September 5, 2015

Be cautious with discernment

Hosea 11:1–12:14, Acts 5:1–42, Job 16:10–22

People tell me that I have discernment, but God is telling me to be careful that I do not rely on human opinion. I need to seek Him so that my judgment of what people are thinking and doing is how He sees it.

The Bible has many examples. For instance, in the Old Testament God’s people were making sacrifices, going to their place of worship, and giving at least lip service to the laws of God. However, He looks at the heart and saw what others could not see . . .

“My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all. How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” (Hosea 11:7–9)

These verses say that even though they called on Him, God would not answer for their hearts had actually turned from Him. He was going to deal with their sin, but determined not to destroy them. His compassion is greater than His wrath.

Imagine two ways a parent could discipline a child. One is in anger because the child’s behavior is annoying her. The other is with concern that the child becomes a better person, so the discipline is about the child’s need, not the parent’s peace of mind. The challenge is being able to discern which motivation is at work. This tells me to be careful about outward appearances. There is more going on in the heart than I can see.

In the story of Job, this broken and troubled man could not figure out why God had allowed the difficulties in his life. He was certain he did not deserve God’s wrath, but why did God allow his suffering? All Job could say was: “God gives me up to the ungodly and casts me into the hands of the wicked. I was at ease, and he broke me apart; he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces; he set me up as his target; his archers surround me. He slashes open my kidneys and does not spare; he pours out my gall on the ground. He breaks me with breach upon breach; he runs upon me like a warrior. I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin and have laid my strength in the dust. My face is red with weeping, and on my eyelids is deep darkness, although there is no violence in my hands, and my prayer is pure.” (Job 16:11–17)

This tells me that I cannot know the mind of God. Job was a righteous man whom God praised. He allowed Satan to test him, to prove that the faith God gives is sufficient even if life falls apart. God never did tell Job what was going on, but Job’s faith held. For me, trusting the Lord takes priority over trying to discern what He is doing.

In the NT reading, “a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”

Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”

When Ananias heard these words, he fell down dead and great fear came upon all who heard of it. (Acts 5:1–5) Not only that, his wife came in about three hours later, not knowing what had happened.

Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.”

She repeated her husband’s lie, and Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” (Acts 5:7–9)

Verse 11 says that “great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” That is no surprise, yet there is more to this than a warning to be truthful. The Holy Spirit knows the human heart. People might be able to fool others, even themselves, but God is not deceived. He revealed the truth to Peter so he could confront this couple.

This tells me that if I think I know what people are up to, or what God is doing, I’d better check that out with God. Discernment is a valuable gift, but things are not always what they seem.

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