- Why is it important? What’s the problem?
- What is the biblical holistic picture of the topic?
- What are the specific guidelines/recipes for growing in discernment?
The Bible says that the God of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4) ESV “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ”. Yet when we become believers we still have a lot of renewing of the mind ahead of us. Our blindness to the saving gospel may have been liften but we are still blind in many respects. And we need transformation. But many do not really apply themselves to the process of transformation. As a result there is a pretty low level of discernment in most of the church.
What makes it worse is that while most people recognise that their spiritual gifts are operating at a low level, to the point of even believing that charismata (spiritual gifts) have now ceased, the same people think that their discernment level is rather high. But many of those talking loudest about discernment are using the wrong criteria and on a wrong foundation.
So we have internet inquisitors, everyone with an opinion on social media and you have fake news and Adobe Audio photoshop that can now change even the words that a politician or preacher said in a video. On the other hand the average Christain has never been formally instructed on the topic of discernment.
On top of that there is confusion about the words, test, judge and discern. So when you start discern, it usually doesn’t take long for someone to quote Jesus when he said “Judge not”.
So we need a holistic biblical view of this topic. We need a better foundation and we need to have some steps that we can follow which will allow us to systematically grow in discernment or our ability to judge or test.
Let’s grab the bull by the horns and consider a verse which is the one most quoted by our internet inquisitors, defenders of doctrine, champions of cessationism or revival resistors.
1Th. 5:21 But test all things; hold fast to what is good.
The original word here for test is dokimazo: test, examine, approve/allow or discern. Now let’s look at the preceeding verse for context.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 (ESV)
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophecies,
but test everything; hold fast what is good.
We are warned not to quench and despise: Quench means dampen: think of when you have some really exciting news and someone reacts really negatively. eg. you are really excited about a new opportunity – a new dream job. But then your Dad says, well I heard that company is on the verge of closing. All your hope is dampened and your joy is quenched. So quenching the spirit is like that. For example, the Holy Spirit brings forth wonderful manifestations of joy in a person and then a religious person says – well we are not meant to be emotional we are meant to be led by the Spirit and not the soul.
From these verses we see that when the Holy Spirit is working, people will have a natural tendancy to quench the spirit and to despise the prophetic which needs to be overcome.
Now let’s see what happens if we go for an alternative meaning of the word dokimazo – and insert the word allow instead of test. We get this:
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophecies,
but allow everything; hold fast what is good.
The meaning shifts and the application changes. It means that if the service gets a little emotional, and someone gets carried away and you are not sure if it is from the Holy Spirit or someone’s fleshly or sanctified emotions, just allow it and keep (hold fast) to whatever good comes out of it.
Now let’s take back-up to include even more of the preceeding context for more insight on how we should approach testing or discerning.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-23 (ESV)
12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.
Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In verse 12, we see the call to respect those who labor among us and who are over us in the Lord and who have the right to admonish us. So the question to an internet inquisitor, or freelance pharisee is: have you ever had someone over you in the Lord? Have you learnt to be take correction from a godly Christian father-figure? Most of the people who are most vocal in opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit have never experienced gentle kind, and loving leadership. And so their ability to imagine a loving heavenly father is limited and they need to quench the emotions of others in order to feel secure. When your security comes from knowledge rather than relationship, your need to have the right answers is greater than your need to have right relationships.
That is why Paul goes on from verses 13 to 15 to emphasise relationships – be at peace, make sure that no one is idle, faint, help the weak, be patient. This is about obedience to the example of Christ rather than high level doctrine or theology: Don’t repay evil with evil, do good to one another. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing. Give thanks in both good and bad circumstances. This is God’s will for all of us and this is the foundation and basis for what follows.
If we are off-key in all these realtional issues, then we will hardly be able to test or discern anything. And we will not be able to receive the final blessing, which comes at the end of this passage:
23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God’s work is meant to touch and sanctify not just the mind but the whole person, body, soul and spirit. So let’s allow the Holy Spirit to move, to heal or to make someone hysterical. Let’s not get hung up on manifestations that we don’t understand or have not personally experienced – yet.
Conclusion: testing needs to be developed in a relational context