A couple of times at the beginning of this series I referenced the importance of Character, Awareness and Wisdom. These are keys aspects of the leadership of self and others. Another aspect is discernment. We can do the right things for the wrong reasons or do the right things at the wrong time. Part of the demonstration and application of Awareness and Wisdom is the development and use of discernment. For decades I have heard references to the ‘gift of discernment’ and I have consistently challenged that view. Rather than being a gift, true discernment is the fruit of maturity.
13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Hebrews 5:13-14 (NKJV)
Why make an issue of this? The simple answer is the distinction is important. If we view discernment as a gift (there is in 1 Cor. 12 a gift of discerning of spirits which is helpful in discerning), rather than the fruit of maturity, we are less likely to take the responsibility to develop our discernment. Another key piece is that discernment is not the ability to identify problems. Years ago I heard Francis Frangipane say, “The only thing needed to find problems in the church is one good eye and a carnal mind.” I think many of us start out this way, yet Paul tells us how true discernment operates.
9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, Philippians 1:9 (NKJV)
True discernment is rooted in love. This love is not about sentimentality. Charles Finney the famed 19th century evangelist and church leader defined scriptural love as ‘disinterested benevolence.’ The idea being that if I love someone my focus is on doing what is best for them without regard to whether it will benefit me in some way. I will then be able to honestly speak the truth.
15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ– Ephesians 4:15 (NKJV) 25 Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. Ephesians 4:25 (NKJV)
Speaking the truth in love is not about making others feel good. It certainly will have that as fruit if they need to deal with an issue and do, the focus though is on pointing us to maturity in Christ. In fact if I avoid addressing an issue because I don’t want to ‘hurt someone’s feelings’ I am actually demonstrating selfishness not love, which also demonstrates a lack of maturity and discernment.
Leadership in our lives requires the exercise of wisdom in how we speak to ourselves and others. We need to encourage and tell ourselves the truth and we are called to do it in the lives of others.
19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God. Ephesians 5:19-21 (NKJV)
The qualifier is what my friend says, “It needs to be mediated by the Spirit.” True discernment is rooted in love and expressed at the leading of the Holy Spirit. We are not called to go and speak to every person in every situation where we perceive “a need for change.” We are however called to submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit and follow.
Are we following?