To Discern Or To Judge

Jerusalem of Gold

To Discern Or To Judge

A few close believing friends and I were chatting recently about the need, more than ever, for discernment within the modern church.  It used to be that discernment was mostly needed in the world. But, now, the world is very clear-cut that it rejects the LORD's Word as the authoritative word in our courts, schools, services, businesses, entertainment and society generally. 

The Word of God will still be authoritative within individuals operating within those systems (I'm writing from England but this will apply to us in many nations around the world). But, increasingly, if we hold God's Word to be our personal highest authority, we will find difficult choices will find us out, as to whether we really follow the LORD's Word and are prepared to suffer for our love (obedience) for Him.

Never forget that the Word of the LORD says that you will suffer for Him because He has found you worthy. "And when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus/Yeshua, and let them go.  And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.  And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ/Yeshua HaMashiach." (Acts 5:40-42)

But, my friends and I weren't talking about the need for discernment in the world. We were talking about the now-urgent need for discernment in  sections of the church, which can sometimes use the name "Jesus" but is it really the same "Jesus" found in the Word of God?  This is to be expected from the Word of God itself, as the Bible says, "That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.  Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first..." (2 Thessalonians 2:2-3)  The Word of God makes it clear that there is a time when many will fall away from truly following the LORD, and become deceived.  We are deceived precisely when we don't know that we are!  Therefore, this falling away doesn't mean that people just leave the church. It means that people will fall away from truly following the LORD of the Bible, but not know they have fallen! Instead, they will follow a version of Jesus which is not Word-Accurate; a sort of hybrid-politically-correct "jesus". The only remedy is to  compare your beliefs and actions to the Word of God.

But we also chatted about the fact that the Word of God says, "Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matthew/Mattityahu 7:1-3)

So, I asked the LORD recently, "What is the difference between 'discerning' and 'judging', because I don't want to sin against You and I  want to love my brothers and sisters in the LORD properly."  I could easily sin in either direction, either by not being discerning and therefore falling away into a "deceptive gospel", or by "judging others and myself", and therefore not obeying His Word in Matthew. If to love Him is to obey Him ("If ye love me, keep my commandments" John/Yonatan 14.15), it is a matter of deepest importance to my relationship with Him that I obey Him, because that is Love!  I cannot say, in all honestly, "I love you LORD Yeshua", yet not want to know what it means to actually obey Him.

I have heard it preached that Jesus/Yeshua is our Friend. He certainly is. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John/Yonatan 15.13). But the very next verse comes back to obedience as the very definition of friendship  with Jesus/Yeshua, given not by me but by Jesus/Yeshua Himself! "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you."  (John/Yonatan 15.14)

So, it is the essence of love and friendship with Yeshua to want to obey Him.  I want a deep intimacy with the LORD, without ever treating Him as casual. It is a respectful, adoring closeness, without ever losing sight of the fact that I am a human created by the Hands of the Perfect Holy Creator, the One loving me!

The night I took the time to sit, listen and ask Him, "What is the difference between "to discern" and "to judge?" He replied immediately, in just three audible words.  But then the next morning He took me on a beautiful tour of the Hebrew meaning of His words, to show me in His Word.  He knew this was very central to me at this time. This is because, in my desire to love and therefore obey Him, I have asked Him to back up everything I "think" I hear from Him with His Written Word. This is because His Word warns me that, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?   I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings." (Jeremiah/Yirmeyahu 17:9-10).     

So, if I think I hear God but His Word says something even subtly different, I am being deceived, even by my own heart. Or should I say, particularly by my own heart. 

As I sat exploring His Word on a beautiful Autumn morning, He finally took me to just one verse where both these words ("discern" and "judge") in Hebrew come together. It is 1 Kings 3 verse 9:  "Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this Thy so great a people?"

This almost floored me because the account of Solomon, asking for wisdom to judge the people of Israel (the LORD's people) correctly, has long been one of my very favourite accounts of asking the LORD for something! It also hit me that this was the exact reason I was asking the LORD for His understanding, because I want to love His people, the Christians, Jewish people, Messianic believers and non-believers with whom I come into contact, correctly before the LORD.

So, here is that one verse again but with the Hebrew root words written in brackets. Then we will explore those words:

"Give therefore thy servant an understanding (shema) heart to judge (shaphat) Thy people, that I may discern (bin) between good and bad: for who is able to judge (shaphat)

this Thy so great a people?"

NB: There are other words for "judge" used in the Hebrew Scriptues. But in this study we will look at this verse  and if He chooses, the LORD will give me time to write a study on this website, a Part B,, on the other words for "judge" used in His Bible, at a later date.

It is worth noting at the start that King Solomon refers to himself not in accordance with his earthly position but in accordance with his position with God i.e.: as God's servant. I love that. In Hebrew the word actually means "a slave or an indentured servant." King Solomon was literally saying "Give Your slave" these things.... He knew, even as a king, Who owned his life and everything in it!

1)  "Give thy servant an understanding (shema) heart." For those of you familiar with Hebrew, you will see it straight away.  "Shema" means "to listen."  Solomon was literally asking for "a listening heart." But listening to whom? Himself? His people? No, he was asking for the ability "to listen to His LORD from his position as a servant/slave." This is because "shema" fully means: "to hear, listen, obey, from the base meaning of hearing comes the extensions of understanding and obedience." It means to: "diligently hearken, carefully hearken, surely hear and give ear." Logically, a king doesn't have to obey any other human because he is king. So Solomon must have been asking for a listening heart to the LORD, because there was no one else for him to obey!

One of the easiest ways to really "diligently hearken and give ear" to the LORD is to read and know His Word, every single day and night.  It struck me recently, in complete awe, that the God Who made the universe, and Who is keeping each of our hearts beating right now with every breath, put His Mind, Will and Heart into a tiny book, so that my puny mind could pick it up and read it in my human hands! That is Holy Grace right there! I then repented of not devouring it with everything I've got, as He has made Himself so accessible.

But, I was reading the parable of the wise and foolish builders to my daughter recently; one building on the rock, one building on the sand. And I pointed out to her that in the text both men heard the Word of God (Matthew/Mattityahu 7:24-27). The only difference between them in the text was that one man did the Word of God and one man didn't do the Word of God. That is the definition of building our lives on the Rock, it is "to do the Word of God."  We can hear it all we want but that doesn't mean we love the LORD.  Both builders heard it. So in this parable, the LORD Yeshua is showing us that to hear but not obey is like splitting the word "shema" in half. In Hebrew "to hear" literally means "to listen and obey."  That is as foolish as going to all the effort to build a house... but building it on sand. Both men built a house. But only one was built on the accurate Word of God.

So King Solomon, seeing himself as the LORD's slave, is asking for a "hearing, listening and obeying" heart to God! That's beautiful. But why is he asking for this?

2)   "To judge (shaphat) Thy people".  King Solomon knows that as a king, he is expected, by the LORD, to judge God's people! He doesn't refer to them as his people but as the LORD's people ("Thy people").  As a believer, I trust that the only King that can ultimately judge the soul of a person is the LORD. And here lies the difference. Discernment is listening to the LORD, obeying God's Word, taking that listening to God into our relationships, using the Word of God to keep away from evil and to keep close to the LORD. But "Judging is Final."  These were the three audible words I heard when I asked the LORD, "What is the difference between discerning and judging?"  I can discern when to avoid certain unholy or destructive behaviours in others, according to His Word that He has kindly given me.  Proverbs is a book that is packed full of incidences when it is godly to avoid certain behaviours.  But to say in my heart that therefore a certain person is condemned permanently by the LORD is clearly not Biblical.  The LORD is the only one Who can judge permanently and He will do this on His timing. Where we have done this in our hearts in regards to others, or even ourselves, we must repent.   While they, and we, draw breath there is still hope of change, and/or  salvation.

The word "shaphat" (to judge) means precisely this permanence, with no going back: "to execute judgement, be brought to trial, avenge, condemn."

The judgement of God is not often preached in church today. But it is loving to warn others with the Truth.

The Word of God does say that the LORD will judge us, each one of us. "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions... (2 Timothy 4:1-5)  Notice that King Solomon asked to have a "hearing, listening heart to the LORD" but those who are described as falling away from the LORD shall "turn their ears from the truth"; the exact opposite to hearing and listening. The Truth is the Word of God as it is written.  Some preachers now preach the word not as it is written.   

The Word of God also says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.   For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.  He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.  But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God." (John/Yonatan 3:16-21)  See how the full reading of this scripture, that Jesus/Yeshua did not come to condemn the world, shows that proof of us trusting in the LORD means we will "do truth." (We are not yet perfected in Him  while living in this tent but will struggle with sin. But we will be trying and wanting to do His Truth as much as we can.)  There it is again, the link between "hearing, listening and obeying" as the true sign of believing in Him.  When the LORD says, "Judge ye not, lest ye be judged" I believe one of the points He is making is not to make final judgments of others in regards to the destination of their soul; that is His decision as King. It is also His to avenge. Be careful, for if you assume someone will never change, you may find you do not change yourself.  If you release them into His Hands with forgiveness, He is both their greatest hope for change and our greatest hope for protection, discernment and healing." (The LORD will often also catch us out at this point in showing us how it is that we must change also, as we spend time in His Word!)

The LORD is the only one Who can judge permanently. While we still draw breath there is always a way back to God.  This is what His Word means when He says, "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved." (John/Yonatan 3.17)  The modern church is sometimes teaching,  especially to our young people, that to say any view or action is wrong is unloving; when that is actually, according to God's Truth, the exact opposite. It is unloving  not to draw someone back to the Truth in Word of God, because there lies salvation and freedom from sin. Remember that according to His Word believing on Him and loving Him means seeking to obey Him.

3)  And finally, King Solomon asks for a listening heart to the LORD, in order to "discern (bin) between good and evil."  "Bin" in Hebrew means: "to discern, understand, realise, be prudent, to have skill, insight, to instruct, explain, to look closely, consider with full attention, consider diligently, to care for."

We can discern between good and evil; we are commanded to do so by the Word of God, otherwise how will we know how to try to live a holy life? How will we love Him, and others, if we don't discern between good actions and evil actions, between good words and evil words? His Word itself says we will be able to do this by knowing His Word! Someone can say, as much as they like, that an action or teaching is good, but if the Word of God says that that action or  teaching  is wrong or incorrect, then it is wrong or incorrect. Discernment is not unkind. It is incredibly kind because it is constantly wanting to point ourselves and others back toward the Word of God, as the saving bridge over an increasing quagmire of beliefs.

Some in the modern church will say, "Ah, but we love Jesus" while not basing their lives and beliefs on the accurate and real Word of God. But that is a complete Biblical contradition; not according to me but according to the Word itself! That is because Jesus/Yeshua's Name is "The Word of God":

"Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God."

(Revelation 19.11-13)

If we have separated loving Jesus/Yeshua from loving His Word, all of it, even the bits that are hard on our flesh, then have we ourselves fallen away a little and need to come home into a life obedient to the Word, as proof that we do indeed really love Him?

LORD, give us, as believers, as greater desire to love Your Word with all that "discern" means in Hebrew: to give Your Truth our "close and full attention", to "care for" Your Word and "have skill of insight through knowing and living by it", to spend more time "looking closely into Your Word", so that we can grow in Your gift of discernment. Not for itself but so that we, like Solomon, can discern between good and evil in these days;  in ourselves, others and the world around us.

Interestingly, King Solomon's name means "King of peace," just like one of the names of the LORD (Genesis/Bereshit 14.18 and Hebrews 7.2). "Solomon" comes from the Hebrew root word for "shalom", which means: "wholeness, safety, well-being, intactness, contentment, good health, welfare, prosperity."  Obedience to the LORD's Word always brings peace and a wholeness and healing to our souls and spirits, and often our bodies also.

In desperately sad contrast, a spirit of confusion will reign wherever the Word of God does not.    Discernment is needed so urgently and essentially, because - particularly within some segments of the church - there are some teachings which do not submit fully to the Word of God.  They are often good-sounding psychology, but with the subtle god of self as the lord. They can be very mixed with the Word of God and they do not usually acknowledge sin or the need for daily repentance and forgiveness of others.  Yet the words of the LORD Jesus/Yeshua Himself taught us to do this in the LORD's prayer (Matthew/Mattityahu 6:9-13)  A mixed-gospel is often merged with beliefs not found in the Word of God, which will often seem to bring great "freedom" to begin with, but over time will rot away at the soul's anchor to the actual Word of God. All we need to live for the LORD is His Word in our hands and, preferably, in our hearts and minds, showing through our actions. Obeying His Word will help us find our way up to Him, to become more like Him; through every decision, relationship, interaction with others, and help us keep our priorities holy.  Knowing the Word of God will also keep us, like Solomon, in the right position to God, not thinking we are a mini-god, but knowing that we are a servant of the One True God.  The LORD has kept it very simple. It is us humans who have striven for more, or rather less. It is easier to follow a fake gospel than the real one, for the real will cost us and hurt our fleshly selves.  The Word of God will find out our pride and our fear of man,  it will bring us to our knees in looking at ourselves in the mirror of His Holy Word, not in a mirror of our own making.

So, like King Solomon, I ask the LORD for a listening heart to Him through His Word, to discern between good and evil. We are allowed to call evil, evil and good, good. This is because the LORD knew a time would come when the opposite would happen in abundance:

"Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness;

that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah/Yeshayahu 5:20)

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