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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 | Comments (9)

by John MacArthur

In my previous post on discernment I closed by quoting 1 Thessalonians 5:21–22, which is essentially the biblical recipe for discernment: “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.”

“Examine everything carefully” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) is a command for all believers. In the context of the passage, Paul sets discernment alongside some of the most basic commands and instructions for the Christian life. Just like prayer and contentment, discernment is a crucial element of the effective Christian life.

That may surprise some Christians who see discernment as a uniquely pastoral responsibility. It is certainly true that pastors and elders have an even greater duty to be discerning than the average lay person. Most of the calls to discernment in the New Testament are issued to church leaders. In 1 Timothy 4:6–7, for example, Paul told Timothy:

Be constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women.

“Worldly fables fit only for old women” was an epithet Paul applied to the philosophy of his day. He was urging Timothy to know the difference between the truth of God and the nonsense of the world. If Timothy couldn’t tell the difference between sound doctrine and dangerous philosophy, he would not be able to protect the flock. Just a few verses later, Paul added, “Give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). And then, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things” (1 Timothy 4:16).

Throughout his epistles to Timothy, Paul repeatedly commanded the pastor to pay close attention to sound doctrine, preach the Word, preach and teach these things, guard the truth, and so on. Paul also charged Timothy to avoid empty talk, shun worldly wisdom, turn away from false teachers, and rebuke those who oppose the truth. Timothy needed to stay alert to the differences between the truth and lies, to separate the truth from falsehoods and half-truths. Paul was commanding him as a pastor of the flock to be discerning.

Every elder is required to be skilled in teaching truth and able to refute unsound doctrine (Titus 1:9). As a pastor, I am constantly aware of this responsibility. Everything I read, for example, goes through a grid of discrimination in my mind. If you were to look through my library, you would instantly be able to identify which books I have read. The margins are marked. Sometimes you’ll see approving remarks and heavy underlining. Other times you’ll find question marks—or even red lines through the text. I constantly strive to separate truth from error. I read that way, I think that way, and of course I preach that way. My passion is to know the truth and proclaim it with authority. That should be the passion of every elder, because everything we teach affects the hearts and lives of those who hear us. It is an awesome responsibility. Any church leader who does not feel the burden of this duty ought to step down from leadership.


(Adapted from Reckless Faith.)


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#1  Posted by Jay David  |  Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 12:36 AM

Does anyone that is a layperson or laborer working production ever feel this way, lacking discernment? I find myself having to provide for myself and my family (my new-born son) and I feel myself lacking spiritually, like God is distant, when I know He is right there. I pray, read the Bible, ask God through Jesus for the forgiveness of my sins. And still I feel I always fall short. I praise Him for what He has done and what He is doing, but back a couple years ago I realized I willfully sinning in areas that I need to kill sin. I hate willfully sinning, and I tell God this. I still seem to stumble. I guess old sins are hard to break. Well, I see I'm the first to post, so if anyone here after sees this please pray for me. I love GTY and Pastor MacArthur's sermons so much. I am grateful for this ministry that has helped me a lot within the last year or so. Thanks for your prayers if anyone does pray for me. One more thing, I come from a small town in the mid-west, I feel like this my church without the fellowship of other believers in another church because I feel they lack in many areas whereas when I hear a sermon from Pastor John I feel so motivated and refreshed. Anyone else have this problem as well? Thanks you for your time and input.

(Note from administrator: Comment has been edited to remove personal details)

#2  Posted by George Canady  |  Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 6:29 AM

Thank you Dr. MacArthur for your work over the years that we continue to benefit from. Even when we disagree on your definition of "unsound doctrine" it causes us to go deeper in study because of the integrity in your own study. In gaining confidence in being a "Berean" , we are glad to say that we are no longer of "Paul, and Apollos....." but when we have studied and are of a different mind than you, we can still hardily recommend you.

#3  Posted by Rick Garner  |  Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 7:05 AM

If taken to heart this article by Pastor John should empty many a pulpit across America and bring true repentance to the Church.

#4  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 10:18 AM

Praying for you diligently Dr. MacArthur-at this very moment, as you apply every truth stated in the post above to your present situation in KY.

#5  Posted by Astrea Jones  |  Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 1:03 PM

Unlike matters of opinion such as... is a shirt with one pocket or two better, which is based on personal preference (it looks more symmetrical with two), family history (my family has always worn shirts with two pockets!), emotions ( I feel more stylish with two pockets)or ignorance (aren't all shirts supposed to have two pockets?) discernment of sound doctrine can only come through a proper interpretation of Scripture. Proper interpretation is not subjective (what does it mean to "you") and obviously God expects us to be able to do it because He repeatedly commands us to. Our study should be aimed at understanding what the Bible is actually teaching, not trying to find "support" for our own already formed viewpoint based on personal preference, family history, emotion, or ignorance.

#6  Posted by Samson 1  |  Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 9:36 PM

Brave, alot of you who comment in this blog and speak critically. Have any of you never read?

1 Corinthians 2:15

1 Corinthians 4:3-4

1 Corinthians 4:16 - Obvisiously this does not mean be plagaristic.

1 Timothy 5:1

1 Timothy 5:17-19

God has commanded us as saints to do these things, if we fail at these verses we not only fail to honour our pastors and elders, but even more dangerously we sin against The Living God.

Be encouraged brothers.

#7  Posted by Samson 1  |  Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 9:45 PM

Thank you

#8  Posted by Manuel Jr. Reyes  |  Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 2:44 AM

Regrettably, abounding in Charismatic teachers today, you will hear "forget about the doctrines" teachings.

There is an pressing need to know the Scriptures and its doctrines, from the very foundational levels, in every church.

God bless us all!

#9  Posted by Timotei Morar  |  Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 12:31 PM

I hope more pastors around the world will feel the burden of their duty and the importance of proclaiming the truth.