Faithlife Sermons

Prophecy and Distinguishing of Spirits

The Spiritual Gifts  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Today we’re continuing our series on the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and we’ll be discussing the gifts of prophecy and also Discernment.
Have you ever experienced that fleeting thought, the one that says… You better pack that because you’re going to need it or, so and so isn’t going to make it to work on time today so I better prepare for that? Even better, make sure you take that get that ready to go now or you’re going to forget it…
I have had thoughts like these soooo many times and you know what the dumb thing about it is? I never learn! I always think it and then immediately doubt the impending doom that my mind just prohpecied over my future. I think it’s God speaking to me because it’s always for my benefit. If I would only listen to that voice I would forego a lot of annoyance or frustration from other parties because I forgot something or didn’t do what I said I was going to do.
Before we can get into what the gift of prophecy is, we need to understand the root of the gift… Prophecy.


The word prophecy has the ability to get people both excited and really uncomfortable depending on where they are in their walk with Jesus and how much they know about what prophecy actually is.
Prophecy is a supernatural utterance that is inspired by the Holy spirit. Think of it as a divinely inspired teaching or instruction.
In our world, most people tend to associate prophecy a little too much with foretelling of the future. Yes, the prophetic can be a word foretelling future events but the reality of most prophecy is that it is focused much more on a forthtelling of the present.
In both forthtelling and foretelling, there are two functions of the prophetic. The first is to bring rebuke and warning to those who’s path has strayed from the one God had placed them on or has directed them to follow. The second is to bring advice and guidance to someone’s life.
Both of these functions accomplish one overarching purpose… Prophecy is intended to encourage believers and not to confuse them, even in bringing rebuke or warning. All the spiritual gifts are for the edification of others. They are the manifestation of the spirit in individuals for the common good.
1 Corinthians 14:31 ESV
31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged,
“So that all may learn and all be encouraged...”
This is the primary function of the prophetic, to encourage and bring edification to those around us.
Prophecy happens because God speaks to us or gives us things to share. In other words, in order to prophecy one would need to listen to what God says and know how he speaks.
Hearing from God is one of those age old questions many believers have about their faith. How do I know it’s God? How will God speak to me?
In Dr. Rob Reimer’s book entitled River Dwellers, he goes through six ways in which God speaks to people.
The first way is the whisper of the spirit. This is when God simply guides and directs our thoughts. You’re in a worship service and you think to yourself, I need to pray for that person… and then you have that inner dialogue that argues back and forth about whether to do it or not but when you finally do, it was totally worth it because that person needed your support and prayers in that exact moment. That argument happened with God not your own thoughts.
This God thought, or whisper, can easily be chalked up to, “that’s just me” and we can easily ignore it. The still small voice is easily silenced by louder things but it is persistent enough that if we focus on it, it becomes plenty loud enough to hear.
That said, we still need to make sure that we discern whether that thought is from God.
The second is the audible voice of God. I’ve never experienced this but I’ve heard stories of people who have. Just as God still speaks, He still speaks audibly as well.
The third way we can hear God is through dreams and visions. Acts 2:17 says,
Acts 2:17 ESV
17 “ ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;
When we sleep we see pictures that are dreams, and when we’re awake we see pictures that are visions. When we walk in the spirit, God will show us visions and dreams in order that we may prophesy.
Dreams of course are easy, they happen when you sleep and God may speak to us through them. Visions on the other hand are easier to miss. They tend to be fleeting, much like a whisper. when you receive a vision, pay attention to it because it doesn’t stay very long.
Of course, not all dreams or visions are from God so again, discernment is needed to determine whether they are or aren’t.
Sometimes God will speak to us through our body or our emotions. I’ve experienced this on multiple occasions. When the spirit is trying to guide us back to the right path, often we might feel uncomfortable with a certain action or decision. It’s not fear, it’s not anxiety… Those two things are very much opposite from the work of the spirit… it’s a feeling that’s uncomfortable, not unlike the feeling when someone stares at you for too long and you begin to feel uncomfortable in your own skin.
Sometimes God will speak through emotions like compassion. Perhaps there is someone who needs the love of God or who God wants to deliver a prophetic word to. When we see them, God might allow us to feel His compassion for that person as a way of directing our minds eye to see their need. Or maybe he’ll give you a sense of overwhelming peace when making a decision. God speaks through our emotions and our body’s senses to guide us just as much as he whispers to us.
Another way God will speak is through a word in our minds eye. Just one word, nothing else… but you see the word as if written on a page.
The last example that Rob speaks about is that the spirit causes us to just know something that we wouldn’t know otherwise. Rob calls this the “knower.” When the spirit speaks to our “knower” we just know something to be true. God knows things and often he likes to share them with us so we should listen for those things.
Everyone has the ability to hear God, and so it would follow that everyone can prophecy. The bible specifically says that everyone has the ability to prophesy
1 Corinthians 14:31 ESV
31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged,
More than that, everyone should desire to prophesy.
1 Corinthians 14:39 begins by saying that we should “earnestly desire to prophesy...”
I want to be clear on one thing regarding this… although everyone can propnot all have the gift of prophesy. Many are given more than one gift but not all are given the same gifts or all the gifts.
We know this because of how Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 and how in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 he talks about the body of believers being made up of many members, just as the physical body has many parts. Each part has a role to play that is different than the others but no less important no matter how inferior it may seem.
1 Corinthians 12:27–31 ESV
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
All people don’t poses all the gifts. Sure, there’s nothing that says we can’t have more than one gift but not all are teachers, not all work miracles, and not all are prophets.
I find it interesting that all of the spiritual gifts are amplifications of things we can all pray for and walk in on a regular basis. We can all pray for healings and see them happen, but we don’t all have the gifts of healing. We can all pray for a word of wisdom for someone, but we don’t all have the gift of a word of wisdom.
Someone who has the gift of prophecy is someone who is living so close to God that they are able to better know God’s heart, mind, and will in order that they might share them with others. They are hyper sensitive to the whispers of the Holy Spirit and as such have a supernatural ability to prophesy over peoples lives again and again when other’s might not be able.

Discernment (Distinguishing between spirits)

With the gift of prophesy will usually come the gift of discernment or distinguishing of spirits. Someone who has the gift of prophecy may not also have the gift of Discernment but there will likely be someone who does when this person prophecies. 1 John 4:1 tells us that all people must test the spirits.
1 John 4:1 ESV
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
This is super important for us all to do, but not every believer has the gift of discernment. That gift of inspired knowing of whether something is from God or demons. Whether a spirit is good or evil.
Someone who doesn’t have the gift of discernment is still tasked with testing the spirits, it just takes a little more critical thinking than it would for someone with that gift.
The best and main thing is to do when discerning whether something was from God or not is to look at scripture. When we’ve heard a whisper in our mind that we think might be God but we’re really not sure, we should compare how the thought sounded, what the motive was behind it and compare those things to what scripture says about God’s character and what the bible says about either the motive or how the thought sounded.
If our thought agrees or disagrees with what the bible says about the motivation of the thought and how the thought sounds, and who God is, then we can determine whether it was from God or not.
The two most telling parts of something we believe to be told to us by God is the motive behind that thing and if it lines up with who God is.
These are important because Satan can sound very nice, he can also bring pleasure and things that seem good and beautiful. Just because something sounds nice, looks pleasant or seems good, doesn’t mean that it actually is.
If we know the motive behind what we think is from God, even if that thing seems good, if the motive is bad and doesn’t line up with what the bible says about God’s character then it’s not from God and we can disregard it.
God may also send other people, cause a certain song to come on at just the right time, or allow you to see a newspaper article to confirm something that He said to us. This is something to be open to and not just chalk up to coincidence… in my experience, coincidences rarely happen when God is involved. But, even when something seems to be a confirmation, we still must compare it to the words written in the bible to make sure that it’s God’s leading and not satan leading us astray.
The word is alive and active, sharper than a double edged sword. The bible is God, and it is also our guide. Trust what it says and use it to help guide your path
Remember the “knower” that we all have? When we just know something because God caused us just to know it? This is how I imagine the gift of discernment works. When someone claims to be a prophet of God, the person with the gift of discernment would just know if they were or not.
A person with the gift of discernment wouldn’t have to do what I might have to do to discern whether I’m hearing God or an evil spirit, they would just know because the Holy spirit allows them to see what is truly good or evil.


the gift of prophecy and the gift of discernment are like all the other spiritual gifts in that they are given in order to give hope and encouragement. They are given for the edification of others so that God may be known and glorified.
God wants to have a personal relationship with all of His children. Using the gift of prophecy and the gift of discernment together can be an incredible tool to show God’s love and power to those that don’t know Him.
Those of us who don’t have either of these gifts, that just means we need to pay that much more attention to what God might be trying to say to us. Those of us who do have one of these gifts… We still have to be willing to use them and have the courage to say, okay God… how would you like me to use this amazing gift you’ve given.
God has a plan for each of your lives. He hasn’t forgotten or abandoned anyone, in fact God sent His son to die on a cross for us. Then when our sins had been taken care of, He sent the Holy spirit to live inside of our hearts so that we would always be close with God and have help on a personal level any time we need.
The gifts of the spirit are part of how God sends that help. If you feel prompted by the spirit to prophesy over someone or to bring discernment to a prophetic word, don’t shy away from that. Be the hands and feet of Christ and be bold for your faith. And if you are someone who has someone say, “hey, I think God want’s to say this about your life and that you should do this...” use discernment to see whether that’s God or not, but don’t just dismiss it because prophecy seems a little far fetched. If it seems Godly, biblical, fill of truth and love, it is probably from God and we should give Him a chance to do amazing things in our lives.
Earnestly desire the higher gifts, pray that you might receive them, and pray that others who have them might use them with love and effectiveness for the gospel.
You are the hands and feet of Christ, go bless others, and be blessed.
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