THE DISCERNING OF SPIRITS – 5

Bible Reading: Acts 8:14-25; 1 John 4:1-6

In 1 Corinthians 12:10 the manifestation of discerning of spirits is strategically placed between prophesy, speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues. It is significant that the discerning of spirits is set between the three gifts of utterance. This would suggest that the discerning of spirits is a vital part of testing and weighing of utterances that are purported to be from God.

Quite clearly all prophecies are to be tested and we are only to hold fast to what is good [1 Thessalonians 5:20-21]. We will look more closely at testing a prophecy when we consider the gift of prophecy. However, it should be said that we should test the spirits whether they are of God. John gives us a simple test of what does and does not come from God – what the person says about Jesus [1 John 4:1-3].

Knowing God’s Word will also help us to discern if a prophecy, a tongue, or an interpretation of a tongue are genuinely from God. My stepfather was both a freemason and a spiritist and was angry that I had become a Christian. One day he came into my room and prophesied to me of all the evil things that would happen to me if I continued to follow Jesus. This did not require a gift of discernment because I clearly understood that what he was saying was in contradiction to God’s Word.

God wants to protect His people from deception. Some people decide to take an easy way out and reject the gifts of the Spirit. This is very sad because something very powerful is then lost to the church. For every true gift of the Spirit there are counterfeits. People of religions other than Christian are known to speak in tongues and prophesy. A tongue might come from the Holy Spirit, an evil spirit or the human spirit. I remember some years ago someone speaking out loud in tongues in a meeting. It wasn’t evil but it wasn’t meant for the whole church. The pastor recognised that the man was praising God in tongues, and said, “Let’s join in praising the Lord with our brother.” How did the pastor know? It was because the Spirit of God had given him discernment. This often begins with a sense of dis-ease and a lack of God’s peace.

In conclusion, Derek Prince writes, “The gift of discerning of spirits…. results in believers recognising the presence of the Holy Spirit and the ways in which God is working, it reveals the character and motivations of human hearts, and it identifies when evil spirits are the cause of sickness and strife. When the discerning of spirits is operating on a full scale in the body of Christ, it will bring remarkable ministry to the church and world” [“The Gifts of the Spirit”, page 103].

Questions:

Why is it important that the gift of discernment is placed in Scripture between the gifts of prophecy, tongues and the interpretation of tongues?

What is the difference between testing the spirits in 1 John 4:1-3, discernment by knowledge of the Bible and the gift of discerning of spirits?

THE DISCERNING OF SPIRITS – 4

Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 18:9-14; Isaiah 8:19-20; 1 Chronicles 10:13-14;

The issue of the spirit world is not just limited to animistic or tribal people but is as real in the western world as much as anywhere else.

A young couple were attending a Christian conference in Scotland. They were childless and had been married for twelve years. The wife had suicidal tendencies, and was being treated by a psychiatrist. In the afternoon the couple had gone down to the River Clyde, and the lady had tried to throw herself from a bridge into the river. The husband had battled to pull her to safety. That evening he came to me and asked if Esther and I could pray for his wife, and we agreed to meet with them in their room after supper.

As we began to pray the Holy Spirit showed me that she had visited a spiritist medium, and through that an unclean spirit had been given access into her life. When I asked her about this she admitted that she had once been to a spiritist medium on the night before her wedding. She had wanted to make sure that she was marrying the right man. We told her that if she would confess this sin, and renounce spiritism that Jesus would set her free and give her and her husband children. She did confess her sin and renounce spiritism, and when she did this we cut her off from evil in the Name of Jesus and by the power of His blood. The evil spirit left her that night. The following morning the lady’s husband ran to us, and said that after we left their room on the previous evening his wife was filled with the Holy Spirit. On her next visit to the psychiatrist she was told that she did not need to see him again. She was completely healed and the couple went on to have three lovely children.

Any involvement in any form of the occult can open the door to evil spirits and trouble a person’s life. Certain films and books, often popular, can be powerful occultic tools. The occult includes all forms of seeking guidance outside of God’s prescribed ways, and includes fortune telling, horoscopes, certain rituals, tarot cards, mediums, and spirit guides. “Fortune-telling pronounces Satan’s destiny upon a person. The person hearing this and accepting it opens themselves up to deception and demonic activity” [Derek Prince].

A Christian evangelist asked me to pray for him, that he would have a greater anointing of the Holy Spirit in his life. As I began to pray the spirit within him tried to attack me. The man took a similar pose to that of someone involved in martial arts. The spirit in the man tried to hit me but was unable to do so and as I commanded the spirit to come out of him the man slumped to the ground and Jesus set him free. Much of martial arts’ folklore and traditions are rooted in the occult.

Questions:

What do our Bible readings today say about the occult? What is God’s attitude to these things and what are the effects that they have on people?

Read Acts 10:38 and Luke 4:18-19. Jesus came to set the prisoner free. What are the things that imprison a person and how can they be set us free?

In the light of these things why is the discerning of spirits so important?

THE DISCERNING OF SPIRITS – 3

Bible Reading: Acts 16:16-18; Ephesians 6:10-18

One of the most remarkable manifestations of the discerning of spirits in the New Testament occurred in the city of Philippi. A slave girl, who had a spirit of divination, was following Paul and Silas. The outworking of this spirit in her life was that she was able to tell fortunes and make a lot of money for her masters. As she followed the apostles she was actually crying out the truth saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” What she said was correct but Paul discerned an evil spirit, and commanded it to come out of her in the name of Jesus Christ!

Notice that the Bible is very specific in saying that this girl had a spirit of divination. The word divination in Greek is ‘Puthōn’ which means ‘python.’ The Greek text reads ‘a spirit, a Python’. Literally a python spirit was controlling her life. I have learned that when the Bible says spirit, it means spirit, for example, a spirit of fear [2 Timothy 1:7], an unclean spirit [Mark 1:23], a spirit of infirmity [Luke 13:11], etc. In our western intellectualism we have tended to reject the idea of evil spirits. Satanic involvement is often relegated only to mass murderers or violent sex criminals, whilst ordinary problem-plagued individuals wonder what is wrong with them and why they can’t get free! I would suggest that there is demonic activity behind the secularisation of society and the rise of aggressive atheism. At the very least the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the eyes of those who do not believe.

The reality of the spiritual world was brought home to me with such force when a young, nominal Muslim, who was attending our church in Surabaya, died a violent death. On his way home from church he heard a voice, and recognised it as the voice of his grandmother, who had died seven years earlier. He responded, “Where are you grandmother?” The voice said, “It doesn’t matter where I am. Come and join me!” “But how can I join you grandmother?” he asked, to which the voice replied, “Go home, bathe in kerosene, and then light a match, and you will join me.” That is exactly what the young man did. As he was dying from terrible burns he screamed three times, “Mount Kawi is a place of fire!” Kawi is a mountain in East Java. On the mountain there is a temple and legend says that if someone makes an offering to the spirits in the temple, and their offering is accepted, then the one who makes the offering will become prosperous. At his funeral the mother of the dead boy seemed cold and unaffected by his death. We told her the last words of her son, and asked her if she had ever been to Mount Kawi. “I went there yesterday,” she said. We asked her if she had made an offering to the spirits on the mountain. Her reply was shocking. She said, “I offered my son. The spirits have accepted my offering, and now we will become prosperous.

Questions:

The spirit world is a very real world. What does Paul say about this in Ephesians 6:1-20? What are we battling against [v11-12]?

Why do you think that very little is said about this subject or of spiritual warfare in many of our western churches?

THE DISCERNING OF SPIRITS – 2

Bible Reading: Luke 13:11-17

Writing about the gift of discerning of spirits, Derek Prince made a profound comment. “While knowledge is the impartation of a fact, discernment is a form of direct perception. The result may be the same, but the means is different”

[The Gifts of the Spirit,” Derek Prince, page 85]

I would like to share two personal experiences today that help us to understand how the gift of discerning of spirits operates.

Not long after I became a Christian in 1963, my stepfather’s brother from New York came to visit us. I told him about my conversion and of giving my life to Jesus, and a little while later he invited me to attend a meeting with him in London. I did not understand why, but almost immediately a sense of apprehension came over me, and I sensed in my spirit that something was seriously wrong. I refused my step-uncle’s invitation and immediately felt a sense of relief. I later discovered that this man was involved in a religious cult, and came to recognise that God had been warning me of spiritual danger. I have come to believe that this was an early manifestation of the discerning of spirits in my life.

Many years later I was due to speak at a Sunday morning service at a church in North Wales. Knowing that it would be a four-hour drive from our home to the church on that morning, I rang the minister on the Saturday evening to ask if I could come to his home for a coffee and to freshen up before the meeting. I was surprised when he said that it would not be convenient. As I put the phone down the word “homosexual” came into my mind. It was not something I would normally think about, but I could not get the thought out of my mind.

I preached at the church on that Sunday morning, and then invited people to come forward if they would like someone to pray with them. Among those who came forward was a man who asked me personally to pray for him. Before I was able to do so the minister’s wife asked to speak with me privately. She told me that the man who had asked me pray with him was her husband’s “lover.” At that moment I realised that from the night before God had been preparing me by showing me a spirit that was at work in the church.

In both of these experiences the effect of the discerning of spirits was to make me aware of danger, and therefore protective. The gift of discerning of spirits can protect us from serious error and danger and reveal the character and motives of human hearts.

Questions:

What lessons can you learn about the gift of discerning of spirits from these two stories?

In our Bible reading today Jesus set a woman free who had been bound for eighteen years. In what way do you see in this reading the discernment of spirits?

THE DISCERNING OF SPIRITS – 1

Bible Reading:

“…. 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?

Questions:

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?