There is an important subject for Christians who live in a season and a culture where there is a war to redefine Christianity. The subject is discernment. The question is how to discern what indeed is godly and pleasing to God and what is not godly. But there are other levels to discern. We discern for our own lives, what God desires for us to do. That requires the discernment between good and best.
“”And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 41:33, NIV84) Here the word discern in the Hebrew is nabon and means understanding, considering, observing. It speaks about considering diligently and to have insight. Notice here also how Joseph tied both discerning and wisdom together. The word wise here is the Hebrew word hakam and means wise, skillful, learned. It speaks of an ethical and religious wisdom and learning. It seemed that Joseph understood that discernment and wisdom went hand in hand. There was a person needed who could consider, observe, understand what was happening and also have the wisdom and knowledge to apply the Word of God to the situation and act upon it. Notice Pharoah’s response. “The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. “The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you.” (Genesis 41:37–39, NIV84) Pharaoh understood, that wisdom and discernment was fueled by the Spirit of God in a person.
When Solomon prayed, he asked for wisdom and discernment. “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”” (1 Kings 3:9, NIV84) The King James says it this way, “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?” (1 Kings 3:9, KJV 1900) The word understanding (translated as discern in the NIV) is the Hebrew word shama and means to hearken, to obey. It is to hear and obey. It is to pay attention to the voice of God. The word discern (translated as distinguish in the NIV) is the Hebrew word habin and means to have understanding and knowledge and insight. It speaks of an understanding that empowers one to teach. It seems Solomon desired to be able to hear God clearly, obey God fully and then teach the people God’s ways. Notice the response of the Lord. “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.” (1 Kings 3:10, NIV84) In this case, discernment is closely tied to our being able to hear and obey God and then teach others what God requires.
The psalmist prayed for discernment. “I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes.” (Psalm 119:125, NIV84) The word here again is habin and means to have understanding and knowledge and insight. It speaks of an understanding that empowers one to teach. It seems the purpose of asking for discernment was to learn and know the Word of God and the commands of God.
We see discernment and wisdom tied together once again in Proverbs. “Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks judgment.” (Proverbs 10:13, NIV84) The word discern is translated as wisdom in the King James and is the Hebrew word hakmah. It also means skill and ethical and religious wisdom. The word wisdom (understanding in the King James) is the Hebrew word nabon and means understanding, considering, observing. It speaks about considering diligently and to have insight. The rod is for those who lack the Hebrew word leb which is about the heart and moral character of a person. It is the wisdom to be kind in the inner man and heart of a man. It seems it is the character of God formed in us. It is the word that is used here, “The law of his God is in his heart; his feet do not slip.” (Psalm 37:31, NIV84) and seems to speak of how much the Word of God has been permitted to change us on the inside. Once again discernment and wisdom are tied together, but now also, those who think they can discern but have not allowed the Word of God to change their own hearts are warned of a rod.
In the New Testament, we see the word discern also used.
“The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:” (1 Corinthians 2:15, NIV84) Here the word judge speaks of “make a judgment on the basis of careful and detailed information—’to judge carefully, to evaluate carefully.” And it is tied to discern. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:” (1 Corinthians 2:14–15, NIV84) The word discern here speaks of considering and evaluating carefully. The word discern is also used here. “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11, NIV84) So it seems that discernment is closely tied to being able to understand the Word of God and the willingness to take a question or a teaching to the Word of God and to search the heart of God.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2, NIV84) The word test (prove in the King James) means learning the genuineness of something often by actual experience. It seems that as we grow in our obedience to God we are transformed and become more fully able to discern and experience Hos will. However, the focus here is on a personal testing and not on the examination of others.
Discernment is also spoken of here. “To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:” (1 Corinthians 12:10, KJV 1900) Here the Greek word means to evaluate carefully. It speaks of identifying true and false. It is also used here. “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:11–14, NIV84) It seems discernment is closely tied to being mature and having studied the Word of God and applied it to your own life first.
The subject of discernment is also referenced in 1 John. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” (1 John 4:1–3, NIV84) It is the same testing as in Romans 12. The word test (prove in the King James) means learning the genuineness of something often by actual experience. It speaks of testing in battle and being battle-tested.
The word test and try found in Romans 12 and 1 John 4 is also used here. “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5, NIV84) It becomes clear in context that testing and trying and examining of ourselves. We are not called to examine others except as they apply to our own lives. It is also used here. “Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else,” (Galatians 6:4, NIV84) “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” (1 Corinthians 11:28, NIV84)
It seems that discernment is intended to empower us to apply the Word of God to our own lives. For those who are leaders, discernment is closely tied with maturity, obedience and wisdom. Discernment is closely tied to searching the Word of God and knowing the heart of God and how to apply the character of God to the situations of life that surround us. Discernment is not some fuzzy feeling that I do not like something.
As we are young in the Lord, the Holy Spirit does work in our hearts to warn us. If we feel uncomfortable and we think that something is not godly, that is the time we must be driven to search the Scriptures to discern how the Word of God applies to a situation. “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26, NIV84)
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