“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” (Matthew 7: 15-17 NKJV)
In 1964, Justice Potter commented on an obscenity case by saying that he didn’t know how to define obscenity, but he knew it when he saw it. Jesus called on us to use discernment to know when the things people do are good or bad. He’s a bit blunt about His pronouncement: bad fruit shows a bad tree; good fruit shows a good tree. Most of us aren’t all good or all bad, though, so that still leaves us with a dilemma – are we a good tree if we have mostly good fruit or does bearing any bad fruit make us a bad tree? That’s where discernment comes into play. The problem for most people is that discernment acts a lot like judging, which is warned against at the beginning of this chapter. How do you decide if fruit is good or bad? How do you do that without judging others. The key is that we look at activities, at works. Do the things that people do line up with the principles we see in God’s word or do they go contrary to God’s word? I think we’ve all seen those people who claim to follow Christ that make us cringe. Their live show no evidence of any attempt to fellowship with God or follow His word. If you don’t know any professing Christians like that, ask your non-Christian friends to tell you about them. They’ll talk your ear off complaining about the hypocrites in church. If they do, don’t worry. Jesus had some strong words for these hypocrites here. Meanwhile, we also know people whose lives show an amazing relationship with God. Those are the people we should emulate. Those are the people we should spend time with.
It’s not judging someone else to compare their activities to God’s values. Sadly, even though we may have been redeemed by Christ, we sometimes have different understanding of those values. Our discernment turns to judgment when we decide that because someone doesn’t agree with our understanding of Christian values, they must not really be Christians. Our job isn’t to condemn others. Our job is to love and bring reconciliation between ourselves and others who disagree with us, knowing that our relationship with Christ is what binds us together.
Lord, teach me discernment as a tool to help myself and others draw closer to You. May I be loving as I exercise discernment. Keep me from judging others when we don’t agree.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.