What exactly did Solomon ask God for when he offered to grant him any request? If you’re like me, the first thought that comes to mind is “wisdom,” because that’s usually what we are told. In his book, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, Christian blogger Tim Challies suggests that we may be slightly off course with that response. What Solomon actually requested, according to 1 Kings 3:9 was, “give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil.” Discernment rather than simply wisdom was the prayer of Solomon’s heart to God, and the fact that God honored Solomon’s request and blessed him even beyond what he asked is evidence that the Lord values discernment and will reward those who seek it. To that end, Challies issues a call to discernment in the book’s first chapter.
He begins by pointing out some inevitable conclusions regarding a lack of discernment. First, it is proof of spiritual immaturity. This is exactly what the writer of Hebrews says: “For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word…but solid food belongs to those who…have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Heb. 5:13-14) It seems there are many today who are proud of their spiritual immaturity, supposing that their childish faith is the childlike faith that Jesus commended in the Gospels. Yet the Scriptures rebuke those who have been Christians for long enough to grow to maturity and yet remain spiritual babes.
Second, a lack of discernment is proof of backsliding. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said, “I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able.” (1 Cor. 3:2) These believers were going backward in their faith not forward, and their lives were characterized by “envy, strife, and divisions,” which proved that they were indeed fleshly rather than spiritual. Clearly, we would be alarmed if a child was 10 years old and still couldn’t handle solid food, yet we often indulge believers who cast off discernment and return to the fleshly habits of their spiritual infancy.
Third, a lack of discernment is proof of spiritual death. For those who are unsaved and rebel against the knowledge of God, there is the promise of judgment in Romans 1:28, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting.” This is followed by a description of their sins which includes sexual immorality, covetousness, hatred of God and men, violence, murder, and a lack of discernment, love, forgiveness, and mercy. While not everyone who lacks discernment is unsaved, it ought to give pause to anyone who claims to be a Christian yet does not have the capacity to exercise spiritual discernment.
Whatever else we may say, to lack discernment and make no effort to grow in this discipline is to sin against God. As Pastor Phillip Way warns, “to willingly neglect the truth and to live with our eyes closed shut while good and evil stare us in the face is to sin against God, ourselves, our families, and our church….It is the responsibility of every Christian to learn, to be discipled in the Word, so that we can know how to be discerning. To fail to discern is to walk in darkness.” We must concern ourselves with developing the spiritual skill of discernment, and to that end I hope to share more principles with you from The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment by Tim Challies in the coming weeks.