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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Receiving Counsel Carefully

I had a conversation with a friend this week that made me think of this post I wrote back in 2008. It was a reminder to me that we have to be prayerfully discerning when considering the advice and feedback of others, particularly when it comes to something as weighty as a calling that God has given us and confirmed to us through other believers. Please do not read this as an endorsement of simply disregarding counsel when we don't like it and then selectively and deliberately searching out the counsel we want to hear. This is not at all what I am saying.  We absolutely need to be humble and submissive in inviting and receiving accountablity, advice and feedback.  This is a vial part of being walking as a Christian.  However, we also must be discerning and wise by considering the source of the accountability, advice, and feedback that we entertain, recognizing that not all advice and feedback is equal. This is particularly important regarding areas of conviction and calling that have been entrusted to us by God that have been tested in our lives through a community of believers who are submitted to God, to His Word and who are committed to living out gospel love. 


James 3:13-18 “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”


In addition to the re-post below, follow this link for some other related posts regarding discernment:

http://abranchinthevine.blogspot.com/search/label/Discernment

Friday, August 1, 2008

Wisdom

Do you ever find yourself on the receiving end of conflicting advice, even from Christians? With all the voices vying for our attention, how do we know what is from God? In considering this question prayerfully through the Scriptures, I was led to the following points:

1) Consult and obey the Word.
2) Seek God’s power through prayer.
3) Recognize that there are two kinds of “wisdom”- one is worldly and one is godly.
4) Recognize the deceitfulness of our hearts and sin and humbly seek counsel.
5) Distinguish godly verses worldly wisdom by its fruit.
6) Christ is our perfect example in wise living.

1) Consult and obey the Word.

God’s Word is the standard by which everything must be tested. God’s Word is able to make us wise:

2 Timothy 3:14-17 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Psalm 119:9-11 “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

2) Seek God’s power through prayer.

As I am in God’s Word, I pray:

Psalm 119:34-37 “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.”

The Psalmist’s example tells me to seek God with my whole heart, to pray to Him for understanding of His Word, and to ask Him to keep me from wandering away from it. The Psalmist also asks God to incline his heart toward God’s testimonies (God’s Word) and away from selfish gain.

3) Recognize that there are two kinds of “wisdom”- one is worldly and one is godly.

In Psalm 119:34-37, God’s “testimonies” is related to giving life, and is contrasted against “selfish gain” and “worthless things”. Romans 12 further carries this contrast between God’s will, which is good and acceptable and perfect, and the pattern of the world:

Romans 12:1-2 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Clearly, there are competing interests here. On the one hand, we have the interests of selfish gain, worthless things, and the world. On the other hand, we have the interests of life in God’s ways and God’s will, which is good and acceptable and perfect. James 3 explicitly tells us that there are two types of “wisdom”, one that is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic, and another that is from above:

James 3:13-18 “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

4) Recognize the deceitfulness of our hearts and sin and humbly seek counsel

Scripture tells us that worldly “wisdom”, which is really no wisdom at all, can appear to be like the real thing so we must guard ourselves.

Colossians 2:8 “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ."

How do I examine my motives when determining whether my desires are coming from godly wisdom or of worldly “wisdom”? In examining our own motives, we must keep in mind that our hearts are deceitful:

Jeremiah 17: 9-10 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? "I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."

To discern my motives, I must go to the Lord because my heart is deceitful and He is the only one who understands it. With the Psalmist, I must ask God to show me my heart and any wickedness there, and then to route (or re-route) me in the way everlasting:

Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

In addition to going to God in prayer, because of the deceitfulness of our hearts, God directs us to seek and heed the exhortation of godly counselors around us- our brothers and sisters who are walking in godly wisdom. This requires honesty, openness, and humility.

Hebrews 13:12-13 “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

Proverbs 11:14 “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”

Proverbs 15:22 “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”

It is important also to remember we must test the wisdom of our counselors against the Word, recognizing that not all counsel is godly counsel even if it is coming from our brothers and sisters in Christ (see Job’s friends for example). For this reason it is helpful to seek counsel from multiple godly counselors.

5) Distinguish godly versus worldly wisdom by its fruit.

While Scripture contains all the wisdom I need for life, Scripture does not give me direct answers for each specific decision I face. It does not explicitly tell me what job to accept, whom to marry, or where to live. In making these decisions, we are called to discernment based on Scriptural truths. We are called to take Scriptural principles and discern our methods and applications from them within the context of seeking God’s face through spiritual disciplines such as prayer and fasting (which is a topic I hope to address in another post). So, how do we discern what is worldly “wisdom” and what is Godly wisdom in our decision making? Going back to James 3 is useful in determining this:

James 3:13-18 “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

From these two types of “wisdom” we see a difference in fruit or the results that follow. Worldly “wisdom” is accompanied by things like “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition”. Godly wisdom is “peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere”. Worldly “wisdom” yields “disorder and every vile practice”. Godly wisdom yields “good fruits” and “a harvest of righteousness”.

Here are more Scriptures that further point us to what are the fruit of righteousness or fruit of the Spirit verses what are the fruit of wickedness and folly:

Galatians 5:16-26 “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Ephesians 5:1-21 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead,and Christ will shine on you.’ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Phil 1:9-11 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Col 1:3-14 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

From these Scriptures we see that some of the fruit of wickedness and folly include: rivalry, conceit, sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, provoking one another, impurity, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking, and debauchery.

In contrast to this bad fruit, we see the following as examples of the fruit of righteousness: love, humility, obedience, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, filling with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, and enduring. The one fruit that is mentioned repeatedly and seems to sum up the rest is love:

1 Corinthians 13:13 “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Colossians 3:12-14 “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Galatians 5:5-7 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

6) Christ is our perfect example in wise living

Godly wisdom is modeled perfectly for us in Christ!

Colossians 2:8 “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ."

The life of Jesus is our perfect example of good fruit that proceeds from godly wisdom. The gospels are a great place to study the example of Christ. Here is another snapshot of Christ-like wisdom:

Phil 2:1-8 “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in man form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

This kind of wisdom is counterintuitive to me, as it is not the kind of wisdom I see modeled in the world!

Summary

To summarize our journey through Scripture, how can I discern which promptings are from God? Firstly, the Word of God is our gauge by which we test everything. We pray to God to illuminate Scripture for us and to enable us to glean wisdom and obedience from it. We recognize that there are competing “wisdoms” out there, and that one is godly wisdom that aligns with Scripture, is rooted in godly motives and yields good fruit, and the other is worldly or fleshly wisdom that contradicts Scripture has bad motives and results in bad fruit. We recognize the deceitfulness of our hearts and sin, and we ask God to search our hearts and reveal them to us, while we are humble and open before our brothers and sisters, seeking godly counsel that we test against the Word. Finally, we look to Jesus as our perfect model of how to live in godly wisdom.

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