Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Ministry of Discernment

From the moment I picked up a trombone, back in 1985, I have been taught to listen critically and to think analytically. As an Educator, I've sat through many professional development sessions about teaching students to use higher order thinking skills such as critical thinking and analysis, though we already do this every day in Band. It is sad that in some Christian circles, people who think this way are viewed as "Troublemakers," accused of being "Divisive" or "Unsubmitted," or even said to have a "Critical Spirit." The Bible refers to such people as DISCERNING. "Cheneniah, Chief of the Levites, was in charge of the singing. He was to direct the music because he was skillful." (1 Chronicles 15:22) This word skillful is the word biyn in Hebrew. It means to be discerning, insightful and prudent, to have understanding, to be attentive, to diligently consider matters and to be able to teach. We teach students this skill through music so that they can apply it to every aspect of their lives. This ability is highly prized in the field of education. It is however, a skill that can be misused and even futile without the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding that comes from God.... 

If speaking in tongues is the most controversial spiritual gift, then I believe discernment is the most neglected and misunderstood. From watchbloggers who confuse discernment with cynicism and harsh criticism, to those who have been hurt by the church and post from a position of bitterness and broken trust, to pastors who dismiss this vital gift, we can discern that this in an important issue which needs to be addressed. I believe discernment is an essential ministry which is worth a few minutes of our time. Proverbs 4:7 tells us:

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. 

 These words, wisdom and understanding appear together repeatedly in Scripture. Wisdom and understanding work hand in hand. They go together like peanut butter and jelly, or macaroni and cheese. The Hebrew words for understanding are biyn or biynah which means to be discerning, to carefully consider matters, to be diligent and to gain knowledge. The term that keeps coming up as a synonym for understanding is DiscerningI would define discernment as the skillful and diligent application of wisdom. This is the very thing Solomon asked God for: 

So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours? Now it pleased the Lord that Solomon had requested this. So God said to him, "Because you have requested this and did not ask for long life or riches for yourself, or the death of your enemies, but you asked discernment for yourself to understand justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart (mind ESV), so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.
1 Kings 3:9-12

Solomon asked God for this gift and it was very pleasing to the Lord. He knew that God was the source of wisdom and discernment.

"Who has put wisdom in the innermost being or given understanding to the mind? -Job 38:36 

Solomon knew that God had given this gift before:

You are to instruct all the skilled craftsmen, whom I have filled with a spirit of wisdom...I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, Exodus 28:3,31:3

The Spirit of knowledge and understanding, or discernment, is the Holy Spirit:

But it is the spirit in a person, the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding. Job 32:8

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him-- a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. Isaiah 11:2

It is through God's Spirit that He gives us discernment and He desires for us to have this.

Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. Psalm 51:6

Paul prayed for us to have this gift:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.  Ephesians 1:17

Wisdom from the Holy Spirit is a gift for all believers, so how do we apply this gift? What are its uses? 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 gives insight into these questions:

To one is given a message of wisdom through the Spirit, to another, a message of knowledge by the same Spirit, to another, faith by the same Spirit, to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit, To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits...

God gives us wisdom and knowledge through His Spirit. He also helps us to determine whether a teaching, interpretation or a prophetic word comes from the Holy Spirit or whether it comes from some other source. So what is the right way to use this gift? We need to be diligent to apply wisdom. We should test every book, sermon, prophetic word, song, teaching and teacher against the word of God. As important as it is to be discerning and watch out for false or incorrect teaching, it is perhaps even more important to watch out for wonderful teaching. We should be equally diligent to follow the instruction of Philippians 4:8 to look for things that are true, pure, lovely, noble, right, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise and to highlight those things that are of GOOD report. Because, bitterness, envy, anger and unforgiveness can taint our perspectives, I often observe a waiting period before posting on an issue where I am deeply emotionally invested. Even just a few days can help, when we take the time to search the Scriptures, and then pray and consider God's purposes, placing His desires above our own. If we put aside our personal agenda and place God's will, the Gospel and the proper teaching of His word first, we can think more clearly and be good stewards of the gift of discernment. 

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