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Judgment and Discernment

• Greg Boyd

Greg has been teaching us about love and judgment since April 14. This week we wrap up with a discussion on the difference between judgment and discernment.

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Greg has been teaching us about love and judgment since April 14th. This week we wrap up with a discussion on the difference between judgment and discernment. As we have seen, love is expressed most clearly in God’s being willing to be born a human and die for us, even while we were still enemies of God. Love is willing to place infinite worth on another person. God did this for us. We are to receive this love and to extend it to others. The main obstacle to our doing this is our pattern of “eating” of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We become judges of others (on the basis of what we think we know) rather than loving them (on the basis of what we DO know about God’s love for all people). Because we are not God we are not able to BOTH love others and judge them at the same time (Omniscience and perfect holiness are required). So we are given this clear command: Love God and love your neighbor. If we succeed at this we will have fulfilled God’s calling on us in this life. If we do not love in this way, nothing else we do is of spiritual value either. It’s an all or nothing affair.

Greg pointed out in this message that there is an important tension for us to be aware of in how the Bible uses the word “judgment.” There are many prohibitions against judging others, for even Jesus did not come to judge but to save. But then there are many passages that seem to encourage, even command us to use good judgment. Are these two uses of the word “judgment” the same? Does the Bible contradict itself in this manner? After listing various examples of these two uses of the word, Greg offered this important distinction: “discernment” separates things or ideas from each other and is important for our daily functioning as decision making people, but “judgment” separates people from one another and destroys our ability to love them. Greg offered an example where he noticed an “outlandish” outfit a woman was wearing. His noticing it was not yet judgment, but it provided the opportunity for discernment on his part. He discerned that the outfit may be an unwise choice in some areas of town that are not safe, and he also developed the opinion that he did not like or appreciate the outfit. That is discernment on the one hand and opinion on the other. Judgment would be drawing conclusions about that person based on what was noticed. For instance, if Greg would have thought to himself, “she is trying to seduce men” or “she is sexually promiscuous” these thoughts would be strategies for separating himself from her on the basis of simply what Greg noticed about her outfit. In love, Greg may still feel negatively about the outfit, but because of the infinite worth this woman has (because Jesus died for her) Greg would be moved to compassion. If Greg finds himself feeling negatively about the person herself and condemning her for her attire, he has judged her.

A second example was of a woman in a British pub who was staring at Greg to the point where he was feeling uncomfortable about it. Noticing and discerning would put Greg in a position to realize that something odd or even evil may be going on, but identifying the individual with the evil is to judge her and miss the true enemy: the spiritual forces that she is in bondage to (if indeed she is involved with something evil and not a parlor game). We need to be discerning people (Heb. 5:14), but it is NEVER in competition with our command to love others. All others. Discernment separates things, not people. It is an assessment of the impact of something or of a personal preference. It may be expressed in the form, “this feels like, or, this affects others…” It is an expression of what we can know, that is, how something impacts something else. Discernment is compatible with love. Judgment separates people from each other by drawing conclusions about them. Judgments often take this form, “you are…” These statements about someone’s “inner person” are beyond our ability to know, let alone judge. Judging in this way is not compatible with love.

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Sermon Series: Love and Judgment

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Focus Scripture:

  • Hebrews 5:14

    14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

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