We live in the Information Age, a time in which the opportunities and avenues to learn are endless. I have taken advantage of many of these mediums myself: I read every day, listen to podcasts, read blogs, get my news from broadcast networks and Twitter alike, even getting alerts on my cell phone. I am saturated with information on a daily basis. And while we can certainly say that these are blessings of God’s common grace, sometimes being flooded with information is to our detriment. Think of the last time you did that often-regrettable act of engaging in a lengthy Facebook debate. Or, perhaps you were just a witness to one. What do we see in those conversations? Two things. First, we see tons of information. People using reasonings to justify their positions. It is clear that many attempt to research and gather ammunition as they type their argument. Their 1500-word diatribes are chock-full of points and observations, and yet, we all know that very it is rare for such engagements to ever “move the ball forward.” How can a people who value information so much be so appalled at the amount of information we are tossing back and forth?
It’s not the full-stop answer, but I think a significant reason many of us find ourselves unsatisfied with the results of such information-heavy debate is that we are missing the practice of Christian discernment in these conversations. What if a commitment to discernment in our engagement with others, in how we both take in information and how we disseminate it, is the way forward?
Discernment, in short, is knowledge filtered. In one of Paul’s most winsome epistles, Paul prays for the church at Philippi that their “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Phil. 1:9). I hang on that word “discernment” every time I read that verse.
What does Paul mean? It is a word only used a handful of times in Scripture, with a few of those occurrences from Paul’s pen. The words used to describe the Greek word epignosis are “precise, correct, divine, ethical” knowledge. Paul prays for an abundance of knowledge, but he further clarifies what he means in using epignosis.
Paul didn’t use this word much, but it is clear that he valued the concept of discernment in discipleship. He calls us to “test everything” (1 Thes. 5:21), taking “every thought captive” (2 Cor. 10:5), and “guarding the good deposit” of knowledge against falling into falsehood (1 Tim. 6:20).
Despite this, discussion on the importance of discernment doesn’t make its way much to pulpits or small group lessons. We talk quite a bit about knowledge, but we often don’t make the leap, like Paul did, to epignosis. One way we mature as disciples is to continually practice discernment (Heb 5:14).
And if we don’t take the time to do so, we fall into various traps that are difficult to get out of. Here are three particular pitfalls we face if we fail to prioritize discernment in the Christian life: