Exercising Discernment

Bible Reading: Acts 17:10-15; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22; Ephesians 4:14

1 Thessalonians 5:21, “But test everything, hold fast what is good.”

During the gold rush days, naïve miners sometimes happened upon what they supposed to be the mother lode, only to find that what they had discovered was merely iron pyrite (fool’s gold). Though fool’s gold looks something like the real thing, it is relatively worthless. There is even a story of a 1500’s ship captain who erroneously and embarrassingly transported a shipment of fool’s gold back to England. 

It is also possible to be deceived in spiritual matters. “Satan, who deceives the whole world” is a well-trained master of deception (Revelation 12:9; 2 Corinthians 11:3). He who first deceived Eve—and brought sin and error into the world—is at work to this day. On the one hand, we are encouraged to “not quench the Spirit” and to not “despise prophecies” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20). The Spirit of Truth has something to say to us and we need to listen (John 15:26; Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22), yet we need to be careful to discern that what we are hearing has indeed come from Him (2 Corinthians 11:4). We can only do this when we are careful to “test everything” and only “hold fast to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). 

This matter meets with ready application in the postmodern environment in which we live. Most people (and many professing believers) deny the existence of an “absolute truth” (John 18:38). The “culture-bound” modern church is far too gullible in this respect. Exacerbating the problem is the church’s tendency, in its unwillingness to “endure sound doctrine,” to “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). The tragic result is many are “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14). Much which is espoused to be “Christian” in our day is in reality like fool’s gold. It may look like the real thing but is far from it. 

Years ago, soon after we were married, my wife and I attended some evening classes at Multnomah School of the Bible. I was especially blessed by a study through Hebrews taught by John Lawrence (Mr. Lawrence taught until ten days before the Lord called him home in 1995). He approached the Scriptures with a degree of reverence and desire which was contagious. He would often say, “If the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” Mr. Lawrence had absolute confidence in the authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16). He had adopted a “But what does the Bible say?” way of thinking about all he believed and put into practice. That kind of perspective is a foundational necessity if we are to exercise discernment. 

The term translated “test” in this passage was a term used of testing of metals. It is here in the present tense, implying the need for constant vigilance regarding the need to examine the things we are exposed to. Fool’s gold can be distinguished from the real thing by examining its shine, hardness and the residue it leaves behind. Error can be identified for what it is when measured against the standard of God’s inspired Word (2 Timothy 3:16). The “Jews (in Berea) were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica” because “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Theirs is a good example for us to follow.

In this respect, it is not enough to merely go to church on Sundays to hear what the pastor has to say. Every true believer in Christ has the Spirit of God as a teacher (1 John 2:27). The Spirit of God will never speak contrary to the Word of God (John 4:24; Ephesians 5:18-20 vs. Colossians 3:16-17). It is incumbent on the Spirit-indwelt believer to be a good student of the Word, maintaining a “but what does the Bible say?” way of thinking about things (2 Timothy 2:15). In this manner the believer is delivered from the embarrassing prospect of latching on to some error (i.e., fool’s gold) as a substitute for the real thing and being “led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). 

“He who has the Holy Spirit in his heart and the Scriptures in his hands has all he needs.”

Alexander Maclaren


Teach me thy way, O Lord; teach me thy way!
Thy guiding grace afford; teach me thy way!
Help me to walk aright, more by faith, less by sight;
lead me with heav’nly light; teach me thy way!

When I am sad at heart, teach me thy way!
When earthly joys depart, teach me thy way!
In hours of loneliness, in times of dire distress,
in failure or success, teach me thy way!

When doubts and fears arise, teach me thy way!
When storms o’erspread the skies, teach me thy way!
Shine thro’ the cloud and rain, thro’ sorrow, toil, and pain;
make thou my pathway plain; teach me thy way!

Long as my life shall last, teach me thy way!
Where’er my lot be cast, teach me thy way!
Until the race is run, until the journey’s done,
until the crown is won, teach me thy way!

Author: looking2jesus13

Having served as pastor at Lewis and Clark Bible Church, in Astoria, Oregon, for almost three decades, my wife’s cancer diagnosis led to my retirement and subsequent move to Heppner to be near our two grandchildren. I divide my time between caring for Laura and working as a part time hospice chaplain and spending time with family and spoiling my chocolate lab.

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