter us from corrosive pride, as we realize that each gift has a specific use, and one gift is not any better or inferior to any other.
However, suppose that one gift did contain more value or status than another. Did we do anything to deserve this status or recognition? Of course not! God Almighty distributes these gifts to each member specifically and individually as He wills, as we see in I Corinthians 12:11: "But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills."
We must also realize that all these gifts are meant to interact; no one individual, except for Jesus Christ, has all these gifts. Thus, we need other members of the Body of Christ, with their unique gifts, to complement our own God-given gifts. Christ's Body is meant to work together.
I Kings 3:9-10 records the wisest mortal man who ever lived making a request to God for discernment: 'Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?' The speech pleased the LORD, that Solomon had asked this thing."
We learn from Ezekiel 44:23-24 that to discern spirits enables one to make distinctions between holy and profane as well as clean and unclean. The discerner can also make decisions according to biblical judgments, based on knowing the commandments, and if people should violate them, what the appropriate punishment should be. A discerner is one who habitually obeys God's laws and statutes and who faithfully keeps God's Sabbaths (cf. Psalm 111:10).
David F. Maas
The Gift of Discerning Spirits
No matter how thoroughly a minister counseled us for baptism or how vividly he warned us the Christian life might become, very few are dissuaded from being baptized. This is, of course, good. However, most of us are also full of misplaced confidence. Though none of us is ever sure of what we will have to experience to be prepared for what God has in store for us in His Kingdom, we are sure God will be there for us in our times of trial. He will indeed, but will we be ready to face our discouragement over what we come to see in ourselves?
As we become educated in God's way, as we grow and become more discerning, sin becomes more apparent everywhere we look. The discouraging aspect is that the sin is not necessarily in others but that we see it in ourselves. We may even reach a level of outright despair because, everywhere we turn, every angle we view ourselves from, we see "little" deceits. We become aware of envy rising, jealousy, anger, and sometimes even rage and hatred. We attempt to bottle them up to keep them from breaking out.
Yet, they always seem to be just below the surface, ready to leap out in a foolish act. Sin is like a cancer, invisible most of the time but silently working to destroy us. Sin desires to return us to our former state. We may have even imagined that, when we began to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ, life would become continually easier - we would grow in holiness, and life would become an unending pleasure. Too frequently, it seems to work in the opposite direction.
This course, however, is good. First, the older and more mature we become in the faith, the more of the filthy corruption of sin we can discern. Our discouragement can turn to thankful encouragement because, even though we perceive the filthy corruption in ourselves, our ability to discern it more clearly is evidence of growth.
Second, it is encouraging to understand that for us to overcome sin and grow, we must first be aware of the corruption.
Third, it is wonderful to understand that our merciful God has covered even all this accumulated sin that we have been completely unaware of. Christ's blood is sufficient to cover the sins of the whole world! That we can see more of the evil aspects of human nature should help us also discern some of the implications of Christ's sacrifice.
Fourth, these things should motivate us to cry out to God, "Your Kingdom come! Your will be done!" and help us yearn for the time we will be free of the pulls of the flesh.
The removal of ignorance is a wonderfully rewarding gift. Even so, despair sometimes comes easily because we have allowed ourselves to be deceived into trusting our own works to keep us in good standing with God. If we fail to conduct ourselves properly even according to our own standards, it is not difficult to become guilt-ridden and full of despair.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Seven): The Sin and Trespass Offerings
The apostle Paul, despite his cautions to Timothy (see II Timothy 2:23; I Timothy 6:3-5), realized at one point that if he did not challenge the foolish challenges of his enemies (concerning his apostolic authority and methods), naïve members of the Corinthian congregation might believe them. His lengthy answer spans II Corinthians 11 and 12.
Obviously, Paul felt extremely uncomfortable about answering these allegations, as is evidenced by his self-effacing reference to himself as a fool, but he also realized that his silence would have tacitly endorsed the charges. Likewise, our Savior, when confronted about His identity and credentials, knew the timing was right to put the gainsaying Pharisees in their place (John 8:52-58).
As one minister said, "If you are going to preach a warning message, you had better be mindful of your exit strategies, or be prepared to die on that hill of battle." There certainly are times when diplomacy fails and silence is no longer appropriate. Our society is replete with foolish teachings, ideas, theories, and misconceptions—both secular and religious—and under the right circumstances, they should be confronted and shown to be false, lest they be accepted as factual.
As maturing Christians, we must learn to discern when it is proper to answer a fool according to his folly (in the manner his foolishness deserves), and when it is a bad idea to answer a fool according to his folly (lowering ourselves to his undignified level). The right exercise of God's Spirit in us, which Paul calls "the mind of Christ" (I Corinthians 2:16), provides the potential to have and use this ability.
David F. Maas
To Answer a Fool—or Not
Because we have been adopted, because God has redeemed us from our former father/owner, He gave us a measure of the same Spirit—that vital, animating essence that He and the Son share (John 15:26). The Holy Spirit links our mind to God's (Romans 8:16; I Corinthians 2:10-16) and allows us to begin to see things as He sees them—to discern spiritually.
David C. GrabbeRelated Topics: Adopted Children of God | Adoption | Adoption, Spiritual | Discernment | Discernment, Growing in | Discernment, Spiritual | God's Holy Spirit | God's Spirit | Holy Spirit | Holy Spirit | Holy Spirit as God's Mind | Holy Spirit imparts Spiritual Discernment | Holy Spirit imparts Understanding | Holy Spirit imparts Wisdom | Holy Spirit, Begettal of | Slavery | Sons of God | Spiritual Discernment
In context, God tells us one of the purposes of His revelation to mankind. The writer of Hebrews scolds his audience for being "dull of hearing" (verse 11). Using an analogy of milk, the nourishment of children, against "strong meat" (KJV), the fare of those "who are of full age," he laments that he needs to "go back to the basics," the first principles of God's revelation. Not using that revelation to exercise their senses "to discern both good and evil" (verse 14), they had failed to grow up.
The purpose of God's revelation is to provide the nourishment, the food, by which we come "to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). It is God's revelation, His oracles, which allow us to "go on to perfection" (Hebrews 6:1).
The Oracles of GodRelated Topics: Discernment | Discernment, Growing in | Discernment, Physical | Discernment, Spiritual | Dull of Hearing | God's Revelation of Himself | Going On to Perfection | Milk as Metaphor | Oracle | Perfection | Perfection, Going On To | Spiritual Growth | Spiritual Growth, Process of | Spiritual Immaturity | Spiritual Maturity | Spiritual Maturity, Process of | Stature of the Fullness of Christ | Striving to Perfection
Clearly, he is not saying that these people had no need for someone to teach them the difference between truth and error. They did need it! That is why John wrote his epistle! What they did not need was for anyone to teach them the church's basic doctrines, nor did they need human logic or philosophy to help them understand God's nature.
John had known, seen, heard, and touched Jesus Christ personally. Christ had taught him intensively for three-and-a-half years, and in turn, the aged apostle had taught them the same truth throughout his own ministry. The members of God's church had no need for any heretic to teach them.
As true sons of God, they had received His Holy Spirit, which had opened their minds and led them into the truth (John 16:13). They had been thoroughly grounded in the truth regarding the nature of Christ and God and the very purpose of life itself. God's truth had not changed, so what need did they have to relearn it?
In the rest of I John 2:27, John encourages them to allow the Holy Spirit to lead them and keep them faithful to what they had been taught from the beginning. Their original knowledge was true and no lie: "But as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him."
Do we need teachers? Of course! John's epistle is an excellent example of why teachers are needed in the church. When false doctrine threatened members of the true body of believers, John found it necessary to spell out to them the dangers in it, even though the brethren had been thoroughly grounded in the truth. To reassure them that their foundational beliefs were true, he felt he needed to explain the truth to them again. He also saw that they could use some encouragement to trust the Holy Spirit to lead them into the truth.
This is exactly what a true minister of God is to do! The author of Hebrews instructs us to respect the ministry because they are given to us to protect us. "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account" (Hebrews 13:17).
Many New Testament examples show us our need for teachers. Philip's experience with the Ethiopian eunuch clearly illustrates how we need experienced and educated teachers to explain and expound the Word of God (Acts 8:26-38). As Philip approaches him, the eunuch is reading an Old Testament prophecy that foretold Christ's sufferings. When asked if he understands the passage, the eunuch has the humility to admit he needs help. He replies, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" (verse 31). Philip then explains to him how this prophecy was fulfilled in the suffering and death of Jesus of Nazareth. This results in the eunuch's baptism (verse 38).
In dealing with the many problems in the Corinthian church, Paul had to send Timothy to refresh them in the truth that Paul had preached.
Therefore I urge you, imitate me. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. (I Corinthians 4:16-17)
In his letters to Timothy, Paul instructs the young evangelist about various principles that he should teach the people. "These things command and teach.... Teach and exhort these things" (I Timothy 4:11; 6:2).
In addition, the apostle tells him to train others to be teachers. "And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (II Timothy 2:2). Besides this, an elder must be "able to teach" (I Timothy 3:2). The very purpose of the ministry is to help in perfecting the saints (Ephesians 4:11-12, KJV).
Throughout the New Testament, God continually emphasizes the need to provide spiritual food to the church. Jesus says that His servants will be providing "food in due season" to His people (Matthew 24:45). "Feed My sheep" is one of the last things Jesus tells Peter (John 21:17). Paul writes to Timothy, "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (II Timothy 4:2).
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
For the Perfecting of the SaintsRelated Topics: Discernment | Discernment, Growing in | Discernment, Spiritual | Exhortation | Food in Due Season | Holy Spirit | Minister | Minister, Duty of | Ministry | Preaching | Spiritual Discernment | Spiritual Judgment | Spiritual Maturity | Teacher-Student Relationship | Teachers, Need for | Teaching