19 March, 2016 40 days of change-Lent, 2016
Discerning – A discerning man keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth. Proverbs 17:24
Discernment involves going past perception to making nuanced judgments. Discernment is to perception as wisdom is to knowledge. A person may know facts, but it takes wisdom to apply them to thinking and acting appropriately. Similarly, when it comes to making judgments, it takes discernment to put each piece of evidence into its proper context and assign the appropriate weight to it. Today’s verse hints that discerning people put things in context and arrive at appropriate conclusions. Undiscerning people’s attention wanders off in all directions, and so they can arrive at outlandish conclusions.
Jesus was brilliantly discerning. He saw through people, knew their thoughts and their lives (Luke 5:22; 6:8; John 2:25; 4:17-18). Supernatural discernment like this is beyond us. But Jesus also had a natural discernment from which we can and should learn. When He is led into the desert to be tested by the devil (Matt. 4:1-11), Jesus uses Scripture to block the devil’s first suggestion, and the devil counter-punches with another Scripture: If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ This is from Psalm 91, about God protecting, rescuing and rewarding those who love and trust Him. An undiscerning Jesus might have gone along with it – did He not love and trust His Father? But He keeps wisdom in view. He knows that deliberately putting Himself in harm’s way to force God’s hand would show, not love and trust, but the kind of wicked unfaithfulness that asks for a sign (Matt. 16:4). And so He responds, It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’
On another occasion some Pharisees challenge Jesus on divorce, referencing Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. But Jesus looks at the wider context of God’s purposes in creating man and woman (an approach, by the way, which could also be applied to same-sex marriage). From Genesis 2:24 He concludes, Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate (Mark 10:9).
Most heresies, public and private, begin when a person uses a Bible verse as the foundation for an unjustifiably large doctrinal superstructure. We can avoid this trap if we keep wisdom in view. This is not an intellectual exercise, but a spiritual one: the Psalms tell us that to acquire wisdom we should begin with the fear of the Lord (111:10), while it is the fool who says in his heart, “There is no God.” (14:1; 53:1). This Lent let’s begin a life-long habit, whenever we see an assertion supported by a Bible verse, of checking its wider context to see if it’s justified. You could start with today’s reflection …
(contributed by Chris Stiven)