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Summary: How to exercise discretion

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Cease and Desist?

A sermon on Matthew 7:6

Sue and I are presenting a sermon series, ‘Extreme Makeover Christian Edition’. And we are going through Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Last week Sue talked about judging, how Jesus does not rule out judging but rather calls us to make right and wise and careful judgments in life. And this morning I would like to continue in that vein, as we continue through Christ’s sermon, and I would like to talk about practicing at discernment and discretion.

Who lusts after pork chops?

Once, CS Lewis was writing about lust. And he made an analogy. Everyone loves to eat. It is one of life’s joys. It provides a necessary function. But you can carry that to unhealthy extremes. If you went into a darkened hall, and the lights were dimmed and everyone ooohed and awwed as they slowly unveiled a pork chop. You’d say, ‘there’s something wrong with that culture.’ They don’t practice discretion. They don’t practice any discernment. They don’t practice any prudence. Now concerning prudence, Jesus very famously said: ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.’ Matthew 7:6, NAU

This is a difficult teaching

One of the problems with jumping around in our preaching, or teaching, or devotions is that it allows us to avoid the difficult texts. Whereas if we preach, or teach, or read, straight through a book of the Bible, there is no getting around the fact that there are a lot of difficult teachings in the Bible. And this is one of them. Pretty much everyone thinks this is one of Christ’s more difficult teachings on several levels. And it is a teaching most of us have trouble getting are arms around.

Judgment and evaluations

We are in the middle of the very famous, ‘Sermon on the Mount’. And Jesus has just shared an illustration in His sermon about the dangers of judging. ‘Take the log out of your own eye before you try to take a splinter out of your neighbor’s.’ [1] And then here He turns right around and tells us to judge. He taught, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’ [2] And then here He turns right around and tells us to make some very harsh judgments. ‘Don’t throw your pearls before swine!’ He tells us. And He is obviously talking about people. What’s going on here? Well, in both English and Greek the word ‘judgment’ is a somewhat nebulous word. You can pass judgment on them in terms of condemning and criticizing someone. And you can also judge in the sense of forming a sensible evaluation of who someone is. And it is that second sense that is being counseled here. Not everyone gets that. Don’t condemn and criticize but at the same time don’t be naïve about men’s character. It parallels some of the Proverbs found in the Old Testament. For example: ‘Do not rebuke a scoffer or he will hate you. Rebuke a wise man and he will love you.’ [3] And, ‘Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words.’ [4]

Illumination

The church has always understood that there are subtleties to Christ’s teachings that are lost on those of us who don’t give ourselves to Him. For example, the Apostle Paul said, ‘A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. [5] In Christ the deepest things are only spiritually appraised. And in the Bible the deepest truths are reserved for those who give themselves to Christ. Here in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, we are told to love our neighbor and not judge him or her, yes. But that doesn’t rule out the place of discernment of men’s characters and prudence in our relationships with our fellows. Not everyone gets that.

There is a time to separate

And how does that work out in everyday life? I was at a minister’s group the other day, and one of the men asked for prayer for his daughter. He shared how his middle aged daughter has struggled with low self esteem all her life. And she has gotten in and out of a lot of bad relationships in life. And she is in one right now. And he asked us to pray that the Lord would end that relationship, that He would separate her from bad company. She’s throwing her pearls before swine. Not all relationships are worth getting into. And there is a very real time and place in life to end some relationships. Now that isn’t an easy teaching. And it is not an easy thing to do. But it is very true. There is a place for separating yourself in life from trouble makers. That is common sense.

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