A TREATISE ON SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT:
With the my conversations this past week [Adult Sunday School time; plus trying to define the word “DISCERNMENT” and its meaning with my wife], the Spirit directed me towards obtaining a clearer understanding. I hope, as you follow along, you too will have a deeper understanding of discerning.
In its simplest definition, DISCERNMENT is nothing more than the ability to decide between TRUTH AND ERROR, RIGHT AND WRONG! It is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. In other words, the ABILITY to think with DISCERNMENT is synonymous with an ability to think biblically [I will discuss the “GIFT OF DISCERNING SPIRITS” and the differences in Part Two].
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 teaches us that it’s the responsibility of every Christian to be discerning–
21 “Test ALL things; hold fast to what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil” (NKJV).
Paul’s Admonition in a Letter:
Now my pastor used several bible verses relating to the topic of DISCERNMENT, but in particular, my focus in PART ONE will be directed to…
1 Corinthians 2:1-2:16– [The New King James Version].
2 And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God.  For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.  But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery [“secret”] of the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory,  which none of the rulers of this age know; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
 But as it is written:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes the deep things of God.  For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man who is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the word but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.
 These things we also speak not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.  But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them because they are spiritually discerned.  But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.  For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
There are no commands in this chapter of I Corinthians 2. No rebukes given to the First Church of Corinth. Instead, Paul is calling us all to appreciate and puzzle over what God has given in Christ by the Spirit. While the truths are deep, at heart, they are very simple.
Paul is arguing against the Corinthians for trying to find some deeper, profound, scholarly wisdom. When all the depth they ever need is found in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, DISCERNMENT is an area where most Christians stumble. They exhibit little ability to measure the things they are taught against the infallible standard of God’s Word.
“SPIRITUAL WISDOM IN A FOOLISH WORLD”
Waylon Jennings lyrics in the classic Country Tune, Lookin’ For Love, started out with the conundrum this way:
“I was looking for love in all the wrong places
Looking for love in too many faces…”
Paul’s Letter to the Corinth Church–
The church members in a large Greek city also were in a “conundrum”; they were searching for spiritual wisdom in “all the wrong places”. They had formed elitist groups based on certain teachings and opinions.
We do the same today in our towns and cities. Church people form groups based on some new spiritual guru, the latest best seller and seminar, seeking with levels of advancement in “spirituality”. It can get really silly!
In Corinth, what the church thought was WISE…
What was WISE ends up being foolish sometimes and in modern Christian circles, some groups use “buzzwords” to express our take on what it means to be “spiritually mature.”
Ever have someone ask you if you were “full of the Spirit”? Have you got the “second blessing”? Does your church believe in the “full gospel”? I’ve certainly asked the same questions.
The apostle Paul uses their buzzwords to reclaim them; re-defining them in the light of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
In using their language but filling it with his own content, Paul rejects them. He uses terms that the Corinthians had adopted to justify their spiritual elitism (“wisdom,” “mature,” “secret,” “spiritual”); showing that when these terms are properly understood, they include that which is available to ALL believers, not just the super-spiritual.
The Problem in Corinth–
The problem was not that some Christians didn’t have the Holy Spirit, for all the Christians in Corinth had the Spirit. The problem was they were not living as spiritual persons ought to live!
Our problem today isn’t that we don’t have what we need to live Christ-like lives, but that we are not embracing what has already been given to us. We are instead, “Misfocused In Unfruitful Directions”.
WE’VE BEEN BOMBARDED WITH CLAIMS.
Claims like: THE KEYS to a happy and healthy Christian Life is to be found in some new technique [Prayer, self-help therapy, a Christian book, spiritual warfare, certain style of worship, personal revelation, a prayer tongue], and on and on. When these so-called “KEYS”, move away from the humbling, central focus of the Cross of Jesus, we risk becoming elitists, potentially divisive, and if not rejected…can cause a ‘church split.’
Ironically, many deeper life Christian movements have evidently appealed to the church in 1 Corinthians 2; to justify their approach, which is the opposite of Paul’s intent.
The Apostle’s intent is that we should embrace “spiritual discernment” in God’s wisdom in Christ and by the Spirit. When we shift our focus off Jesus, to some other secondary teaching or emphasis, we have lost our way. When we seek and pursue some “deeper” meaning or “better way” that only we and our group have seen, we’ve missed the opportunity of reaching SPIRITUAL MATURITY available to ALL… through Christ and by the Holy Spirit.
Now the Corinthian church members thought they were mature and spiritual in their pursuit of wisdom, but in fact, they were but spiritual infants, missing the TRUE WISDOM of God through His Son.
THE HOLY SPIRIT IS THE “KEY” IN DISCERNMENT:
(Verses 10-12): “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes the deep things of God.  For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.”
The Spirit of God knows ALL the things of God, including the DEPTH of who God is, and His thoughts. So the Spirit can and does enable us to know what God has already given us!
What is amazing to me is what the Holy Spirit does for us; providing for us to know the things God has graciously given to those who believe.
What are the “THINGS” He has provided?
The NIV bible translates “freely given” from the Greek word Charisthenta, from the word GRACE, charis. So Paul is talking about Christ and everything we have available through JESUS through His cross and we are to grab hold of the WISDOM that is present in Christ Crucified! This is TRUE WISDOM, which the Spirit makes possible for us to know–to “discern”.
So what do we do with this knowledge?
“…which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (verse 13, NASB bible).
We are to DISCERN SPIRITUALLY, then we are to explain spiritual truth to others around us, all by the POWER of the Holy Spirit.
Then Paul continues the thought in verse 14, sharing that the person without the Spirit doesn’t accept “the things” or “the depth” or understand because…only discerning is through the Spirit.
The ‘natural’, ‘nonspiritual man’ doesn’t accept the truth. They appear foolish, not understood. The Greek phrase here doesn’t describe a ‘weak Christian’, but rather a person who doesn’t have the Holy Spirit, so they’re NOT a Christian.
This is a person who lives on a purely human plane, so following Christ crucified doesn’t make sense to them. It’s like a deaf person trying to listen to music; or like trying to get email on a phone that’s not smart.
THE AMAZING TRUTH REVEALED:
The last two verses in our text brings us to the Amazing Truth: The ‘Spiritual’ person discerns [or “judges”, “separates”] ALL things–what is wise and foolish, by sifting out the gold from the junk.
 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.  For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
The Holy Spirit of God enables us to DISCERN WISDOM as we evaluate ALL LIFE with the mind of Christ.
Paul Verifies His Final Point:
Paul’s reference to a Scripture quotation in the Old Testament from Isaiah 40:13, asking rhetorically: ‘for Scripture says who can know God’s mind? Who can instruct God?’
Of course the answer is that no one can; no one knows the mind of the Lord, which makes the final phrase seem so outrageous. He says…we can know God’s mind. He says…but we have the mind of Christ.
By the Spirit we have the mind of JESUS which is to have the mind of God.
If you want to continue looking at the word DISCERNING, you might look up and read some other *Bible verses in reference to this study in 1 Corinthians 2:1 – 2:16.
In Part Two, we will again look at DISCERNMENT, but as a spiritual gift of discerning “spirits” and the understanding within the context of the verses found in 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 2..
*Bible References for DISCERNMENT: [1 John 4:1; Hebrews 4:12; Philippians 1:9-10; Hebrews 5:14; Proverbs 3:1-12; 1 Corinthians 14:33; 1 Kings 3:9; Proverbs 18:15].