Learn to Love All That’s Good

The good news of the gospel is that a good God sent his good Son to make us good once again.

Having opened his letter to the Philippians with a prayer for discernment, Paul now closes it with practical advice. Do you want to be able to approve what’s excellent? Seek whatever is true. Do you want to be able to navigate the world with wisdom? Seek whatever is honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. Do you want to become a discerning person? Seek whatever is good.

 

Ask ten different Christians to define discernment and you’ll likely get ten different answers.

For some, discernment is the ability to uncover scandal or spot doctrinal error, the stuff of church members who stand ready with a critique of the pastor’s sermon. For others, discernment is a kind of sixth sense, a gut instinct that kicks in when you need to make an important decision. If you are a discerning person, you’ll “just know” what to do. Still others see discernment as the ability to decode the hidden agenda and secret meaning behind seemingly innocent things — things like the design of a coffee cup or a holiday colloquialism.

Outside the Christian subculture, however, discernment carries a much simpler, and more positive, meaning. We say that a museum curator has a discerning eye or that an award-winning chef has a discerning palate. What we mean is that a person has skill in a certain field or has developed a refined taste through education and experience. A discerning person is someone who has an appreciation for goodness.

Interestingly enough, Scripture affirms a similar understanding of discernment in Philippians 1:9–10, where Paul prays that the believers’ love “may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent.” While a discerning person will be able to identify what is not good, he can do so only if he has developed a taste for what is good. He can spot a fake Renoir because he knows what a real one looks like.

How to Become Discerning

So how can we grow in our understanding of goodness? How can we become discerning people?

If you ask a museum curator how he developed his eye for quality, he’ll likely tell you about his formal education. He’ll also tell you about how experience and contact with masterworks cultivated his sensibility. A chef might tell you about attending culinary school or working under an award-winning mentor. But she’ll also tell you about her years working in the kitchen and the countless dishes she’s tasted. While discernment may eventually come to feel like a sixth sense, discernment develops through education, experience, and quite simply, exposure to goodness.

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