A Devotion to Discernment in an Age of Discord

Paul warned the various churches he planted on his missionary journeys to be stewards of the truth and to beware of the issues about which many argue. Titus 3:9 says, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” In 1 Timothy 1:3-5, Paul warned young Timothy about the conversations that were bound to arise in churches:

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Right now, many are discussing various theories as to why we are in this or that particular situation. A number of years ago, Carl Trueman noted the problematic aspects of conspiracy theories that we would do well to remember:

Conspiracy theories have an aesthetic appeal: they make us feel more important in the grand scheme of things than we are. If someone is going to all this trouble to con us into believing in something, then we have to be worth conning; and the impotence we all feel in the face of massive impersonal bureaucracies and economies driven not by democratic institutions so much as multinational corporations is not really the result of our intrinsic smallness and insignificance so much of our potential power which needs to be smothered. Such views play to our vanity; and, to be brutally frank, the kind of virtual solitary vice which so much solipsistic internet activity represents.

Conspiracy theories don’t hold up, though. Nobody is that competent and powerful to pull them off. Even giant bureaucracies are made up of lots of small, incompetent units fighting petty turf wars, a fragmentation which undermine the possibility of the kind of co-ordinated efforts required to pull off, say, the fabrication of the Holocaust. History, humanly speaking, is a tale of incompetence and thoughtlessness, not of elaborate and sophisticated cabals. Evil, catastrophic evil, is not exceptional and brilliant; it is humdrum and banal; it does not involve thinking too much; it involves thinking too little.

From his book,  Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History.

The fact is, we all have a worldview we hold to like our own child, and when something comes along that matches up to what we believe already, we swallow the message hook, line, and sinker. The official term is confirmation bias:

When people would like a certain idea or concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views or prejudices one would like to be true.

What Is Confirmation Bias?

No wonder the Apostle Paul repeatedly begged the churches to engage in discernment. In Philippians 1:9, Paul  prays that “your love may abound more and more with knowledge and discernment so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (1:9-10).  Having a love and pure devotion to Christ clarifies our minds and hearts to see what is of Christ.  We are sojourners in this world, dear Christian.  This world is not our home.  So we must have an intentionality in fixing our eyes on Christ and all that it means to be a gospel citizen.

Love comes along with knowledge and all discernment.  Knowledge of what?  The gospel.  Now, be careful when we talk about gospel.  Is that just the three or four facts that are found in tracts that we’re supposed to believe to punch our ticket to heaven?  No, the entire Bible is the gospel—God’s mission of rescue from the Garden to the New Jerusalem.  God has called us to know His Word, for His Word points with a razor-sharp focus to Jesus, who is the Good News.  And as you accrue more knowledge with that self-sacrificial love, you obtain a discernment.  Joseph Stowell tells us what discernment is:

Discernment in Scripture is the skill that enables us to differentiate. It is the ability to see issues clearly. We desperately need to cultivate this spiritual skill that will enable us to know right from wrong. We must be prepared to distinguish light from darkness, truth from error, best from better, righteousness from unrighteousness, purity from defilement, and principles from pragmatics.

Joseph Stowell, Fan the Flame (Chicago: Moody, 1986), 44.  

When these three come into play, what do we see?  We are “able to approve of what is excellent, and to be presented pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”  Love, knowledge, and discernment come into play so we know what is excellent–and are exactly what is needed in the church today. Apathy/hate, ignorance, and irrationality (the antonyms of love, knowledge, and discernment) are ruling the day, even among the churches.

Be discerning about what you watch, read, post, say–take that breath, take that beat, pray, do research. This, friends, falls under the umbrella of loving your neighbor as yourself. Don’t let the chaos of the COVID19 season blind you to a devotion to discernment for the cause of Christ and as a citizen of the Kingdom.



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