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The Underrated Gift of Protection: Discernment

Scripture warns us about false teachers. Do we think false teachers are easily detected by the horns they wear?

"Touch not the Lord's anointed!" Those words of warning have been etched in my mind as a Pentecostal. Much is implied in that warning: respect God's leaders don't be skeptical or question them and do not criticize the ministries of those who exhibit any signs and wonders. Along with the command "quench not the Spirit" (1Thessalonians 5:19) enough biblical authority was mustered to ward off what God may actually have wanted all along—discernment!

Wholesale acceptance—without question—of miracles, prophetic words or of any other supernatural events is not noble spirituality. God fully expects the Church to use His gifts, including vigilant discernment.

How would you feel if you were an important guest speaker in a church where the members questioned you on point after point? "We're not sure about your explanation of Scripture, so we are going to check it out more closely to see if what you said is true." That was the experience of the Apostle Paul when he ministered in Berea (see Acts 17:11-12). Luke compliments the Bereans for not swallowing everything Paul preached. In other words, they were honoured for their practice of searching the Scriptures.

If the Apostle Paul could be questioned, how much more should any of our contemporary local, itinerant or media ministries? When Paul commands, "Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt" (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20) he is not smarting from being doubted in Berea! Nor is he arguing that to question any charismatic activity is ungodly. Notice how he continues: "Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). What evil? The context of Paul's exhortation demands that we realize there will be "evil" that comes through counterfeit charismata.

Scripture warns us about false teachers. Did we think false teachers would easily be detected by the horns they wear? Did we think that God's stamp of validation is on any ministries that have demonstrations of power? Paul writes regarding false apostles, saying they are "deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness" (2 Corinthians 11:13-14). Let us be vigilant! The imagery of the angel of light tells us that false ministers will be convincing, act righteously and thus will be difficult to detect.

Yet can these "deceitful" ones work miracles? For example, can they cast out demons or heal the sick? It is not uncommon for Christians to answer, "No!" After all, when Jesus' critics "discerned" that His miracles were the work of Beelzebub, He toyed with their logic: "If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?" (Luke 11:18). Jesus' opponents didn't respond with a rebuttal to His point, so we can only wonder what He would have said if they had replied, "It might serve the devil's purposes to deceive us with genuine exorcisms!"

Scripture shows that Jesus was not claiming that Satan would never dare to do any good works (see Matthew 7:21-23; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:14; 16:14; and 19:20). Therein lies our dilemma. On the one hand, signs and wonders are presented as validation of the Gospel (see Galatians 3:5 and Hebrews 2:4) and of personal ministries (see Mark 16:17-18; Acts 2:22; 6:8 and 2 Corinthians 12:12). On the other hand, Satan is strategic enough to use "good" to derail some Christians or to get their focus off the truth. He may use counterfeit validation to elevate his "ministers" to positions of influence.

Hence, the gift of discernment must operate well and continually.

The Scripture will always be our gauge for measuring the supernatural.

In order to do so, it must be welcomed and cultivated. How can we facilitate that?

First, we affirm its priority ranking as a spiritual gift—the Holy Spirit longs to grace us with His protection and wisdom.

We sometimes call discernment intuition—that inner alarm sounding, or the peaceful conviction that all is well. At times this can get a bit fuzzy. One person might "feel" this, another one "sense" that. The body must work together, dialoguing and comparing notes. We also realize that discernment is used in conjunction with other spiritual gifts: words of wisdom, knowledge and prophecy.

Secondly, the Holy Spirit longs for us to be sound biblically.

The Scripture will always be our gauge for measuring the supernatural. It is still the "more sure Word of prophecy" (2 Peter 1:19). Since the enemy is skilled at using Scripture, it is imperative that the Church be competent in the Word. We must ask questions about how the Bible is being taught and preached. We must be passionate searchers of Scripture! We have to combat the dangerous levels of Bible illiteracy in our ranks. Otherwise, we will have treated profanely that critical piece of spiritual armour: the belt of truth. May we never subscribe to the myth that the average Christian is not capable of being well versed in Scripture. Surely the Bereans were not all ordained ministers!

I urge my students often (perhaps they discern it as nagging) to become experts in the Word. Is it any wonder that the devil can be effective when our level of knowledge of Scripture is at best mediocre or shallow? Let's hear afresh Paul's urgent prayer: "that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern" (Philippians 1:9-10).

Let us not be threatened by challenges to our ministries. We must see critiques not as "the anointed being touched" but as healthy functioning of the Body of Christ. We are to submit mutually one to another, and any minister worth his salt will welcome such health. When God tells us, "Don't touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm" (1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalm 105:15) He is warning about unjust treatment of His servants, which is what so many of the genuine prophets received (see Acts 7:52). The term translated "to discern" is a form of the word "to judge." We are to be wary judges.

Let us remember: refusal to operate in any of the spiritual gifts results in some degree of the Holy Spirit being quenched! When we shut down discernment, when we are slothful in our cultivation of discernment, we quench the Spirit. May we fully embrace all that the Holy Spirit gives to the Church for edification and protection.

P.S. Will any of you readers check up on my use of Scripture?

Brian Glubish has been a professor of New Testament studies at Central Pentecostal College in Saskatoon for 17 years. His keen gift of discernment was fully operational when he said "I do" to his amazing wife some 28 years ago! He may be contacted at bglubish@cpc-paoc.edu.

Originally published in Testimony, June 2006.

 

 
 
 
 

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