“…. and to another discernment of spirits [the ability to distinguish sound, godly doctrine from the deceptive doctrine of man-made religions and cults]” [1 Corinthians 12:10 Amplified Bible].
There is a sense in which all Christians should cultivate a discernment of good and evil. The writer to Hebrews says, “…. solid food is for the [spiritually] mature, whose senses are trained by practice to distinguish between what is morally good and what is evil” [Hebrews 5:14 Amp. Bible]. Similarly, praying for the Philippians, Paul wrote, “… so that you may learn to recognise and treasure what is excellent [identifying the best, and distinguishing moral differences]” [Philippians 1:10]. Just as a banker discerns the difference between true and false banknotes by constantly handling them, so we learn to discern the difference between that which is good and evil by constantly handling and reading the Word of God.
The spiritual discernment that can and should be cultivated, but it is not the supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit called the “discerning of spirits.” The discerning of spirits is given at a specific time by the Holy Spirit and bypasses the normal mental faculties, in a similar way to the word of wisdom or the word of knowledge. It is not under the control of our will but we must be open to it in order to receive as the Holy Spirit wills.
Remembering that Paul is primarily writing in the context of the church meeting together, we must understand that the discerning of spirits has various meanings. Some people limit this verse to the discerning of demonic or evil spirits, but the context is much wider than that. The word “discerning” is plural in Greek, and within the context of the church meeting we need to discern whether something is from the Holy Spirit, an evil spirit, or from someone’s human spirit. In simple language does it come from God, the enemy or man?
Several years ago at a “Life in the Spirit” seminar, there a woman who was prayed for and fell down, supposedly “slain in the Spirit.” The people praying were rejoicing – almost, it seemed, believing that the work was done because she had fallen down. I felt very uncomfortable and when I approached her, discovered that the woman had just come from seeing a medium [fortune-teller] in the temple. It is so easy to assume that the Holy Spirit had met with her, but here was a case of a confrontation between the Holy Spirit and an evil spirit within the woman. Can you recognise from this story the importance of the gift of discerning of spirits?
How can we define the difference between discernment that is developed or cultivated over the years and the discerning of spirits as a manifestation or gift of the Holy Spirit?
Why do you think that the discerning of spirits is important in the context of the local church meeting?