Friday, November 16, 2012

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment- Chapter 7

A few friends and I are reading this book together. Each week we are reading one chapter. On Fridays, I am posting my comments, then giving them the opportunity to add their thoughts as well. If you would like to join us or simply find out more about the book, you can read about it here.)
Chapter 7: The Gift of Discernment
- While a battle rages over the understanding of spiritual gifts, the author points out that people on both sides of the issue will agree that in our day God gives a gift of discernment (Page 127).  The author then discusses that gift.  Here are my thoughts:
- Using the story of his youth group and the ball of yarn, he illustrated the strength that the spiritual gifts should give to a local church.  I was reminded that a spiritual gift is not to help the "possessor" only (the way he said it: they are not "self-serving" [Page 126]), but is to help and strengthen the believers around him.  Later he stated, "The variety is not meant to disrupt the church but to unify it through diversity."  (Page 125)  It seems to me that individuality or variety in our culture is used more to make a person stand out from the crown, not to help unify the crowd.  I appreciated this explanation of the relationship between variety and unity.
- He takes the position that the list of the gifts of the Spirit in Scripture is not exhaustive, but representative.  I did not have/take the time to examine this by the Word.  If any of you had time, I would appreciate your thoughts.
- I appreciated his emphasis on the fact that God is not looking for us to serve in our area of "expertise" (our spiritual gift) only.  We are not to neglect other areas of service just because it is not our spiritual gift.
- After my rant a few chapters back, did you catch the reference to Acts 17:11?  I agree with one of his correlating statements: "In doing this [examining the Scriptures] they modeled the task of all believers."  (Page 129)  That is the task of believers.  However, the ones setting the example were not yet believers.  Mini-rant over.
- His statement following the one above is great: "Christians are ultimately responsible for what they choose to believe, no matter whether or not they have been gifted with the spiritual gift of discernment."  (Page 129)
- He is careful to point out that if the Spirit gifts someone with discernment, that individual then has a responsibility to use it.  It is not a gift like a Christmas sweater from Aunt Mabel that a believer can choose to use or not. 
- "Deeds, no matter how extraordinary and how beneficial they appear, must be examined and compared to the Word of God."  (Page 130)  This is especially needful because so many people rely on experience or pragmatism to evaluate things.  I don't know how it is in Charlotte or Iqaluit, but I know it is quite common in Moldova.  (This is a little off the topic, but a believer here told us that she knew she was to marry her husband because she had a dream of Jesus.  In the dream Jesus told her to marry the man that was interested in her, so she did.  I couldn't believe it when I heard it.)
- One of the thoughts that has often come to my mind reading this book is that we need discernment because of who our enemy is.  Satan's biggest weapon is deception.  He wants us to view right as wrong and wrong as right.  He wants dangerous things to appear healthy.  Having discernment will allow me to see God's true perspective about things, and see through how Satan wants wants things to appear.
- I had not thought before that God might give a believer a particular gift because of a particular need in his church at that time.  It is a simple thought- why would God give a gift that is essentially not needed?
- Earlier in the chapter, he spoke against simply looking to a person's personality to determine a spiritual gift.  When discussing how to find how a person is gifted, he talked about what makes him feel passionate.  I could not see how he distinguished between a person's natural personality and a person's natural or God-given passion.  Maybe one of you caught something I didn't.
- I liked his suggestion that believers at least try serving in different ways in the church.  It made me think of what I could do to try to create an environment in which people can learn how to minister in different ways without dumping on them the entire responsibility if they do not continue. 
- In my mind, I thought a spiritual gift was a person's "til death do them part."  He pointed out that the Bible doesn't state that nor does it say a person has just one, nor does it say that all spiritual gifts are given at moment of salvation.  Again, I have not looked at the Scripture passages concerning this yet, but I was intrigued by his statements.
- Since we fit in the description of a time in which "Christianity is considered acceptable in society," (Page 133) the gift of discernment is greatly needed today!
- Evangelism= offensive gift to take ground; discernment= defensive gift to keep ground.
- While discussion how the gift of discernment may be used, he said, "Many Christians, and especially young Christians, confuse carnality for godliness, man-made rules for God-ordained holiness."  (Page 135)  Again, I agree with this assessment- one can readily see these two "ditches" into which many fall.
- "Christians with the gift of discernment should place particular emphasis on protecting the young and the immature believers."  (Page 136) The four of us who are reading this together are all church-planters- one is working at it now, the other three will be soon.  Lord-willing, we will be dealing with many young believers in the near future.  It will be important for us to be able to discern and to help these young believers learn to as well.
I've had my say, what say you?


  1. As I mentioned in chapter 6 comments, my comments here will be abbreviated due to internet restrictions at the current moment.

    As an overall thought, I think the author deviated some from the thesis of this book to try to cover the topic of spiritual gifts in some detail. Though it was under the guise of the specifics of the "gift of discernment" I think this chapter somewhat was disjointed in it's focus from the rest of the book so far. At any rate there were still a good amount of interesting points to consider...many of which Jacob has already mentioned.

    I appreciated his comments that led to the idea that just because someone is not gifted in a particular spiritual gifting does not exempt them from having a part in that area to some extent. In other words, just because someone is not spiritually gifted with discernment does not mean that they should not strive to be spiritually discerning.

    I as well was challenged to search out more on the "coming and going" of spiritual gifts. I can see it going either way, especially the changing of gifting over different seasons of a Christian's life, but am curious to see what God's Word has to say about these things.

  2. I was introduced to several questions regarding spiritual gifts in this chapter. I believe this is a much-overlooked topic, especially considering it is a NT doctrine. It appeared that the author held his theological cards (so as not to lose readers?...) and also asserted several facts which he did not support Biblically. In many books, that is par for the course. In a book that speaks so much of Biblical authority, it is…unacceptable.

    I also think he got a little off-track of discernment, but it is somewhat understandable.

    He puts down spiritual gifts assessments, and then later tells people to identify their passion. I don’t see a viable difference.

    “The pursuit of God’s glory and the pursuit of what is good for us are not two separate pursuits.” While not wrong, this statement appears open for abuse. It smacks of John Piper’s “Christian Hedonism”. In studying Paul’s persecutions as related in II Cor. 11, I doubt Paul would say it that way. He said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Good from our perspective is much different than good from God’s perspective.

    He is spot on in that lack of a gift does not allow for lack of obedience to Scripture’s clear commands. I think this is one reason some preachers (improperly and unethically) omit teaching on spiritual gifts. In my opinion, I believe this is the reason some have even changed their doctrine on this topic. (i.e. “just be filled with the spirit and forget about gifts...”)

    I appreciated his pointing out that discernment goes beyond evaluating words to also examining actions. This is where it is needed most. (Our recent U.S. elections are proof that Americans cannot discern words or actions…)

    He seems to contradict himself by saying, “The Bible seems to indicate that Christians will typically know how they have been gifted.” (Which I don’t necessarily see…) and then giving his five points to help people find out why they don’t know their gift. It appears to me the reason people don’t know is because: 1. They are untaught about gifts 2. They don’t DO much of anything 3. They are out of touch with the Spirit who gave the gift.

    Practically, (I don’t know Biblically) I agree that “God does not always gift us in ways we are comfortable with or in ways we might expect.” I saw this when God lead me to preach (I thought I was an introvert) and to serve in Charlotte (raised in the country). God’s callings (and giftings) are His enablings!

    I still don’t know about the permanence of gifts. I will have to study this topic more. I currently have an unread book on my shelf…The Baptism and Gifts of the Holy Spirit by Merrill F. Unger. I will have to dust it off!

    As I read this chapter, I couldn’t help but think of David Cloud. It would appear his gift is discernment. Many label him negative, divisive, arrogant, etc. While I know he has flesh, as we all do, it may appear that some do not consider that he may have this gift. I simply use him as an example. I think the next chapter is on abuses of the gift, so perhaps we will understand more later.

    1. Sweet-its 5:29am, Saturday, in Moldova and 10:29pm, Friday, here in Charlotte. How is tomorrow looking?

    2. Well, tomorrow is today for you now, but today has been good!

  3. Okay, spent 4 hours whitewashing at our house (getting it ready for our moving out) and am ready to sit down and do something involving the brain rather than the body.

    I'll echo the rest of you all in that the chapter was not what I had expected to find in this book.

    I so thought that the object lesson used by the youth leader in the opening of the chapter was lame in its application. I thought it would be a better illustration of how once you say something (and the teens sure said many things to each other), it is not something you can just undo so watch what you say.

    Jacob, when he mentioned the Bereans again, I thought of you.

    While I would agree that we cannot be dogmatically certain that the lists of spiritual gifts are exhaustive, I would say that caution must be used (or rather, discernment) before we start adding to the list of spiritual gifts that which is not listed. Things listed in the Bible we can be sure of, but I would not openly accept any claims of other gifts. For example, someone claiming to have the gift of interpreting dreams or reading palms would pose a red flag. The gift must be for the benefit and use in and through the local church.

    I had never heard nor considered the idea that spiritual gifts are not permanent but can be present in order to meet a specific need in the body (yes, I mean local church). Since the gifts are specifically listed in Scripture as existing for the benefit of the local church, it would reason that apart from any involvement in the local church, one would be hard-pressed to know what it is. I definitely want to study this one out and watch for the practical playing out of this during our church plants.

    In regards to spiritual gifts, have you every noticed that in I Cor. 12:1 that "gifts" is in italics? The book, "The Corinthian Catastrophe" by George E. Gardiner points this out. He states that what follows is a description of what is spiritual (in stark contrast to what the Corinthians were practicing). Verse 7 says, "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal." Fruit of the Spirit is for every believer but "charisma" ("gift" - based off of "charis" [grace]) is a special manifestation of the Spirit of God through a believer. It would seem to me that the Spirit can choose when and how this takes place (v.11). I'm not seeing any limits on the Spirit changing things to meet the needs of the body. If spiritual gifts are simply the supernatural outworking of the Spirit in one's life, shouldn't it happen automatically as one is yielded to the Spirit and serving? I'm not seeing any reason that it must be sought after but simply permitted to occur. I think John hit it on the head with the three reasons he listed as to why people don't know or have their gift manifested in their lives. It seems that our lack of being filled with the Spirit has led us in Christianity to have to seek it out and have a form to fill out to try and find it. Once again, our disobedience to God has led to complicating things.

    "The leaders of churches should seek to ensure that they are providing opportunities for members to exercise the full spectrum of gifts." (pg. 131) I thought this was good but would take some work on our part as the leaders to make this happen. I have seen that it is easy for pastors and missionaries to just do everything (or at least seem to) because it is easier or might not end up turning out exactly like they envisioned. Letting people exercise their gits requires us to allow believers to exercise the gift and learn to delegate (micromanagers have a hard time doing this). I want to be careful to let the Spirit work in and through the people in the church we plant rather than stifle Him. I will need discernment for this.

    1. I read this in a newsletter we get via email: "What is needed is the very thing that the Jews in the synagogue of the Greek city of Berea were commended for: they searched he Scriptures daily to see if those things that the Apostle Paul was preaching were true to the Scriptures(Acts 17:10-11). If those Jews were so commended, how much more important it is that believers today follow their example."

      YEAH!! That's what I'm talking about!