Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit

Fake Discernment

A few weeks ago in my morning devotions, I was reading a passage from the lectionary. This text is particularly applicable to discerning churches. I would like to share it with you.

In the third chapter of the epistle of James, he asks the question,

(James 3:13 NIV11-GK) Who is wise and understanding among you?

As we think about what it means to discern, this is a key question. We could probably think of those in our congregation who are wise. We may have even labeled them as having the gift of discernment. I admit, I am leery when someone tells me that they possess this gift. I am suspicious of their intentions. James continues to explain what some may understand as wisdom.

(James 3:14–16 NIV11-GK) But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

In other words, some will consider themselves wise. But their wisdom is really more about envy and selfish ambition. Have you ever had this experience in the church? Someone claims to have wisdom or the gift of discernment. But in the end, they are really about their own agenda. As James penned these words, the early church was being ravaged by these sorts of people. He is clear in his description of true wisdom.

(James 3:17–18 NIV11-GK) But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

This is what authentic wisdom looks like. What a great description of discernment. When God is active in the process, the result is not contention. Heavenly wisdom is wrapped in peace. James continues to explain the practice of discernment.

(James 4:7–8 NIV11-GK) Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

True discernment is about submission. It is about placing agendas to the side and opening ourselves up to God’s movement in this world.

People like to throw around the word discern these days. Yet we must be careful to define discernment as a spiritual practice of giving up. Discernment is never about power; it is always about letting go of power. Discernment is never about ambition; it is always about the laying aside of agendas. Discernment is never about contention; it is always wrapped in peace.

I love James’ instruction. We would do well to keep these characteristics on the table as we discern together. It is far too easy to allow evil to creep into our discernment processes. We should be quick to call it out (resist the devil) and careful to return to a posture of submission and openness.