When Solomon began his reign, the Lord said to him, "Ask! What shall I give you?" Solomon's request was for wisdom. It is worth noting that he sought wisdom of a particular kind. He asked for an "understanding heart to judge God's people, that I may discern between good and evil" (1 Kgs. 3:9). Unlike Adam and Eve, who grasped after the knowledge of good and evil, Solomon sought it in prayer. Adam was punished for his rebellion, but Solomon's request pleased the Lord. There are several reasons for these differences, but from a practical standpoint, Solomon's request was good because in a sinful world, the ability to distinguish good from evil is vital for those called to lead and judge.
Though few of us are Solomon's with nations to judge, we all have realms of authority that call for discernment. In fact, part of our calling as human beings is to exercise rule and dominion (Gen. 1:28,29). Our responsibilities tend to grow as we mature, which means our discernment must mature over time as well. Children are gradually given more responsibility as they mature. They are given a space to manage -- such as their room. Often pets are placed under their care and to some extent, younger siblings. When we reach adulthood we are given charge of ourselves. As we are blessed with families of our own our jurisdiction increases and generally our influence in the workplace, community and church. Those who are faithful in these areas are sometimes given the responsibility of overseeing the church as elders. To whatever degree of authority we reach, it is necessary that we ask God for the wisdom to discern good and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsehood in order that we might be a blessing to those living under our authority.
Solomon shows us how to increase in wisdom as we advance in responsibility. We ask God for it. James tells us that the wisdom that comes from God in answer to prayer will be very different from the wisdom that we cook up ourselves. James asks, "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gently, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (Jas. 3:13-18). Keep in mind the particular form of wisdom we are considering. The wisdom Solomon requested, and was renowned for was the wisdom to govern God's people. One of the skills that is absolutely essential to such work is the ability to discern the truth when a dispute arises among those under your oversight. Again, this is a skill not only needed by those exercising their duties as civil magistrates, but also employers, elders, and by every parent of two or more children who seek to resolve issues and ascertain the truthfulness of charges made by one sibling against the other. One of the ways God answers our prayers for such wisdom is by directing us to His Word, which happens to tell us a lot about how to make righteous judgments.
Scripture gives three rules to apply to situations when someone has accused someone else of wrongdoing. Before we accept their charge as true we must subject their claims to these criteria: independent confirmation, cross examination and accountability. Consider each of these in detail.
Independent Confirmation: -- This usually comes in the form of witnesses who's testimony will, in some material way, confirm the accusation. An example would be if the living room wall has been written on with a red marker and two of your children tell you they saw your third kid do it. However, if there are only two witnesses and they are accusing each other of writing on the wall, you will either have to acknowledge that you don't know who is guilty or find some other form of corroborating evidence tht can serve as a witness. For example, maybe one of the kids has red marks on his hands and the marker is found in his pocket. In any case, the Bible repeatedly requires some kind of independent confirmation as is exemplified by Paul's warning to the Corinthians, "This will be the third time I am coming to you. By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established" (2 Cor. 13:1). There were problems in Corinth and Paul had given them ample time to sort them out, but he assures them that upon his next visit he will get to the bottom of their claims and accusations by following the scriptural precedent of hearing multiple witnesses. Here is the bottom line. It is foolish and unbiblical to act on an accusation that cannot be confirmed by outside evidence.
Cross-examination: -- When someone is accused of sin, instead of instinctively assuming it to be so, we ought to carefully question the accuser. The point is not to assume that the accuser is lying, but to put his story to the test. Solomon observed, "The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him" (Prov. 18;17). If your child comes to you and says, "Sister marked on the wall." We should ask him questions. Did you see her do this? When? Why didn't you tell me before? What is that marker doing there in your pocket? Why are there big red marks on your hands? In this same way, all Christians have the obligation of questioning charges made against another and especially elders have the responsibility of examining accusations that may be made by one brother against another.
Accountability: -- This is an area where people tend to be very lax. Anonymous accusations should be taken into consideration only under extreme circumstances. Under normal circumstances if someone wants to tell you about what someone else has done, but is unwilling to make their accusation publicly or at least in the presence of the person they are accusing, we should not take their complaint to heart. This problem happens on a routine basis. A brother or sister wants to tell you something about another brother, but asks you "not to say anything about it." Of course we are sophisticated enough not to walk up and actually say, "hey, I've got some dirt on so and so and if you promise not to tell who told you, I'll share it with you." Instead we couch our gossip in terms of prayer requests for "sister Schwartz whose husband has been coming home drunk" or simply to "share our concern." In any case we do damage to a brother's reputation while making sure that we are not held accountable for what we say. In contrast to all of this the scriptural principle is clearly laid out as follows, "If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you. And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you" (Deut. 19: 16-20).
These principles are part of what Solomon received in answer to his prayer for wisdom to rightly judge God's people Christians should be seeking to apply them in their homes and in their churches. The church must not abdicate its role as a judicial body. The apostle Paul viewed the Corinthian's inability to administer internal justice as an utter failure (1 Cor. 6:1-7). He marveled that there was not a wise man in the whole church that could resolve their conflicts. Observing these three God given principles will help us to discern good from evil and as long as we live in a sinful world, this wisdom will be most necessary.
By Lawrence Kelley in the Lost River Bulletin, Vol. 56, No. 7, Oct. 2006.
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