“The better part of valor is discretion,” declared Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Henry IV.Occasionally quoted by judges and advocates in court proceedings, this phrase speaks of the wisdom of a course of action born of prudent, considerate, cautious yet timely initiative, conducted with a sense of propriety, with a mind to good manners, within the context of correct, unbiased judgment. That is truly mature behavior!
There exists only one Being capable of perfect discretion—Almighty God! Thus, true discretion is sourced at the throne from which He governs the universe, through our Judge and Advocate, Jesus Christ. So it is, when the Apostle Paul admonishes us to “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5), this is also encouragement to be seeking this wonderful gift of true, godly discretion. If more of us possessed this gift, we would have far fewer problems communicating and interacting with each other.
In Proverbs 2, the loving father adjures the young son to seek the words and commandments of God. Note that in the process, as shown in verses 1 to 11, he reveals seven gifts that the possession of the Word of God and an attitude of being willingly subject to His law yield to the servant of God. This, in reality, represents the sevenfold fullness of the mind of God—wisdom , knowledge, understanding (verses 2-8), which in turn yield righteousness, judgment and equity (verse 9), all of them finessed in their application to our daily lives by the gift of discretion (verse 11).
The Discreet Tongue
Another proverb demonstrates the 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).
The Duke of Wellington said of that prince of 19th-century European politics, Talleyrand, “He will sit through a meal absolutely silent and then suddenly say something you remember all your life.” Paul Johnson, a brilliant British historian, author and painter, opined of Talleyrand, “Such men are rare” (Spectator, Aug. 16, 2003). Rare indeed. For as these examples indicate, so many of our indiscretions have to do with our use of the tongue.
We are all aware of the Apostle James’s incisive, even cutting, observations on the use of this small, yet potentially devastatingly damaging, instrument: “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).
Yet, of the righteous man, God declares, “The tongue of the just is as choice silver … ” (Proverbs 10:20).
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 the application of God’s Holy Spirit. Few there be who possess an innate sense of discretion. In the Church, it must simply be given by God as a gift to those who, as the proverb indicates, follow the formula of willingly receiving the Word of God without resistance, and who humbly submit to and gladly obey His commandments (Proverbs 2:1).
But note, in particular, that the gift of discretion is the end result of the application of our mind to understanding. As Herbert W. Armstrong so often said, knowledge is of no use unless it is applied.
The inner court of God’s spiritual temple has been given a veritable feast of revelation. But of what use is all this wonderful revealed truth unless we actually do something with it? “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not [love], I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).
Discretion in Action
The action end of all this knowledge of prophecy is its application, its use, to express the unfettered love of God—to His Family, His Church, and, through His firstfruits, ultimately to the whole family of man!
The Apostle Paul obviously became a master at the art of discretion. A prime example of this is his dissertation in his first letter to the Corinthians: “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).
Notice the prime motivation of this discreet behavior toward those of different cultures to which Paul was exposed in the course of his ministry: “And this I do for the gospel’s sake …” (verse 23). Paul simply understood that the practice of discretion was an integral part of his ministry to the Jew and the Gentile. He was simply not about to risk offending any person, regardless of background, who was new to the faith, and thus avoided the risk of putting any stumbling block in their progress toward conversion (Luke 17:1-2).
In highlighting the absolute uselessness of the knowledge of the mysteries of God, of the gift of prophecy, of all the knowledge of God, of even powerful faith, without the application of these attributes through works— acts engendered by the pure agape love of God—Paul shows how the true expression of God’s love is exercised in the gift of discretion. Indeed, Paul’s account in verses 4 and 5 gives a wonderful expression to the gift of discretion in action. Discretion is simply a means of expressing God’s love! Note it. “Charity … Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked ….”
We can truly possess the very best of motives, stimulated by the love of God. Yet, if we simply lack discretion in the application of that love, our bumbling efforts to express God’s love can reap misunderstanding and even offense!
This is where those who seek to be the expert on any particular matter can cause so much havoc. We have our “health” experts, our “diet” experts, our experts who want to put forward pet ideas, theories and “revelation” about this, that and the other thing. Such people simply lack discretion! In their efforts to promote their pet 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 discretion that you might be loosed from the willful desire to express any idea foreign to the reality of God’s truth, as revealed by Christ through the apostles and the prophets.
Ask for His wisdom, daily! Ask for Christ-like understanding of His true knowledge, that you might grow in His righteousness, judgment and equity. Ask, and He will give, if you are in humble, yielded submissiveness to His Word, His law (John 14:13; 16:26). Ask now and learn to apply the love of God to your wife, your husband, your family, fellow brethren and the wider community of mankind through that scarce, yet most wonderful, gift of discretion.