Articles, Discernment or criticism?

The Spirit of Discernment or the spirit of criticism?

A question that has hovered in my mind for some time now is the topic of discernment vs. criticism in the body of Christ.  Just too often I think we criticise each other rather than discerning, interceding and speaking the truth in love.  We have an auto-immune disease, so to speak.   We attack the members of our own body as if they were the enemy.  We are the only army in the world that attacks its own soldiers.

While discernment is absolutely necessary and probably increasingly so in the end-times, a spirit of criticism unfortunately is just too often presented as so-called discernment.  This is nothing but a spirit of religious pride.

Are there any guidelines we can employ from the Word to help us to not fall into the trap of criticism, and yet help each other to deal with the unfinished business in our lives?  What does the spirit of discernment look like and what does it look like when Jesus confronts something sinful inside the camp? I believe an answer can be found in the letter to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2.  God speaks to this congregation in a very specific way.  It is the only letter in Revelations that is written in this manner.  I believe what He is doing is modelling the way the spirit of discernment addresses sin within the body – in love, without criticism and yet with a decisive straight forwardness.

He starts off with introducing Himself to the congregation as the One who dwells between the seven lampstands.  What a beautiful and reassuring picture.  In spite of our imperfections, sin etc.,  God still dwells amongst His Bride, His church – perfecting her in love.  This church does not have it all together and yet God dwells amongst them.  Far too often we act as if we have it all together (which is pride) and therefore God dwells with us and when we discern something that is out of place in someone else’s life we assume that it implies that God does not dwell with them (which is criticism).  Well both of those attitudes are grossly wrong.

So let’s see how God addresses this issue.  He continues speaking to them and in the first few verses He takes the time to give them praise and honour for a long list of things they do right.  Amongst many things He mentions their hard work, patient endurance and the fact that they critically test those who call themselves prophets, yet are imposters and liars.  He has no problem with the fact that they critically test others to make sure they are the real deal – in fact, later on He agrees with this congregation that He Himself also hates this falseness.  However, I believe it’s the way He goes about doing this that models to us a pattern of how to address sin, problems, offenses or hurtful behaviour within the body of Christ. We hardly ever tell each other what we are doing right, since we are hurt, offended, or so fearful that either we or others will become prideful should we do that.  However, ironically we think it’s nobler and less prideful if we “discern” the wrong in someone’s life or ministry and then just stop associating with them or start to warn others of the woes in their life or ministry.  This is not the way God goes about addressing this problem.  Let’s continue reading to see what He does next.   After He praised them for all the things they do right, He then goes over into speaking the truth in love to them.  He states that there is this ONE THING – note not a lengthy list of do’s and don’ts that this congregation is doing wrong – He mentions the ONE THING that is out of place which they should address as a matter of urgency.   They have left their first love, and He urges them to return to doing the things they did before out of Love for Him.  Note that He also does not stop the conversation here.  He continues by explaining to them what the root cause of the problem is – he reminds them to remember from which heights they have fallen.  This is a reference to satan’s fall from pride.  This congregation is no longer walking in love, with the consequential result that they are falling prey to pride.  After explaining the root cause of the problem He offers the solution – REPENT – simple and straight forward.  Repentance will solve this problem of pride and lovelessness.  He continues to spell out the consequences – should they not repent He will take away their lampstand!  If there is unrepentant sin and hardness of heart the lampstand will be taken away.  However, the lampstand will only be taken away after He has brought to their attention the sin within the camp and only after they have made an informed choice not to repent but to hard-headedly continue in their sin.   Having done this, He identifies Himself with the congregation, once again bringing them into favour with Him, mentioning another thing they do right!  He does this by agreeing with them that He hates the works of the Nicolaitans just like they do.   Finally He explains to them what the reward would be when they overcome this problem they are faced with.  Their reward would be the tree of life.  The tree of knowledge of good and evil brings criticism and death.  The tree of life brings love and relationship.  What a reward – the tree of life!

All too often we come with our spirit of criticism wrapped in religious gift wrap which we pride fully call a spirit of discernment and we declare that we discern this or that and that the lampstand has already been taken away from someone.  Without addressing each other in this way I believe we will always be wrong even if we are right.  The way we go about doing it is so wrong that it is nothing but a spirit of criticism displaying the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil resulting in death instead of bringing life.

None of us – no individual, no ministry, can claim that our healing and deliverance is 100% complete and that there is nothing God still has to deal with us on our journey with Him.  The question is: “Are we willing to listen when someone speaks into my life or do I take offense?”  And secondly the question is:  “How do we speak to each other?  Do we do that in love from a “tree of life” standpoint or do we come in a spirit of criticism expecting life to grow out of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?”

So let’s summarize in a practical manner the model God gives us through which His Spirit of discernment flows to bring life:

  1. Praise and give honour to all that is being done right.
  2. Speak the truth in love.
  3. Explain the root cause of the problem.
  4. Spell out the solution – be specific about what needs to be done or repented of.
  5. Be clear about the consequences should there be no repentance.
  6. Offer hope by mentioning something good the person does, and by drawing attention to the fact that the Lord calls us to be over comers.
  7. Explain what the reward will be should the problem be effectively dealt with.

One more thought:  As the body of Christ we were called to unity – unity in Christ as the head of the body but likewise we are called to be mutually depended and part of one another (Rom 12).  Now more than ever do we need to learn how to walk in unity with each other.

© Author:  HG Venter 2016