Why Maturity of Discernment Vital
“Mature people . . . have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong. . . . let us press on to maturity.” “He . . . will increase the products of your righteousness.”—Heb. 5:14–6:1; 2 Cor. 9:10, NW.
1. Do warnings occupy a prominent part in Scripture? and what is thereby implied?
HAS it ever struck you how much of the recorded words and writings of Jesus and his apostles is in the nature of warning? It would not be a great exaggeration to say there is a warning on every page. The warnings are strong and to the point; nothing mild about them. Apart from the many addressed to Christendom and the rest of the world, the warnings concerning God’s true people come under various headings. Time and again they are based on the Hebrew Scriptures, as when Paul wrote of the recorded misdoings of Israel: “They were written for a warning to us upon whom the accomplished ends of the systems of things have arrived.” (1 Cor. 10:11, NW) These many warnings logically imply the need for mature discernment, and we purpose to take up a discussion of some of them.
2. How is such a study to be viewed, leading to what main questions and with what purpose in mind?
2 Do we hear someone say: I fear this study will be rather heavy going, but I suppose it must be viewed as an unfortunate necessity? As already pointed out, a considerable portion of Scripture is comprised of warnings, and it would certainly be wrong and displeasing in God’s sight to label any part of his Word, or the study of it, as “unfortunate”. In fact, one of the chief questions of enjoyable and stimulating interest and profit is, What does the Bible reveal as to Jehovah’s powers of perception and his attitude regarding evil and evildoers? Also, what can be said of Christ in this connection, and what of ourselves? Having in mind that maturity of discernment is particularly necessary and urgent in this late day, we should be keenly alert to these God-given warnings, also to our need for God’s spirit to attain the necessary maturity.—Rev. 12:17, NW.
3. (a) Do the Scriptures disclose Jehovah’s powers of perception? (b) On what basis can such powers be seen to be reasonable?
3 Taking up the first question, we ask: What are Jehovah’s powers of perception and his attitude regarding evil and evildoers? Taking a comprehensive view, we are amazed and awe-struck at the penetrating discernment possessed and exercised by the Most High. The following are but two examples: “Jehovah searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts.” “There is not a creation that is not manifest to his sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.” (1 Chron. 28:9, AS; Heb. 4:13, NW) No getting away from it, is there? Especially when we remember that “God, who endowed man with mind, knows how the mind operates . . . [He] instantly detects the bent of man’s mind and knows what it will lead to. That is why he gives warning to us against the consequences that are sure to follow.” (October 15, 1951, Watchtower, p. 619, ¶ 11) The same applies to the spirit creation, including the cherub who was later known as Satan the Devil. (John 1:3; Col. 1:16, NW) Jehovah knows exactly how evil operates from its earliest inception. Nothing too subtle, nothing too crooked in mind or heart, but that he can read it like an open book. But, before probing farther into this particular aspect, let us take up the next question we promised to consider.
4. Is the Bible explicit concerning Christ’s powers of perception?
4 What of Christ’s perception and attitude as to evil and evildoers? Not only at the first advent did he manifest keen discernment of both friend and foe, but much greater powers are exercised by him at the second advent. Not merely generally, but of individuals, as shown by his following words: “All the congregations will know that I am he who searches the inmost thoughts and hearts, and I will give to you individually according to your deeds.” And surely the living Word, Christ Jesus, would not reasonably have lesser powers of perception than those credited to the written Word!—John 1:14; Rev. 2:23; Heb. 4:12; Luke 9:47; 20:23, NW.
5. What warning and course of action are indicated, realizing we are in the day of Judgment?
5 Do we not already begin to have a keener appreciation as to why maturity of discernment is so vital? Let us take timely warning, realizing we are now in the day of judgment. (Mal. 3:1-3, AS) Let us not be so foolish as to think for a moment we can deceive, or hide anything in our private lives or inmost hearts from the One to whom the Father has committed all judgment. Let us honestly and humbly search our own hearts, for “if we would discern what we ourselves are, we would not be judged. However, when we are judged, we are disciplined by Jehovah, that we may not become condemned with the world”.—1 Cor. 11:31, 32, NW.
6. Does Scripture clearly reveal the attitude of the higher powers toward evil, and how can the answer be said to be a mature one?
6 We have not yet said anything on the question of the attitude toward evil and evildoers on the part of Jehovah and his beloved Son. The scripture we wish to refer to particularly is addressed to the Son, but it also reveals the heavenly Father’s attitude on the same question. We quote from Hebrews 1:9 (NW), which, in turn, is a quotation from Psalm 45:7: “You loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. That is why God, your God, anointed you with the oil of great joy more so than your partners.” This expression ‘you hated lawlessness’ gives, not only a straight answer to our question, but a mature one. It presents both sides of the matter, hence a completely balanced conception, true and strong, of Christ’s own mature attitude of mind and heart toward both righteousness and lawlessness, and which gained for him unqualified approval and a reward above all others.
7. (a) Appreciation of such mature answer gives what practical guidance? (b) How are we encouraged to strive for such maturity, and to what end?
7 See how this becomes an invaluable guide individually. It is of little use, your saying and claiming to have a hatred of all lawlessness, unless at the same time you give practical evidence of an equally intense love for righteousness, God’s righteous cause and sacred service. Do you? On the other hand, it is of little use, your saying and claiming to have a love for righteousness, if at the same time you condone or indulge in something contrary to God’s law according to the high standard given by Jesus at Matthew 5:21-28 (NW). We are encouraged to press on toward this same maturity in our attitude by considering closely and looking intently at the Leader and Perfecter of our faith, who, for the great joy set before him, endured so much in manifesting his burning love for righteousness and intense hatred of lawlessness. And with what benefit to ourselves? “That you may not get tired and give out in your souls.” That is one of the most valued blessings maturity brings, namely, steadfastness and dependability.—Heb. 12:1-3, NW.
8. Of what does maturity consist, and how can this be illustrated?
8 It seems appropriate right here to summarize the points covered, showing what maturity consists of and why it is so desirable and how it is gained. This would appear to run as follows: In view of the great emphasis laid on both loving righteousness and hating lawlessness, it therefore becomes essential to have an accurate understanding and heart appreciation of what comprises these two great opposites. In Scriptural language, it is vitally important to have “the spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the accurate knowledge of him, the eyes of your heart having been enlightened”. And we must have “perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right [righteousness] and wrong [lawlessness]”. (Eph. 1:17, 18; Heb. 5:14, NW) In other words, maturity means having a true and strong balance of understanding and appreciation. To illustrate (similar to Hebrews 5:11-14), take the case of a young child in contrast with a full-grown, mature man. The child, though young, can show true balance by standing perfectly upright, but he does not possess a strong balance, does he? Why, even a sudden gust of wind is enough to make him wabble. (Eph. 4:14) But look at that man who has weathered many a storm, how he stands like a rock with his feet planted firmly apart, maintaining a true and strong balance, and able, furthermore, to keep perfect balance walking steadily along a straight line. Is that now how we should “behave in a manner worthy of the good news . . . standing firm in one spirit, . . . and in no respect being frightened by your opponents”?—Phil. 1:27, 28, NW.
9. What is the Scriptural answer to objections raised to making progress?
9 Yes, you say, that sounds fine, but I could never hope to attain to any such standard of maturity as just described. My circumstances are so against me: so little time for study and so backward through not having bothered much about my education when a child (or having had none at all). Even reading is burdensome to me. We reply: Never mind, though you feel you are away behind all the others. Actually, there are many in the same boat. Indeed, we are all in the same boat, with always much to learn and further progress possible. Little good is accomplished by moaning over the past. It tends to foster a negative outlook and to cause one to make excuses for oneself. Why not adopt the more healthy attitude, as before expressed: “Forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things ahead, . . . to what extent we have [already] made progress, let us go on walking orderly in this same routine”? (Phil. 3:13-16, NW) Yes, keep making progress in the truth in the way you have already been taught and helped by the Lord’s organization and its servants, even though but a step at a time. Sticking to “this same routine” does not mean getting “in a rut” of despair, but it means “walking orderly” by constantly training our powers of perception through reading and study, both privately and with others, by ‘pondering over these things and being absorbed in them and staying by them’, asking continually for Jehovah’s help and spirit, and by one other means yet to be mentioned.—1 Tim. 4:15, 16, NW.
THE MARKINGS OF EVIL
10. (a) Is information given as to exactly how evil began to operate? (b) How were heart and mind affected?
10 As a further aid in gaining maturity of discernment let us consider what the Scriptures teach as to how evil operates, even from its earliest inception. This will help us to be on watch and resist such beginnings in ourselves, besides learning how to recognize its markings wherever found. Jehovah has kindly revealed in his Word precisely how unrighteousness began and was first found in that first rebel and father of lies, Satan the Devil. (John 8:44; 1 John 3:8, NW) Notice the plain language addressed to him as the “covering cherub”: “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till unrighteousness was found in thee. . . . Thy heart was lifted up because of thy beauty; thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness [splendor, AT; Ro].” (Ezek. 28:15, 17, AS) Note that both heart and mind were involved. The heart is the seat of the affections and of devotion, the motivating power. For a creature to maintain perfection means loving and unselfish devotion to Jehovah, such as was exemplified by Jesus. But the “covering cherub” deliberately turned his devotion inward to himself and his heart became “puffed up with pride” (AT). The mind is the seat of wisdom, the reasoning powers. Most interesting is it to note that his wisdom became corrupted (“ruined,” AT). In other words, he could no longer reason straight and reach true and accurate conclusions. He himself, though, could not appreciate that. One of the most important things to realize is this, that sin is so deceptive in its influence. It blinds and darkens the mind. The natural outworking of its operation is to cause wicked men to “advance from bad to worse, misleading and being misled”.—2 Tim. 3:13, NW.
11. What further information is given at Isaiah 14:13, 14, and what are the distinguishing markings of the “original serpent”?
11 Further, at Isaiah 14:13, 14 (AS) we are told exactly of the blind reasoning and selfish, wicked motivating force that took root in Satan’s proud and rebellious heart, even to the desperate pitch of declaring: “I will make myself like [match, Ro] the Most High.” How utterly corrupt, selfish and proud, in mind and heart, and how woefully he deceived himself! The covering cherub in Eden was too bright and too big in his own eyes. These are some of the markings on that “original serpent”. (Rev. 12:9, NW) Though the design varies in detail on different ones of his brood, yet the pattern remains pretty much the same: pride, presumption, selfish lust, and, invariably, flattery and smooth talk, lies, hatred, murder, and always a corrupt mind. (Rom. 16:17, 18, NW) It is the latter that calls for mature discernment on our part; so let us probe a little farther.
12. How is God’s Word helpful in its warnings respecting a corrupt mind?
12 For our protection, let us heed the appeal and warning at Romans 12:1-3 (NW), where, after giving counsel to those who have dedicated themselves to Jehovah, the apostle warns each one “not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think; but to think so as to have a sound mind”. To what end? “In order that you may not be puffed up.” (1 Cor. 4:6, NW) But, apart from ourselves, observe how the same apostle puts us on guard concerning others by tracing the trail of corruption started by the “original serpent”, saying: “I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent seduced Eve by its craftiness, your minds might be corrupted away from the sincerity and the chastity that are due the Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:3, NW) Read for yourself at Second Corinthians 11:12-15 (NW) what kind of men he was warning against; men who craftily transformed themselves into ministers of righteousness, with exactly the same pose as Satan adopted when he approached Eve. Many in Corinth must have been very immature, for he says that, when such a false apostle came to them, “you easily put up with him.” (2 Cor. 11:4, NW) They lacked a true and strong balance, and were not yet firm and steadfast, like Jesus, “the same yesterday and today, and forever.” Hence the appropriate warning which follows: “Do not be carried away with various and strange teachings; for it is right for the heart to be given firmness.”—Heb. 13:8, 9, NW.
13. Is it safe to conclude nothing can cause one to lose a knowledge of the truth when once gained?
13 Do not make the mistake of thinking that once you have come into the truth and obtained a clear knowledge of it, nothing can shift you or deceive you. The light of truth is continually increasing, as promised (Prov. 4:18, AS), and that in itself is a test of your real heart attitude, your humility and willingness to learn; a test over which many have stumbled. Remember, it is not so much a knowledge of the truth in your head that will save you as it is “the love of the truth” in your heart.—2 Thess. 2:10, NW.
14. In what respects are we both subject to and yet possessors of powerful forces of discernment?
14 May we draw your attention to one other thing to aid in attaining a balanced conception, that you may be completely equipped for every good work. Not only are those in the Lord’s organization subject to the penetrating scrutiny of that living, powerful, sharp and piercing “word of God”, but we are also possessors of it. It is given us for our use in theocratic warfare, to become masters of it in expert handling, our one offensive fighting weapon, “the sword of the spirit.” Do you not agree this is a further call for maturity of discernment? Really, we enjoy a unique and very favored position. We are under constant examination by Jehovah, though not subject to examination by any human creature. Yet, at the same time, by the aid of God’s spirit, we ourselves are free to look into and examine all things.—Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:17; 1 Cor. 4:4; 2:15, NW.
15. How are the different aspects of our study well summarized at Psalm 139?
15 If convenient and you are reading this privately, we suggest that at this point you read through Psalm 139 (AS); for, in far more beautiful and graphic phrase, it gives a grand summary of our study in all its phases of perception and attitude, spreading out like a silken cloth of gold, worked with a completely balanced pattern of silver threads of truth, shot with threads of warning red. In Ps 139 verses 1 to 6 it tells how thoroughly Jehovah searches and perceives all things concerning his servant’s thoughts and words and ways. Then, in contrast, after describing how Jehovah wonderfully forms and brings forth his servant from the womb (similar to Isaiah 44:2, etc.), he tells in Ps 139 verses 17 and 18 how that servant himself is greatly privileged to search into and perceive God’s own thoughts: “How precious are thy thoughts to me, O God! How great the sum of them! Were I to count them—they would outnumber the sands! Were I to come to the end of them, my life-span must be like thine!” (AT) Appreciation of God’s thoughts stirs the servant to indignation against God’s enemies who take his name in vain, and he boldly declares his attitude against them: “I hate them with perfect hatred: they are become mine enemies.” Then, finally, in complete confidence in the God of infinite perception and loving-kindness, the servant prays: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”—Ps. 139:22-24, AS.