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Discernment: A gift of the Spirit and the work of all

Posted by on Nov 8, 2011 in edification, gathering | 6 comments

Discernment: A gift of the Spirit and the work of all

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’m working my way through a series on the role of discernment when the church gathers together. (See the “Introduction” post here.)

I struggled with how to being this series… or, actually, I guess I should say that I struggled with how to continue this series. I’m going to study several passages, and I could have begun with any of those passages. However, I decided to continue where I started in the introduction: from Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts in his letter to the Corinthians.

In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, Paul lists several types of ways that the Holy Spirit gifts individuals to help the church:

For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:8-10 ESV)

As you can tell, Paul is focusing on the fact that the same Spirit is giving these different gifts. The variety in the giftings does not detract from the singularity of the source (i.e., the Holy Spirit). And, if you started reading a little earlier, you would have found that there is also a singularity of purpose: for the common benefit (or, as Paul would say later, for building up the church). (1 Corinthians 12:7)

In this list, “discernment” is called “the ability to distinguish between spirits,” or, literally, “the differentiation of spirits.” Paul uses the verb form of “differentiation” (“discernment” or “ability to distinguish between”) in 1 Corinthians 14:29 in the context of prophecy and “weighing” what prophets said. (I mentioned that passage briefly in the introduction post.)

Thus, “discernment” is a gift of the Spirit, along with prophecy, teaching, apostle, etc. As Paul insinuates later, all are not gifted with “discernment,” just as all are not gifted as apostles, teachers, prophets, etc. So, some are divinely empowered to do whatever it is that I am calling “discernment.”

However, as we see with the other spiritual gifts, the activities described by the “spiritual giftings” are not limited to those with the gifts themselves. Thus, while only some are “gifted” as teachers, all believers are instructed to teach each other. Similarly, while only some are “gifted” as exhorters, all believers are instructed to encourage one another. (I think we also see that all believers have the ability to prophesy in 1 Corinthians 14:31.)

So, I would say the same thing applies to discernment. Some are divinely gifted to discern “between spirits.” However, all are to do this work. (By the way, if Ephesians 4:11-12 is not limited to the gifted individuals there, then those gifted at discernment should be equipping others to do the work of discernment as they all serve the church.)

Putting this all together, we see that both those gifted at discernment and those who are not gifted as discernment are to do the work of “distinguishing between spirits.” I think that every follower of Jesus Christ would be included in one of those two groups. So, when we are gathered together, we should all seek to discern what is said.

[This is a side note – although related. It really shouldn’t have to be said, but it does. There is nothing in this passage (1 Corinthians 12-14) or any other passage to limit the work of discernment when the church gathers to only those who view themselves as leaders or are viewed by others as leaders (pastors, elders, bishops, deacons, etc.). Of course, there is also nothing in this passage or any other passage to limit any type of speaking when the church gathers to leaders.]

But, what does it mean to discern what is said? And, what type of speech should be discerned? Is discernment only for prophecy? Should teaching/preaching be discerned?

In the next couple of posts, I’ll examine some passages that will help us answer those questions.

—————————————

Series on Discernment

Prelude: Let the Others Weigh what is Said…
1. Test Everything: The role of discernment when the church gathers (Introduction)
2. Discernment: A gift of the Spirit and the work of all
3. Discernment: Part of the edifying process of the church gathering
4. Discernment, the Bereans, and Scripture
5. Discernment when Scripture doesn’t Answer our Questions


6 Comments

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  1. 11-10-2011

    Does not the following bear witness to all brethren of The Messiah having “spiritual discernment”?

    1 Cor 2:14 “The natural man does not receive that which is of The Spirit of GOD, for such things are foolishness unto him, and he can not know them, because they needs be spiritually discerned.”

    If the members of a particular religious group lack spiritual discernment of whose ‘body’ is the group?

    The so-called ‘pews’ and ‘pulpits’ are filled with natural men ;-(

    “Come Out of her, MY people!”

    Father Help! and HE does…….

    Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this wicked world and it’s systems of religion……. francis

  2. 11-11-2011

    Francis,

    Thanks! That’s another great passage to bring into this discussion.

    -Alan

  3. 11-11-2011

    I think we start with the words of the Master and only then move on to what Paul taught and then interpret Paul’s words in light Christ’s.

    …I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans;… -John 14:16-18

    But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.-John 14:26

    When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.-John 15:26

    …Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. .I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.. –John 16:7-15

    There is also a spiritual dynamic by which those in Christ can hear Christ’s voice and these are said to flee from the voice of others, IMO this means those who are in CHrist knowing the voice of Christ due to His indwelling presence can spot a false gospel and a false Christ.

    I also believe that spiritual discernment primarily involves identifying a false teaching about the gospel and a false tecahing about the Person and Work of Christ not super developed theological and doctrinal theories:

    In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. – Hebrews 1:1-2

    While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” – Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35

    For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’ “Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days. – Acts 3:22-24

    Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 29:19-20

    “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. “But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. “When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. “A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them. So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. “All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. “He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. –John 10:1-16

    “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; -John 10:26-27

    Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. – John 14:22-24

    “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—John 14:15

    If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.-John 15:10

    “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: – Matthew 7:24

    “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: – Matthew 7:26

    Followers of Christ listen to the LORD Jesus Christ, hear His voice, follow Him, obey His commandments and put His sayings into practice:

  4. 11-11-2011

    Hutch,

    I think I understand your concern, but the passages that you quote are exactly what I read in Paul. Am I missing something?

    -Alan

  5. 11-11-2011

    Alan-

    No, I do not think you are missing anything. I just read what I said and my tie in is probably not clear. My point is basically like you state, that Christ indicates that His indwelling presence will give all of those who are in Him discernment, especially in regards to remembrance of His teachings and who He is-some may have a greater gift of discernment. My concern is not your understanding of the issue, but rather in general when the issue of discernment is raised it is often speaking of defending the elaborate or unique doctrinal positions of a sectarian portion of the Body of Christ not what I believe the scriptures indicate we are supernaturally given discernment about through His indwelling presence. That’s all. :)

  6. 11-12-2011

    Hutch,

    Thanks for explaining further. That makes perfect sense.

    -Alan