Appreciating the Power of Discernment
“Solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.”—Heb. 5:14.
1, 2. Why is it that Jesus has never made a mistake?
JESUS never made a mistake. When challenged by the religious leaders on one occasion during his earthly ministry, he said: “Who of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46) Was this because he was perfect? Not altogether. Adam and Eve were perfect too, yet they made one of the most serious mistakes ever committed. They disobeyed Jehovah God. That was the difference! Adam and Eve refused to exercise their perceptive powers.
2 Jesus had been taught by God. For countless millenniums he was at Jehovah’s side drinking deeply from the Fountain of wisdom. His knowledge of Jehovah’s ways was vast and he understood fully the principles involved in his fulfilling the divine will for him. Furthermore, Jesus was always obedient and followed the perfect example set by his heavenly Father and relied completely on God’s active force or spirit in fulfilling any commission to which he was assigned. As a result, Jesus was not only able to foresee the outcome of each possible course he could take as it opened to him, but he was able also to discern clearly which course would result in the greatest praise to his Father’s name and result in his own eternal welfare. Because he loved his Father above all else, he never hesitated to take the right course. Therefore he was always right.—John 8:38; Heb. 10:7.
3. What prompted Eve to take a course that led to loss of her life, and how did failure to exercise her perceptive powers contribute to this loss?
3 Adam and Eve, on the other hand, failed to do right because they did not have that love for God. In the case of Eve, she had been properly informed of the divine will through Adam, her head, and had been told what would result from her failure to follow it. For a time she had a record of unmarred integrity and was therefore a perfect woman. Then suddenly she was confronted with an alternate course to the one commanded by Jehovah. Now she had an opportunity to prove her love for God, to exercise her perceptive powers and strengthen her knowledge of right and wrong, advancing to completeness of integrity and maturity. But self-interest dulled her perceptive powers. She refused to turn to Adam or to Jehovah for guidance and, instead, followed the example and counsel of one not authorized as God’s channel of communication and was deceived thereby. Anticipating unauthorized personal benefits, she forsook her belief in God’s word; wrong became right to her and she deliberately violated God’s commandment. Her disobedient act broke her record of integrity and she lost her standing of perfection. Her mistake of disobedience cost her her life.
4. What mental attitude on Adam’s part caused him to join Eve in rebellion?
4 And what of Adam? Adam too was fully aware of the divine will for him but, unlike Eve, was not deceived as to what would result to him if disobedient. (1 Tim. 2:14) Still, like Eve, his self-interest forced out his love for God and he joined Eve in willfully breaking God’s commandment, upholding Eve in her self-made standard of good and bad. Adam’s complete disregard for Jehovah’s good pleasure and as to how the course he had chosen would affect Jehovah’s name and praise plunged him headlong into disobedience and death, with no hope of redemption. The perceptive powers that God had given him, which enabled him to speak, to write, to worship God and to seek his presence in the “breezy part of the day” in order to converse with him—these keen perceptive powers of this perfect man were abandoned in favor of self-gratification. What a contrast to the course Jesus took in humbling himself and seeking always to do God’s will!—Phil. 2:5-8; John 5:30.
5. (a) How can we avoid the fatal mistake of our first parents? (b) How has that mistake affected modern standards of good and bad, and what, therefore, is it foolish to assume?
5 We, being imperfect children of Adam and Eve, cannot hope to duplicate Jesus’ perceptive powers nor can we now live completely free from error. (Rom. 3:12) But we can avoid the fatal mistake made by our first human parents. To do so we must develop and exercise our powers of discernment. Children are born with no knowledge of right and wrong. As they advance into adulthood their concept of what is good and what is bad usually develops through training by the parents and through experiences they encounter in the environment in which they grow up. Had Adam and Eve remained faithful, we, as their children, would have been properly instructed according to God’s Word and raised in a climate of righteousness. But since our first parents deliberately abandoned God’s standard, establishing their own substitute, which they handed on to their posterity, we have a basic inheritance of disobedience and a tendency to wrongdoing. (Job 14:4) Furthermore, over the centuries beliefs and customs have come to vary completely from one end of the earth to the other. How foolish and shortsighted it is in the face of such differences for anyone to assume that his standard is right and safe just because he was raised that way and because it is the only one he has ever known!
6. What has made it possible for us to know God’s perfect standard, and what is the first step in the use of our perceptive powers?
6 Although we are fleshly descendants of Adam and Eve, we can be grateful that Jehovah God is still the Creator of the human race, imperfect creatures though we may be to him and temporarily estranged from him by our inheritance from Adam. Thankful we can be too that Jehovah has not forgotten a Creator’s love for us and has not abandoned us to a course of wrongdoing without showing us the way out. Today it would be impossible for anyone to come to an accurate knowledge of God’s perfect standard if Jehovah himself had not clearly outlined it for us. This he has done in his own Book of requirements, the Holy Bible, even sending his own perfect Son to set the proper example. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17; John 13:15) How vital it is, then, to get the mind of Jesus Christ instead of doggedly holding to a false viewpoint that was inherited from our first parents and that has been further corrupted by the accepted standards of this present wicked system of things. To follow Jesus’ example is indeed the course of wisdom. It is the first step in avoiding the mistake made by Adam and Eve. (2 Cor. 11:3) It is the first step in the use of our perceptive powers, exercising the discernment to see through the confusing and corrupting moral standards of this divided old world and making our minds over to conform to the perfect and complete will of God.—Phil. 2:5; Rom. 12:2.
7. Acquiring perception brings what reward, and of what is it an evidence?
7 A sensitive and responsive child knows when a parent is displeased and will make an effort to appease the parent and comply with his wishes. Should we be any less discerning in our relationship to our heavenly Father? How can we say we have any relationship whatsoever with him if we are insensitive to his direction or if we constantly ignore the many evidences of his leading us? But recognizing ourselves as estranged from God and seeking a reconciliation is just the beginning of the use of our perceptive powers. After setting aside the many conflicting wills of this present system of things and dedicating ourselves to Jehovah to do his will, how can we be content to drift along with only the most basic understanding of Bible doctrine and of God’s requirements for us as Christians? To seek to advance in knowledge of God is not only an evidence of our love for Jehovah but is also a sign of true maturity and of appreciation for the provision God has made for instructing us in accurately discerning right from wrong. Acquiring such perception brings a high reward. It means not only increased responsibilities but also advancement in theocratic education crowned with everlasting life. That it is essential to maturity is clear from the apostle Paul’s words: “But solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.”—Heb. 5:14.
8. Why were some of the early Jewish Christians in special need of Paul’s admonition at Hebrews 5:14, and what would solid food provide for them?
8 Those of the early Christian congregation who had been raised according to the Jews’ religion were found to be in special need of this admonition. Paul wrote them these words because many of the Jewish Christians at that time were so little advanced in understanding that he knew that they would be unable to appreciate the deeper matters that he considered vital to their spiritual preservation and advancement. In fact, Peter said of Paul’s writings: “In them, however, are some things hard to understand, the meaning of which the untaught and unsteady are twisting, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Pet. 3:16) If these early Christians were to remain in the truth, they could not continue as “untaught and unsteady.” They needed solid food, a strong foundation on which to build, a firm conviction as to the basic elements of truth and as to what Jehovah himself recognizes as good and bad. Likewise, we too, for our protection, must advance in our understanding of Christian doctrine.
SHARPENING PERCEPTIVE POWERS
9. How did Jesus’ disciples show themselves eager to sharpen their perceptive powers, and what contrast is shown from Jesus’ description of others who heard his illustration of the sower?
9 The apostles and other disciples who followed Jesus during his ministry showed themselves eager on all occasions to sharpen their perceptive powers and to build on the foundation of knowledge they had already laid. One instance is found in the account of Matthew. Jesus, preaching from a boat because of the crowds that had gathered around him on the shore, related to the assembled throngs the illustration of a sower that sowed seed that fell on various kinds of soil, some not producing and others growing to maturity and full fruitage. Without explaining its significance he concluded his account with the words: “Let him that has ears listen.” Of all those hearing his words it would seem that only Jesus’ disciples had the keenness of discernment to “listen,” because Matthew’s account continues: “So the disciples came up and said to him: ‘Why is it you speak to them by the use of illustrations?’ In reply he said: ‘To you it is granted to understand the sacred secrets of the kingdom of the heavens, but to those people it is not granted. For whoever has, more will be given him and he will be made to abound; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them by the use of illustrations, because, looking, they look in vain, and hearing, they hear in vain, neither do they get the sense of it; and toward them the prophecy of Isaiah is having fulfillment which says: “By hearing, you will hear but by no means get the sense of it; and, looking, you will look but by no means see. For the heart of this people has grown thick, and with their ears they have heard with annoyance, and they have shut their eyes; that they might never see with their eyes and hear with their ears and get the sense of it with their hearts and turn back, and I heal them.” However, happy are your eyes because they behold, and your ears because they hear. For I truly say to you, Many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things you are beholding and did not see them, and to hear the things you are hearing and did not hear them.’”—Matt. 13:9-17.
10. Jesus’ discussion with his disciples shows what lack on the part of some in the crowd, and what did Jesus point out as necessary for real discernment?
10 Perhaps some of those in the crowd hearing Jesus’ illustration thought that they understood its meaning without his explanation, but Jesus’ discussion with his disciples shows that their failure to look deeper into his account had far more serious implications than just complacency or lack of curiosity. Their real lack was one of spiritual discernment, which lack they were nourishing within their own hearts as a deterrent to the truth so that they would not really get the full significance of Jesus’ words and become responsible thereby. As true children of Adam and Eve they preferred to follow their own counsel and that of their self-appointed leaders rather than to listen with their whole hearts to this authorized channel of communication that Jehovah had put in their midst. Jesus’ disciples, on the other hand, realized that, having already turned their hearts to God and having accepted the first elements of the sacred pronouncements of God, they must press on to maturity. So they turned to Jesus for the explanation of his illustration. In response Jesus said to them: “You, then, listen to the illustration of the man that sowed. Where anyone hears the word of the kingdom but does not get the sense of it, the wicked one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart; this is the one sown alongside the road. . . . As for the one sown upon the right kind of soil, this is the one hearing the word and getting the sense of it, who really does bear fruit and produces, this one a hundredfold, that one sixty, the other thirty.”—Matt. 13:18-23.
11. Upon what does discernment depend, and how does the need to train our perceptive powers become obvious?
11 Such spiritual discernment requires training. Those who possess it have studied. They have been awake to their opportunities, have used their perceptive powers, training them to distinguish truth from error, right from wrong. The spiritual seed sown on such good soil has sunk deep into good hearts and taken firm root. Nor can we excuse ourselves by saying: “I’m just not a studious person.” Jesus’ disciples were not scholarly men, but they used their natural abilities to their fullest extent and were richly rewarded for their effort. (Matt. 11:25) Bible study does require the exercise of mental powers, it is true, but real discernment depends for success more upon yielding to God’s spirit. (1 Cor. 2:11-13) Absorbing the sense of instruction given means recognizing and accepting the principles involved and then using this knowledge to make right decisions. It becomes a matter of judgment rather than of powers of intellect, and since our course in the ministry depends upon our proper judgment, and balanced judgment depends upon the keenness of our perceptive powers, the need to train these powers is obvious. Is it not clear that if we do not get the sense of what we hear and study from God’s Word we have no basis for distinguishing both right and wrong and we make ourselves prey for Satan’s attack? Such failure or negligence puts us in a dangerous position, because our immaturely developed powers of discernment are incapable of giving us the proper direction in balanced judgment, and we may be overcome. However, if we are inclined to be discouraged because of personal shortcomings, we must remember that Adam, even though his mental faculties were perfect, failed to exercise judgment and died, whereas we, though imperfect in mind and body, can exercise the wisdom of Jesus Christ and live.—1 Cor. 1:26, 27.
12. From what principle recorded in the Bible at Matthew 25:21 may we conclude that seemingly unimportant decisions affect our major decisions?
12 To advance to the deeper things of God’s Word we must learn to appreciate the smaller things as well, those sometimes considered unimportant. Without a secure foundation of accurate knowledge, the building becomes unsure and shaky. Just so, our major decisions are based on an accumulation of lesser decisions and our judgment in such matters determines our usefulness and advancement in Jehovah’s service.—Matt. 25:21.
13. What Scriptural admonition warns us of a further need to advance in accurate knowledge?
13 This points to another need for us to advance in accurate knowledge. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Working together with him, we also entreat you not to accept the undeserved kindness of God and miss its purpose.” (2 Cor. 6:1) Having been called out of the darkness of this world into the marvelous light of God’s purpose and having been restored to God’s favor and set on the pathway of righteousness by the undeserved kindness of God, Paul warns us against viewing it complacently as a favor from God just for our own salvation and protection. We must act on God’s instruction by becoming doers of his will. James adds this word of testimony: “However, become doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves with false reasoning.”—Jas. 1:22.
TIME TO BECOME TEACHERS
14. What did Paul say to the Jewish Christians that reveals God’s purpose in giving us instruction?
14 To ignore Jehovah’s purpose in giving us instruction in his Word is to be deceived by false reasoning. Is that exercising our powers of perception? Now that our discernment has led us into the way of truth, why be turned aside so quickly? To show how unresponsive some of the Jewish Christians had been to their responsibility in his day, Paul found it necessary to tell them in his letter to the Hebrews: “For, indeed, although you ought to be teachers in view of the time, you again need someone to teach you from the beginning the first principles of the sacred pronouncements of God, and you have become such as need milk, not solid food. For everyone that partakes of milk is unacquainted with the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.” Then he tells them that solid food belongs to those “who through use have their perceptive powers trained.”—Heb. 5:12-14.
15. Why was it important to these Jewish Christians to master Paul’s powerful arguments in his letter to the Hebrews?
15 Paul realized that many among these early Christians were slow in grasping their responsibility as teachers and were still content to remain completely in the first stage of Christian development, simply as learners. His letter to the Hebrews was designed to provide believing Jews with a powerful argument in support of Jesus as the promised Messiah, instruction and counsel for their own salvation as well as for the eternal welfare of those to whom they preached. Mature Christian Jews therefore would be eager to grasp this provision from God to bolster their position and would quickly master these persuasive arguments in defense of the true faith. But how could those who were slow in learning possibly appreciate the wisdom contained in Paul’s inspired presentation? How could they even know if these things were really so, since their perceptive powers, through lack of use, were not trained to distinguish right and wrong? Who was to say whether these deeper matters might not be among those they would be “twisting . . . to their own destruction”? In any event, if they were not sufficiently advanced themselves to make these truths their own, how could they possibly fulfill the purpose of their being instructed, that is, to teach others? The “elementary doctrine about the Christ” that Paul said was first learned is not difficult: “repentance from dead works, and faith toward God, the teaching on baptisms and the laying on of the hands, the resurrection of the dead and everlasting judgment.” (Heb. 6:1, 2) But with the learning of these “first principles of the sacred pronouncements of God” must come the ability to determine and argue their accuracy. Only on such a foundation can any extensive Christian maturity be built.
16. How did Jesus demonstrate to his disciples the most important reason for us to appreciate the value of discernment?
16 No matter how keen we may be in natural discernment we still need God’s direction to get results. Jesus demonstrated this to his disciples, some of whom were expert fishermen. He had been teaching the crowds from Simon Peter’s boat. “When he stopped speaking, he said to Simon: ‘Pull out to where it is deep, and you men let down your nets for a catch.’ But Simon in reply said: ‘Instructor, for a whole night we toiled and took nothing, but at your bidding I will lower the nets.’ Well, when they did this, they enclosed a great multitude of fish. In fact, their nets began breaking open. So they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come and assist them; and they did come, and they filled both boats, so that these began to sink. Seeing this, Simon Peter fell down at the knees of Jesus, saying: ‘Depart from me, because I am a sinful man, Master.’ For at the catch of fish which they took up astonishment overwhelmed him . . . But Jesus said to Simon: ‘Stop being afraid. From now on you will be catching men alive.’ So they brought the boats back to land, and abandoned everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:4-11) In view of Jesus’ invitation, can we now ignore this more important reason for appreciating the value of our perceptive powers and, looking to God’s Word to train these, advancing to maturity?
17. What, then, is one of the first requirements in fulfilling our commission as ministers, and why is this so?
17 True Christians today must likewise be fishers of men. The way of the ministry is clearly marked out as a vocation for all who come to life. It is a full-time vocation, whether all or only part of the Christian’s day is spent in preaching from door to door, and it requires all of one’s powers and abilities to make it a success. Training our perceptive powers is also a full-time matter and one of the first requirements in fulfilling our commission as ministers. If we appreciate this fact we will practice it as diligently as though our life depended on it, because it does.