“Those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:14)
It’s a description of mature believers. The sure way of knowing whether or not you have “grown up” as a follower of Jesus is this simple test: Can you “discern both good and evil”?
It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Some translate the Greek as “Tell the difference between right and wrong.” Are you sure you can?
Some “wrong” is obvious, you might say. Theft, perhaps. But what if you stole to feed your starving children? Is that quite as “wrong”? No grey areas here?
Murder, then. Murder is obviously wrong. But I once met a guy in prison who had shoved his wife back, in a moment of bad temper, and she caught her head on the corner of a kitchen cabinet and died instantly. Technically he had killed her, and he was in prison for murder, but (according to him) it was such a tiny moment that he felt confused by the stigma of being a “murderer.” Of course he was in the wrong, but how wrong?
Never lost your temper?
And I need to have my “senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Some “wrong” actions may even have goodness in them. I tell a lie to protect someone’s feelings. I fight to defend the innocent. I know that my lying and my fighting are wrong in themselves, but I would do that “wrong” again and again, in a heartbeat, because it was the “right” thing to do!
And here’s Jesus, confronted by a situation where angry people claim the legal “right” to stone a woman caught in adultery and he shames them into letting her go.
The trouble is that when we try to judge a situation we are either too soft or too hard. If we have no personal understanding of the situation, then we take the hard approach. We say, “It’s black and white. Right is right. Wrong is wrong. You do the crime, you pay the fine. No excuses.”
But if it’s a situation where we personally understand the motivation (like the lying, stealing, bad temper I mentioned… or a host of other stuff) then we tend to be too soft. We say, “Ah well, you know how it is. We’re all like that.”
We’re simply not capable of judging!
In fact, the only one who can judge properly is someone who understands the motivation completely, and yet has not been muddied by compromise in his own actions.
It was said of Jesus that “He knew what was in them.” He understood the motivation of the people around him completely, and so “He did not trust himself to them.”
And Jesus also said “Which of you convicts me of sin?” It’s not something any of us might say!
Jesus is the only one who understands us completely, in all the muddy areas of our compromise with truth and love and justice, and yet is completely clear of it himself. There was no compromise in him at all!
He alone can judge.
And he alone can forgive and set free.
Lord, this morning, I thank you for your grace and kindness to me. I realise that I am simply not capable of judging any single human being ever!
So as I grow up in my faith, help me to grow like you, understanding more fully what drives the people around me, exercising my own senses to discern both good and evil, and choosing the good.