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10 December 2011 @ 03:13 am
Judging and Discerning  
Reposted from Jed Brewer.

What’s the Difference Between Discernment and Judgement?

If you talked to a random cross-section of non-Christians, and asked them what Christians aren’t supposed to be doing, you would get a nearly unanimous response: “Don’t judge!”

Folks who don’t know anything else about the Bible can correctly quote this verse: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)  It’s such common knowledge that folks on the streets wear “Only God Can Judge Me” tattoos, and Tupac rapped about it.
Christians, generally, respond to all this by falling into one of two camps.  

Camp 1 ignores the verse entirely.  They protest loudly, picket funerals, pound their angry fists on their antique Bibles, and go on news programs to deliver antagonistic proclamations without a hint of mercy or grace.

Camp 2 recognizes that, in fact, no, they shouldn’t be judging people.  And they try to make sure they don’t.  And they try so hard to not judge that they end up losing something else in the process.   And that something is “discernment.”
A far less-well-known verse from the Bible is this one: “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 .” (Phil 1:9-10)

Judgment, as it turns out, is about rendering a verdict – and a condemnation – on a person.  It’s about declaring that a person is bad and can’t be helped. Discernment, on the other hand, is about understanding a situation, and whether or not that situation is a good one.

I’ll give you an example.  Let’s say you’re feeling a little under the weather, and you go to the doctor.  You wait in the tiny room with the paper-covered bench, you don’t have any pants on, and then the Doc comes in.  He uses the stethoscope, makes you stick out your tongue, and at last says, with disgust, “All you sickies are the same.  Bunch of disease-factories, if you ask me.  And what’d you do to get sick, eh?  You know what: just get out of my office.”

Well, now, this would be judgment.  And, as you can tell, it’s neither very nice nor very helpful. 

Let’s try again.  Doc comes in.  Stethoscope.  Tongue.  Ahh.  And he says: “Hey, bro, you’ve got a body, and it’s your body, and, hey, bro, whatever your body needs to do, however it needs to be, that’s cool.  I celebrate your body.  ‘Cause every body is unique.  And, sometimes, a body just wants to cough up blood.  That’s cool with me.  If that’s your choice, bro, I support that, and I think it’s great.”

Well, now, I bet you can see the problem here immediately.  Yes, he has been very nonjudgmental.  He also hasn’t fixed anything.  I didn’t go to the doctor to get affirmed in my personhood; I went ‘cause I didn’t feel good.

Let’s try one more time.  Small room.  No pants.  Say ahh.  And the doctor speaks.

“Ok, well, it looks like you’ve got a fairly mild case of strep throat.  It’s not bad at the moment, but we’ll want to knock it out so it doesn’t get worse.  I’m going to write you a prescription for antibiotics, and you’ll need to take these daily for the next three weeks.  And you should be all good.”

Amazing!  Here’s what just happened.  First, the doctor didn’t judge me.  He didn’t label me as a bad person and hopeless.  He simply looked at what was going wrong in my situation.  “You have an infection in your respiratory system.”  And he was prepared to help me fix it.  He gave me the steps, the know-how, and the resources to do just that. 

Well, now, all of this applies directly to being a Christian, and ministering to others.  As you know, you should not ever judge or condemn people.  But, in order to minister to people, to love them the way Jesus did, you do need to be able to discern what is going on with their situation.
As an example, if you knew a person who struggled with cowardice, and that person wanted to move forward in their life as a Christian, it would be an unloving thing to pretend they didn’t struggle with cowardice.  We can’t fix what we won’t look at. 

But if we’re willing to turn on our discernment, and look at the situation, yes, we’ll have to acknowledge that cowardly behavior is going on.  However, we may quickly discover that the root of it is understandable, and the fix is much easier than we’d expect.
Our friend may struggle with cowardice because that’s what was modeled by his parents.  Maybe they behaved in a cowardly fashion, and that’s all he’s ever really seen.  That doesn’t really leave him room to feel bad about it, and it’s certainly not something to look down our noses at him about. 

So, we help our friend find little moments of bravery in his life.  Asking that girl out. Telling the boss he can’t work this weekend.  Going down to the homeless shelter and serving soup. 

And, as our friend takes these little steps, perhaps that cowardice begins to fall to the side, and the courageous man the Lord created begins to emerge.  This is what happens when we love well, friends, when our love is couple with insight, and discernment.  We didn’t judge, but we didn’t turn a blind eye, either.

And that friend, who is discovering a new freedom, boldness, and vitality in his life? I promise that he has no complaints.

What I appreciated most about this article is that it shows the association (or disassociation, rather) of judgment and discernment. I like how it makes it simpler for people like me to understand that trying to avoid being judgmental doesn't mean you blind yourself to faults, especially in the family of Jesus. 

As a general rule, you treat all people equally, regardless of whether they are Christian or not. (Christians are all called to live transparent, authentic lives.) Although, I do believe that Christians have a much easier time showing negative emotions such as feelings of anger, disdain, discouragement, and greed to other Christians, because it's believed to be said in a generally safe, forgiving, and contained place. In the context of the church, our negative feelings are shallow. The deep well of joy that only stems from knowing who Jesus Christ is, is constant and ever-present.

For example, I am encouraged when a brother or sister in Christ tells me, "Najee, you've hurt me" because there is so much going on in that one sentence. Bravery. Humility. Recognition of the vulnerability of one's feelings. Love. Obedience to God. It gives both the person and myself room to grow in our faith and our obedience and our walk with Jesus. Not only that, I am a firm believer that the more intimate I become with Jesus Christ, the more intimate I am in my personal relationships. That just happens inevitably, and in that order. (Is it possible to first be more intimate with people, and then afterwards be more intimate with God? -- Well, anything's possible with Him, and I'm no Bible scholar, but that's an interesting question!) 

I love the fact the church is a place where negative and usually unhealthy feelings are taken in with discernment (based on love, insight, deduction, deep understanding) - not judgment (based on condescension, self-righteousness, everything that only God can do) -  and then pointed towards the direction Jesus would have those feelings go. 

Judging people is God's business. (1 Cor. 4:4-6) For my non-believing friends, I would not even dream about holding them to all the principles that I subscribe to in the Bible. The battle with the heart is the Lord's battle, and I'm glad He's got that covered. Thing is, no one ever needed to tell me to take seriously my relationship with Jesus. That was something He did to me, not something anyone else did. (Though willing to bet my arm and leg that He used people, experiences, places, events, moments in time, as instruments to make me start paying attention to Him - heehee).


As Christians to our non-Christian friends, the best thing to do is to concentrate on is Jesus, love Him, serve Him, walk in the Spirit, and you will bear fruit. No hidden agenda needed. Listen. Talk. Be honest. Be interested. Judgment out the door. Discernment in. Who knows? God may already be using you already to draw that friend to Him.

As Christians to our church family,  the best thing to do is to concentrate on is Jesus, love Him, serve Him, walk in the Spirit, and you will bear fruit. No hidden agenda needed. Listen. Talk. Be honest. Be interested. Judgment out the door. Discernment in. Who knows? God may already be using you already to draw that friend closer to Him.

Speak the truth ("live a life worthy of the name of Jesus Christ" or "Deny yourself daily, follow Him" or "Forgive" or "Control your tongue" or "I'm sorry" or "Jesus is the ONLY way" or "Be patient") in love, when you don't see their lifestyle consistent with the faith they profess. Build the church up. Start discipling. Encourage the church. Spur each other to be better, to do good works. Love each other, so that the world will see Jesus' name lifted high. 

As amazing as our natural world is, there is none so amazing as a life abiding in Jesus Christ.  

PS. On a more personal note, I am loving the fact that the example used in the article above is a person that struggles with cowardice. I don't know how to explain this, but I feel like I deal with a lot of fear in my life. I'm grateful that the Lord is patient with me and my little fearful heart.

Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
sandee dandeesandee725 on December 12th, 2011 09:11 am (UTC)
Sometimes it's difficult to separate your frustration with the disease from your frustration with the person. That's something everybody - including non-Christians - could do well to learn to do. I've found this recently to be very true, and leads to sticky situations.

Thanks for sharing this, Najee. Very relevant to me right now ♥
narinessnariness on December 12th, 2011 09:48 am (UTC)
I hope they un-stick themselves rightly. =) I hug you, Sandra.
Hugs all around. Anytime you need them!