This discussion paper was prepared in response to a request from Cultwatch who expressed concern at the authoritarian leadership policies of some evangelical/charismatic/Pentecostal churches. This paper is available from their website atwww.cultwatch.com.
The author is a retired secondary school teacher who has no formal theological training. I do not pretend to be infallible and I welcome criticisms, corrections and additions to this paper. I prefer the hard question to the easy answer. The bibliography at the end of the paper reflects not only my research but also my indebtedness to others.
It is assumed that the reader accepts the final authority of Scripture in spiritual matters.
However, it was interesting and profitable for me to write this paper and I pray that others may also find it useful.
While the English-speaking world is blessed with many good translations of the New Testament, no single translation can bring out the different nuances of the Greek. Therefore this paper uses word studies to adequately understand the Word of God, as well as using a variety of translations. Scripture passages are taken from the NIV of the Bible unless otherwise indicated.
Jim Peacock MA (Hons), Diploma of Teaching.
3 Introduction: Spiritual Discernment.
“My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.”  (1 John 4:1)
We live in an age in which almost any and every religious opinion or philosophy is tolerated. While we accept a person’s right to their own opinion and their democratic right to freedom of worship, it should not mean that we uncritically accept every religious teaching as equally valid. To do so, is to invite error and deception into our lives. The Bible places a strong emphasis on “truth”, its own eternal and absolute truths about “the living and true God.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
God requires us to use our mind and reason and education in matters of faith. For example, John challenges us to learn to discern between truth and error, and to identify deceivers and avoid them. This is not presumption but a Scriptural command. We are also challenged to “make judgments about all things” (1 Corinthians 2:15 NIV) or “appraise everything”  and to have “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). It means examining, scrutinizing and investigating spiritual matters. It also means appraising spiritual things so that we value what God values, love what he loves and hate what he hates. A Christian is a spiritual person who by the Holy Spirit has some insight into the plans and purposes of God. Reader, how discerning are you in matters of faith and spirituality?
Although the Bible presents Christianity as a way of life to be personally and corporately experienced and not just a theory to be believed, its writers are not naive or uncritical about the nature of all spiritual experiences. Believers are not to be naive about claims of spiritual authority, and gullibly accept all such claims. The Christian faith is not to be mistaken for credulity and naivety.
The OT frequently warned Israel of the importance of distinguishing an authentic prophet from a counterfeit and the danger of listening to false prophets. In the NT Jesus and the apostles were not the only miracle-workers. Within the early Church it was necessary to “test the spirits” (NIV), to see if they were from God. The presence of false prophets claiming the authority of the Holy Spirit underlines this necessity. Behind every preacher is a spirit that is either of God or the devil. Before we can trust, we must test, as it is the origin of a spirit that is all-important. This “testing” is an evaluation of spiritual claims based upon the authority of the Scriptures. The extremes of gullibility and cynicism are both to be avoided.
There is an urgent need for discernment among Christians. Many cults and charismatic leaders have gained popular support, often among disenchanted former church members. In an age of celebrity, some of these “super-apostles” claim special authority based on divine revelation or “anointing” or “prophetic mantle” to validate their teachings. It is a tragic mistake to have a misguided tolerance toward false teaching. Only healthy teaching can result in healthy living.
The question of who does and who does not speak for God is an issue relevant to every generation. To identify the true from the false, we must examine their message and their moral life and character.
4 The Need For Discernment As A General Rule Of The Christian Life
Discernment may be simply defined as the ability to biblically decide between right and wrong, between truth and error, between good and evil. The New Testament teaches in 1 Corinthians 14:29, Philippians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, and in 1 John 4:1, that it is the responsibility of every Christian to exercise caution and discernment, especially in spiritual matters. To be healthy a church needs to feed on sound teaching, and the members of a church, as well as its ministers, should be discerning lest they be led astray by false teaching.
Failure to discern between error and truth leaves the Christian immature, vulnerable to false teaching and at risk of being“infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14). “Tossed back and forth” refers to restless waves as a picture of instability. The Greek “kludonizomai”, found only here in the NT, Strong’s #2831, means figuratively “to be mentally agitated”. The next image is of ship drifting helplessly at the mercy of a storm and tossed by varying winds. “Blown here and there” is the Greek “peripheo”, Strong’s #4064, and literally means “to carry here and there”. It was used of spinning tops and feeling dizzy. Thayer says it means “to be driven in doubt and hesitation, to be led away now to this opinion, now to that.”
This describes the confusing effect of false doctrine. Some Christians have not carefully examined their beliefs and consequently accept every new opinion and follow uncritically the guidance of every new teacher. Whereas we should carefully examine what is truth and become firmly grounded in what the Bible teaches.
Then Paul changes to another image: the evil influences are described as the clever trickery of the dice-player who employs subtle forms of deceit and showmanship. “Cunning” is the Greek “kubeia”, Strong’s #2940, from which comes “cube” or “dice”, and refers to a game of dice and, by extension, to trickery of every kind. It is a picture of anything that happens by chance as in the throw of dice. It describes a Christian whose beliefs seem to be the result of mere chance and not careful study of the Bible. “Craftiness” “panourgia”, Strong’s #3834, is the unscrupulousness that stops at nothing. It literally means “readiness to do anything”  usually in a bad sense of cunning behaviour.
All Christians should measure what they are taught against the infallible Word of God which is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17)
5 The Laity Have The Right And Duty Of Private Judgment
The laity has the right and duty of private judgment, and should exercise it by testing every human teaching by Scripture. For example, NT prophecy was limited (1 Corinthians 13:9); and subject to restraint, and it was to be evaluated by the congregation (1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). The AV “judge” in 1 Corinthians 14:29 is the Greek verb “diakrino” Strong’s #1252 which means “to separate, make a distinction, discriminate”. Arndt and Gingrich have “pass judgment”, as does the NASB.
Paul regulates prophecy in order to avoid confusion and establish a balance in the worship service (1 Corinthians 14: 40). His guidelines concern not only what the prophets say but also the spirits of the prophets as well. The congregation, especially those with the gift of prophecy and the gift of discernment, should “weigh carefully” (NIV) the authenticity of any prophecy. This judgment involves its content, especially in its relation to Scripture, its spirit, and its relevance to that particular meeting.
J. C. Ryle, the nineteenth century Anglican Bishop of Liverpool said:
“The principle laid down is this: Prove all things by the Word of God. All ministers, all teaching, all preaching, all doctrines, all sermons, all writings, all opinions, all practices, prove all by the Word of God. Compare all with the standard of the Bible. Weigh all in the balances of the Bible. Examine all by the light of the Bible. Test all in the crucible of the Bible. That which can abide the fire of the Bible, receive, hold, believe, and obey. That which cannot abide the fire of the Bible, reject, refuse, repudiate, and cast away.”
Albert Barnes, 1798-1870, the American Presbyterian preacher and writer emphasizes:
“Christianity does not require people to disregard their reason, or to be credulous. It does not expect them to believe anything because others say it is so. It does not make it a duty to receive as undoubted truth all that synods and councils have decreed, or all that is advanced by the ministers of religion. It is, more than any other form of religion, the friend of free inquiry, and would lead people everywhere to understand the reason of the opinions which they entertain; compare Acts 17:11-12; 1 Peter 3:15.”
6 Other Passages That Encourage Discernment Between Truth And Error
A wise person obeys the apostle’s command to exercise discernment. The apostles Paul and John have given the criteria for knowing when a statement, either in normal speech or in a prophetic utterance, is a message from God and when it is not, in 1 Corinthians 12:3; and 14:3, 29; and 1 John 4:1-3.
It is important that believers do not accept unquestioningly everything that is told them by teachers of the Bible but discern between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
6.1 The Test Of One’s Attitude To Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:3)
“Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.”
One test of a person’s spiritual claims is their attitude toward Jesus Christ. Throughout this epistle, the author states that a proper understanding of Christ is a mark of genuine Christianity. This doctrinal test is not sufficient in every situation as mere verbal confession of a doctrinal statement does not guarantee genuineness. Only the Holy Spirit can enable us to submit to the lordship of Christ.
6.2 The Test Of Edification (1Corinthians 14:3)
“But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.”
The Greek word for “edification” (KJV) is “oikodome” which comes from “oikos” house, and “demo”, build. So it means literally “the act of building”. Arndt and Gingrich say that “oikodome” has the figurative sense of “spiritual strengthening”; hence the NIV translation of “strengthening”.
The test of edification, or spiritual profit and advancement, must be applied to both glossolalic speech (“tongues” KJV) and to preaching in normal speech. Genuine prophecy is positive and encouraging, rather than negative: it builds up, stirs up, and cheers up. In public worship we should only have what “builds up” the church. New Testament prophecy was limited (1 Corinthians 13:9) and to be evaluated or “weighed carefully” (NIV) by the congregation (1 Corinthians 14:29). Paul says that only two or three prophets should speak in a service, and let the listeners i.e. the congregation “judge” (AV). The verb is “diakrino”, Strong’s #1252, which means “denoting separation, to distinguish, discriminate, discern, decide, judge, to make a distinction or difference.”. This requirement to “pass judgment” (1 Corinthians 14:29 NASB) on public utterance is the responsibility of every believer.
6.3 Balance Love With Discernment (Philippians 1:9-10)
“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.” (NKJV)
Paul realized that Christian love should be guided by “judgment” (KJV) or “depth of insight” (NIV) or “keen perception”(Weymouth). The word “discernment” (NIV) is the Greek “aistheesis”, Strong’s #144, found only here in the NT. Thayer defines it as “perception, cognition, discernment” Arndt and Gingrich suggest “perception, denoting moral understanding, become rich in every (moral) experience” A Christian is expected to show discrimination and judgment in spiritual matters.
In verse 10 the apostle prays that the saints may “approve the things that are excellent” or “distinguish between the things which differ,” (NASB margin) i.e., “approve” after distinguishing and discerning. The Greek word “dokimazo”, Strong’s #1381, [approve or discern] means frequently in the NT to prove with a view to approval. The NIV says, “so that you may be able to discern what is best.” while the NEB has, “the gift of true discrimination.” (See discussion re 1 Thessalonians 5:21 below)
Paul prays for their improvement in knowledge, perception and judgment, the more thoughtful and intellectual aspect of Christian character. He prays that their enthusiastic love to God and people might overflow from the emotional to the intellectual part of their character and become a means of spiritual insight. He wanted their love to be more balanced and enriched by moral discernment and by a critical ability to discriminate between what was right and wrong and what was good and evil.
Love, Paul says, must comprehend with accuracy and apply the truth with discrimination and discernment in all kinds of situations. To “approve only what is right” (The Translator’s NT) or “to see clearly the difference between right and wrong” (Living Bible) is to accept that which through testing has proved to be essential and vital. The result of intelligent love is a right sense of values. He would not have them love and approve all spiritual things indiscriminately. The apostle wanted them to be intelligent Christians who understood the difference between truth and error in spiritual matters.
6.4 How To Distinguish The True From The False (1 John 4:1-3)
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test [Greek “dokimazo”] the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”
The problem of distinguishing truth from error when many are claiming to be inspired is an old one. John gives a caution about lying spirits, false prophets and the exposure of false teaching; demonic forces are behind these false teachers. “Every spirit”refers to every teacher claiming inspiration by the Holy Spirit. If an angel’s message should be tested by the Word of God how much more men’s teachings, however sincere the teachers seem (Galatians 1:8).
John stressed the importance of right belief as an evidence of genuine Christianity. The apostle was speaking of people who claimed to be Christians but who spoke as deadly opponents of Christianity. John wanted to provide direction to distinguish between the true and the false.
John directed his readers to test the words of those who claimed to speak for God because of the possibility of the presence of false prophets. All pretensions to divine inspiration, or to being authorized teachers of religion, were to be examined by the proper tests, because there were many false and delusive teachers who set up such claims in the world.
The test by which public utterances were to be judged was the acceptance of Jesus Christ as God’s incarnate Son (verses 2-3). He also indicated that the worldly message of the false prophets would attract an audience that was gullible in their acceptance of error (verse 5).
This verse emphasizes that believers are not to be naive about claims of spiritual authority, gullibly accepting all such claims. Instead, believers are cautioned to subject the spirits to testing to see whether or not they are of God. The presence of false prophets claiming the authority of the Holy Spirit underlines the necessity of “testing the spirits.” This “testing” is an evaluation of spiritual claims based upon the authority of the Scriptures.
Timothy was not to be led astray by religious impostors. Verse 16 is one of the greatest verses in the NT to describe the inspiration of the Bible. “God-breathed” is one word in Greek, “theopneustos”, only found here in the NT. The words of Scripture are to be received as from God. God breathed his truth into those who wrote the Bible, by the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit, so that it is an authoritative and trustworthy book. It is the yardstick or standard of comparison by which all doctrine should be measured. “Thoroughly equipped” includes the Greek word “artios”. Arndt and Gingrich define it as “complete, capable, proficient = able to meet all demands”.
6.5 Test Before You Trust: (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
“Do not restrain the Holy Spirit; do not despise inspired messages. Put all things to the test: keep what is good and avoid every kind of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 TEV)
“But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.” (NASB)
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (KJV)
In the KJV the Greek word “dokimazo”, Strong’s #1381, is translated 10 times “prove”, 4 times “try”, 3 times “approve”, twice “discern”, and once “examine”. This verb has two main ideas: (1) to “test” or “prove” (2) to “approve” as the result of testing. It was used of testing metals or coins, to see if they were genuine. The Greek tense used with this verb is the present imperative; it is a command to do something in the future and involves continuous or repeated action.
Thayer translates “dokimazo” as “to test, examine, prove, scrutinize to see whether a thing be genuine or not; to recognize as genuine after examination, to approve or deem worthy.”. Arndt and Gingrich have “to put to the test, to prove by testing of gold, to approve or discover, to test oxen for their usefulness.”
Green renders “dokimazo”: “to prove by trial; to test, to assay metals; to prove, try, examine, scrutinize; to put to the proof; to approve after trial, to judge worthy; to decide upon after examination, to judge, to distinguish, to discern.”
“Prophecy” may be briefly defined as the ability to deliver direct revelation from God. “All things” in this context refers primarily to sayings that claim to be prophecies. They must not be accepted with credulity but are to be tested by the more objective revelation of the Bible, as the gift of prophecy was easily counterfeited and called for discernment. “Put to the test” is quite a common word in both NT and secular Greek. It is used, for example, in speaking of a moneychanger testing the genuineness of a coin. Inspired messages are to be tested in a similar way, to see whether their inspiration comes from the Holy Spirit or from the powers of evil.
Genuine prophecy was not to be suppressed. “Despise” includes the ideas of treating something as of no account and of rejecting it with contempt. The “good” refers to what is genuine and not counterfeit. Keeping what is good and avoiding every kind of evil are the two consequences of putting all things to the test.
Paul’s commands also have a wider meaning. The word “prophecies” suggests the public proclamation or preaching of the word of God. When Paul says, “put all things to the test”, he means “everything which claims to be an inspired message,” and he is advising his readers in general terms not to take anything at its face value. We should carefully check out what preachers and teachers say, accepting what is true and rejecting what is false.
There are difficulties involved in evaluating inspired messages. If one calls them “messages that come from God,” then obviously there is no point of putting them to the test and keeping what is good while rejecting the rest. The same would be true if one called them “messages which come from the Holy Spirit,” for such a phrase would indicate that all such message are valid. The only way in which these problems may be avoided is to say “all messages given by those who claim to speak on behalf of God.” Such an expression defines the role of “the prophet,” in its New Testament sense, and provides a basis for the warning in verse 21.
Matthew Henry, 1662-1714, the English Presbyterian minister and Bible commentator comments on 1 Thessalonians 5:21:
“The doctrines of human infallibility, implicit faith, and blind obedience, are not the doctrines of the Bible. Every Christian has and ought to have, the judgment of discretion, and should have his senses exercised in discerning between good and evil, truth and falsehood.”
7 The Need To Discern The Body Of Christ
“Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).
Some of the Corinthians were coming to the Lord’s Table in an unworthy or unfitting manner. Paul gives a sharp warning about anyone who participates in the Lord’s Supper or Communion Service “without recognizing the body of the Lord ”(NIV) or “discerning the Lord’s body” (NKJV) and thus eats and drinks judgment against themselves. The Greek “diakrino” Strong’s #1252, means “to separate, make a distinction, discriminate”. Arndt and Gingrich have “pass judgment”, as does the NASB. Weymouth has“fails to understand.”
The early Christians held a love feast in connection with the Lord’s Supper, during which they gathered for a fellowship meal. Apparently some of the wealthier members were not sharing their food with the poor (v. 21). This unworthy approach also involved divisions among the fellowship (v. 18), strong differences of opinion (v. 19), gluttony and drunkenness (v. 21), and snobbery (22).
Thus to approach the Lord’s Table carelessly with self-indulgence and a lack of consideration for others is to eat and drink judgment to oneself, and fail to understand the true nature and meaning of the Lord’s body i.e. the Church of God. At Corinth this judgment of God had resulted in sickness and even death (v. 30).
7.1 The Lack Of Discernment Has Two Aspects
Some interpreters understand the term “without recognizing the body ” to refer to the elements of bread and wine themselves. Note that the bread remains bread. The sin in this case would be one of desecration. However, it seems that Paul understands the bread which we break as referring not only to the personal body of the Lord Jesus in which he lived and died and rose again, but also to “the Church which is his body.” Paul uses the image of the Church as a body in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22; 11:17-34 and in 12:12.
In this case the lack of discernment has two aspects. First, a lack of reverence and the inappropriate behaviour of the Corinthian Christians was a denial of Christian fellowship. Instead of sharing the food and drink, the wealthier church members ate and drank it themselves, while the poorer members, who had little to bring, went hungry. For Christians today it is a reminder of the need to examine our own hearts, to recognize our own sins, and in honest repentance confess them to God.
The word “examine” is the Greek “dokimazo” Strong’s #1381 which means “test to approve”. This word was often used of the testing of metals. (See discussion re 1 Thessalonians 5:21 above). We examine ourselves rather than one another; we examine our own spiritual condition and our motives; we discern or distinguish between what we are and what, by the grace of God, we should become. Holy Communion was instituted by the Lord Jesus himself and has deep significance for the risen Lord, as the host, is present in a special way. Therefore self-examination is essential.
The second aspect is the failure to recognize the unity of the body of Christ of which the individual believer, together with all the members of the church, is a part. The Lord’s Table is a family occasion and should be an opportunity for encouraging mutual edification and unity among believers.
7.2 Discernment Involves Living Out Spiritual Unity
“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we breaka participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
The Greek “koinonia” Strong’s #2842 means “fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, the share which one has in anything, participation, intimacy.” The passage emphasizes the corporate nature of this sacrament and the responsibility of the individual to all.
7.3 What Does It Mean To Be “Guilty Of The Body And Blood Of The Lord”?
Verse 27 is a serious warning against thoughtless or careless participation in the Lord’s Supper. The Greek “enokos” Strong’s #1777, “guilty” (KJV; NIV) means “worthy of punishment”. It is a legal term that means “liable, answerable, guilty.” Given the significance of the bread and wine, anyone who eats them in a way that is not in keeping with their purpose of uniting believers with each other and with their Lord “will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” (27).
So every person should examine his attitude toward his brothers and sisters in the Lord before he participates in this intimate fellowship meal. If we do not genuinely affirm our unity in the local church, then we fail to “recognize the body of the Lord,” (29) i.e. we deny the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross. We do not celebrate the unity of all believers with Christ in the universal Church, and consequently we “eat and drink judgment upon ourselves”.
Such people put themselves on the side of the enemies of Christ who killed him. It is to share the guilt of those who crucified Christ. Paul explained that the “judgment” involved sickness and death (30). That God may use such a severe method of discipline towards his children should encourage self-discipline, self-examination, confession of sin, and a healthy respect for the things of God.
8 The Importance Of Discerning The “Signs Of The Times”.
“The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees for their ability to examine the meteorological evidence and predict the weather, while failing to read the evident signs of contemporary events and understand the unfolding of God’s programme and plan. These traditionally rival groups had united in their opposition to Christ. Jesus said that there were sufficient indications by which people should judge himself; his miracles and the state of affairs in Judea; all these were indicators by which people at that time should read the “signs of the times.”
There is an element of the future in the word “signs” so that “predict on the basis of these events” (TEV) expresses the meaning. “Signs of the times” is generally translated in a way that refers to the things going on at that time. Other possible ways of translating it include, “You don’t know how to explain the things happening now,” or “You don’t know what these things happening now indicate for the future,” or “There are things happening now, but you don’t know what they mean.”
8.1 The Meaning Of “Kairos”.
The Greek word used here “kairos”, Strong’s #2540, means a point of time as well as a period of time. Vine defines it as “a fixed or definite period, a season.” In Matthew 16:3 and Luke 12:56, it means “a limited period of time distinguished by characteristic circumstances, a signal juncture, a marked season.”. It refers to “the time when things are brought to a crisis, the decisive epoch waited for; a definitely limited portion of time, with the added idea of suitableness.”. Arndt & Gingrich say it is an eschatological term meaning “the time of crisis, the last times.”
This word derives its full meaning in the NT from its use in connection with the fulfillment of OT Messianic prophecy in the coming of Jesus Christ. “Time” in this sense marks a point at which God may be expected to act in human affairs, bringing nearer to fulfillment his plan of redemption by some event, challenge or opportunity to which people are invited to respond.
The climax of history is the fulfillment of God’s redeeming purpose in the coming of Jesus Christ. History is the sphere of God’s action. He acts in “times” of his own appointing and such “times” become significant when people see them for what they are and respond to them appropriately. A “crisis” is a time when God may be expected to act (Luke 21:36). “The last hour” (1 Peter 1:5), the “time” of judgment (1 Peter 4:17), and “the decisive hour” (Romans 13:11), all mark the time of God’s final action in world history.
8.2 Personal Application
How little the Pharisees and Sadducees understood the political and spiritual situation. Soon Jerusalem would be destroyed (AD 70) and the Jewish state overturned. It is not always easy to discern or interpret the signs of our own time. We ought not to be blind to what God is doing in our nation or in international affairs.
The risen Christ emphasized “he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). The expression “he who has an ear” is a personal challenge to understand the continuous working of the Holy Spirit in human affairs. What is God through the Spirit saying to you personally? What is God saying to your local church? What is God saying to the worldwide body of Christ?
Are we history-wise or merely weather-wise? Let us be like the discerning men of Issachar who “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” (1 Chronicles 12:32). Whatever we do not understand about the details of future events, Christ’s coming is certain and something to be properly prepared for.
9 Discerning Of Spirits.
In writing to the Corinthian Christians, Paul listed among spiritual gifts that of discerning of spirits: literally “distinguishings of spirits” (NASB margin) or “distinguishing between spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:10 NIV) or “the power of discriminating between spirits” (Weymouth) or “the ability to discern and distinguish between [the utterances of true] spirits [and false ones].” (Amplified Bible)
This gift is a special Holy Spirit-given ability that enables a person to judge and discern whether one who prophesies or speaks in tongues or performs miracles, does so by the power of the Holy Spirit or by a demonic spirit or by the human spirit. The exercise of this gift is necessary in church when someone gives a prophetic statement, or a word of knowledge, or a word of wisdom, or teaching that claims to be from God. This ability is used to guard the health and spirituality of the church and not merely to condemn someone.
The distribution of this gift (Greek “charisma”), like that of all the “charismata”, Strong’s 5486, or “grace-gifts”, is the sovereign decision of the Holy Spirit. “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” (1 Corinthians 12:11). These gifts are never earned but are freely given by the “God of all grace.” While this gift is given to some believers, and not to others, an attitude of discernment is required of all believers.
Albert Barnes, 1798-1870, the American Presbyterian preacher and writer comments:
“This must refer to some power of searching into the secrets of the heart; of knowing what were a man’s purposes, views, and feelings. It may relate either to the power of determining by what spirit a man spoke who pretended to be inspired, whether he was truly inspired or whether he was an impostor; or it may refer to the power of seeing whether a man was sincere or not in his Christian profession.”
The gift of discernment includes the power of spiritual insight into the activity of misleading evil spirits and discerns the plans and strategies of Satan. It includes the ability to distinguish between the Word of God proclaimed by a true preacher from that of a satanic deceiver.
In summary, the gift of discernment relates to message, motive, tone or attitude, character and Christian lifestyle. This gift allows a person to discern between the one who has something to say and the one who has to say something
9.2 The “Super-Apostles” Are Pseudo Apostles
Paul ironically denounced his opponents at Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:5), as “super-apostles”  or “superlative apostles” (NEB; RSV) or “extra-special messengers” (Phillips) or “pre-eminent Apostles” (Weymouth) who had an inflated opinion of themselves. The implied irony or sarcasm in Paul’s words is brought out well by the TEV: “I do not think that I am the least bit inferior to those very special so-called ‘apostles’ of yours!”  Later in this same chapter he specifically calls them “false apostles” or pseudo apostles because as agents of Satan they did not belong to Christ as they claimed.
“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15 NKJV)
False shepherds are able to deceive the church because they pretend to be the apostles of Christ. Satan’s most destructive efforts are accomplished when he “transforms” (NKJV) or “disguises” (NASB) or “masquerades” (NEB) or “fashions” (RV) himself into an angel of light. Three times Paul uses the Greek “metaskeematizo”, Strong’s #3345, meaning “to change appearance.” One of Satan’s main methods is imitation as Jesus taught in the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). Christ has his ministers and so has Satan. False preachers pretend to be devoted to the cause of Christ but they are only acting a part.
In verse 20 of this chapter Paul lists five ways in which the super apostles took advantage of the believers at Corinth: “In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face.” (NIV)
Five verbs, increasing in intensity, express the “overbearing authoritarianism” that the compliant Corinthians experienced from false teachers. These deceivers:
(1) “enslaved” them or “bring into bondage”( KJV) or “assumes control of your souls” (Moffatt) or “tyrannizes over you” (NEB) or “takes away your liberty” (Phillips) or “rob your freedom”;the Greek “katadouloo”, Strong’s #2615, means “to reduce to slavery”, “to enslave to oneself”. It is used either to mean absolute subjection or the loss of independence;
(2) “exploited” (NIV) or “rip you off” or “lives at your expense” (Weymouth) or “take everything you have” (Living Bible) or “spends your money” (Phillips) or “devoured” (KJV) them; the Greek “katesthio”, Strong’s #2719, means “figuratively to destroy or consume by fire”;
(3) “took advantage of” (NIV; NASB) or “ensnares” (Barclay) or “makes off with your property” (Weymouth) or “preys upon”; or “imposes on” or “gets you in his clutches” (NEB) the Greek “lambano”, Strong’s #2983, meaning “to take by craft, used of hunters and fishermen, to circumvent [get around] one by fraud” or “takes you in”;
(4) “exalted themselves” (KJV) or “put you down” or “gives himself airs” (Weymouth) or “looks down on you”or “orders you about” (Jerusalem Bible); the Greek “epairo”, Strong’s #1869, means “to be presumptuous, to put on airs”. It is human pride arrogantly asserting itself against someone; and
(5) “slapped you in the face” or “flies in your face” (Moffatt), Greek “dero”, Strong’s #1194, meaning “to flay or skin, to beat, thrash or smite”. This expression, “strikes you on the face” (Barclay), is probably figurative or proverbial for any kind of insulting or humiliating treatment. A blow on the face, like spittle, was in the ancient world, a serious insult to a person’s honour.
Thus the supernatural spiritual gift of discernment is very important for the Church as Satan continually tries to counterfeit the work of God and the Word of God. Since false teachers distort and corrupt Biblical truth, it is essential that the Church be protected from false doctrine. A clever strategy of Satan is to corrupt the Church from within, rather than attack it from without. There is always the danger of sincere Christians becoming puffed up with pride and gathering followers to themselves in order to build their own religious empires.
9.3 False Teachers Become The Instruments Of Evil Powers
Paul made a clear-cut distinction between right and wrong doctrine when he warned Timothy: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” (1 Timothy 4:1 NIV).
The “seducing spirits” (KJV) or “lying spirits” (TEV) are evil spiritual powers subject to Satan that seek to influence human hearts. The “doctrines of devils” (KJV) or “subversive doctrines inspired by devils” (NEB) are false teachings taught by false prophets inspired by supernatural evil powers who are Satan’s agents and opposed to Christ and to Christians. These false teachers who serve not Christ but themselves become the instruments of evil powers. “The Spirit says” is equivalent to the Old Testament formula “Thus says the Lord.” 
Paul makes plain to Timothy that in the future some in the Church will abandon revealed truth. It may be a surprise to some people that Satan uses professing Christians in the Church in pulpits to deceive God’s people. The demons and seducing spirits ally with hypocritical liars (verse 2). This apostasy, or rebellion against God, is a continual danger to the church. Paul’s discussion in the following verses, especially verse 6, shows that he understands the “later times” to be this present age.
False teachers do not relate people to the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead they seek to have disciples of their own who follow them exclusively, and promote their programmes to the point where people are servants or even slaves of the leaders of a church that has become a religious cult. In contrast, a genuine church seeks to win converts to Jesus Christ and to build them up spiritually in Him.
9.4 Beware Of False Teachers
“But there were also false prophets among the people [Israel], just as there will be false teachers among you. They willsecretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord [Christ] who bought them-bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” (2 Peter 2:1-3)
False prophets are dangerous for three reasons: their teaching is a denial of biblical truth, their method is not above-board, and leads to immorality, that discredits the Christian faith, and their ultimate destiny is to bring ruin on themselves and their followers. “Prophets” and “teachers” are interchangeable in this context.
Chapter two of 2 Peter should be compared with Jude 4-18. There have always been false teachers and there always will be false teachers among God’s people. Peter confirmed the warnings of Jesus (Matthew 7:15; 24:11 f.) Some Christians are gullible enough to believe anything if it is presented convincingly and with an element of the supernatural attached to it. “Their teaching was flattery; their ambitions were financial; their lives were dissolute [immoral and self-indulgent] their conscience was dulled and their aim was deception.” Their destiny is spiritual loss and the certain judgment of God.
The cause of false teaching is “evil ambition” (Barclay) or “greed” (NIV) for prestige and power. False teachers “secretly introduce” which suggests underhand methods. The literal translation is, “They secretly bring in alongside”. i.e. they infiltrate their false teaching alongside the truth of the Bible. Later they replaced true doctrine with their false doctrine; they replaced the truth of the Bible with their own ideas. Heresy always involves a denial of Christ’s atoning work and his authority. They rejected the claim of Jesus to rule over their lives.
The Greek word “hairesis”, Strong’s #139, gives us our English word “heresy” translated “destructive doctrines” or“destructive opinions”  or “disruptive views”. Thayer defines a heresy as “a chosen opinion varying from the true exposition of the Christian faith.”  The NT uses the word to denote a ‘party’, with the suggestion of self-will or sectarian spirit. It refers to a narrow-minded wrong belief deliberately chosen by a person rather than a right belief revealed by God.
There is a basic incompatibility between the Church and heresy as heresy creates a new society alongside the Church and threatens to corrupt the people of God. Scripture recommends Christians to be alert to doctrinal deception (Matthew 24:4) and to avoid heresy by carefully guarding the pure content of the gospel message (1 Corinthians 11:2; Galatians 1:8).
Their “sensuality” (NASB) or “immoral ways” (Weymouth) or sexual immorality, and that of their followers, brought shame and disgrace to the name of Christ. These false teachers probably argued that it did not matter how a Christian lived, as God’s grace could easily forgive any sin, regardless of its nature. This false teaching cheapened the grace of God. Paul confronted this teaching at Rome: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:15) Paul explained that every believer must continually choose to resist sin and serve Christ and submit to his lordship (Romans 6:19-22). While a Christian is saved by grace, s/he is accountable to God for what s/he does with that saving grace.
The word “exploit” or “make merchandise of” (KJV) has a commercial meaning. It is the Greek verb “emporeuomai”, Strong’s #1710; it means “carry on business, buy and sell, trade in.” The NEB translates, “In their greed for money they will trade onyour credulity with sheer fabrications.” Here it means “to use a thing or person for gain.” These preachers commercialize the Church for their own greed and Christianity becomes a source of financial gain for them. They exploit their followers financially. It is a tragedy that false teachers are so successful, prosperous and popular.
“Stories they have made up” is literally “fabricated words” or “false arguments” (Amplified Bible). It is the Greek adjective“plastos”, Strong’s #4112; it means “made up, fabricated, false.” The word first meant “formed or moulded”. Then it came to mean “feigned” (KJV). From this word we derive our English word “plastic”. False teachers use insincere plastic words like flattery, or words made up to suit the hearers, to make money out of naïve people. Their teaching was artificial, not genuine. They were not true ministers of the gospel but merely merchandisers who used religion to exploit and fleece weak people. False prophets are motivated by self-interest and a desire for popularity, not by loyalty to God and his Word.
Therefore it is essential for the individual Christian to walk closely with God and to test every teaching and prophecy by the Word of God. Intellectual perception and mature Christian experience are helpful in detecting deception but the gift of discerning of spirits is better. We need to be observant and not support ministries that exploit people. Without the gift of discernment there is insufficient protection against those like the “false brothers” who “infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” (Galatians 2:4).
9.5 How Can One Determine The Character Of False Teachers?
The apostle Paul suggested as a test that a person led by the Holy Spirit should be concerned for those things that strengthen and build up the church, rather than the ego of an individual (1 Corinthians 14:12, 26). Furthermore the exercise of discernment may apply the doctrinal test of 1 John 2:18-24 and 1 John 4:1-6 as the Holy Spirit uses the written Word of God to give Christians discernment.
There is also the practical test of character of Matthew 7:15-23. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15-16). We may evaluate a person’s teaching by his moral character and life-style because a person’s conduct or works are a test of words and a true indicator of character.
Moreover the teaching of a false prophet is self-centred rather than God-centred. Their followers tend to be more loyal to the personality of their leader than to Bible truth and they will accept human teachings and religious experiences even when those teachings and experiences contradict the Bible.
9.6 The Working Of This Gift Is Illustrated By The Following References:
These examples are not exhaustive.
These references imply that this gift allows a person to discern another’s spiritual character and not be deceived by outward appearances. This gift is not the same as natural insight into human nature. Nor is it a judgmental and faultfinding attitude or heresy hunting. Some have mistakenly asserted their belief in their own possession of this gift and passed judgment on everyone in the church from the pastor to the ushers. Satan can counterfeit this gift as with any other gift
9.7 The Gift Of Discernment Guards Against Two Dangers.
In conclusion, without this particular gift the most gifted church is likely to experience extremes of behaviour (such as excessive emotionalism), false teaching such as legalism (man-made rules), unbalanced ministry (either too much emphasis or too little emphasis), disunity, false spirituality, and fanaticism. This gift is essential for the correct functioning of all the spiritual gifts.
“The church needs to guard against the twin dangers of either letting in false (demonically inspired) gifts, with disastrous results, or rejecting the true and good gifts of God along with the false and evil. There is no greater need than a discerning, weighing or testing of spiritual gifts, to guard the church from both these fatal errors. In the congregation, its worship and ministry, Scripture demands that the use of gifts be also properly regulated and overseen, but not quenched or forbidden. Freedom for the Spirit to work and good order are compatible, and the balance between them must be kept right.” 
10 A Prayer For Discernment
“Heavenly Father, I acknowledge in an age of spiritual confusion and compromise with Christian beliefs, that without the help of your Holy Spirit, I cannot rightly discern between truth and error, and between good and evil. But I thank you that you freely and generously give wisdom and discernment to all who ask for it.
Lord, your Word is a mirror that reflects myself. Today I ask for continuing discernment that I may learn to present myself to you“as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
Guard my heart (emotions) and mind (intellect) against false teachers and their teaching. Keep my life from presumption and arrogance. Review all my beliefs and allow the Holy Spirit to shine his searching light on any areas of error and misunderstanding and replace them with sound doctrine. May I only follow those teachers whose lives and words conform to your glorious gospel.
I pray for Christian leaders that they may balance issues of character and integrity with knowledge and gifts and skills. Keep them from the abuse of power, pride and seeking status and preferment. May they maintain a Christ-centred life.
Help me to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying today to the Church, the body of Christ, and to my local church, including myself. This I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
11.1 Appendix 1: Discern, Discerner, Discernment.
2. diakrino NT:1252 signifies “to separate, discriminate”; then, “to learn by discriminating, to determine, decide.” It is translated “discern” in Matt 16:3, of discriminating between the varying conditions of the sky (see dokimazo, No. 3, below, in Luke 12:56), and in 1 Cor 11:29, with reference to partaking of the bread and the cup of the Lord’s Supper unworthily, by not “discerning” or discriminating what they represent; in v. 31, the RV has “discerned,” for the KJV, “would judge,” of trying oneself, “discerning” one’s condition, and so judging any evil before the Lord; in 14:29, regarding oral testimony in a gathering of believers, it is used of “discerning” what is of the Holy Spirit, RV, “discern” (KJV, “judge”). See CONTEND, DECIDE, DIFFER, etc.
3. dokimazo NT:1381 signifies “to test, prove, scrutinize,” so as “to decide.” It is translated “discern” in the KJV of Luke 12:56; RV, “interpret” (marg., “prove”). See APPROVE.
11.2 Appendix 2: Approve, Approved
(Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, electronic edition, copyright 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
Article: ‘Discernment’ in the following Dictionaries and Encyclopedias:
Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Copyright 1996, Baker Books.
Adam Clarke’s Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright 1996 by Biblesoft
 The Message, E. H. Peterson, Navpress, 1995.
 The New Testament In Modern Speech, R. F. Weymouth, 1937.
 Thayer, page 350.
 Arndt and Gingrich, page 659.
 Thayer, page 506.
 Arndt and Gingrich, page 613
 Thayer, page 138.
 Arndt and Gingrich, page 184.
 Knots Untied, Bishop J. C. Ryle, page 35.
 Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, page 1105.
 Arndt and Gingrich, page 56.
 The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, page 1822.
 Thayer, page 17.
 Arndt and Gingrich, page 24.
 page 110.
 page 154.
 page 201.
 page 48.
 Matthew Henry’s Commentary, electronic edition.
 Thayer, page 138.
 Arndt and Gingrich, page 184.
 The New Testament In Modern Speech, R. F. Weymouth, 1937.
 Thayer, page 352.
 Thayer, page 217.
 Arndt and Gingrich page 267.
 The UBS Handbook Series, Copyright 1961-1997, by United Bible Societies.
 Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, electronic edition.
 Thomas S. Green, A Greek-English Lexicon to the NT, page 90.
 Thayer, page 318.
 Arndt and Gingrich page 396.
 Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, Electronic Database. Copyright 1997 by Biblesoft.
 Arndt and Gingrich, page 849.
 Today’s English Version or Good News Bible, Thomas Nelson, 1986.
 The Revised Version of 1881.
 The New Bible Commentary, D. A. Carson editor, 21st Century Edition, electronic edition, 1994.
 A New Translation of The Bible, James Moffatt, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1935.
 The Message, E. H. Peterson, Navpress, 1995.
 Arndt and Gingrich page 411.
 Thayer page 331.
 The Message, E. H. Peterson, Navpress, 1995.
 Arndt and Gingrich page 423.
 The Translator’s New Testament, British and Foreign Bible Society, 1973.
 The Jerusalem Bible, Doubleday, 1968.
 Thayer page 370
 Arndt and Gingrich page 465
 The Message, E. H. Peterson, Navpress, 1995.
 The Translator’s New Testament, British and Foreign Bible Society, London, 1973.
 Arndt and Gingrich page 281
 Thayer page 129
 Lohse, Theological Dictionary of the NT, edited by G. Kittell and G. Friedrich, Volume 6 page 775.
Keener, C. S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament (electronic edition), IVP.
 Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter, Tyndale NT Commentary, 1968, page 93.
 The Translator’s New Testament, British and Foreign Bible Society, 1973.
 Arndt and Gingrich, page 23.
 Jerusalem Bible, Doubleday, 1968.
 Thayer, page 153.
Douglas, J.1982, New Bible Dictionary, electronic edition, page 476, Tyndale House.
 Arndt and Gingrich, page 256.
 Thayer, page 208.
 Arndt and Gingrich, page 672.
 Thayer, page 515.
 Ferguson, S. B. (2000). NewDictionary of Theology (electronic ed.), page 270, IVPress.