“The better part of valor is discretion,” declared Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1. His statement highlights a wisdom in thought and action that is not natural for an immature mind.
There exists only one Being capable of perfect discretion—Almighty God—but one of the greatest physical examples of discretion in modern times was Herbert W. Armstrong. God inspired and directed his life, preparing him to deliver the gospel of the Kingdom of God to world leaders (Matthew 24:14)—a commission that required much discretion and tact.
Communicating that divine good news to royalty, presidents, prime ministers and ambassadors required the wise use of this spiritual trait of discretion. Discretion does not come easily to a young person, but it is a trait that you must learn.
Discretion is a combination of knowing just what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. It is an art that must be developed over time, with the exercise of experience in God’s way of life. No person practices discretion perfectly; however, that is our Christ-directed goal (Matthew 5:48).
One of the greatest challenges for teenagers is to not react too quickly. It is far too easy to react when we are provoked rather than use discretion. The world is full of insecure, “button-pusher” personalities who work to provoke reactions through their behavior and statements, and over-sensitive personalities will take offense at every turn. It takes time and experience to reach the goal set in Psalm 119:165: “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.” Or to employ Proverbs 15:1, which reads, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” The old saying “two wrongs don’t make a right” still holds true today.
The Apostle Paul had to learn the lesson of a lack of discretion. Before conversion, he lived a life of violence, persecuting true Christians with all his might and even consenting to the stoning of Stephen, one of God’s servants (Acts 7:57-60). But after being humbled and called to conversion by God, he told the Philippians: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3). It is in this context that he gave the instruction: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (verse 5). This is encouragement to be seeking this wonderful gift of true, godly discretion that Christ exercised perfectly in His physical life. If more of us possessed this gift, we would have far fewer problems communicating and interacting with each other.
The Apostle James warned of the dangers of misusing our tongues. “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:6). So many of our indiscretions involve the misuse of the tongue.
The book of Proverbs has a great deal of specific instruction in how we should control our speech. In Proverbs 2, a loving father instructs his young son to seek the words and commandments of God. Note that in the process, as shown in verses 1–11, he reveals seven gifts that possessing God’s Word and being willingly obedient to His law yield to a servant of God. Combined, these characteristics represent the fullness of the mind of God: wisdom, knowledge and understanding (verses 2-8), which in turn yield righteousness, judgment and equity (verse 9)—all of them to be applied in our lives by the gift of discretion (verse 11).
Another proverb demonstrates this gift of discretion in action: “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19). This is easy to read and say, but it is much harder to practice. It is not natural, especially as a youth, to refrain your lips—to keep your words in check.
The proverb continues: “The tongue of the just is as choice silver …” (verse 20).
Society, however, does not promote a sense of true discretion. Most say what they want, when they want, how they want, whenever they want. Even those who are careful in what they say only do so because of a self-serving motive. That is not godly discretion, which is motivated from God’s law of love. The world’s discretion, such as it is, is completely carnal-minded (Isaiah 55:8).
As the Prophet Jeremiah warned, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Discretion is not natural to carnal man. We can see that clearly manifested in the world we live in today.
However, teenagers in God’s Church—who can have God’s Holy Spirit guiding them—must seek out this spiritual gift. “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding” (Proverbs 2:1-2).
Note this: If we apply our minds to understand, the gift of discretion will be the end result. As Mr. Armstrong so often said, knowledge is of no value unless it is applied. As James wrote, we must be ”doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22). Of what use is all this wonderful revealed truth unless we actually do something with it?
The Apostle Paul eventually became a master of the art of discretion—truly all things to all men: “And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).
And Paul told us why he behaved so discreetly: “And this I do for the gospel’s sake …” (verse 23).
He was doing it for the Work’s sake!
Paul understood that the practice of discretion toward both Jews and Gentiles was an integral part of his ministry. He was simply not about to risk offending any person, regardless of background, who was new to the faith, and thus he avoided putting any stumbling block in the person’s progress toward conversion (Luke 17:1-2).
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul shows how the true expression of God’s love is exercised in the gift of discretion. Paul’s account in verses 4 through 8 gives a wonderful expression of the gift of discretion in action. Discretion is simply a means of expressing God’s love! “Charity … Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked …” (verses 4-5).
We can have the best motives, yet if we simply lack discretion in applying God’s love, our human efforts will cause misunderstandings and offenses. This is where those who seek to be the expert on any particular subject can wreak so much havoc. We have our “health” experts, our “diet” experts, our experts who want to put forward pet ideas and theories about this, that and the other thing. Such people simply lack discretion. In their efforts to promote themselves and their theories, they, in Paul’s words, behave unseemly—tending to seek their own.
If you have been guilty of such behavior, then simply go to God and repent. Ask Him for the gift of His discretion, so that you might be loosed from the willful desire to express any idea foreign to His truth.
It takes courage to step out and use discretion—but the blessings for using this godly gift are worth it. Ask God for His wisdom every day. Ask, and He will give if you are humble, yielded and submissive to His Word and His law (Matthew 7:7; John 14:13; James 1:5). Learn to apply the love of God to your parents, your siblings, your relatives, Church members and the wider community, and strive to show the better part of valor by exercising this gift of godly discretion.