What do I do with the gift of discernment? What if I want it? What if I don’t have it?
This is the third and final entry in this brief series dealing with the gift of spiritual discernment. The first part is available here: The Gift of Spiritual Discernment. In this first article we looked at the question of “What is the gift of discernment?” and concluded that “Men and women with the gift of discernment are specially gifted in distinguishing between those words, deeds and appearances that are true and those that are false.” In the second article (which is available here: The Gift of Spiritual Discernment Part 2) we saw how you can know that you have been gifted in this way (or in another way). We paused briefly to look at how we can understand how we’ve been gifted. In this final part we’ll look at what we can do with the spiritual gift of discernment, what we can do if we want it, and what we should do if we don’t have it.
What do I do with the gift of discernment?
In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, John MacArthur makes the important point that the gift of discernment is especially necessary and especially valuable during those times that Christianity is considered acceptable in society. When the church is enduring an era of persecution, there are bound to be few false teachers for not many people are willing to risk their very lives for something they believe to be false. The stakes are simply too high for such false teachers. But, as church history can attest, when Christianity is accepted and tolerated, false teachers arise quickly and soon fill the church. Those of us who are privileged to live in a nation that allows us freedom to worship must be particularly cautious. The truth is under attack more today than at any other time in history and this should not be surprising in a culture that so values religious freedom and tolerance. Add to such an accepting culture unparalleled speed of communication and the ability to publish books and other writings quickly and easily, and we can rightly conclude that error is being spread with startling speed and efficiency. What the church needs today is a class of believers who are identified as the experts in discernment and as those who have special ability in this area.
If we believe, as the Bible teaches, that spiritual gifts are given for the benefit of other believers, it seems clear that the purpose of the gift discernment is primarily to protect other believers and to protect the local church. Where evangelism is a gift that is offensive in nature, taking the battle to new regions, discernment is a defensive gift that protects the ground that has already been taken.
In general, those with the gift of discernment should be able to Identify and expose the spirit of Satan. While all believers are exhorted that they must “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1), those with the gift of discernment have been given special ability and responsibility. They are equipped by the Spirit to expose the lies of Satan in the teaching of men. They are able to see to the heart of the issues and to see Satan’s shadow behind what does not accord with the Word of God.
Here are some specific and practical ways in which this gift can be exercised in the church today.
Separating truth from error. The theme of separating truth from error is a constant one in any discussion of discernment. The primary task in discernment, as we have seen repeatedly in this book, is to separate what is true from what is false. Thus the primary way a person with the gift of discernment can serve the church is to be a student of the Word and to use his understanding of Scripture to distinguish between what is true and what is false. It is the discerning person who will be comparing the words of the preacher with Scripture and who will lead the way in warning others of false teaching.
Discerning the will of God. We have learned already that discernment concerns first the truth of God and then the will of God. A person with the gift of discernment can assist others in seeking and finding the will of God. (See my book for more information on the will of God!)
Identifying the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. People with the gift of discernment are finely tuned to the presence and the work of the Holy Spirit. They are able, based once again on their knowledge of God and the truths He has revealed about Himself, to understand how He works and where He is working. They are also gifted in being able to tell where the Spirit is not present and warning others of counterfeit teaching or counterfeit Christians.
Identifying worldliness. Because the spirit of Satan breeds worldliness rather than godliness, men and women with the gift of spiritual discernment are able to see worldliness for what it is. Many Christians, and especially young Christians, confuse carnality for godliness, man-made rules for God-ordained holiness. Discerning Christians will be able to distinguish between what is truly holy and what is simply a manufactured holiness that leads only to failure and discouragement.
Overseeing the exercise of spiritual gifts. People with the gift of discernment are able to oversee the exercise of other gifts, ensuring that they are done in a way that will bring honor to God and serve other believers. They are able to see when the exercise of gifts is inconsistent with Scripture.
Deciding disputes. 1 Corinthians 6 finds Paul criticizing the church at Corinth for taking disputes between believers before the world. “Can it be,” he asks, “that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers” (1 Corinthians 6:5b)? What has been translated “settle a dispute” is the word diakrino. Most other translations say something like “judge a dispute between believers” or “judge between fellow believers.” It may be that Paul indicates that believers who are gifted in discernment should lead in settling such disputes, using their knowledge of God’s truth to judge or distinguish between what is right and wrong.
Protecting new Christians. Because discernment depends so much on knowledge of God’s truth, Christians with the gift of discernment should place particular emphasis on protecting the young and the immature believers who have not had time and opportunity to grow in their understanding of the Bible. Those with the gift are able to surround and protect them, shepherding them by ensuring they are not led astray and leading them to greater understanding of what the Bible teaches.
Those Christians who are gifted in discernment have endless opportunities to serve God by serving the church. What I have listed here is only the beginning. Opportunities will be as wide and as diverse as the church itself.
What if I want it?
The Bible tells us not only that we have spiritual gifts, but also that we are to desire spiritual gifts. There is no shame in desiring the gift of discernment or any other gift, as long as it is desired that we may use it to manifest the Spirit and to serve the body of Christ. However, we must be prepared that God may not see fit to answer this prayer. God may choose to gift us in ways other than what we would prefer and we know that He will gift in ways that fill needs throughout the church.
If you desire this gift, ask God for it. Ask with expectation, but with humility, knowing that God knows best and that He has so fitted the church together that you may need to be used in another way on the basis of another gift. And even if you are never convinced that you have been given this gift, practice discernment nevertheless!
What if I don’t have it?
If you are certain that you have not been given the gift of discernment, find someone who does and ask that person for assistance when necessary. And no matter what, continue to seek to grow in discernment. Even if God has not specifically gifted you in this way, He still expects you to grow in discernment and to practice this discipline. Do so to His glory and for the benefit of the church.