There is a tremendous need for discernment in the body of Christ in these difficult days. Is it just me who thinks the spirit of the world has infiltrated the church with its teachings, values, and practices? Discernment is especially necessary when it comes to knowing how to love as Jesus does. As we might expect with something as important as love, Satan has infiltrated and saturated the church with a counterfeit, often fooling us as “an angel of light.” For instance, acceptance, tolerance, and freedom are all beautiful and loving concepts and values.
However, in the name of love and free choice, the church is being pressured and sometimes threatened to embrace gay marriage (#lovewins), LGBTQ rights, and abortion, among other things. When anyone suggests (as the Bible states) that adultery, sex before marriage, homosexuality, being effeminate (1 Corinthians 6:9) and marrying someone who has been divorced (Mark 10:12) are sins, they are quickly labeled as hateful and unloving. The implication is clear: If Christians really loved all people, we would accept the world’s values without judgment or censorship.
Furthermore, evil men and women take advantage of people who truly love and are well-intentioned. In the name of Jesus and with intent to beguile and deceive, wolves slip into the flock of God to live off of their generosity and naiveté. Women are abused and controlled by men who use them like objects in the name of love. We live in a day when darkness is called light and light is judged to be darkness. Perhaps there has never been a time in the history of the church when the body of Christ has so needed Spirit-led wisdom.
But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.
1 Corinthians 2:15
In this Chariot of Fire, I want to share with you the thoughts of John Flavel (pronounced FLAY-vuhl), a 17th-century English Presbyterian clergyman, Puritan, and author. I came across these ideas as I read the May 5th entry in the devotional, Voices from the Past, a collection of Puritan writings, published by Banner of Truth Trust. For the most part, I’m going to use my words to share his message.
From Flavel’s Works
Flavel suggested that the Person of Jesus Christ should be the standard by which we discern and judge doctrines or ideas, because He is the great prophet and teacher of the church. Flavel wrote, “As Christ is in person, so are His doctrines. Every error pretends to come from Christ, but Christ is holy, humble, heavenly, meek, and peaceful.” His life is counter-cultural and contrary to the indulgence of the flesh. So Jesus’ thoughts and the truth He taught have His “image engraved upon them.”
This understanding of Jesus gives us a way to test what we hear and to discern if it is from the Spirit of Christ. Here’s the test: Whatever doctrine or idea you find that encourages and tolerates sin, exalts self, is compatible with the world’s ideas, or pleases the desires of men, you may be confident in rejecting. If a line of thinking makes someone fleshly, proud, and sensual, you are right to conclude that it never came from Christ. The doctrines and thoughts of Jesus Christ always take us down the road of godliness, because God’s truth sanctifies us—it sets us apart from our old nature and the world’s ways.
Our contemporary culture will feed you many lies that sound really good when you first hear them. But do not swallow anything, no matter how good it sounds to you, if it does not make much of Jesus and holiness. We can be sure that Jesus never revealed anything that diminished His glory or the purpose of His death on the cross.
We also need to be discerning about those to whom we listen. How can we tell if they are truly sent by Jesus to declare His will and ways? Flavel tells us, “They have His Spirit in their hearts, and His words in their mouths.” You should be able to tell that they are operating under His grace, which He has given to them as His ministers. How? They will seek to imitate Jesus, who is the Great Shepherd. They should be faithful, gentle, hard workers, delighting in the advancement of God’s kingdom, living what they preach, and bearing the fruit of His presence and communion daily in their lives. Those who reflect Jesus in these ways are sent by Him to be a blessing to His people.
Holy Spirit, give us Your discernment.
So when it comes to love, I pray you’ll practice discernment. As in the examples above, not everyone who says they love, or who advocates for civil or equal rights in the name of love, should be heeded. When Paul wrote that “love edifies,” he didn’t mean that if love is true, it will make people feel good and accepted. He meant that it will make them more like Jesus, and that’s the supreme test of love.
I have both experienced and witnessed tragic consequences because of the failure to appraise words and actions by the Holy Spirit’s guidance. When this happens, it’s tempting to blame the messengers and wrong teaching instead of taking responsibility ourselves for failing to test those people and their words by the Person and words of Jesus Christ, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, as Flavel advised.
Since we can’t be responsible for the actions of others, perhaps we should let this devotional from John Flavel test us. Do our words and lives reflect the Person of Jesus Christ? Have we judged ourselves according to truth that is revealed in Christ? May God not only give us spiritual discernment as we pursue love for His glory, but may we be unhindered channels of His love to those we meet each day.