Discretion is the ability to avoid words, actions, and attitudes that could result in undesirable consequences.
Discretion, when properly used, will protect a man’s health, wealth, and wisdom. “Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee” (Proverbs 2:11). There are several different Hebrew words that are translated discretion or discreet. These words, together with the context in which they are used, describe the meaning and application of discretion.
In Scripture, a close synonym to discreet is the word prudent. Just as discreet behavior avoids damaging situations, so a prudent person understands cause-and-effect sequences and acts accordingly. “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished” (Proverbs 22:3).
Discretion develops an understanding heart.
An understanding heart is also a listening and obedient heart. “My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding: That thou mayest regard discretion [mezimmah], and that thy lips may keep knowledge” (Proverbs 5:1–4). The Hebrew word mezimmah can describe evil plans or plans that are innovative, witty, and insightful.
Discretion distinguishes right from wrong.
“A good man sheweth favour, and lendeth: he will guide his affairs with discretion” (Psalm 112:5). The Hebrew word for discretion in this verse is mishpat. It means “judgment, verdict, an act of deciding a case.”
Discretion treasures and uses wisdom.
To treasure something is to guard it and delight in it. “My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion: So shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck” (Proverbs 3:21–22). The Hebrew word for discretion in this passage is mezimmah (depicting inventiveness). The use of such innovation will produce treasures.
Discretion responds to the motives of people.
Solomon became successful and famous because he had wisdom, understanding, and discretion. However, near the end of his life, he lost his discretion, and his heart was drawn away by immoral women. “Discretion shall preserve thee … To deliver thee from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flattereth with her words” (Proverbs 2:11, 16).
Discretion turns knowledge into wise counsel.
Proverbs was written “to know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding … To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion [mezimmah]” (Proverbs 1:2–4). Mezimmah emphasizes the wisdom and insight of the counsel that is given.
Discretion controls destructive emotions.
A person may have wisdom in giving counsel to others but lack the ability to control his own emotions of fear, frustration, and anger. However, “the discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression” (Proverbs 19:11).
- Do you know how to determine the value of an activity?
- Do you say what is on your mind without first evaluating its possible effect on others?
- Do you learn from others’ mistakes so that you do not repeat them?
- Do you choose to do what is right regardless of the cost and to avoid all appearance of evil?
- Do you refrain from spreading gossip, slander, and damaging reports?