Character Trait No. 19
Definition: Having the insight and sympathetic understanding into a difficult situation and being able to make an accurate judgement.
“Moreover, they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.” Ezekiel 44:23
“GOOD, BETTER, BEST, I’LL NEVER REST, ‘TIL MY GOOD IS BETTER AND MY BETTER IS BEST ...AND MY BEST IS PERFECT!” We will need much God-given discernment to achieve such a lofty motto. We need the ability to distinguish the varying value of all things. Having insight especially means that one can see the inner workings of a matter – behind the scenes. What really makes people tick? Seeing the real reason what people do what they do rather than simply the stated reasons given by the political “spin doctors” whom feed the gullible general public. Insightful men can look behind the scenes and diagnose the root causes of problems rather than just the symptoms. They are careful students of God’s greatest creation – people.
American President Abraham Lincoln once said: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all of the time.” Well, you can’t fool a discerning man at all, at least for the most part. An excellent example of such a discerning man is Solomon, who specifically requested such wise discernment from God. I Ki. 3:11 This was graphically illustrated in his handling of the two prostitutes with the dead baby boy. Solomon was truly able to sympathetically make an accurate judgement in this extremely difficult case. “Cut him in half”, he ordered. The peoples reaction? They “feared the king; for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice.” I Ki. 3:28
There are three major categories in which we must be discerning:
1. Our own motives. We are to examine ourselves every Lord’s Day at the eating of the Lord’s Supper, for instance. We must be able to spot our own little dodges and sidestepping from the issues and be completely honest with ourselves.
2. Other peoples behavior. We must understand why people do what they do, and how judge rightly what they do.
3. Satan’s deceitful tricks. We must not be unaware of his strategies to destroy us and our fellow man. It is a war! We must know the enemy.
Daniel prophesied that in the church would be wise men of great insight: “And those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” Dan. 12:3
Of course, Daniel himself was such a man, in as much as he could under the old covenant dispensation. Wise Solomon wrote of such men: “Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter? A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam.” Eccl. 8:1 The Babylonian queen, “Mrs. Belshazzar” described Daniel as “a man in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and the days of your father illumination, insight, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him.... There was an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams, explanation of enigmas, and solving of difficult problems were found in this Daniel...” Dan. 5:11-12
Now I’d like to point out that the least in the kingdom of heaven (the church) is greater than Daniel or any other great man of the Old Testament times. Why? Because we have both a better message and a better system – new wine and new wineskins. We have both the Old and New Testaments, which are able to make us wise unto salvation. And we have the blessing of Abraham, namely the gift of the Holy Spirit living within us. We have the mind of Christ. The Bible not only reveals the nature of God via our knowledge of the perfect man, Jesus Christ, but also reveals fallen man’s true nature. A mastery of the scriptures gives one an invaluable understanding of people. One who clearly understands the Bible also clearly understands people.
Anyone who has diligently striven to win men for Christ, doing hundreds of Bible studies with both saints and sinners - the unsaved and saved – will have earned more than a “PhD” in sociology and anthropology. The ability to discern real motives from apparent motives cannot be learned from just reading books, even the Bible. Working with real live people in real live, difficult situations is also needed. Experience counts. People are complicated! Also, they can be very adept at hiding their true agendas. David wrote: “Rescue me and deliver me out of the hand of aliens, whose mouth speaks deceit and whose right hand is a right hand is a right hand of falsehood.” Ps.144:7-8
Also, “Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be, for the faithful disappear from among the sons of men. They speak falsehood to one another; with flattering lips and with a double heart they speak.” Ps.12:1-2 Prayer is essential, since the devil can appear as an angel of light. Seeing through the deceitful ways of some flattering “wolves in sheeps clothing” takes much discernment.
How can we develop such a necessary character trait? Here’s some pointers:
- Be a prayerful person. Specifically request wisdom. ( James 1:5)
- Meditatively read through the Bible and ponder why people do things. To meditate, you must get in a quiet place and think, think and then think some more. It literally means “chewing the cud”, so to speak.
- Realize that there are usually two sides of a story. Listen to all versions of the events before drawing any premature conclusions. Jumping to hasty assumptions is peoples favorite form of “exercise”, it seems. Don’t assume anything hastily, ever.
- Get your information from good, reliable sources. Firsthand is much better than second hand information. Learn to distinguish between proof and opinions. A subjective statement is: “It seemed to me...” Objective factual statements are: “ I myself saw, or heard him say ...” Even these usually need a second or third witness Whenever you receive some disturbing news, carefully consider the source! You cannot assume that the news, though perhaps “true” so some extent, has not been seriously slanted when the one telling you is not a spiritual and reliable man. (See II Sam. 1)
- People’s lips will always betray what is in their hearts, especially when they are under pressure. Watch and learn. Men who speak about money are money minded, for instance. (See Judas in John 12:3-5 for a good example.)
- Look for pattern’s of behavior that show a persons character and motives.
Jesus was scathing in His rebuke of the Pharisees, who could discern the weather, but were blind His own true nature. (Lk. 12:56) The carnal minded man cannot discern the things that are holy. ( I Cor. 2:14) They are nonsense to him. Preaching is not “worth much”, just a lot of hot air. Prayer is “speaking to the air”. Memory work is a “legalistic exercise in showing off.” Or he will mix the profane with the sacred, such as writing: “GYE NYAME DRINKING BAR” on his drinking establishment! Or marrying a non-Christian. As oil cannot mix with water, the holy and the unholy cannot be joined! Do not be unequally yoked! (II Cor. 6:14) Let us exercise our discernment faculties by constant training with the Word of God, daily practicing its precepts in our practical affairs. Have we no wise men among us who can do as Daniel did, and properly interpret God’s word and then apply it to every difficult situation with understanding and empathy? Yes, we do, and may we all become such men and women by the help of the Holy Spirit. Then we shall shine brightly as stars in this evil and corrupt generation, fulfilling Daniel’s prophecy made over 2500 years ago.