A few weeks ago, when I preached about Learning from the Wise Men, I made the point that we seem to know a lot about the wise men even though the Bible has only 12 verses dedicated to their story. Where did the rest of this well-known story come from? Who identified their names and their places of origin? How much of it should we believe: some of it, all of it, or none of it? And if the additions to the story matter, and how do they enhance our knowledge of the Word?
Today’s topic is about filling in the gap between the Word and the related stories which have been developed through history. We can be successful in understanding what’s real, what is true, and what is important when we have discernment.
1 Corinthians 2:12–15
Discernment in the Bible is the spiritual characteristic of sound judgment for perceiving the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, truth and error, and identifying God’s will and direction for his people. Discernment is necessary to understand spiritual truth, live holy as God intends, avoid life’s pitfalls and dangers, and properly govern society.
Discernment is “the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure.” According to The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, discernment in the Bible is a process of “assessing and evaluating, particularly in relation to trying to determine God’s will in a particular situation or for one’s life direction.”
Discernment and Wisdom
Wisdom and discernment are closely related in the Bible. Wisdom actually has its source in discernment. When we study the Bible, we gain knowledge, but that knowledge only leads to wisdom when discernment is present.
A person can spend their whole life studying the Scriptures but never gain wisdom because they lack discernment. Discernment is the ability to see and instinctually recognize subtle differences. Discernment allows one’s knowledge to penetrate the cloudiness and cut through layers of confusion and ambiguity to perceive distinctions accurately. Wisdom is the product of insight and understanding gained through the ability to discern.
Here are just a few of the examples of discernment we can find in the Bible:
Jeremiah 23:16-22: Jeremiah perceives that the false prophets’ message is not from God.
Acts 8:23: Peter discerns the actual condition of Simon the Magician’s heart.
Acts 16:18: Paul distinguishes the spiritual source of a girl’s fortune-telling gift.
Bible Verses About Discernment
A Gift From God
God is the source of wisdom and discernment:
Daniel 2:21 He [God] changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. (NIV84)
The Word of God
Lack of discernment always accompanies a deficiency in biblical knowledge. When believers are familiar with the truth taught in God’s Word, they can more easily detect what is right and wrong, or true and false. The Word of God itself can discern:
Psalm 119:130 The teaching of your word gives light, so even the simple can understand. (NLT)
Failure to discern what is truth from error, good from bad, or what is biblical from heretical, stems from not saturating our minds with the Word of God:
Ask for Discernment
Scripture teaches believers to seek wisdom and discernment:
Psalm 119:125 I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes. (NIV)
James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (NIV)
Gaining discernment or sound judgment involves trusting in the Lord, not depending on our own understanding, and seeking God’s will. King Solomon advised his son to hang on to discernment so that he would stay safe and secure on life’s course:
Distinguishing Between Spirit
Discerning believers have insight into spiritual realities so that they can distinguish the difference between spirits:
1 Corinthians 12:10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. (NLT)
Discerning Through A Renewed Mind
Discerning believers follow Christ in discipleship, distinguishing themselves from this world and letting their lives be transformed through the renewing of their minds:
Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (ESV)