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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Gift Of Discernment

I frequently visit an ordained pastors blog.

There is one thing he is fond of saying every now and then, "There is no gift of discerning of spirits!"

His tone behind the statement is as if anyone who believes there is a gift of discernment is in error.

So let's take a look and see if the man is correct in his statement or is it he who is in error?

Spiritual Gifts Series: The Gift Of Discernment 

The spiritual gift of discernment is also known as the gift of "discernment of spirits" or "distinguishing between spirits."

 The Greek word for the gift of discernment is Diakrisis.

The word describes being able to distinguish, discern, judge or appraise a person, statement, situation, or environment.

 In the New Testament it describes the ability to distinguish between spirits as in 1 Corinthians 12:10, and to discern good and evil as in Hebrews 5:14.

The Holy Spirit gives the gift of discernment to enable certain Christians to clearly recognize and distinguish between the influence of God, Satan, the world, and the flesh in a given situation.

The church needs those with this gift to warn believers in times of danger or keep them from being led astray by false teaching.  See also I Corinthians 12:10, Acts 5:3-6; 16:16-18; 1 John 4:1.

A very good question.

The Bible teaches that all Christians should grow in spiritual discernment.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.- Hebrews 5:12-14

Paul told the Thessalonians:Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.- 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

While he encouraged the Thessalonians not to discount or dismiss the Holy Spirit - by despising that which was being taught as coming from God (prophecy) - Paul instructed them to test everything.

In other words, if someone preaches or teaches something that he or she claims was inspired by God, we are not to despise it - which would result in quenching the Holy Spirit.

However, we are to carefully examine that which is being taught.

Earlier, Luke called the people of Berea - where Paul and Silas had been sent to preach - "more noble-minded that those in Thessalonica," because they received the word with great eagerness, examining [anakrino] the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.- Acts 17:11-12

Thus the Bereans did not quench the Spirit, but rather tested what was being taught, using Scripture as their guide.

The only way to grow in spiritual discernment is by relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit who indwells every true Christian, and by studying God’s Word, the Bible.

These two go hand-in-hand.

The Bible provides the standard against which all teachings must be tested: 

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.- 2 Timothy 3:16-17

This reliance both on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and on God’s Written Word should keep Christians focused on God.

If Christians were to rely only on their ability to listen to the Holy Spirit, they would leave themselves open to all manner of private teachings and interpretations - without any rules by which to rest such revelations.

At the same time, it they were to rely only on their own ability to interpret and apply the Scriptures, they would leave no room for God’s guidance in revealing to them the riches of his Word.

As Christians our focus should always be on the living God, with whom we have an interactive relationship.

No Christian is an island. There is much to be learned from one another, as we share the wisdom and insights God has revealed to us from His Word, by His Holy Spirit.

Sadly, though, many Christians leave the responsibility for discernment almost completely up to others. Their guidance comes primarily from televangelists, authors (and, more often than not, their ghost writers), their pastors, or their favorite websites.

That’s like being spoon-fed by someone else - marking one as an infant, rather than as a mature Christian:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.- Hebrews 5:12-14

By all means, let’s learn from one another - eagerly receiving the word, while also examining everything carefully.

Christians who believe that the Spiritual Gifts are still available today, see the gift of "distinguishing between spirits" (discerning whether they are human, from God, or demonic), to be a special form of discernment (revealed, instead of learned): 

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.- 1 Corinthians 12:7-11

In Moses day there was the pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day.

They followed the pillar of fire at night. The desert can get real cold at night, if you refused to follow the fire you got cold. The desert can get very hot during the day, if you refused to follow the cloud you had no shade and fried in the hot sun overhead. Therefore it made very good sense to follow the pillar of fire and the cloud where ever they would go.

Spiritual discernment : calling on the Holy Spirit to lead or give direction on a matter.

It is how the Spirit shows the church or its people what God wants them to do and be.

There is discernment of :

  • gifts,

  • spirits,

  • actions,

  • intents,

  • the spirit of the times we live in.

Discernment is more than just a skill. Discernment is a gift from God before it is anything else. Yet there are clearly skills you put to use in using your gift, and you can become better at it through training and experience.

Discernment is more than just a process.
 Even for the most 'material' or 'nitty-gritty' matters, there is a Spirit at work nudging us, leading us, even pulling us by the nose ring. Even for the most 'spiritual' matters, there are disciplines, methods, processes, means, and tools which the Spirit can work through to help us discern rightly. Discernment isn't usually a sudden zap from beyond, but something which emerges from hard work.

Learn to discern. Yearn to discern.

We have to discriminate between what is true and what is false, ... between what is primary and what is secondary, between what is central and what is peripheral.

When the Spirit is on the move, it's characterized by:

Christ-centered spirituality in every aspect of life;

Rejection of all prejudice, class/ethnic/educational barriers, exclusiveness, and denominational warfare. When it follows the Spirit, the Body of Believers knowingly chooses to counter-model prejudices by living without regard to them.

(The Christians on the net who have delved into politics have demonstrated that they are not the least concerned with "Christ centered spirituality.

I got an email yesterday from a good brother that was full of venom and bitter root judgment that was totally carnal and very politically biased. )

Bringing attention and worship to Jesus Christ, and awareness of God's/Jesus'/Spirit's work.

An unusual level of passion, energy, or impact.

These are the main things to look for in discerning about something:

*it is governed by love, for if it is not, it's worthless ( 1 Corinthians 13:1-3);

*it centers us onto Jesus the Christ and Lord ( 1 Cor 12:3), and His good news;

*it directs us to Scripture, not away from it ( Isaiah 8:19, 20);

*it builds up the church and its members ( Ephesians 4:11-12), giving it power, wisdom, character, boldness, and unity.

*it helps create in us a love of righteousness, a heightened sense of sin, and a turning away from known evil.

'Discernment' is sometimes used as a catch-word for speaking against others (as with some
'discernment ministries' that pollute the internet), or to defeat them in a struggle for power or influence, or just to pick at them until they quit or retreat.

Discerning eyes look for whether something that's labeled 'discernment' is done from love, or whether it just is a clanging gong or a noisy cymbal.

Jesus didn't call us to love ideas, he called us to love people. John put it as bluntly as he could :

"One who does not love does not know God, for God is love."
(I John 4:8)

When discerning, the Christian must keep in mind why he/she is doing it.

 Ask yourself, "If I raise this issue, how am I pointing people to Christ? How am I helping them grow in the Spirit? In what way am I loving them?"

 If there's no answer to those questions, or if you have to stretch far and wide to come up with a complicated or weak answer, then it's best not to speak. Indeed, it's time to focus on listening, because it may be your time to learn.

The New Testament passes along the testimony of those who knew Jesus and His mission in person. For the early church after the apostles, for the Reformers, and for us today, believers turn to Scripture because they know the Spirit speaks there.

It is Scripture which shows us the Spirit's priorities, and Scripture which shares with us the vision of the coming Kingdom. The Spirit works through Scripture, not against it.

Through the Bible, you can discover wisdom and direction. Without it, you'll fail to distinguish God's Purposes and Word from your purposes and words.

This is true of what you think and do today, and it's also true of the past, including the most treasured of traditions. If the new or the old stands against Scripture or is used to thwart its central thrusts, we must stand with Scripture, or we will fall for anything.

This 'Scripture principle' is not there to hold the Spirit in chains. It's to be used in the light of freedom in Christ, knowing that Scripture does not directly address most matters. Instead of demanding direct 'Scriptural warrant' for a practice or course of action, it's better to seek these signals :

  • that Scripture does not speak against it;

  • that the practice or teaching conveys the Gospel, and is fully in keeping with the root and heart of Christian belief found in Scripture;

  • that it turns the focus onto Christ, not persons, ideas, ideologies, organizations, wondrous signs, or activities;

  • that it is truthful, not rooted in a lie or distortion.

If these are all true, then no direct warrant is needed from Scripture, tradition, or for that matter, sometimes even from common sense. The Spirit has every right to lead us into new things that look like folly. The Holy Spirit is sovereign. Discernment is about finding out if it's the Holy Spirit and not someone else's folly.

There are some people who could stuff themselves with Scripture until it came out their noses, and they'd still refuse to let the Spirit teach them anything. They're not discerning at all; they're seeking support, not truth.

 For the rest of us, the patient, prayerful, steady study of Scripture brings many rewards. The Spirit rewards such diligent listening by developing within us an understanding of why God acted in the past. Since the same God is acting today toward the same purposes, this gives you a sense of what God is doing now and what role you may have in it.

The Scripture principle is not a substitute for the Spirit. It works only because the Spirit works through Scripture. We rely on this truth when we read the Scriptures in earnest prayer. Without the Spirit's action, the Bible's pages would lay still, moving your life no more than a dictionary or encyclopedia. If the Spirit is working in us, the Bible is aflame with truth and vision for every corner of our lives and for the whole world.

The Spirit wants us to study, to trust, and to shape our lives according to what is in Scripture; to steep it into our souls, to live by the contours and the world vision of the Scriptures. No one can prove that the Bible is the authentic story of God's dealings with humanity. That has to be shown to each of us by the Holy Spirit.

Anyone who denies the authority of the written Word in/for the church comes real close to bypassing the Christ who is the living Word of God, and who is what the written Word is about. We cannot just nakedly 'go by the fruit' of the Spirit, because it is Scripture which tells us what fruit we are to look for, and in what contexts they are the work of the Spirit.

Without the Bible, we can't accurately recognize what is from God, or tell it from what's fake.

There is another warning to be given here. You can have God-gifted leaders, go through prayerful discernment, decision-making, and accountability processes, and even have things start to go well. But the surest way for them to turn wrong is to start telling others that your decisions are "God's will". That's something known in the distant future, if at all.

It's a pretty big boast, if you think about it : you know what the Almighty knows. Most believers and non-believers alike rightly dismiss such talk. And pride does come before a fall. Decision-making isn't always a matter of the thunderous "Will Of God", and even when it is, you may not have it right. This is a reason the Spirit builds humility into people.

Scripture shapes an authentic Spirit-led experience, and sets the bounds for it. When looking for the course and purposes of what God is doing, Scripture ranks first.

Discernment is more than the work of an individual person. The Spirit acts within the gathered believers (the Church) so they can discern what to do and be. Within that context, specific persons may be given the gift for leading the church as it discerns. Such gifted people are given a 'spiritual eye' for cutting through facades and confusion, for getting to the heart of the matter.

They listen closely, notice what's happening in the world around them, and instinctively know what place it has in God's plans. Someone who's gifted in discernment of spirits can find where evil lurks in good things, and where the Spirit is working when things are going wrong.

When the church was starting out, there was only one way she could learn the faith: on her feet. The church had to learn while she was doing. The Spirit had to teach the Christians how to love at the same time as moving them to act on that love, and teaching them mercy at the same time as empowering them to live merciful lives.

Christians sometimes forget that what we teach and discuss is inevitably our own understanding of Scripture. Other understandings, if drawn from Scripture and open to be judged by Scripture, are possible and even faithful. We discern to learn.

That's why it's so valuable to have the input from 2000 years of churchgoing Christians (tradition) and the billion Christians of today (fellowship). Meaning springs out of life; the Spirit's way is lived and experienced. Even more: it is lived and experienced as a part of those who believe in Jesus and his good news, a Body of Followers whose members are formed and shaped in this way, as found in Scripture.

This community teaches each other, recalls history, shares their experiences, and affirms each others value. It (sometimes) has the strength to say no and to get each of us to amend our understandings and change our ways when we're going astray, and to show a more excellent way in all things.

When you're being checked by the church, you're being checked by others who have also done patient, prayerful, steady study of Scripture. The Spirit didn't give a sense of God's purposes only to you but also to others, in a slightly different way for each of them.

If they didn't study God's ways, they won't have that sense, and thus are a less trustworthy part of the discernment process. (You'll never find out one way or the other unless you listen carefully, and have the guts to put away any defensive reactions you might have.)

Church actions should be set up to discern the right direction before it acts, to keep effective tabs on it while it acts, and to debrief after it acts, taking whatever disciplinary actions or clarifying lessons are needed. Do this, expecting that the Spirit will lead, if really asked and really given a chance to lead.

One drawback of the church's role in discernment is that it is made up of people. (It's a benefit in more ways, but here's one way it's also a drawback.) People are strange, and sometimes do wrong. They are not all-knowing, and have badly-damaged understandings.

They can be fooled. People love to be sweet talked, to be showered with puffery and to get their egos
stroked. They push aside what's bad news for the camp they're in. It's easy to become a yes-man or get stuck in the 'no' position. These facts must be kept in mind when discerning with the church. But remember too that these things are also true of you. Your role in discernment requires checking and re-checking and cross-checking, and so does the church's.

Neither you nor the communicated Word nor the Church local or universal are the bridge between the biblical events and our putting the Word into living effect. It is the Holy Spirit's doing.

Like everything else in this world, our discernments are bound by our imperfections and thus can be false or shallow or merely mistaken. But it helps greatly to have the right attitude toward it :

Make sure you can be held accountable by specific trusted people, on small things as well as large ones;

Allow those others to actually do it. Don't fight back nor blindly accept, but pay attention and be a servant about it;

Be ready to hold others accountable, if need be - even if that makes you uncomfortable.

This way, you become less bound by attitudes and actions which block your discernment.

One of the keys to discernment is surrender. If you treat "I" as the emperor of all things, you won't be in the right place to find out what God wants of you. In fact, this selfish imperial view of existence lies at the heart of all sin : we act as if we're God, even though we certainly know better. The emperor 'I' has no clothes.

So we need to set aside what we want and what we've been taught, and join with Jesus in His prayer in the face of His most ultimate decision : "Yet not as I will, but as You will." (Matt 26:39).

Another key to discernment is a 'sense of peace' about something. That peace must take place not by itself, but within the rest of the framework of discernment, or it's not divine.

Yet the absence of such peace is, by itself, bad news. Such peace and security comes and grows with prayer. Peace is a gift God is more than happy to give. God wants us to have some sense of security about what we do. Since God is not a God of confusion, it will not do in God's purposes for God's followers to be confused, or be confusing.

Some hints which confirm: --- a chance encounter with just the right person; --- a thought or conviction that keeps growing; --- something from the Bible which comes to mind; --- something said in conversation which keeps coming to mind; --- an opportunity which suddenly opens up. --- it 'bites back', becoming harder to stop the more you or anyone else tries to hold back.

These hints mean nothing by themselves, but can mean a lot when taken together.

A decision empowers you to act. When you don't decide, you give power to someone or something else to make the decision. So if there is not a clear sense of direction from the Spirit, it could be a hint that God didn't want you or your church to decide anything.

 If so, then let things happen as they will, leaving it in the hands of others whom God is calling forward. It is just as likely, though, that you're just ducking the question. The best way to discern the difference is :

If the search for leadings from the Spirit finds nothing or almost nothing (as against having an unclear or conflicted sense of leading);

if there is a specific someone who is clearly stepping forward;

if that specific someone is doing this out of concern or love and not a drive for power.

It may take a lot of humility to admit that you are not God's chosen one and you don't hold the reins of power. But in fact, you don't; God does, and God will work through people other than yourself or your group.

There is a harbor in Greece with a very narrow opening that has shallow rocks on both sides of the opening just under the water that can't be seen. If one doesn't know exactly where to enter this protected harbor there could be hull damage. There are three lights set up on poles about 50 feet from one another in a straight line. The helmsman knows that if he sees three lights he is off course, the same if he sees two lights. When he sees only one light he knows that it is safe to proceed into the harbor because he is lined up with the narrow entrance perfectly. All the lights line up and appear as one.

Discernment is like that. One light is our sense of inner peace by the Holy Spirit. Another light is the Word of God. And the other light is confirmation through others or through the 'highlighting' language of the Holy Spirit. when they all line up as one it is safe to proceed forward.

Remember: "When in doubt, DON'T.

"God never gives us discernment in order that we may criticize, but that we may intercede." ------ Oswald Chambers

"I never learned anything while I was talking."------ Larry King

"Conflating modern-day intuition, etc. with the real Spirit is like confusing a gentle breeze with a tornado. If the real Spirit were really working in the post-apostolic church, it would be just as ambiguous as a cyclone." ------ online comment.

"Discerning and acting on God's will does not mean you'll never have difficult days or feel lousy sometimes. But choosing to live in alignment with God makes you more joyful, compassionate, and peaceful, even on bad days."
------ Debra K. Farrington, *Hearing with the Heart*

"The majority of historic heresy is based on an interpretation of the written not the living word. The 'living word' -- which is the Word in action through the gifts of the Spirit -- is all application and totally subjected in interpretation to the body of Christian truth, not an elevation of subjective over objective truth." ------ Ron Zess (online).

More of Jesus let me learn More of His holy will discern; Spirit of God, my teacher be Showing the things of Christ to me.------ ('More About Jesus', EE Hewitt, 1915)

(1) Have you had the experience of thinking you were being led by God to do something, and it turned out not to be so? What were the consequences? Looking back on it, what could/should have alerted you to this?

(2) What kind of matters have you sought God's guidance about? How has the result surprised you, if it did?

(3) Have you ever used "God's will" as a cover for your own plans or ideas? Are you doing so now? What led you to do it? (Please, don't talk or think about when others have done so; that just breaks down into the blame game. Talk about yourself.)

(4) Take a look at 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21. It says 'Don't quench the Spirit' and 'test all things'.

How do they fit together?

How might these be seen as working against each other?

Have you ever been involved in an activity or a church where one was used to render the other as void? How? Why? Did you take any action?

(5) List the people you would most likely turn to when you're making a tough personal decision? What is it about them that would cause you to turn to them?

(6) For church-goers and cell members : how do the members of your church use each other as a way of discernment?

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