Judging vs Discerning = Safety
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” Philippians 1:9-10
Jesus was clear that we should not judge (see Matthew 7:1). He was equally emphatic that we discern. He expects us to examine others as a way to provide safety when it comes to interacting (or not), befriending (or not) and supporting (or not) another human being. To follow Christ’s teaching to “inspect the fruit” is discernment, not judgement.
Evil people display rotten fruit on a continual basis.
When we take stands against immoral behavior, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are judging people. It is more likely that we are discerning behavior. Paul encouraged the Christians in Philippi to grow spiritually. He pointed out growth would be evident when their love for others and Christ grew more and more. As we develop spiritually, we should see our knowledge and depth of insight increasing as well. In other words, our gut feelings and intuition must always go through the filter of what the bible teaches. If something or someone is in direct conflict with the teachings of Christ, I believe it’s safe to say their fruit stinks.
Paul knew that with spiritual growth discernment wouldn’t be used to judge someone, but it is necessary to decipher behavior. To pretend that all is well and that everyone is righteous isn’t just a false teaching, it’s a dangerous lie.
Discernment allows us to call a sin sinful and to steer clear of any sin that seeks to derail us or to discredit Christ. How will we know if someone is good or bad once we apply spiritual discernment? It’s easy. Christ provided written instructions. In Matthew 7:15-20, Christ warns, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
If Christ doesn’t expect us to examine as a way to discern, He wouldn’t have spelled it out so clearly. If we don’t learn to discern good behavior from evil behavior, we put ourselves in physical and spiritual danger. For the bible to teach discernment as a spiritual responsibility, our refusal to do it is a sign of disobedience to Christ. So, don’t try to convince me that the bible doesn’t give us permission or that it doesn’t command us to look at someone’s actions before listening to them or trusting them. If we fail to discern, we are looking for trouble.
The Book of Jude is a great lesson on how to begin and how to finish the discernment process. Notice Christ never steered clear of anyone, except the religiously misled. It is our God-ordained duty to reach out to others. But, beware! When applying mercy and while snatching some from the fire of sin, we must monitor how close we get to the source lest we be burned ourselves.