We seldom recognize our own idols. This spiritual blindness engulfs all Christians, it seems to me, but I think people involved in discernment ministry ought to be particularly mindful that our zeal to expose false teachers can actually distract us from loving the Lord.
A couple of years ago, I read a passage in Revelation 2 that really compelled me to ask myself some uncomfortable questions. Sure, I could make the case that loving Christ leads to a desire for doctrinal purity in His church. In many instances, that’s entirely true. But look at what the Lord commands the apostle John to write to the church at Ephesus:
2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ ~~Revelation 2:2-7 (ESV)
In this letter, the Lord begins by commending the Ephesians for standing against false teachers. This point shows that discernment ministry definitely has its place. Indeed, several of the other churches in Revelation 2 and 3 receive harsh chastisement precisely because of their tolerance of false teaching. The Lord demands purity in His Church.
Yet the Ephesians focused so much on discernment that they abandoned their devotion to Christ Himself. They no longer had a zeal to serve Him in other ways. So, despite their stellar record in standing against false teachers, they had allowed their discernment abilities to eclipse their devotion to the Lord. In no uncertain terms, these discernment giants were ordered to repent.
Although this letter affirms discernment ministry, it also indicates that discernment can become an idol. How ironic is that? We can become so enamored with our skill in distinguishing truth from error that we read the Bible looking for ammunition that will help us expose whatever false teacher we happen to have in our cross-hairs at the moment. We forget Christ’s answer when asked about the greatest commandment:
37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. ~~Matthew 22:37-38 (ESV)
Let’s cultivate discernment, by all means! But let’s not limit discernment merely to calling out false teachers. Let’s also seek to discern from Scripture how we can best love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind. The Ephesians forgot to maintain that type of discernment. We dare not.