As a derivative of the word for judge, discern expresses the careful study of a question, and is often used in a judicial hearing.
After discerning if Jesus was guilty, Pilate’s response to the Chief Priest and rulers of Israel was that he found no fault in Christ, whom they accused of misleading the people. Not only did he find no blame, but also Herod sent Him back to Pilate for Christ had done nothing worthy of death, Luke 23:13-15. Before the rulers and elders, Peter calls them out for having Christ put to death because he and John were being examined concerning a good deed done to a helpless man, Acts 4:8-10. After killing James and seeing that it pleased the Jewish leaders, Herod locks up Peter so he can continue putting the disciples to death after the days of Unleavened Bread were over, Acts 12:2-3. However, God sent a messenger during the night to release Peter from prison. In the morning, when the guards found that Peter was not in the prison, they were examined and put to death for failing to secure their prisoner, Acts 12:19.
Outside of a judicial setting, discern is used concerning what a person is speaking or how they are acting. The Jews of Berea were high-born, unlike those of Thessalonica. Therefore, they were able to examine the Scripture concerning what Paul was stating to them about the Christ, for they could afford personal copies of the scrolls. As a result of their access to Scripture, many believed what Paul was proclaiming, Acts 17:11. When it comes to discerning the things of the Spirit, they cannot be examined by those who are carnal, for the fleshly mind is not subject to God, 1 Corinthians 2:14; however, an individual who is spiritual is able to discern the things of the Spirit. One who has their mind framed on and seeking the desires of the Holy Spirit has to emanate this mindset through their actions and lifestyle in order for us to know they are Spiritual, for we cannot discern a spiritual person by their appearance, 1 Corinthians 2:15.
Attempting to discern the intentions of others is not something we are to be involved with, for it is the Lord who will judge the hidden things of the heart, 1 Corinthians 4:3-5. We are still to identify, mark, and, when necessary, separate from those who teach false doctrine and walk in a manner that is contrary to the Christ, Romans 16:17; 2 John 10; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-14. Be cautious concerning those who seek to discern others, for just as the false apostles did with Paul to persuade the Corinthians saints against him, they will do to gather people unto themselves. Although Paul had the right for the Corinthian saints to support him financially, he did not take anything from them, knowing that it would hinder the gospel among them, 1 Corinthians 9:3. The false apostles attempted to use this against Paul, claiming by it that he was not an apostle. What the purpose of the heart is should always be left up to God, for we judge the actions, not the intent.
Although the Spiritual gift of speaking in tongues has ceased, for we have the full revelation of Scripture, 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, we can still learn from the Corinthian saints who were not holding meetings in an orderly manner; therefore, when someone who did not understand what they were doing joined them, their impression was that these people were out of their minds. Within the context of 1 Corinthians chapters twelve to fourteen, Paul rebukes these saints for misusing Spiritual gifts, for the Church is not to be ignorant concerning them. If a person had the gift of speaking in tongues, he is not to speak unless he finds one who could interpret what he had to say. Since speaking in tongues was a known language, not what is falsely taught today in assemblies claiming the gift, the interpreter would be familiar enough with the language to express the wonder of God being stated in that tongue. However, with prophecy being active at this time, for all Scripture had not yet been written, Paul encouraged them to seek it out, for when an unbeliever enters their midst, it is through prophecy that he is convinced because it discerns all things, 1 Corinthians 14:23. Where speaking in tongues was a sign to the unbelieving Jew, not for the Gentiles, 1 Corinthians 14:22. Therefore, it is important that all things are done in an orderly manner within the Church and the spiritual gifts are not abused so that all can discern what is being taught.
The act of discerning requires a careful examination of a question to properly understand the answer. In terms of spiritual matters, one must focus his mind on the things above and prioritize seeking out and fulfilling the desires from the Spirit so that they are led by Him in order to discern them properly. When we attempt to know God through our emotions or fleshly desires, we cannot discern Spiritual things and will end up being led astray, for our sin nature wars against our soul, which is the center of our emotions, seeking to bring us into obedience to fulfill its desires.