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In our previous study in the gifts of the Holy Spirit we turned to the three gifts of revelation which I have been calling a word of wisdom, a word of knowledge, and discernings of spirits. We traced briefly the distinction between wisdom and knowledge saying this: wisdom is essentially directive, knowledge is informative, knowledge imparts facts. They are interdependent, because if you have all the wisdom you need the facts to act upon, and if you have all the knowledge you still need the wisdom to make the right use of it.
However, we can nevertheless observe a distinction between wisdom and knowledge. As I said, it’s something like the colors of the rainbow, they are distinct and yet they blend into one another. So, you cannot draw an absolutely hard and fast line and say here’s where wisdom ends and where knowledge begins. Very frequently as we study the one we’ll find the other also comes into play.
I said that I would define a word of wisdom as a tiny portion of God’s total wisdom supernaturally imparted by the Holy Spirit. From that we very naturally get a parallel definition for a word of knowledge. That is, a tiny portion of God’s total knowledge supernaturally imparted by the Holy Spirit. I pointed out that each one of these gifts is on a supernatural plane, they do not come by natural reasoning or education or training or so many years at the seminary or the university or any of these things. They come directly by the Holy Spirit.
And, like a word of wisdom, a word of knowledge is operated only under God’s control. In other words, I cannot have a word of knowledge merely by the exercise of my will. I can’t say, “Now I’m going to do it, here it is.” I need it, I may be open to God, but whether I receive it or not ultimately is in God’s hands.
Let’s look at some examples in the New Testament and we’ll begin once again with the ministry of Jesus Himself because, as I said, I believe Jesus is the perfect pattern ministry. He set forth everything the right way, the way it ought to be done. Personally, I have to say, I have no ambitions to improve on the ministry of Jesus. If I get that far, I’ll have gone as far as I’m aiming to get. Some people think they’ve found better ways to do a lot of the things that Jesus did. But I’m not convinced of that.
Let’s turn to John 1:47–49. Nathaniel is being invited by Philip to come and meet Jesus who Philip says is the Messiah. Nathaniel asks where he came from and found out he came from Nazareth and could scarcely believe that anything as good as the Messiah could come out of Nazareth. Nathaniel is brought to Jesus with a very dubious, questioning, rather critical attitude of mind. Verse 47:
“Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!”
Let me pause there a moment, Jesus said, “A real Israelite, a true Israelite.” What makes him a true Israelite? The fact that there’s no guile in him. I think most of us would agree that’s a very unusual thing. Jesus apparently was surprised at it.
Why did He say that? Well, you remember that the ancestry of Israel was Jacob. His name originally was Jacob, which means “cheat, supplanter,” literally “heel.” And after God had dealt with him for many years he had an encounter with the Lord where his name was changed to Israel which means “God shall be a prince” or “he shall be a prince with God.” The basis of that change was getting the crookedness out of Jacob. So, anybody that is called an Israelite should have had the crookedness taken out. See, that’s why Jesus said “Here’s an Israelite, a real Israelite. There’s no guile in him.”
As I say, it seems to be clear even Jesus Himself was pretty surprised to find one. Most of us would be equally surprised today. So, Jesus sees Nathaniel coming and says:
“Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me?”
You’ve never met me before, how do you know what kind of a person I am?
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.”
Not by natural sight, but by vision or revelation of the Holy Spirit. Apparently Nathaniel had been somewhere under the fig tree and probably praying, saying, “God, show me if this man really is the Messiah. I want to know.” And to his amazement, he discovered that what he thought was an entirely private transaction under the fig tree was known to Jesus. See the reaction?
“Nathaniel answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.”
Immediate, intense conviction.
I’ve observed this same gift in operation today many times and I’ve noticed it normally produces the same result, conviction. It’s often manifested in healing services. When a preacher can tell a person the exact nature and location of his pain or his sickness without any natural means of knowledge, immediately it produces conviction. And very often faith because if God knows what it is then God can heal it. So, many times, this gift, a word of knowledge, is used as a tool to bring into operation faith for healing. If there’s one word that I would associate with the operation of this gift, it is the word conviction. Let’s turn on to John 4 and see a second illustration in the ministry of Jesus. This is the well-known story of Jesus meeting the woman of Samaria at the well. He began by asking her for a drink of water, she was surprised, they got into conversation, He began to speak to her about the living water that would never have to be drawn again from the well, and she said, “Lord, I’d like some of this water.” Then there
follows this conversation. Verse 15:
The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw. Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly. The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. She knew perfectly well there was no natural means by which Jesus could know these details of her past life. And when He came out with them immediately her defenses were broken down, she said, “You’re a prophet.”
I had an experience not exactly like that but somewhat similar. I was preaching in a street meeting in London, England, years back and I was preaching on the living water which Jesus gives. I got to this point in the story and I was gripped by the fact that if you want the living water you’ve got to put your life right. I spoke about this woman, she wanted the living water but she wasn’t going to deal with the fact that she was living with a man who wasn’t her husband. I emphasized this and there was a young woman there, she got so furious with me she almost assaulted me. She was so angry at what I was saying. Do you know why? Because she had run away from her husband and was living with another man. It was just a little example. I mean, I wasn’t speaking with the same clarity that Jesus spoke, but even coming as near as that immediately produced conviction.
Acts 5, we find a very, very startling incident in the early church. It seems to me that one person who very definitely manifested this gift, the word of knowledge, was the apostle Peter. It was very evident in his ministry. We’ll read this well-known story of Ananias and Sapphira who tried to cheat the Holy Spirit. Because, at this time the disciples were selling their land and possessions and bringing the money and offering it to the apostles for the work of the church and the ministry. It says in verse 1:
“But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid at the apostles’ feet.”
I want to point out their sin was not keeping back part of the price. Their sin was pretending that they’d brought the whole price.
“But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.”
If I’d been there, great fear would have come upon me, I’ll tell you. Think of the power! Two people just couldn’t live in the presence of the supernatural knowledge of the Holy Spirit.
I sometimes find myself wondering how many funerals we’d have in modern churches if the same gift came into operation. How many people are trying to cheat God today pretending to be better and more righteous and give more than they really do? This is an exemplary judgment of God. It doesn’t mean that God deals with every hypocrite like this, but it means this is what God thinks about hypocrites. His opinion doesn’t change; His method of dealing with it isn’t always the same.
You see, this is the only way, really, that the church can be kept pure. Some churches have their statement of fundamentals. You know? Points number 1 through 8, we believe this, we believe that. But I’ll tell you, Ananias and Sapphira would have said Amen to every fundamental. Whether it was Assemblies of God or the Presbyterian Church, they would have said Amen. They’d have stood up and recited the Creed, but here was something they couldn’t get by. It’s the supernatural knowledge of Almighty God. They were lying.
It’s worth reading a little further on. It says in verse 13:
“And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them. And believers were more added to the Lord...”
See, it’s a difference between getting members and getting believers. They didn’t get any members who weren’t believers at that stage. People were afraid to join the church. Would God it were like that today! Jesus never told us to go out and make members. He told us to go out and make disciples. Most of our problems today arise out of people that are members but not disciples. At any rate, let me point this out. Peter’s knowledge was supernatural. The Holy Spirit in Peter knew things that Peter couldn’t know and he said, “You haven’t been lying to me. You’ve been lying to the Holy Spirit.” I have to show you that Peter was pretty severe because when Sapphira came in he didn’t say, “Sapphira, we caught you husband in a lie.” He said, “Sapphira, how much did you sell it for? Was it so much, the figure that Ananias had given?” She said yes. He said, “You’re lying.” She dropped down dead. You know, some pulpit committees wouldn’t want that type of preacher.
It’s really worth seeing—people talk about love and love and love but there’s another side to the truth. I remember once we had a disciplinary problem in a congregation. I set a little trap for a lady and she fell right into it. I don’t need to give you the details but I just asked her a question that proved she was a liar. Afterwards she said, “You knew you were doing that.” I said, “Yes, just like the apostle Peter.” She didn’t accept that. I tell you, we’re dealing with a living God. The Bible says “All things are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” You know, the problem with most church members, they don’t realize they’re dealing with God. They think they’re dealing with the Board, or the deacons, or the preacher. You can fool any preacher sometimes. There’s one person none of us ever fools and that’s God.
Let’s go on to Acts 9. Here we deal with another Ananias. Not the same one, but a disciple in the city of Damascus. Saul of Tarsus was on his way to Damascus to imprison and condemn the believers in Jesus in that city. The Lord arrested him on the road, revealed Himself to him, Saul was struck blind, led by the hand in to the city of Damascus and taken to a certain house on a certain street. In that same city was a man named Ananias. Ananias was just called a disciple, he wasn’t an apostle, he wasn’t an evangelist, he was just a disciple. Some people don’t believe that God gives revelations and gifts to anybody but preachers and missionaries and so on. But here Ananias was just a plain disciple. Let’s look at the way it happened. Acts 9:10.
“There was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, and hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.”
Ananias was given the exact name, the address; he was able to know what Paul had seen in a vision. And, this was followed, as you’ll see, by a directive word of wisdom. Go there, lay your hands on him, he’ll receive his sight. At first Ananias was unwilling because he said, “This man came here to persecute us.” But the Lord persuaded him to go. This resulted in the bringing forth of Paul into the fullness of faith in Jesus Christ. It was a crucial moment in God’s dealings with the early church. Because Ananias could go to Saul and speak with wisdom, “Brother Saul, the Lord that appeared unto thee in the way, even Jesus, hath sent me.” Saul’s heart was opened to the truth.
Acts 10, we have another example. This time, again, in the ministry of Peter. In our previous study we took the earlier part of this passage as an example of the word of wisdom: Peter, being directed by the vision of the sheet, to go to preach to the Gentiles. Notice it was followed by a word of knowledge. As I said many times, these work together. Peter had had the vision; the men from the house of Cornelius in Caesarea had arrived at the gate and were knocking. Peter was still on the rooftop pondering on the vision. Verse 19:
“While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them. Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius...”
But before he knew in the natural that the men were there or who had sent them, the Holy Spirit told him. So then he knew that everything was lining up. Do you see this? This served as confirmation for the vision that he’d previously received. You’ll see that at this point God had to put a lot of pressure on Peter to get him to do this thing because it was contrary to his whole nature and background and upbringing, to go to the house of a Gentile, much less bring him the gospel. So, the word of wisdom was followed by the word of knowledge and the word of knowledge served as confirmation of the word of wisdom that had previously been given. One further example, let’s turn on to Acts 20. This is in the experience of Paul but it is not Paul that receives the word of knowledge, it is others who receive it for Paul. Acts 20:22–23. Paul is speaking to the elders of the church at Ephesus, he’s on his way to Jerusalem and he tells them the kind of testimony that’s been received from the Holy Spirit in the congregations of the saints along the line of his journey up to Jerusalem. This is how he sums it up. Acts 20:22–23:
“And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.”
Notice in every city where Paul had met together with believers in one way or another, we don’t know in detail how, the Holy Spirit had warned him that bonds and afflictions were awaiting him at the end of his journey in Jerusalem. Here was a word of knowledge repeated in each city.
I had this experience when I was preaching in Denmark in l961 or ’62 after we had returned from East Africa. I had a certain message which I felt the Lord had given me which was that the harvest hour was at hand and it was the time for the harvest. I preached it in three or perhaps four different congregations over one weekend. The remarkable thing was that when I finished that message, in every congregation it was followed immediately by an utterance in an unknown tongue and the interpretation in the Danish language bearing testimony by the Holy Spirit to the truth of what I said. The people in those three congregations were quite different. They didn’t have any direct contact with one another but in every congregation when I finished expounding this truth the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Spirit bore testimony that this was the way God Himself saw it. So, these things still happen today.
Paul said, “Along the line of my journey every congregation where I’ve stopped off and had fellowship, the Holy Spirit has warned me bonds and affliction are awaiting in Jerusalem.”
Now let’s turn on to Acts 21 and see a little bit more of this. They had come as far as the city of Caesarea, almost the last stage of the journey before Jerusalem and in verses 10–11 of Acts 21 Paul has another revelation through a prophet named Agabus:
“And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”
Here was yet another revelation but along the same line. Here was a word of knowledge. What’s going to happen in Jerusalem? Your own people are going to take you, bind you and betray you into the hands of the Romans, the Gentiles. Notice how gracious the Holy Spirit is. If we’re prisoners of God, it’s love prisoners. The Holy Spirit caused Agabus not to bind Paul’s hands and feet but to bind his own hands and feet. And Paul had the option of whether he would step into that position or not. It was freewill on his part.
I also point this out, which perhaps some who’ve not been amongst the Jews and in Israel wouldn’t realize. The ultimate for a Jew is to betray a fellow Jew into the hands of Gentiles. That’s absolutely the last and the lowest that they’ll do. See, when we were there in l947–48 there were Jewish terrorists at work and they were brutal, cruel. They would shoot people down in the streets and refuse to let anybody come to their help and watch them die. I’m not taking sides about this. In many, many cases respectable Jewish citizens knew who these people were but there’s one thing they would never do is betray them into the hands of the Gentiles—the British or any other Gentile. You see, the absolute ultimate is in the New Testament when the Jews betrayed Jesus into the hands of the Romans. Unless you have this background you cannot appreciate what it means. Then, here for Paul was the message. “Your own people are going to bind you and turn you over to the Gentiles.” If you don’t know how the Jews in their heart think about the Gentiles you wouldn’t understand that this is really the ultimate in betrayal.
Anyhow, Paul was given this revelation repeated several ways along the route. What was the result? Preparation of his own heart, and I’ve quoted that little proverb that says, “Forewarned is forearmed.” It was mental and spiritual preparation for a tremendous ordeal that lay ahead.
So, we can summarize briefly the results produced frequently by this particular gift. The most obvious, conspicuous result is conviction. Also confirmation of something that maybe God has been showing us by some other means. And, in certain circumstances, preparation. For instance, I remember my wife telling me that at one time when there was rioting and war between the Arabs and Jews on two occasions God showed her a situation of great danger. On one occasion there was blood on the bottom step of the stairs that led down from her door. She saw this in a night vision. She had a little girl she was leading by the hand—incidentally, Anna, who is here now—and lifted her over this pool of blood where a man had been killed on the doorstep. When she saw this in the vision she prayed and said, “Lord, whatever is going to happen, I don’t know. But if I’m going to be in that situation, be with me and protect us.” And about two days later exactly what she’d seen in the vision happened. This is confirmation. Then you know: God foreknew it, He is with me, He’ll take me through. This is another aspect of the working of this gift.
Now I want to go on to the third in the category of the gifts of revelation which is discernings of spirits. Notice that each part is plural. It’s not discerning, it’s discernings of spirits. Let’s consider for a few moments the meaning of the word discern. I suggest that you define this word discern as “to recognize and distinguish between.” Discernment is a form of direct perception whereas knowledge is the impartation of a fact. The result may be the same but the means is different.
Let me give you this example. Somebody may say to me, “You know Mr. Jones. He has a hump back.” I have never seen Mr. Jones, but by the impartation of this fact I get to know he has a hump on his back. Or, quite differently, I may be in a room and I may see Mr. Jones and I may see the outline of the hump under his clothing and I say, “He’s got a hump back.” One is knowledge imparted in the form of a fact without any perception, the other is perception. The result is the same, but the means are different.
A word of knowledge gives you a fact. But, discernment, you actually perceive something. Let’s look in Hebrews 5:14 which contains a very important fact about discernment. This fact is true in various different aspects about all the gifts. Remember that very few of us ever begin to operate the gifts perfectly the first time. We can practice and we can come to perfection in the understanding and operation of the gifts. If we want to do them right, perfectly the first time, probably we’ll never do them at all. You know, some people are such perfectionists that they’ll never do a thing unless they know they can do it right the first time. The result is many times they just don’t do the thing.
We have a daughter—in fact, some of you know her, Elizabeth. She’s a wonderful girl and a talented girl but basically, her problem is unless she knows beforehand she can do it perfectly she won’t do it at all. I’ve many times had to have little tussles to push her into doing something with the understanding it might not be perfect the first time but it’s still worth doing.
And, this is a problem with many people with the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit. They think, If I can’t prophesy like Isaiah then I won’t prophesy at all. That really is absurd. Who knows how Isaiah began? Maybe he wasn’t so tremendous the first time he did it. This is true with discernment particularly. It can be cultivated. I regret very much that I failed for many years to cultivate it.
So, let’s look now at Hebrews 5:14 which speaks about this necessity of exercising your senses to discern.
“But [the] strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age [mature, grown up], even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
You know, to go along through your Christian journey always a simpleton, always falling for every kind of trap that Satan puts in your way is not to the glory of God. To be unable to discern between the sincere person and the hypocrite really is not to the glory of God. Many of us fail God by failing to exercise discernment which God has made available to us.
Discernment can come in various different ways. I’m certainly not suggesting that this is a complete summary. It may come as a vision, in quotes—a vision where you actually see something that is not there in the natural. And we have two examples that are very obvious in the Scripture and I’ve given the references. John 1:32. John the Baptist saw the Holy Spirit as a dove descending upon Jesus. The people round about didn’t see it, but he had a kind of vision in which his eyes were opened. And, in the book of Revelation you’ll find that John the revelator was granted a vision of three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the beast and the false prophet and so on. I’ve met many people who have seen spirits in the form of animals: mice, bats, frogs and so on. That isn’t to say the spirit is a frog, but in the spiritual this is how it is revealed. A fox is another animal. In fact, a snake is very obvious, particularly the python which we’ll see something about a little later on in this study. That’s one way. It may be a clear vision where you see something and yet it isn’t there in the natural.
I think most commonly discernment isn’t like that; it’s just seeing what’s there but seeing it with the understanding of the Holy Spirit. This is how I find it comes to me most often nowadays. I can look at people and I just see them as they are but somehow I see the significance. I don’t know whether this is in line with this but just lately I’ve had two or three cases of a little demon looking at me out of somebody’s eyes and almost saying, “Can you see me?” I say, “Yes, I see you.” And yet I really haven’t seen anything, it’s just seeing it the right way if I can only get that across to you.
There was a man who came to us for help, a good friend of mine, a very wonderful man but he had this problem that he was a compulsive smoker. I’m not preaching against smoking, but he was enslaved by it. He loathed it, wanted to get free from it, and couldn’t. I’d tried everything in the book to help him. I mean, I approached it from every angle. My help never lasted. He’d get free for a couple of weeks and then back. So, one day he phoned and said, “I’m flying in.” This is halfway across the country, so I thought, I better come up with an answer. I didn’t know anything more to do so I said, “Let’s go out and talk.” We went and sat in the restaurant and he began to tell me about his boyhood and things I hadn’t known about him, how he’d run away from home and got sick of his mother’s religion. His mother was one of the old-fashioned Methodists which are very different than the modern Methodists. I don’t think I have to tell you that! As he was telling me this, something looked at me and sort of said, “Do you see me?” “I saw you, rebellion.” And I saw something I’d never seen, because in the natural he was a well- behaved, polite, courteous man, but there was a little demon of rebellion that had been there since his early boyhood. That night we went for that demon, got it out and the smoking problem was solved. The smoking problem was just a branch on the trunk, but the trunk was rebellion (as I was saying in one of our studies the other day).
What I’m trying to say is there’s a way of seeing people which isn’t a vision and yet you see what matters. I do believe this is discernment and I believe it’s very, very useful. It’s also rather frightening. At times it’s almost embarrassing; you could wish you didn’t know what you do know.
Now, it is discernings of spirits, let’s notice. Let me point out, first of all, that this doesn’t just mean evil spirits. As far as I’m able to understand, there are various classes of spirits that we encounter in the Christian life. I have listed five.
There’s the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. There are good angels.
There are fallen, rebellious angels.
There are demons, or evil spirits. I believe those two phrases are used interchangeably. And, there are human spirits. Every human being has a spirit of his own.
The word discerning is in the plural, discernings. I believe this means, in this and all similar cases, that each discerning is an operation of gift just as gifts of healing, each healing is an operation of the gift. Workings of miracles, each working is an operation of the gift. That’s why they’re in the plural.
This gift also, I believe, is operated under God’s control. In other words, we cannot do it at will. It was here in Fort Lauderdale in one of the conventions we had not so long ago I was preaching and a dear woman, I mean, she was a very, very sweet woman. I’m really not making fun of her but I cannot speak about it without smiling. She walked up to me direct at the end of the meeting. She had very dark, dark glasses on. She stood right in front of me and I wondered what was going to happen next. Whisked the glasses off and said, “Brother Prince, you have discernment. Look in my eyes and tell me if I have a demon.” I said, “Sister, it doesn’t work that way. I can’t switch it on and switch it off at will. But if I’m ministering and I need the knowledge then God will give it to me.” We cleared that up. But you see, she thought of it like, kind of x-ray photography, you just get the person in, switch, and then out it comes. It isn’t like that; it isn’t under the control of the human will. Although, we have to be open to it or it will not come.
Now let’s consider some examples in the New Testament, going rather quickly, in the different categories of spirits. Let’s start with discerning of the Holy Spirit. We turn to John 1 and see the testimony of John the Baptist. John 1, we could read from verse 31 through verse 33:
“And I knew him not [that is Jesus]: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.”
I think it’s clear from the word of John the Baptist that he only saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove. All the rest of the people round about didn’t see it. It was a supernatural discernment that was given to him because he needed it. It was that way that he was to find out the Messiah.
Then in Acts 2:3 where we do not need to linger we find the Holy Spirit is manifested to human senses in the form of tongues of fire. Of course, the Holy Spirit is not tongues of fire but He’s manifested as tongues of fire. It says in Acts 2:3:
“And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.”
Again, this was a supernatural revelation: the discerning of the Holy Spirit.
Now, beyond this I want to point out that it is tremendously important that we learn to discern the Holy Spirit in meetings, when He moves, through whom He moves, how He moves. We must be in a position to recognize the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, so often we’ll miss what God is doing in a meeting. For instance, recently I have seen the spirit of healing move into a place and just take over. Almost anybody can get healed while it was there. And anybody could pray for anybody and they would get healed. I’ve seen groups of about half a dozen all praying at one time in the meeting and people getting healed.
Then, another time the spirit of miracles moved in and miracles were taking place—manifest, evident miracles. But, unless people realize, you can miss it. See? This is a strange thing. I’m sure to some of you it may seem very unfamiliar. But there is a time when a certain manifestation of the Holy Spirit moves in and it’s there. Another time the spirit of prophecy will be there and everybody will be prophesying. This is something beyond the mere operation of the gift of prophecy in an individual. I’m sure as we move on in the present move of the Holy Spirit it’s going to become more and more important that we discern the Holy Spirit in these ways. Otherwise we’re going to miss so much of what God wants done.
You see, the human program is we’re going to have three hymns and a chorus and the announcements and then somebody is going to preach. But in the middle of all this, the Spirit of God moves in and says “Now’s the time for healing.” We ignore Him, we miss it. See, it’s like blind Bartimaeus who sat by the wayside, heard a noise and said, “What’s that?” Jesus of Nazareth. Believe me, that blind beggar knew this is it. It’s now or never. He didn’t let anybody’s program stop him from getting to the Lord. There are times when it’s like that in our meetings. This is it. You get it now or you’ve missed it. And then we’ve got to discern the Holy Spirit and be willing to let human plans and ideas and preconceptions step back.
You see, when Bartimaeus wanted to be healed, all the people who knew about religious protocol said, “Stop. Don’t make a noise. Don’t disturb him. He’s too busy.” And there will always be the people there with their religious protocol that say, “You mustn’t do that.” If you want what God’s got for you, you better do it when God says do it, even if it’s stand on your head. Of course, I don’t think He usually says that! But He does tell us to do some surprising things.
Apparently the Spirit of God led David to dance in front of the ark with all his might. And that’s not a little because David was a mighty man of valor. And of course, there was somebody there with a religious protocol, that was his wife Michal. She said, “You made a spectacle of yourself dancing in front of all those servant maids there.” David said, “I wasn’t dancing in front of the servant maids; I was dancing in front of the Lord.” He said, “I’m going to be yet more base than that if the Lord tells me to.” Michal the critic never had a child, do you know that? That critical spirit that refuses what the Holy Spirit is doing makes people spiritually barren. We have to be open to the Holy Spirit.
Let’s come on to the discerning of angels. I’ve got just three examples here. We’ll deal with them quickly. Luke 22:43. Right at the beginning of His ministry Jesus said, as a matter of fact, to Nathaniel, “Are you surprised at the fact that I saw you under the fig tree? I’ll tell you, the time is coming when you’ll see the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” And in Luke 22:43 it’s in the Garden, isn’t it? The Garden of Gethsemane. It says concerning Jesus that He as He prayed in agony:
“There appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.”
There appeared unto Him: it seems clear from the account that nobody else saw that angel. The others were there, but they didn’t see the angel.
And in John 20:11–13, Mary Magdalene saw an angel which neither the apostle John nor the apostle Peter could see. I want you to see this. This is when John and Peter ran to the sepulcher. We’ll read from verse 4:
“So they ran both together: and the other disciple [John] did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying [that’s all he saw, was the linen clothes. Verse 6:] Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin. Then went in also that other disciple [John], ... and he saw [linen clothes and a napkin] ...”
Then they went back home but in verse 11:
“Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting...”
Neither John nor Peter saw the angels but Mary did. That was discernment.
And this is true in the children’s home that my wife had in Israel for many years. There were times when the small children would be conscious of the presence of an angel which others could not see. I think my wife has a story, I hope I get it right. She had a little boy who was very sick whom she was trying to nurse back to life. They were sitting with the children in the kitchen one day and one of the girls, whose name was Ruhammah, lifted up her head and said, “Mama, I saw an angel and he came and took ” the little boy, Joseph, I think his name was. The next day Joseph died. God had shown that little girl that He was coming to take that little sick boy.
Acts 27, this is Paul on the ship on the way to be wrecked on the island of Malta. He stood up in the middle of the storm and he said this, verse 23:
“For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar...”
The only person who was aware of the angel was Paul.
Then there’s discerning of human spirits. We’ve already in connection with the word of knowledge looked at the instant of Nathaniel but let’s look back there for a moment just to make our outline complete. John 1:47:
“Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”
He discerned a guileless spirit. That was not a spirit other than Nathanael’s, that was Nathanael’s own human spirit. It was a guileless spirit. Jesus discerned it.
Notice what it says about Jesus in the next chapter of John, chapter 2, verses 23–25:
“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.”
He could see the invisible real man inside the outer man. He was not deceived. All the others accepted Judas and had no idea that he would be the one to betray, but Jesus saw it right from the beginning and yet made him an apostle.
Then in Acts 8 we see this in Peter’s dealing with Simon the sorcerer. Simon, who had long dominated the city of Samaria with his witchcraft and sorcery, saw and heard Philip preaching the gospel, saw the miracles and signs, and decided this was it. He got baptized, became a disciple in a sense, went along and then John and Peter came down and prayed for the converts. They received the Holy Spirit with manifest evidence of power. Then Simon came out with this in verse 18 of Acts 8:
“When Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.”
Peter saw through the outward conformity of Simon to the inward crookedness and wrong motives in his heart. Apparently Philip had not seen through Simon while he was there. So here’s a revelation of the inner nature of Simon given to Peter.
And then in Acts 14 we have another example of Paul discerning faith in a cripple. Acts 14:8–10:
“There sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mothers’ womb, who never had walked: the same heard Paul speak: who steadfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed, said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked.”
Paul looking at that one man in probably a large congregation saw in him faith. He stopped in the middle of his message and said, “Stand upright and walk.” And the man responded in faith and began to walk. That was not the discernment of either the Holy Spirit or of a demon but that was a believing spirit in that man.
In 2 Corinthians 4:13 Paul speaks about the spirit of faith.
Now let’s come to discerning of evil spirits. I want you to notice in the ministry of Jesus how often this is used in connection with the ministry of healing and it’s quite remarkable how often physical sickness in the gospel is attributed to evil spirits. We turn to Matthew 9 for the first example. Matthew 9:32–34:
“As they went out, behold, they brought to him a dumb man possessed with a devil.”
I prefer to say demonized because possessed is a wrong word.
“And when the [demon] was cast out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel. But the Pharisees said, He casteth out [demons] through the prince of the [demons].”
Notice the man was dumb and Jesus discerned that it was caused by a dumb spirit that prevented the man from using his vocal organs. He cast out the dumb spirit and the man immediately spoke. No one would suggest that all dumbness is caused by spirits. But here was a case where it was caused by a dumb spirit.
My wife and I have seen this. We have seen cases where dumbness immediately ceases when the dumb spirit goes out. In East Africa in Kenya when an evangelist was ministering there in a city named ?No-coo-roo? the Asians, who were Hindus, would not come near a Christian church. They were not interested. But when this American evangelist came with a ministry of healing, the Asians would line up or sit down on the grass and wait for hours before the meeting opened because this is what they were after. The mayor of ?No-coo-roo?, a wealthy Asian, had a son who was 18 years old and never had spoken. When the dumb spirit was cast out, that young man immediately started imitating sounds and was learning to speak. I tell you, that made more impact on those Asians than ten years of normal missionary activity in one little incident. These things are real but we do not for a moment suggest that all dumbness or all deafness are caused by spirits. Therefore, we must be able to discern it.
Matthew 12, there’s a similar example. Matthew 12:22–24.
“Then was brought unto him [Jesus] one who was possessed with a devil [I prefer to say demonized], blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out [demons], but by Beelzebub the prince of the [demons].”
Notice that it’s clear from the context that Jesus healed that man by casting out the blind and dumb spirit.
We were dealing just recently in Atlanta with a young woman and many, many spirits were coming out of her naming themselves. When the next one named itself I commanded it to name itself and it said, “Blindness.” Her husband almost jumped. He said, “The doctor has told her that she’ll be blind.” I said, “She’s not going to be blind now.” You see, the blind spirit will come in to produce blindness over a period of time just like a deaf spirit will come in. It doesn’t immediately produce total deafness but the deafness will follow. It’s the product of what the spirit does.
I saw a woman—in fact, I know her well—in a meeting in London. She was stone deaf in one ear. I mean, this I knew from close personal experience. An evangelist came, cast out the deaf spirit and the woman was radiant, she heard everything with that ear perfectly, instantly. But you know, she didn’t have the faith to keep it. About two weeks later she was as deaf as she’d ever been. She let the spirit come back. This is why it’s so important for Christians to realize that we’re dealing so often with spirits we’ve got to identify. The devil is a murderer, did you know that? You realize that? And a murderer is one who kills physically. And he’ll do it. If we let him, he’ll murder us. We’ve just got to understand this. He’s a ruthless, unscrupulous, cruel enemy. We have to know what we’re dealing with.
Let’s go on, Mark 9:17–27:
“And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; and wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they shouldst cast him out; and they could not. He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me. And they brought him unto him.”
Jesus didn’t say, “This is too hard.” Did you notice that? He didn’t say, “This is the will of God.” He said, “Bring him to Me.” That was His attitude about every single case of sickness. Never was this is the will of God or this is something that we can’t deal with. “Bring him to Me.” When the Centurion said, “I’ve got a servant at home.” Jesus said, “I’ll come and heal him.” There never was a question about the will of Jesus to heal and to deliver. “Bring him to Me.” Now, let’s read on.
“And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. Everybody normally would call this epilepsy.”
And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child.
This is another thing we’ve learned. Childhood experiences are crucial many times in tracing the origin and the entrance of a demon.
“And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.”
And notice what Jesus said when he said, “If thou canst do anything.” Jesus said, “If thou canst believe.” He put the responsibility right back on the man. And notice, the man, the father, was responsible for his son. This is another of the responsibilities of parenthood that a lot of Christians don’t recognize. We are responsible to have faith for our children. He didn’t say, “If the son could believe,” he said, “If thou canst believe, your son can be healed.”
And the Syro-Phoenician woman had a daughter that was grievously tormented and she had faith. He said, “Woman, the devil has gone out of your daughter. Great is thy faith.” Most Christians haven’t realized that one of our responsibilities as parents is to have faith for our children.
“Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up.”
Jesus said specifically, “Thou dumb and deaf spirit.” When the spirit came out, epilepsy ceased. This could be controversial, but I know that epilepsy is caused by an evil spirit. I’ve had an epileptic demon talk to me out of people. I’ve had it talk to me with a man’s voice out of a woman’s throat. It’s one of the things we’ve just got to recognize and learn how to deal with.
Let’s look at another case. The time is passing but I want to get through these if I can. Luke 13:11– 17:
“Behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.”
What caused that? A spirit of infirmity. Physical but caused by a spirit of infirmity.
“When Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.”
Not gradually, but immediately. Then they protested but Jesus answered them. We don’t need to read the protest. They said it shouldn’t be done on the sabbath. Jesus said, “You hypocrites!” Verse 16:
“Ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?”
Satan had bound her physically with a spirit of infirmity; she couldn’t straighten her back up. The moment the spirit went out she could straighten her back. Her physical condition was caused by a spirit. Jesus had to be able to discern it to know how to deal with it.
And then the last instance is in Acts 16:16–18. Paul and Silas were in Philippi preaching the gospel and it says:
“It came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination [the Greek says ‘a spirit, a Python’] met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying [fortune telling]: the same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.”
She was saying every word that was true. She was advertising the preachers of the gospel but it was an evil spirit doing it.
This she did many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. We have to have this discernment. I’ll tell you this. Fortune telling demons is rife in the church today. The demons of sorcery, witchcraft, divination, I meet them everywhere I go in nice, respectable church congregations amongst people that are fooling around with the horoscopes, the Ouija board, astrology and all sorts of things like that. They get hooked by this same demon of divination. When we have discernings of spirits operating on a full scale in the church it’s going to turn the place upside down. You know what I’ll say? Praise the Lord.