According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “discern” comes from the Latin combination of “dis,” which means “apart,” and “cernere,” which means “to sift.” Discernment is the ability to sift apart fact from fiction, truth from opinion, and horse sense from horse dung. Failure to exercise discernment can be costly.
The Bible is replete with examples of lack of discernment, beginning in the Old Testament: Adam and Eve failed to exercise discernment when they accepted the Serpent’s offer to taste the forbidden fruit; the people of Israel repeatedly lacked discernment in going after false gods; King Saul believed every untrue report against David and wasted time trying to execute the “man after God’s own heart;” and the Jewish remnant in the Babylonian exile could not discern that God still had “a future and a hope” for them.
In the New Testament, we continue to see a similar lack of discernment: the Pharisees and the scribes accused Jesus of being demon-possessed instead of cross-checking his life and ministry with the Old Testament prophecies. Later, the Christians in Galatia were reprimanded by Paul for letting false teachers lead them astray from the true gospel. But the Bible also gives plenty of examples of wise discernment: Joseph exercised discernment when he turned down the advances of Potiphar’s wife; Ruth chose to follow her mother-in-law Naomi rather than stay behind in Moab; and Jesus rejected the three offers of the Devil and chose to obey his Father.
Unfortunately, we are living in a time when a sense of discernment is harder to find than toilet paper in a pandemic.
Individually and collectively, we are becoming more and more gullible to whatever is thrown our way. Gone are the days of conferring with credible authorities and checking the reliability of the sources. Nowadays, the more sensational and shocking the story, the more likely it is to circulate, regardless of any verification.
This is clearly demonstrated in how people use social media. Many do not stop to consider the veracity of a social media post or the ramification of their re-post. Now, everything is about more likes and more shares with no concern for accuracy or outcome. The result of all this is fear, despair, hate, chaos and destruction.
Our world is in desperate need of true discernment. I emphasize “true” because there is a false discernment that equates being hesitant, overly cautious, closed minded, and old fashioned with being discerning. Biblical discernment is about wise living. The Hebrew word for discernment (bîn) does not mean being stuck in time. It is about moving forward with godly wisdom. So also, the Greek word for discernment (krino) means to investigate, to determine, to compare, to consider and to judge.
It is time that God’s people exercise godly discernment in every area of our lives, especially in how we respond to the crisis facing our nation and the world. Sometimes, this may be easier said than done, as Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, once said, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.”
Let Paul’s prayer for the Philippians be ours as well: “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)