Reflecting Christ: Discernment

Howard Culbertson
Sunday, December 13, 2015

When I was about 8 or 9 years old, someone gave me an autograph book. I went around badgering people to sign it. Some just signed their name on those small multi-colored pages.  Others wrote personal notes.  A few wrote a scripture verse before signing their names. 

During one of our family’s annual visits to relatives in Missouri, I asked an elderly great-aunt for her autograph. Before signing her name, she wrote, “All is not gold that glitters.” 

That classic saying didn’t mean much to me then. I certainly had no idea it was from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Now, with the passage of time, I’ve come to see how the words “all that glitters is not gold” shout the need for discernment.

ImageDiscernment was very evident in Jesus’ earthly life. That gift of discernment, that ability to see things as they really are, is something very helpful, perhaps even necessary in cross-cultural missionary ministry.

Jesus, of course, knew very well that all that glitters is not gold. So, even though He acted in kind and loving ways, no one could fool Him. No one could “pull the wool” over Jesus’ discerning eyes.

Being discerning does not mean Jesus was suspicious by nature. However, He could see through the fog that often obscures motives, attitudes, capabilities and even depth of commitment. Jesus understood that personal sin hinders people from being what they were created to be. Thus, people who encountered Jesus were sometimes startled when He brought up issues in their life.

Of course, Jesus not only saw things in all their ugliness. He also discerned what could be. So, while Jesus knew that all that glitters is not gold, He saw possibilities in people.

Global missionaries need an abundance of discernment. In cross-cultural living, discerning what is really going on and reading between the lines is not easy. For obvious reasons, no missionary will ever reach the level of discernment which Jesus possessed. Still, people in cross-cultural evangelism must pray for and use discernment as they seek to:

  • Build relationships with responsive groups of people;
  • Encourage new believers to step forward as leaders;
  • Foster sustainability rather than dependency;
  • Facilitate church-planting movements as opposed to starting isolated congregations.

While we can see discernment modeled in Jesus’ life, it is significant that the concept also shows up in the 1 Corinthians 12 discussion of spiritual gifts and in Hebrews 5:14 in a paragraph about distinguishing good and evil.

Today, as you pray for missionaries, ask God to give them a huge helping of the kind of discernment that Jesus possessed.