Last week we took a break from spiritual gifts to celebrate the miracle of the resurrection. This week, we’re back to spiritual gifts and will entertain things that make you go, “Hmmm.” For example, where does the white go when the snow melts? Why is there an interstate highway in Hawaii? Do employees at Lipton take coffee breaks? What was the best thing before sliced bread? Why didn’t Noah kill those two sand gnats? Perhaps we’ll find out the answers to those questions and many more as we look at a passage of Scripture that has become familiar to us in this study.
Look at 1 Corinthians 12:6-11. What is the distinguishing of spirits? Again, we need to understand what the word means. Distinguishing comes from the word that means a clear discrimination, discerning, or judging. Spirits means breath or wind; it is invisible and powerful. This gift is most often referred to as discernment. Ahh, light bulbs going off in people’s heads everywhere.
As with the other gifts, Paul has made it clear that not everyone has the same gift. Gifts are given by the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation and are to be used for the common good of the body of Christ. Even though the gifts come from the same Spirit, all of us do not have the same gift. It is a mischaracterization of the purpose of God to define a person’s spirituality by what gift they are given to serve in the body of Christ.
We have several biblical examples that show us that we need the gift of discernment.
- Acts 5:1-3 tells us the story of Ananias and Saphira. Peter knew they had lied about the price of the land.
- Acts 13:7b-10. When you read that passage, you have to ask yourself, “Where did Paul come up with v. 10?” Paul discerned that Elymas was full of deceit and fraud.
- In Acts 16, Paul knew that a slave girl had a spirit of divination, not a Spirit of God.Look at Acts 16:16-17. All this girl was doing was saying that Paul and his companions were servants of the Most High God. Wouldn’t every preacher love to have an “Amen” corner? I would. But v. 18 says that Paul discerned there was an evil spirit in her and commanded that it come out.
The spiritual gift of discernment is the supernatural ability to know whether any person, movement, teaching, doctrine, book is from God.
Is there a need for discernment? When you consider that there is still a battle for men’s souls, the answer is a resounding – YES! The battle rages between God and Satan for control of the universe, but the battle is not always out in the open, it’s not always obvious. And it is, “No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.” (2 Cor. 11:14-15)
In our world of imitation and articialiality (I made that word up) we have things like imitation clothing and artificial plants and trees. Imitation art and artificial jewelry. Imitation tools and artificial sweetener. Imitation food and beverages. Did you know that Velveeta is a cheese product and not real cheese? That’s because the FDA says you can’t call something cheese unless it contains at least 51% cheese. That means Velveeta doesn’t cut it. You can get orange juice, orange drink juice, or orange soda. What’s the difference? Orange juice contains 100% juice. Orange drink contains less than 5% juice, and orange soda has no juice at all. Interesting isn’t it? And who doesn’t love the yummerific chocolaty goodness of a Yoo-Hoo? It’s a chocolate drink, not chocolate milk.
In the spiritual realm, there are also imitation and artificial things. For the Christ there is the antichrist. For real prophets there are false prophets. For true apostles, there are false apostles. For wheat there are tares. For sheep there are wolves in sheep’s clothing. For the Holy Spirit and holy angels there are demons.
So how in the world do you tell the difference? Marketing gurus warn us to, “Beware of imitations.” For many of the things we purchase, labels differentiate the real from the fake. Unfortunately, the counterfeiters know how to fake the labels. The Bible is very clear about the existence of a spirit world. People seem to be more interested in the dark side than the godly side. More than 40 million Americans consult their horoscope available in over 2/3 of our daily and weekly newspapers including our own. There are over 10,000 professional astrologers in the U.S. Just for comparison, there are about 3000 professional astronomers. Ghost Whisperer and Ghost Hunters are popular TV shows. Harry Potter and the Twilight series of books and movies are some of the most popular entertainment for teens and adults.
There is a spirit world and we need discernment because we may have to confront the affects of the influence of darkness. 1 Timothy 4:1a says, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith,” Fall away from the faith is a phrase in Greek where we get our English word apostate. The meaning is that they would apostatize from the belief of the truths of the gospel. It does not mean that, as individuals, they would have been true Christians; but that there would be a departure from the great doctrines which constitute the Christian faith.
How does that happen? 1 Tim. 4:1b-3 tells us they, “pay[ing] attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.” The bottom line is that, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) That’s why we need discernment.
When faced with the supernatural, you don’t want to mistakenly identify the supernatural with the divine and accept all spirits. At the same time, you don’t want to be overly critical and quench the Spirit of God. 1 John 4:1 says, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Supernatural powers are not to be trusted, but are to be tested.
So what’s the gift? Every Christian has a responsibility to be discerning, but some are especially empowered to be discerning. This is the supernatural ability to distinguish between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. A person with this gift can discriminate between that which is raised up by God and that which pretends to be. There is a holy laughter movement along with barking like a dog. We need discernment to know that this is ridiculous. We have no example of Scripture for this. Of course there is Oprah spirituality. Oprah has been called the most influential woman in the world. Unfortunately, she has brought heresy to international attention by having people on her show such as: the Rev. Ed Bacon who focuses on peace, justice and human rights initiatives, including resistance to war, ending the death penalty, and supporting equal rights for gays and lesbians. (When does he equip the saints to do the work of the ministry?) And then there’s Eckhart Tolle. His spirituality is a vague, ethereal blend of spiritual theories and ideas, gleaned from all of the world’s major religions. Eckhart promises the attainment of inner peace and a higher state of consciousness by utilizing methods of meditation that plunge one into the now. He also says that mankind is in a moment of crisis, in which the race must either achieve the next stage in its evolution by attaining higher consciousness, or destroy itself and the planet.
“Jesus,” said Oprah, “came to show us Christ-consciousness. . . Jesus came to show us the way of the heart. . . Jesus came to say, ‘Look I’m going to live in the body, in the human body and I’m going to show you how it’s done.’ These are some principles and some laws that you can use to live by to know that way” She concluded, “I don’t believe that Jesus came to start Christianity.”
Now we have the likes of Ray Boltz who after revealing he was gay said, “This is what it really comes down to,” he says. “If this is the way God made me, then this is the way I’m going to live. It’s not like God made me this way and he’ll send me to hell if I am who he created me to be … I really feel closer to God because I no longer hate myself.” The person with the gift of discernment can spot even the subtlest hint of error. These things sound truthful and there are parts of truth in all of it. That’s what deception is. There’s just enough truth to make it sound good.
I’m not bashing these folks, I am standing for what the Bible says. Truth is truth even if you don’t like it or it doesn’t make you feel good.
Discernment in biblical things can be a gift, but it’s also required of all Christians. You can be discerning by being a student of the Word. If you know what the truth is, you can spot the fakes. Discernment about someone’s motives and character are a different matter. When Ananias and Saphira sold the land, it was the Holy Spirit that revealed to Peter what their motives really were. The church at Ephesus was commended in Rev. 2:2 because it tested those that called themselves apostles. The church at Pergamus was rebuked because it was following the teachings of Balaam. The church at Thyatira was rebuked for following the teachings of the false prophetess Jezebel.
In the area of teaching, discernment works in two areas – the prophet’s ways and the prophet’s words. Either his life is phony or his teaching is heretical. In the case of Tolle and Oprah, their teaching is heretical. When the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on your door, pay attention to what they’re saying. Check out 1 John 4:2-3. Here’s a quick breakdown: Jesus refers to the man. Christ refers to His anointing, that He is the Messiah. Has come refers to a particular point in time. In the flesh says He took on human nature. 1 John2:23 says, “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father.” Oprah, Tolle, the Mormons, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses all deny the deity of Christ.
All of us can get to a point where we recognize heresy, but what about someone’s character? Their motives? This is where the gift comes in. Someone with the gift will immediately recognize a problem; it might take the rest of us months or years to recognize it.
This gift is still present in the body today. Are you discerning? Are you gifted in this area? You could use this gift to warn leadership of impending problems. You can expose false teachers and false prophets. This gift is active in the church today and we really need it.