Recently I have had a number of conversations with friends around spiritual gifting, beliefs and behaviors. Most conversations have gone well. Some not so much. This has led me to think about spiritual gifts and how to know whether you are listening to the Spirit of God or some other spirit. Also, you may be listening to the Spirit of God but the deception of pride or 'idols of the heart' result in being led astray - it's not just what you say or do but HOW you do it that really matters.
So I went back to the covers... the covers of the Bible. And I had an AWESOME time seeing so clearly how Paul the apostle lays it all out.
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I encourage you to read it yourself in 1 Corinthians 12. Understand that the writer is speaking to a group of people who previously were led astray by the worship of multiple gods/idols (who can't speak). He is wanting to introduce them to the Holy Spirit but sensitive to the fact that if they got led astray by dumb idols, how would he need to teach them to make sure they are listening to the RIGHT spirit that TALKS to us? Good question.
I read through the chapter and put Paul's guidelines into a simple flowchart of questions and responses to know that you are listening to the Spirit of God and how to keep from going astray.
"Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant... carried away..." 1 Corinthians 12: 1, 2
These first two questions are like banks of the river - boundaries to know you are listening to the Holy Spirit and not some other spirit masquerading as the Spirit of Truth.
1. Profaning the Name of Jesus?
Does this gift/person/spirit contradict or go against the word, ways, nature or name of Jesus Christ?
Yes? ==> this is NOT the Holy Spirit.
No? ==> great! Proceed to question 2
2. Acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as Lord?
Does this gift/person/spirit acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord Yahweh - Lord of ALL?
No? ==> this is NOT the Holy Spirit.
Yes? ==> great! Proceed to question 3.
This sounds kind of obvious but there are plenty of people who love Jesus and acknowledge him as a son of God or a prophet, but DON'T acknowledge Him AS God.
The next questions clarify whether someone may be operating in a gift from the Holy Spirit but have gone astray due to flaws in character or maturity. An example is James and John, the disciples of Jesus, who wanted to call down fire to burn a city that rejected Jesus. Jesus corrected them saying, "...you don't know what MANNER of spirit you are of." (See Luke 9:55). In other words, their heart desired good for Jesus but the way they wanted to go about it was not according to His character or nature. You could say they had zeal without knowledge or were being hasty and missing Jesus WAY of operating (see also Proverbs 19:2).
Note - Jesus didn't cut them off for their zeal; he adjusted their zeal to align with His nature.
3. Acknowledge different gifts but same Spirit?
Does the person acknowledge Jesus Christ as the source of all gifts and honor other gifts/service/ways of working? Contrast this with people who elevate their status based on a certain gifting resulting in hierarchy or division.
No? ==> they have gone astray (character, maturity, pride...)
Yes? ==> awesome, proceed to next question.
4. Use the gift for the benefit of others?
Does this person use their gifting to help/profit/add to the common good (see 1 Cor 12:7, 25)?
No? ==> Self-seeking? Divisive? Isolating? Inciting evil? => gone astray
Yes? ==> Awesome!
Ok - this should be a great self-check. But what do you do if you or someone you know is listening to a different spirit or has gone astray? First, humble yourself knowing that it's only by the grace of God that we ALL don't go astray.... remember where you came from! (See 1 Cor 12:12 and Gal 6:1-5).
A) Are they a fellow believer?
IF you have relationship then you need to say something. Matthew 18 lays out a really good process that is healthy and helpful and done with the intention of restoring connection. IF you love them you will say something. Silence is assent. If you don't have the confidence or relationship to say something at least say "I'm not sure I agree with that, I'll need to think about it."
B) Are they a non-believer?
Pray. Stay connected, because YOU are the salt and light of the world. BUT be as innocent as a dove and as shrewd as a snake (see Matthew 10:16). Check out what 'being as shrewd as a snake' means. Don't be deceived. Keep your eyes open. Do your due diligence. Speak up as you are led.
If you want more on this topic I recommend Ken Fish and his podcast God is Not a Theory. Also, Mike Connell is a renowned bible teacher and has a wide range of free resources that are brilliant. Click here for more.