Discerning of Spirits
This necessary part of the gifts of the spirit go
along with the first part of this very chapter in 1 Corinthians 12.
I will repeat them here:
Also 1 John 4: 1-3:
- 1Jn 4:1 Beloved, believe not
every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because
many false prophets are gone out into the world.
- 1Jn 4:2 Hereby know ye the
Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is
come in the flesh is of God:
- 1Jn 4:3 And every spirit that
confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God:
and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it
should come; and even now already is it in the world.
The true spirit of God will confess,
glorify and draw souls to Jesus Christ. We have the written word or
prove all things by and I believe the written word was given to us for
that reason. Imagine where we would all be without the written word.
A good pastor of any church needs the gift
of discernment but we as individual spirit filled believers also need
this. We need discernment in every church meeting we attempt to have.
First of all, what this gift is not:
- Being suspicious of people and their
motives. People who are not even saved and have never been filled
with the spirit can have a natural instinct to discern whether or
not someone is telling the truth or for real. Young people have a
sensitive nature in this respect. They usually can tell who is for
real. Yet this must not be confused with the gift of discernment.
- It is not natural discernment. We all
need natural God given discernment. For instance when we make
decisions on whether to believe a salesman when he tries to get us
to buy a car, when we have to make decisions on right or wrong
choices, who to give our money to and such. There are people
naturally gifted in this kind of discernment that may not even be
Christian. So this is not what we are referring to a the gift of
- It is not the ability to criticize and
find fault with people and judge people individually and try to
discern their spirit to determine if they are for real or from God.
The accuser of the brethren is Satan himself and he is clever and
good at this. He may make us think we have the gift of discernment
and are fruit inspectors.
- Is our criticism helping the person or
just turning someone else against the person? If we speak behind
someone’s back and criticize them, the person with the fault not
hearing or receiving any correction, then it couldn’t be the right
thing to do. One exception to that would be if the person is
teaching false doctrine or leading people astray. If someone is
teaching against the truth in God’s word, then we have to warn
people even if the warning is behind the back of the one deceiving.
If our criticism is just pointing out a fault in someone and that
someone can’t hear us to be corrected or helped, then we are
backbiting not using discernment.
- It is not judging. Jesus said to make
righteous judgments. Judgments based on right motives and for the
good of all concerned. Making assumptions, being biased, having
partiality and such is not the gift of discernment.
- It is not the spooky divination that
accompanies fortune tellers and people that seek familiar spirits.
That kind of stuff brings no glory to God; it doesn’t correct sin
and serves no holy or godly purpose. God’s gifts bring us into
holiness and fruitfulness that causes good and not evil...
Discerning of spirits is God speaking to
our spirit by the Holy Spirit when evil spirits are present. We do not
judge the individual but the spirit that is behind what is being
manifested or presented as being from God.
This is one place that we have to be very
careful. The misuse of this particular knowledge can destroy someone if
it is done improperly. A person who is bent toward showing off how God
spoke to him about so and so is not the one we need when it comes to
discernment. When we see evil spirits manifested in a person, it should
grieve us, not cause us to gloat because God chose us to reveal this
knowledge through. If we sense something is wrong, we need to be
concerned, not have the, “See, I told you so” attitude. I don’t believe
God gives us discernment of spirits to just gloat, I believe it is given
for a purpose.
- To keep the church safe from deception
- To help the person that has the false
- To keep ourselves from being deceived.
- To judge whether or not a message in
tongues or prophecy is a true word from the Lord.
Discernment will help us to know whether
someone is just in the flesh, giving forth his own opinion or obeying
the Holy Spirit and giving a prophecy. Sometimes an evil spirit will
mimic and copy the real and discernment will know the difference.
Sometimes people just get in the flesh and they are not necessarily evil
or have an evil spirit, they just may make mistakes so we have to be
very careful with this subject.
Discernment is badly needed in today’s church
but our fear of the counterfeit should not keep us from seeking the real
gifts of the spirit because without all nine gifts we have no power to
convince those around us that they need to be saved from sin.
How can we actually convince a heathen that a
man died for their sins 2000 years ago and then rose from the dead? Why
should he believe us? This is the purpose for the gifts of the spirit,
especially the sign gifts. To show that there is a God, a supernatural
and that Jesus died for sins and rose again from the dead. When they see
a wicked sinner who was formerly drunk all the time, sober, clothed and
in his right mind, that is a manifestation of the power of the gospel.
If they see a person with terminal cancer, rise again and live when the
doctors only gave them days to live, that is the power of the gospel.
For some reason people shy away from the
tongues but when a person you have known from childhood, never learned
any language but their own native tongue like English in the land of
England for instance, then all the sudden starts praying and speaks in
German or another language giving praises to God in a language they
formerly did not know, that is a sign of the supernatural and that the
word of God that tells of these things is true. We need every single
gift of the spirit.
But in saying all that, we need
discernment; because Satan likes to send in people to mimic the real,
bring in false teaching or send in those that want to use the gifts to
control and lord over people’s lives.
The bible tells us plainly not to despise
prophecies but we do have a God given right to know whether the prophecy
or interpretation of tongues is a message from God. Discerning of
spirits is mainly given to judge the prophecies. We also can judge them
by comparing them to the word. Discernment is needed in all these cases
because even unbelievers can quote scripture.
However, we must not be afraid of
interpretations and prophecies just because there are false
manifestations. This is one area that discernment is even needed in
those that discern. We have to be careful not to false accuse.
We must examine our motives. Are we jealous
of the person speaking? Are we envious because God does not use us in
the same way? Do we assume Bro Smith or Jones is a false brother because
he seems to be able to just lay hands on the sick and they recover and
we can’t do the same thing? Just because God doesn’t use us the same as
Sister so and so doesn’t mean something is wrong with her. We must not
judge people by our own experiences or by the experiences of others.
Jealousy, envy, personal dislike of a
particular person, and wrong motives can cause us to think we have
discernment and it not be real discernment but we are listening to the
accuser of the brethren. Somehow though I think that deep down in our
spirit we will know the truth if we refuse to give into the flesh.
This is one of the gifts of the spirit, we
have to trust God to bring forth this gift as needed and at the right
time. As with all gifts of the spirit, we can’t just decide that we are
going to go to church today and discern everyone’s spirit, line everyone
up and say you have a spirit of lust, you have a problem with jealousy
and you have a religious spirit. Usually that type of judging though is
not done that way but behind people’s backs and in that case it serves
When the work of God is being manifest,
when we come together to worship, when a message is given by preaching,
teaching, interpretation of tongues or prophecy, we need the gift of
discernment present also. If anyone is afraid of this gift being
present, then he or she should not be teaching, preaching or giving a
message. If we are afraid of our message being judged by the word or by
discernment, then we should not be giving any. True prophets of God will
desire the truth more than they desire to appear spiritual in the sight
of the congregation.
None of us purposely desire to lie and
deceive. All of us would like to be used of God and we all desire that
what we do brings forth good fruit and serves God’s purposes. Yet the
temptation to appear super spiritual over everyone else is with us and
we must resist this and desire rather that the truth go forth.
There are different kinds of discernment.
Most of all we need to discern when and if an evil spirit is present to
disrupt the service or cause harm spiritually by false teaching or
We also have to discern interpretations of
tongues and prophecies to whether it is for us today or the person is
just speaking their own agenda. They may not be possessed by any evil
spirit or anything. In this case we judge the message, not the
We have to discern our own thoughts and
motives to make sure whether our ideas are from God, from someone we
heard preach or from the Holy Spirit. The devil can still speak to a
child of God even if he or she is spirit filled. That doesn’t mean that
we have an evil spirit but we still have flesh to deal with and we can
give into anger, jealousy and other motives when we speak or do
To sum it up discernment is to:
- Discern when evil spirits are present
in a person who needs to be set free
- Discern when evil spirits are present
to disrupt the service and cause someone not to hear the gospel that
will save the lost.
- To discern messages of interpretation
of tongues, prophecies, teaching or preaching is truth and is from
God. (Again I repeat in this case the person speaking may just be
“in the flesh” not have an evil spirit.) We discern only the message
in this case.
- To discern our own words, beliefs and
such. Sometimes we can just be repeating what someone said instead
of the bible. If Rick Warren says something for instance and we
assume it is gospel truth. We are ready to be deceived if we start
going around quoting other people all the time. Don’t we realize
that even Billy Graham can make a mistake? It’s okay to quote
people, don’t get me wrong but we must make sure that we present it
as the words of men and not the scripture and words of men are not
- To discern our own thoughts, ideas and
motives to see if they are from God or just our imagination. This is
the kind of discernment everyone probably has. It might not even
come under the title of discernment of spirits but we still need
this type of discernment as individuals.
Here are some examples of common words of
men. Some may be good things to say but are not necessarily scripture:
- God helps those that help themselves.
After we hear that from the pulpit enough, we will think it is
- All’s well that ends well.
- Seeing is believing.
- Another one is “The Holy Ghost don’t
dwell in an unclean temple.” Now that may be truth but I’ve not yet
found it in the scripture word for word like that so we need to be
careful about quotes.
- Another one is “cleanliness is
next to godliness.”
- Another one I hear is God loves you
just the way you are. If that is the case why send Jesus to change
Some of us are very imaginative. We may get
a thought that something bad is going to happen to our child for
instance and it could be the devil tormenting us instead of the spirit
of God warning us but I believe still that deep down, we will know
whether or not it is our imagination or the voice of God.
I know a lot of these things are getting us
away from the real gift of discernment needed in the church but I wanted
to bring it out to show us there is need of discernment in all areas of
our lives and not just where it concerns evil spirits.
Bible Examples of discernment:
- The case of Ananias and Sapphira
chapter 5 of Acts.
- The woman that followed Paul around
proclaiming him to be servants of the most high God. This was in
- A man named Barjesus tried to keep
Sergius Paulus from the truth Paul was preaching in Acts 13.
- In Acts 8 when Simon wanted to buy the
power to give people the Holy Ghost.
- The Pharisees who followed Jesus
around just to find fault, not because they desired to hear Him.
We have to be very careful of accusing
anyone of having a wrong spirit or an evil spirit. We can destroy
someone. Someone for instance who praises God in tongues a lot and may
have not been taught when to keep silent and when to go ahead and praise
God in tongues, may go ahead and speak. That doesn’t mean he or she has
a wrong spirit. They just do not know when to stop and are a little
excited. I’ve heard people make judgments and say, that’s not of God,
that’s an evil spirit or that there is something wrong with the person.
We could destroy people with such talk. Our own feelings and opinions
are not the gift of discernment.
Yet if we read in 1st Corinthians 14 where
Paul is dealing with issues like that, not once does Paul accuse anyone
of be “not of God”, “of the devil” “out of order” or have a wrong
spirit. Go and read it again. Not once does Paul accuse the Corinthians
of having any evil spirits yet we take it upon ourselves to say those
things about people. I’ve been in Pentecostal churches all my life and I
have heard that kind of stuff. It is always behind someone’s back and it
is never from the pastor himself. It comes from people sitting around
and talking. That is not discernment. It serves no purpose. People can
make mistakes and speak at the wrong time without necessarily being “not
of God.” The gifts are perfect but we who receive the gifts still can
get excited and not always be sensitive to the spirit. There is so much
damage done when we listen to the accuser of the brethren instead of the
real spirit of God.
I believe with all my heart that if we
trust in the Lord and stay in tune with His spirit we will know if an
evil spirit manifests itself in our midst. We can’t go around thinking
in the flesh bad thoughts about everyone and being afraid to allow the
Holy Spirit to work in our midst. This is probably why these things died
out after the apostles died. The church leaders of that day probably
felt it was easier to take control of things and leave the spirit out
then to put up with false manifestations. Yet as we see reading church
history, without the Holy Spirit, no one is being born again, no lives
are changed and they soon began to beat up their fellow servants with a
thing we call the traditions of men. The Pharisees had it, the
backslidden church had it and legalistic religions have it.
A good way to have the real spirit of God
in our midst is to study the 13th chapter of Corinthians along with the
gifts. Also the fruits of the spirit in Galatians should be studied
along with these. That 13th chapter of Corinthians didn’t get between
the two gifts of the spirit chapters for nothing. I know I keep
saying that in all these lessons but I can't really say it enough. All
these things are to be done in love and with the right motive but they
must be done.
Discernment if a vital necessity but with
much caution. There is no criticism of tongues or warning against false
tongues in the bible. The only hint of any criticism is in the 14th
chapter of Corinthians and even that chapter ends with, “Covet to
prophesy and forbid not to speak with tongues.” Paul summarizes his talk
on the gifts with a reminder not to take his words too far and forbid
the gifts of the spirit like so many have. Notice though that not one
time did Paul say any of them had anything false or of the devil. People
say that, not the bible. I’m not saying there is no false tongues. There
may be some that mock, or speak by another spirit or even in a learned
tongue they know but those present do not know, but I don’t see any
criticism in the word itself or any accusation that the worship or
praise in tongues is what we need to discern. We can only discern what
we understand. If a message is not understood then no one can be
deceived by the words if they were false.
We just have to be very careful not to
judge by our own experiences instead of the word of God or the
discerning presence of the Holy Spirit. We will just have to trust Him
to show us the difference. Doing all things in love is the better way
Paul speaks of. If we are made perfect in love, we would not ever desire
to misuse the gifts, puff ourselves up over others, draw attention to
ourselves as some super spiritual person, or say anything that would
harm the soul of any person. If we are made perfect in love we would
want souls to be saved, the church to be edified, the word to go forth,
and the Lord’s will to be done. If we are made perfect in love, we would
rejoice to see someone else prophecy besides ourselves, someone else
interpret a message in tongues besides ourselves, someone else win a
soul to Christ, preach an inspiring message, or receive a blessing from
In seeking all these things for the good of
the church, we must remember a verse that says,
- Luk 11:11 If a son shall
ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone?
or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?
- Luk 11:12 Or if he shall
ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
- Luk 11:13 If ye then,
being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much
more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that
If we are diligently seeking God, He is not
going to give us something bad. Remember when we do not understand the
gifts, that they are from God. There is no need to fear them or to beat
up on those that claim to have them. Tongues is the most controversial
one to those that have never spoken in tongues but it is still a gift
from God. God never gives anything bad. I don’t believe tongues is the
least of the gifts as some suppose but even if it was, the least gift of
God has got to be better than any gift man gives.
Gift of Tongues