Let Discernment Safeguard You
“Thinking ability itself will keep guard over you, discernment itself will safeguard you.”—PROVERBS 2:11.
1. Discernment can safeguard us from what?
JEHOVAH wants you to exercise discernment. Why? Because he knows that it will safeguard you from various dangers. Proverbs 2:10-19 opens by saying: “When wisdom enters into your heart and knowledge itself becomes pleasant to your very soul, thinking ability itself will keep guard over you, discernment itself will safeguard you.” Safeguard you from what? From such things as “the bad way,” those leaving upright paths, and people devious in their general course.
2. What is discernment, and what kind do Christians especially desire?
2 Likely you will recall that discernment is the faculty of the mind whereby it distinguishes one thing from another. A person with discernment perceives differences of ideas or things and has good judgment. As Christians, we especially desire spiritual discernment based on accurate knowledge of God’s Word. When we study the Scriptures, it is as though we are quarrying the building blocks of spiritual discernment. What we learn can help us to make decisions that please Jehovah.
3. How can we acquire spiritual discernment?
3 When God asked Israel’s King Solomon what blessing he wanted, the young ruler said: “You must give to your servant an obedient heart to judge your people, to discern between good and bad.” Solomon asked for discernment, and Jehovah gave it to him to an unusual degree. (1 Kings 3:9; 4:30) To acquire discernment, we need to pray, and we have to study God’s Word with the help of the enlightening publications provided through “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matthew 24:45-47) This will help us to develop spiritual discernment to the extent that we become “full-grown in powers of understanding,” able to “distinguish [or, discern between] both right and wrong.”—1 Corinthians 14:20; Hebrews 5:14.
Special Need for Discernment
4. What does it mean to have a “simple” eye, and how can it benefit us?
4 With proper discernment, we can act in harmony with Jesus Christ’s words: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and [God’s] righteousness, and all these other [material] things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) Jesus also said: “The lamp of the body is your eye. When your eye is simple, your whole body is also bright.” (Luke 11:34) The eye is a figurative lamp. A “simple” eye is sincere, focused. With such an eye, we can show discernment and walk without stumbling spiritually.
5. With regard to business dealings, what should we bear in mind about the purpose of the Christian congregation?
5 Instead of keeping their eye simple, some have complicated their lives and the lives of others with tempting business dealings. But we should remember that the Christian congregation is “a pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15) Like a building’s columns, the congregation upholds God’s truth, not anyone’s business enterprise. Congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses have not been established as locations to promote commercial interests, goods, or services. We must refrain from pursuing personal business affairs in the Kingdom Hall. Discernment helps us to see that Kingdom Halls, Congregation Book Studies, assemblies, and conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses are places for Christian association and spiritual discussion. If we were to use spiritual relationships to promote any sort of commercialism, would this not show at least some lack of appreciation for spiritual values? Congregational connections should never be exploited for financial gain.
6. Why should commercial products and services not be sold or promoted at congregation meetings?
6 Some have used theocratic contacts to sell health or beauty aids, vitamin products, telecommunication services, construction materials, travel plans, computer programs and equipment, and so forth. However, congregation meetings are no place for selling or promoting commercial products or services. We can discern the underlying principle if we remember that Jesus “drove all those with the sheep and cattle out of the temple, and he poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. And he said to those selling the doves: ‘Take these things away from here! Stop making the house of my Father a house of merchandise!’”—John 2:15, 16.
What About Investments?
7. Why are discernment and caution needed with regard to investments?
7 Both discernment and caution are needed when considering an investment in a business venture. Suppose someone wants to borrow money and makes promises like these: “I guarantee that you will make money.” “You can’t lose. This is a sure thing.” Beware when anyone gives such assurances. Either he is not being realistic or he is dishonest, for investing is rarely a sure thing. In fact, some smooth-talking, unscrupulous individuals have defrauded members of the congregation. This calls to mind the “ungodly men” who slipped into the first-century congregation and ‘turned the undeserved kindness of God into an excuse for loose conduct.’ They were like jagged underwater rocks that could rip and kill swimmers. (Jude 4, 12) True, the motives of defrauders are different, but they too prey upon members of the congregation.
8. What has happened in connection with some seemingly profitable business ventures?
8 Even well-meaning Christians have shared information about seemingly profitable ventures, only to find that they and those following their example lost the money they invested. As a result, a number of Christians have lost privileges in the congregation. When get-rich-quick ventures prove to be fraudulent schemes, the only one to profit is the defrauder, who often promptly disappears. How can discernment help one to avoid such situations?
9. Why is discernment needed to evaluate claims about investments?
9 Discernment carries the thought of being able to grasp what is obscure. This ability is needed to evaluate claims about investments. Christians trust one another, and some may reason that their spiritual brothers and sisters would not get involved in ventures that would endanger the resources of fellow believers. But the fact that a businessman is a Christian does not guarantee that he excels in business matters or that his enterprise will succeed.
10. Why do some Christians seek business loans from fellow believers, and what could happen to such investments?
10 Some Christians seek business loans from fellow believers because reputable lending agencies would never advance money for their risky enterprises. Many have been fooled into believing that simply by investing their money, they could make a quick fortune without doing much work or perhaps no work at all. Some are attracted to an investment because of the glamour associated with it, only to lose their life savings! One Christian invested a large sum of money, expecting to get a 25-percent rate of return in just two weeks. He lost all that money when bankruptcy was declared. In another venture, a real-estate developer borrowed large sums of money from others in the congregation. He promised unreasonably high returns but went bankrupt and lost the borrowed funds.
When Business Ventures Fail
11. What counsel did Paul give regarding greed and the love of money?
11 Business failures have led to disappointment and even to loss of spirituality on the part of some Christians who entered into unsound ventures. Heartache and bitterness have resulted from failure to let discernment act as a safeguard. Greed has snared many. “Let . . . greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people,” wrote Paul. (Ephesians 5:3) And he warned: “Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.”—1 Timothy 6:9, 10.
12. If Christians do business with one another, what should they especially remember?
12 If a Christian developed a love of money, he would cause himself much spiritual harm. The Pharisees were money lovers, and this is a trait of many in these last days. (Luke 16:14; 2 Timothy 3:1, 2) In contrast, a Christian’s manner of life should be “free of the love of money.” (Hebrews 13:5) Of course, Christians can do business with one another or start businesses together. If they do so, however, discussions and negotiations should be kept separate from congregational matters. And remember: Even among spiritual brothers, always commit business agreements to writing. Helpful in this regard is the article “Put It in Writing!,” published in Awake! of February 8, 1983, pages 13 to 15.
13. How would you apply Proverbs 22:7 to business ventures?
13 Proverbs 22:7 tells us: “The borrower is servant to the man doing the lending.” It is often unwise for us to put ourselves or our brother in the position of such a servant. When anyone asks us to lend him money for a business venture, it would be advisable to consider his ability to repay the sum. Is he known to be reliable and trustworthy? Of course, we should realize that making such a loan could mean the loss of the money because many business ventures fail. A contract in itself does not ensure a successful venture. And surely it is not prudent for anyone to place more at risk in an enterprise than he could afford to lose.
14. Why do we need to show discernment if we have lent money to a fellow Christian whose business fails?
14 We need to show discernment if we have lent funds to a Christian for business purposes and the money was lost, though no dishonest practices were involved. If the business failure was not the fault of our fellow believer who borrowed the money, can we say that we were wronged? No, because we voluntarily made the loan, we have probably been collecting interest on it, and nothing dishonest has taken place. Since there was no dishonesty, we have no basis for legal action against the borrower. What good would it do to sue an honest fellow Christian who had to file for bankruptcy because a well-intentioned business venture failed?—1 Corinthians 6:1.
15. What factors require consideration if bankruptcy is declared?
15 Those experiencing business failures sometimes seek relief by declaring bankruptcy. Since Christians are not negligent about indebtedness, even after being legally freed of certain debts, some have felt obliged to try to pay off canceled sums if the creditors would accept payment. But what if a borrower lost his brother’s money and then lived in a luxurious manner? Or what if the borrower acquired sufficient funds to pay back what he borrowed but ignored the moral obligation he may have to his brother financially? Then there would be questions about the borrower’s qualifications to serve in a responsible capacity in the congregation.—1 Timothy 3:3, 8; see The Watchtower, September 15, 1994, pages 30-1.
What if There Is Fraud?
16. What steps may be taken if we seem to be victims of business fraud?
16 Discernment helps us to realize that profits do not result from all investments. Yet, what if fraud is involved? Fraud is “the intentional use of deception, trickery, or perversion of truth for the purpose of inducing another to part with some valuable thing belonging to him or to give up a legal right.” Jesus Christ outlined steps that may be taken when a person thinks he has been defrauded by a fellow worshiper. According to Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus said: “If your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, in order that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he does not listen to them, speak to the congregation. If he does not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.” The illustration that Jesus subsequently gave indicates that he had in mind such sins as those involving financial matters, including fraud.—Matthew 18:23-35.
17, 18. If a professing Christian defrauds us, how can discernment safeguard us?
17 Of course, there would be no Scriptural basis for taking the steps outlined at Matthew 18:15-17 if there was no evidence or even a suggestion of fraud. Yet, what if a professing Christian actually defrauded us? Discernment can safeguard us from taking action that may put the congregation in a bad light. Paul advised fellow Christians to let themselves be wronged and even defrauded instead of taking a brother to court.—1 Corinthians 6:7.
18 Our genuine brothers and sisters are not ‘full of fraud and villainy,’ like the sorcerer Bar-Jesus. (Acts 13:6-12) So let us use discernment when money is lost in business ventures involving fellow believers. If we are thinking about taking legal action, we should consider the possible effects on us personally, on the other person or persons, on the congregation, and on outsiders. Pursuing compensation could consume much of our time, energy, and other resources. It might result only in enriching attorneys and other professionals. Sadly, some Christians have sacrificed theocratic privileges because of becoming overly absorbed in these things. Our being sidetracked in this manner must make Satan happy, but we want to make Jehovah’s heart rejoice. (Proverbs 27:11) On the other hand, accepting a loss may spare us heartaches and save much time for us and for the elders. It will help to preserve the congregation’s peace and will enable us to keep on seeking first the Kingdom.
Discernment and Decision-Making
19. What can spiritual discernment and prayer do for us when we are making stressful decisions?
19 Making decisions regarding financial or business matters can be quite stressful. But spiritual discernment can help us to weigh factors and make wise decisions. Moreover, prayerful reliance on Jehovah can bring us “the peace of God.” (Philippians 4:6, 7) It is a calmness and tranquillity resulting from a close personal relationship with Jehovah. Surely, such peace can help us to maintain our balance when we are faced with difficult decisions.
20. What should we be determined to do as far as business matters and the congregation are concerned?
20 Let us be determined not to let business disputes disrupt our peace or that of the congregation. We need to remember that the Christian congregation functions to help us spiritually, not to serve as a center for commercial pursuits. Business matters should always be kept separate from congregation activities. We need to use discernment and caution when embarking upon business ventures. And let us always maintain a balanced view of such matters, seeking Kingdom interests first. If a business venture involving fellow worshipers should fail, may we seek what is best for all concerned.
21. How can we use discernment and act in harmony with Philippians 1:9-11?
21 Instead of being overly concerned about financial matters and other less important things, may all of us incline our hearts to discernment, pray for God’s guidance, and keep Kingdom interests first. In harmony with Paul’s prayer, ‘may our love abound with accurate knowledge and full discernment so that we may make sure of the more important things and not be stumbling others’ or ourselves. Now that Christ the King is on his heavenly throne, let us show spiritual discernment in every aspect of life. And ‘may we be filled with righteous fruit through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of our God,’ the Sovereign Lord Jehovah.—Philippians 1:9-11.
How Would You Respond?
□ What is discernment?
□ Why is there a special need to show discernment regarding business dealings among Christians?
□ How can discernment help us if we feel that a fellow believer has defrauded us?
□ What role should discernment play in decision-making?
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Discernment will help us to apply Jesus’ counsel to keep on seeking first the Kingdom
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Always commit business agreements to writing