Discerning Good and Evil

“Solid food is for adults—that is, for those who through constant practice have their spiritual faculties carefully trained to distinguish good from evil.” —Hebrews 5:14, Weymouth Translation

FROM THIS TEXT we gather the thought that exercise and experience in the Christian way are necessary for proper development in learning to discern between good and evil. Paul, in another place, wrote concerning particular talents given to the apostles and disciples in the Early Church by God. He says: “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administration, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as it will.”—I Cor. 12:4-11

The word discerning means ‘judicial estimation’, according to Strong’s Concordance. And as an example of this meaning we refer to the experience of Ananias and Sapphira. (Acts 5:1-11) It was recorded that the Apostle Peter discerned that something was not right and brought these two deceitful brethren to account before the Lord. And, by the judgment of the apostle, they lost their lives. This may seem to have been a very harsh judgment on Peter’s part, but when we find an illustration of this kind in the Scriptures, it is always necessary for us to learn what lesson the Heavenly Father intended in it for the benefit of the church.

We recall a similar instance when Uzzah put out his hand to steady the Ark of the Covenant. (II Sam. 6:6) It was being carried improperly in a wagon, instead of on the shoulders of the Kohathites, as God had commanded. Uzzah also lost his life for disobeying the Law, despite his obviously good motives. The Ark must not be touched under any circumstances. This incident assisted in bringing about a great reformation in Israel, and an increased respect for the observance of God’s commandments.

Here again, this circumstance was recorded for our admonition and instruction, for, in fact, there is nothing in the Lord’s Word that has not been placed there for our benefit. Let us keep these things in mind, weigh them carefully, and as our study progresses, perhaps we can come to a conclusion concerning what Jehovah’s lesson is.

In our Lord’s magnificent prophecy concerning the end of the Gospel Age, he pointed out that there would continue to be those who would work great deceptions among the brethren. He warned that throughout the entire age there would be misunderstandings and deceptions. He warned them, “If any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before.”—Matt. 24:23,25

By these words of our Master, the true church was forewarned and motivated to keep their knowledge of the kingdom pure. Until the proper time would come for it to be established upon the earth they must not be deceived into believing that the kingdoms of this world in any way represented God’s true kingdom upon earth.

Our Lord’s prayer, shortly before his crucifixion, contains wonderful encouragement. He said, “I pray for them [those down throughout the Gospel Age who would believe on him]: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified In them.”—John 17:9,10

What a beautiful expression of oneness of purpose and heart harmony between the Lord and his church! This statement emphasizes the thought that what we believe is important to our relationship of oneness with the Lord. The early disciples understood that Jesus was the promised Messiah, sent of God. They clearly appreciated the relationship of the Father to his Son—“I have given unto them the words which thou gayest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.”—vss. 7,8

As Jesus prayed on behalf of believers in this age, he appreciated that their call and development was a preparatory work, a necessary step to ultimately accomplish God’s great purpose to bless all the families of the earth. He thought about the church’s future share with Christ in bringing about the glorious promised blessings for all. And he added, “Now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me.” (vs. 11) They would be ‘kept’ faithful and strong through their understanding of God’s glorious character, standards, and principles—through God’s ‘own name’!

His prayer was, in reality, that the Heavenly Father would so reveal himself to the true church who believed upon him, that they would be kept by this knowledge and made one in the purpose of his kingdom which the Father had planned: “That they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gayest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition [Judas]; that the scripture might be fulfilled. And now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”—vss. 11-13

How wonderful! Jesus prayed that the Heavenly Father would fulfill his promise to make it possible for his followers to enter into a covenant relationship with God, and receive justification and spirit-begettal through the Holy Spirit, thereby eventually, to receive the same glory he would possess with his Father. “Now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy Word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil [‘evil one’, Wilson’s Diaglott].” The ‘evil one’ is, of course, the great Adversary of God, our Adversary, the Devil, who goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, and of whom the church is truly his principal target.

These words do not indicate that Jesus did not love the world of mankind. Nor do they indicate that he did not realize that he was going to taste death for every man in the world. He clearly knew that he was going to be the ransom or corresponding price for father Adam, who had forfeited his perfect human life through disobedience and sin. He knew that it was necessary for God to send his own Son, even himself, in the likeness of sinful flesh, but without sin, to die voluntarily for the entire human race.

Jesus also knew well that his church was to be tested as he had been tested. Therefore he prayed to his Heavenly Father that he would be with them as they shared his experiences. They would need his strength and assistance as they walked in the same way that Jesus had walked; as they shared the same besetments; as they were exposed to the same Adversary; as they became vulnerable to the same unbelief, resentment, and opposition of the worldly he had suffered. They must experience the same things their Master had endured because only under similar conditions would his followers become like him. He had said, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” And again, “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy Word is truth.”

From Jesus’ words it becomes apparent that the truth of God is necessary to become sanctified. Although many read the Bible and deduce a multitude of ideas from their study, yet they are not sanctified by the host of diverse errors which their minds concoct. Rightly divided, God’s Word conveys truth to those ready to receive it, and it becomes a sanctifying influence in their lives. “If ye continue in my Word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”—John 8:31,32

The entire Gospel Age church has been left in the world, although they are not of the world. The result of this plan of action has been to make it possible for them to learn to discern between good and evil—to make wise choices in harmony with truth and righteousness and to shun error and unrighteousness. It was said of Jesus that he “loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.”—Heb. 1:9

There were many reasons why our Lord spoke the heart-warming prayer recorded in John 17. He was well aware of the trials and difficult experiences which lay ahead for his people during the age just emerging. He later revealed some of these problems in vision to the Apostle Paul, who wrote about them in detail. In II Thessalonians 2:10 Paul recorded that some would stealthily enter into the church, whose working would be after the fashion of Satan, “with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” These men had not embraced the truth because they had an appreciation for it, or because they desired to be sanctified by it in their hearts, or minds, or lives. They were looking, rather, to use the truth as a means of controlling others, of exerting power, or of gaining prominence among men, or of winning their praise.

“And for this cause God shall send them strong delusions, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be [condemned] who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Again, the Apostle Paul—in bonds at Rome—wrote to his beloved brethren at Philippi, saying, “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of goodwill.”—Phil. 1:15

Can you imagine anyone preaching Christ through envy and strife? They surely had altogether missed the point of Jesus’ doctrine of righteousness, had they not? Their motives for following the Master were entirely wrong. Someone, probably one person alone, even preached Christ to make Paul’s life more difficult! “The one preached Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds,” the apostle concluded.—vs. 16

Jesus told his disciples, in his great prophecy, that such deceptions would be in evidence. He pointed out that a time would come that some would actually think they were doing God a service by casting out his true people. Men who would be deceived into believing they were serving God in the persecution of his saints, would be an example of those who had not learned to properly discern between good and evil.

And in order for us not to make the same mistakes that they did, we must search our hearts and our motives to discover whether they are truly pure. Are we seeking the peace and prosperity of the Lord’s people? Are we seeking the furtherance of the truth in its purity? Are we willing and eager to reduce ourselves to the place where we ought properly to be—only a vessel used of the Lord? An affirmative answer to all of these questions will show that we are still being guided by the Lord, taught of him to properly discern good and evil.

“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” (Rom. 1:18) What a hard statement! Does it mean that some could ‘hold the truth’ in unrighteousness? Apparently this is possible, and so we are instructed and warned by the apostle against being deceived into such an unthinkable position. Again in II Thessalonians 2:12, Paul spoke about those who “had pleasure in unrighteousness,” and to them “God had sent a strong delusion that they should believe a lie.” However, he continues, saying, “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. Whereunto he called you by our Gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ!”—vss. 13,14

Just think of the reward for learning to properly discern between good and evil! Paul assured us that it will lead us to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ! He continues, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work”!—vss. 15-17

What a wonderful prayer! What a wonderful benediction upon faithful brethren! How these words should help us to purify our hearts—examine our motives—be alert and aware as to where we might give a helping hand—to put self in the background—to minister to the truth in our love for it, and for his people!

The truth concerning God’s plan of salvation for mankind was given through our Lord Jesus, and the apostles. The ‘falling away’ came later, bringing with it its effulgence of error. It has always been this way. The truth was given first by God in the Garden of Eden; the lie came later through Satan. The test for God’s people is to hold onto the truth; to discern good from evil. In order to do this we need God’s help. We need our Lord’s help. We need the operation of the Holy Spirit in our lives to sanctify us through the truth.

Yes, we are being prepared for an inheritance with the saints in light, to share in the glorious work of his kingdom. This hope is too precious to take lightly. May the Lord help us to be more aware of his dealings with us, revealing to us any seeds that might begin to take root in our hearts which would hinder our spiritual growth. May we always seek first the best interest of the truth—its Scriptural purity—the spirit in which it is handled and sent forth—and in this way seek always the best interest of God’s consecrated, spirit-begotten, faithful children.

All others will have a blessed opportunity under the favorable conditions of the next age, when we will rejoice in the privilege of helping them to be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the Sons of God—perfect human sons—and when they too will come to properly discern between good and evil.

Dawn Bible Students Association
|  Home Page  |  Table of Contents  |