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Being Discipled in Discernment

Photo of Debbra StephensDebbra Stephens | Bio

Debbra Stephens

Transplanted in the South from her home state of Michigan, this suburban mom-of-two loves her Lord Jesus and His wonderful Word. A dedicated student of the Word, she loves to share what she learns in the classroom, at events, and on the page—dependent upon the ever-faithful Holy Spirit to turn thoughts to text. Debbra has authored four Bible studies, all published by 21st Century Christian Publishers in Nashville, Tennessee. She launched the series Advent Living Books for her seasonal daily devotionals in 2018. Debbra blogs at her website and has been published in Christian Woman Magazine.

As someone who works in an assisted living facility, I’ve witnessed many cruel infirmities that afflict the elderly. Osteoporosis is one such disease that can seriously cripple someone. It truly bends and binds the stricken—restricting them from enjoying the mobility to do some of the most common tasks in life. I recall one such woman–wheelchair bound because her bones were so brittle that she could not walk on them without fear of her bones breaking. Once when we had to call the paramedics to assist her, they accidentally broke bones just by lifting her onto the gurney.

Imagine how dreadful it would be to have endured it for 18 long years! Our hearts fill with compassion and mercy, longing for deliverance for the suffering.

Such was the heart of Jesus toward a crippled woman.

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God (Luke 13:10-13).

Not everyone felt the same compassion on the woman:

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing (Luke 13:14-17). 

Of all the Gospel writers, only the physician, Luke, mentions this healing. Notice the rich teachings in this story for the disciple of Jesus:

The first detail he is careful to note is the fact that this occurred on the Sabbath.

There are seven (you might consider that number before moving on too quickly) accounts of miraculous healings Jesus performed on the Sabbath. Healing on the Sabbath turned out to be continually problematic for Jesus. So much so that the religious rulers of the day sought to have Him killed for it (John 5:18). But that didn’t stop Him (here, in the synagogue nonetheless). After all, mercy always wins!

Further, Luke includes the extent of her physical condition with the fact that she “was bent over.” And he shines light on the heart of Jesus to set her free, as well as His explanation that she was bound by none other than Satan (vs 16).

The synagogue leader rose to challenge Jesus on the basis that the healing was deemed “work” (vs 14). But deemed by whom?

Throughout Judaism’s history, commands were added to the Torah in what has become known as the “Mishnah.” Some of the traditions of man which were added to the law had so crippled the law as to rob it of mercy–and, for that matter, of righteousness. Jesus discerned a wrong application of the law, an application which robbed the law of its spirit and intention. After all, if it was a no brainer to help an ox on the Sabbath–and since people have greater inherent value than an ox–shouldn’t they care even more about helping this suffering person?

Jesus demonstrated the need for discernment.

Discernment is an essential quality of discipleship—for it is something we see Jesus teaching time and again. Especially when it comes to the traditions of man—for therein lies the greatest potential for human error.

The law never relieves us of our obligation to love others. 

An ongoing exercise of discipleship is developing discernment. We cannot apply the principles of God’s commands behind the law without discernment. And the more we practice it, by looking to the way Jesus reasoned and applied the instructions of God, the more we experience a maturing process that helps develop in us the very mind of Christ.

As students of Jesus and the Bible, it is good practice to study the ideals behind the Law, to understand their underlying principles, and then to discern appropriate application. Behind them we discover the heart and wisdom of God for our flourishing.

Ultimately, a measure for our discernment is the teaching of Jesus to love God and love others—for that truly is righteousness.

The law never relieves us of our obligation to love others. If you think that you are obeying God’s laws–but know that you are not being loving in the process–then you are doing it wrong.

Here, Jesus freed the woman from what crippled her. He also removed what crippled the law from being an effective instrument for righteousness. With His blood shed on the Cross, He freed us from all condemnation by atoning for our every infraction of obedience to the law.

And He has empowered His disciples by sending the Spirit to discern applications of His righteousness, mercy, and love.