17th April 2024

Difference between Discernment and Judgement

Maybe you have noticed that there seem to be people who really like Coca-Cola and others who prefer Pepsi Cola. Interestingly, though the products are pretty similar, Coca-Cola fans might strongly denounce Pepsi as terrible and vice versa! The same applies to people who like skimmed milk versus full-fat milk. Or folk who like Star Wars and not Star Trek: you get the idea. The truth is, of course, that it’s all just a matter of taste. These things are not matters of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ but of personal preference.

As Christians we too can be prone to speak out strongly against expressions of faith which don’t match our personal preferences. But we must be careful! Is it really a matter of ‘we are right and they are wrong’ or are some of the things we feel so strongly about just a matter of superficial differences and personal taste? After all, Paul taught us that we are all part of the same body and that we all serve the same God, even though we might prefer to do some things differently.

Ephesians 4:2-6 (NIV)
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

So we must be careful not to label other Christians, and other Christian traditions, as ‘wrong’ when it’s sometimes only a matter of taste. In fact, looking over the boundaries of our own culture, tradition and time can be hugely enriching and powerfully challenging. We need the entire body of Christ to make up the whole glorious picture of what ‘Church’ really is!

But does this mean we can never say that something is actually wrong? What about apostacy, heresy, false teachings? Should we just accept everything as a matter of opinion and happily agree to disagree? Definitely not!

When picking and eating wild mushrooms one should be extremely careful to avoid the poisonous varieties. Scarily, one mistake could be fatal. And it’s not the gross-looking and horrible-smelling ones we have to be careful with: it’s easy to avoid those! It’s the ones that look innocent and smell pleasant yet contain powerful toxins that present the danger. Charles Spurgeon said something very helpful in the area of discernment: “Discernment is not knowing the difference between good and bad, but between good and almost good”. With mushrooms, or any other food, we are so careful to avoid putting poison into our bodies. How much more should we be careful to avoid poisoning our spirits with spiritual toxins!

The Bible says this: test everything; hold fast what is good. (1 Thess 5:21, ESV). That’s pretty straight forward! We should not swallow anything before checking that it is spiritually healthy. We must use our discernment, especially when we come across new teaching, prophecy, or any other spiritual phenomenon. It might be from God, but then again it might not be! It is OK to say something is wrong, to say that you believe it does not align with Biblical principles and to reject whatever is suspect. We just have to be careful to use the Bible as our standard and not to confuse this with our own experiences and preferences. We must test everything yet remain open-minded. Jesus came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) and we need to mirror him. So, when we do speak, we need to do it carefully and graciously: in our hearts as well as with our words.

Going back to the analogy of our individual taste, we all have individual, unique flavours to contribute to the body of Christ. For example, Ellel Ministries has been called to a specific ministry which adds a (hopefully) unique and pleasant flavour to the Christian experience of those who taste it. We could be compared to a vineyard that produces different wines. On a vineyard all the different wines that are produced share similar growing conditions and come from the same grape varieties. The various wines and vintages are unique, but also have a lot in common. So, for Ellel Ministries, we can bring a great variety of events, products and experiences but they all have a lot in common: the ‘flavour’ is all distinctly ‘Ellel stuff’.

You too have something unique to contribute to the Kingdom of God. You might do a bunch of different things in your life, and hopefully you too will continue to change, grow, and improve. The distinct flavour that you bring will be different from anyone else! God rejoices in our individuality and we must celebrate it in each other. We just have to watch out and be careful to reject anything spiritually toxic from our lives so that we neither ingest nor spread anything that can bring spiritual harm.

Peter Brokaar By Peter Brokaar

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