Discernment or Judgment?

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PART ONE looks atEVIDENCE BASED DISCERNMENTBASED DIS

My dictionary has two almost opposing definitions of the word discernment.

The first describes it as ‘The ability to judge well’, so we’ll start by looking at this definition.

A Scripture that many think tells them not to judge is Matthew 7:1

Judge not, that you be not judged. The Greek word for ’judge’ used here is ‘krino’ but in English this can have any of the 11 following meanings.

Call in question, conclude, condemn, damn, decree, determine, esteem, judge, ordain, criticise and think.(Youngs Analytical Greek Concordance)

My humble view is that a better translation for Matt 7:1, would be:

Conclude not that you won’t be judged. Or put another way, Don’t judge, that you won’t be judged, because you will. However the words as they are, can easily mean either of my two definitions without any alteration. If we simply pause for a moment on the comma after ‘Judge not,.......that you be not judged.’

My case for discernment doesn’t hang on this minor definition though.


Does the Bible disagree with itself?

A word with so many shades of meaning is a nightmare for translators. No doubt much midnight oil has been burnt over the use of this word in Scripture.

We’re faced with another dilemma though, if we insist on using the word ‘judge’ to define 'krino' in every situation, we will make the Word of God disagree with itself, because whereas Matthew 7:1 seems to tell us not to judge, there are many other places in Scripture that tell us we must judge, such as:

1 Cor 2 15-16, James 5 19-20, Heb 5:14, John 7:24, 1 Cor 6:5, Prov3:21, Prov10:13 to name but a few.

If we look in verses 2 and 3 of Matt 7, it becomes obvious that what is being said here has to do with an unloving and hypocritical attitude or motivation to be judgmental.

For just as you judge others you will be judged and in accordance with the measure you deal out to others it will be dealt out again to you. Why do you stare from without at the very small particle that is in your brothers eye, but do not become aware of and consider the beam of timber that is in your own eye? (Amplified Bible)

This passage is clearly talking about how we judge, and it indicates that it must not be in a hypocritical way.

We simply cannot judge harshly, because none of us are perfect. It’s clear that the same attitude that we show to others who fall or fail, will be the attitude by which we will one day be judged.

2 Cor 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to what he has done, whether it be good or bad.


None of us will escape Judgment

So we cannot say that Matt 7:1means that if we don’t judge, that we’ll escape judgment, because we will all be judged. However, to be without judgment at all, would mean that we’re unable to look for the good in others. Surely people need the encouragement of some complimentary words if we judge them to have done a job well. Judgment is not always a negative thing.

Matthew 7:5 follows on from telling us not to judge another hypocritically, to telling us to get ourselves sorted out first and then we can judge someone else.

This scripture goes on to say : You hypocrite, first cast the beam out of your own eye; and then you cansee clearly to cast out the mote out of your brother's eye.


A time to Discern

As Christians, we have no alternative but to be discerning about what we do, what we say, who we mix with, which television programmes we watch, what we look at on our computers,what we read, how we spend our time etc. Being careful and living a Christian life necessitates making judgments all the time.

As we’re all at different stages of Christian maturity, we need to have the love and faith to allow the Holy Spirit to deal with people’s lifestyles. We should pray for each other rather than judge!

Having the ability to judge well, means that you do not reach hasty conclusions based on flimsy hearsay, rumours or unsubstantiated evidence. Discernment literally means looking for the truth.

In Romans 2 1-12 Paul makes it clear that we must not judge those who commit sins that we also commit. Surely, if the sin is against us personally, we ought to find forgiveness, rather than rush to seek justice and condemn others. How much better though to forgive as we’re forgiven.

All serious situations need to be dealt with discretely as they may cause a bad witness, you should use the church leaders to deal with important things and not make them public. So, if judgment really is necessary, for example if a child is at risk, or the Church’s reputation is at stake, one must hope that your church leaders are mature enough to take on their responsibility. This might mean informing the authorities in the case of child abuse. Paul found that some leaders were lacking in this area.

1 Cor 6:5 it says that leaders must be prepared to Judge.

I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law with brother, and that in front of unbelievers.

The truth

Discernment is about looking for truth before making a judgment, or hopefully as a result of finding the real truth, not having to make a judgment at all!

We are not looking for dirt, we should be looking for truth, with an open mind.

I will sum up this sort of discernment in two sentences and two Scriptures

People who are critical and judgmental, make snap judgments without solid evidence and they spread rumours.

People who are discerning, delay making judgments and look for the real truth in the matter with discretion.


Prov 3:21 My son, preserve judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight.

Prov.10:13 Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks judgment.

I’ve called this EVIDENCE BASED DISCERNMENT, We discern using the Scriptures as the reference point for what is right or wrong.

But there is another type of discernment that is spiritual and we’ll look at that in part 2. Remember though that the two types ofdiscernment are not mutually exclusive, they often work together.

PART TWO looks atSpiritual Discernment

The other dictionary definition of discernment is this:

Perception in the absence of judgment (without actual evidence), with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding

This stands the first definition of discernment on its head, it’s far removed from the evidence based approach. It’s about a perception, a feeling that something is wrong and you don’t know why.

This sort of discernment is often spiritual, the sensing of evil spirits, of false teachers, that someone is telling a lie, that something is seriously wrong, but there is no evidence to back up this perception.

This sort of perception can be a warning from the Holy Spirit as seen in 1 Cor 12:10. Not everyone recognises this gift and it’s very difficult to persuade insensitive people that what you feel is real and reliable.

Spiritual things….are spiritually discerned. 1Corinthians 2 v13-14

Let me give you a couple of personal examples.


The Internet

There was a preacher on the internet that I followed because he obviously had a very good understanding of the Bible. But I just had an uneasy feeling that something was wrong. He was Biblical and sound in everything I’d read,and when I weighed-up the tangible evidence by comparing his words with the Bible, he seemed fine, but there was still this uneasy feeling that something was wrong. I didn't want to be judgmental so I did nothing. Then one day he wrote that he didn't believe in the Trinity. Well, this is a major issue, because he is worshipping and following a different god from me. The Christian God is a Trinity, The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. So as we had different gods we really had nothing in common at all. So I cut all links with him, but how I wished that I'd followed the Holy Spirit’s voice that had warned me about him to begin with.

Can you see how dangerous it would be though, if we all started judging people and things by our ‘feelings’? It shows what a great responsibility spiritual discernment is in the case of perceiving something more serious.


Scary Stuff

As I was praying with a man on one occasion, in my mind I could see a great wall between us, it was so high and so wide that it seemed impenetrable and intimidating. I had the strong feeling that behind the wall there was something evil. A few weeks later the man was given a position in the Church ministry team. I had no alternative but to go and warn the elders that I thought the man had evil spirits and that it was unwise to let him be praying with and ministering to people.

My warning was dismissed, but not long after this, the man tried to strangle his wife and it was only God’s mercy that another guy from the church visited their house while this attempted murder was taking place. He literally saved the woman’s life. It was the end of the marriage though.


If you ever get this sort of revelation, share it with a Church leader and make sure it’s done confidentially. There is potentially so much damage that could be done if you make it public or start a rumour. Certainly don’t directly challenge someone without seeking guidance and confirmation. It could well be that your fears might confirm something the leaders are worried about already. or they might say, OK let’s wait and see. You have fulfilled your responsibility before God, by passing it on, now it’s up to them to deal with it. Also as we are relying only on feelings we could also be quite wrong!

We must remember that spiritual discernment is also about recognising the things that are of God, not just evil spirits.


I don’t consider that I possess a gift of discernment, I can’t use it on demand, but there have been quite a few times when similar experiences to this have happened to me. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned 1 Cor 2:14. We need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s voice, but we need love and courage to handle such revelation in a Godly way. Like Paul, I firmly believe that the Church should weigh every spiritual revelation against the teaching of the Bible before taking any action or passing it on. Under the New Covenant nobody should consider themselves to be above accountability to others, No one!

What I'm saying is that spiritual discernment needs to be discerned!

As we are in the last days, we desperately need to be discerning, false teachers and false prophets are on every hand. We can no longer rely on someone who once had a good name. Spiritual discernment can recognise a false teacher before we have solid evidence so that we can be watchful. Jesus exorcised and recognised evil spirits and the evil in men’s hearts. He told us to do the same.

Matt 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. You shall know them by their fruits.

Paul confronted evil spirits and warned us all to be discerning and to expect there to be false prophets

1 Thess 5:21 Test all things; hold fast that which is good



Martin Edwyn

Martin Edwyn 2015/2016