TRY The Spirits; JUDGE The Prophesying; SEARCH The Scriptures; COMPARE Spiritual With Spiritual; PROVE All Things
By Curt Wildy
Lord willing, this three part series will clearly evidence the following four doctrinal (interpretational/hermeneutical) truths:
- In Scripture, trying the spirits (1 John 4:1-2); discerning of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10); trying words (Job 34:2-3); Searching the scriptures daily (Acts 17:11); judging prophesyings (1 Corinthians 14:29); discerning both good and evil (Hebrews 5:13-14); and proving all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21) are all synonymous in nature.
- In the original languages, the words Trying; Discerning; Searching; Judging; and Proving, are either (1) the very same words; (2) variations of the same dominant root word; or else (3) words that are directly synonymous though not stemming from the same root. The synonymous nature of these terms can be clearly seen in the English language as well.
- There is a direct correlation between the terms: word(s) and spirit(s) for from the spirit… words originate. This connection is so strong that one can be substituted for the other in certain biblical contexts. We read in Job 15:13 “…thou turnest thy spirit against God, and lettest such words go out of thy mouth?” and also in Job 7:11 “Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” These two are but light examples; much more pertinent ones are to follow but I want to lay the necessary groundwork first. Suffice to say that the terms spirit(s), word(s), prophecy, prophesyings, scripture(s), testimony, etc. are all used synonymously (again, within a certain context and within certain passages) seeing that these terms all relate to the communication of doctrinal matters, whether verbally or in written form, with these communications stemming from the Spirit of God, the spirit of man, or the spirit of devils (i.e. lying spirits).
- All of the above is to be understood in light of the crucial premise that we are instructed to (a) properly hear the doctrinal preaching/teaching (prophesying) of other Christians, (b) receive such prophesying with all readiness of mind, (c) test/try/judge/prove/examine/scrutinise said prophesying via Scripture (to see if it is so); and then (4) we are to hold fast to all that has been proven to be good and we are to abstain (literally, hold ourselves off) from all that has been proven to be evil. In so doing, the spirits of the prophets are made subject to the prophets, as we read in 1 Corinthians 14:32.
I am writing this article because at this time, and apart from the Gospel itself, no biblical topic is of greater importance to me. How we are to go about hearing, trying, and responding to the spirits is of vital experiential and doctrinal importance. Said another way, the doctrine of how we are to hear any teaching or interpretation, how we are to receive it productively, how we are to search it out via scripture (so as to prove it), and how we are to then respond to it, governs (in a very real sense) every other interpretation or doctrine that we encounter. It also impacts many aspects of our Christian walk in light of those doctrines. I truly believe that this matter is a vital one for all of us, especially in our day, given that so much error exists pertaining to how we are to receive, discern, and respond to the biblical matters that providentially come before us.
Seeing these precepts come together has really crystallized my thoughts on the subject, though I trust much more can be said and learned. As with all spiritual learning, we must absolutely be led by the Spirit, taught by the Spirit, and thus, made submissive to His way of operation, if we are going to experience any real benefit. Everything that I am about to say concerning our role in the matter (as the one being taught of God) must be understood in the light of the caveat “…all by God’s grace and effectual working, in light of the finished work of Christ alone.” There is no escaping this truth, for without Christ we can do nothing, and our Lord operates by way of the Holy Spirit as He effects His work in, by, and through us (knowing that all is in keeping with the sovereign and eternal will of God the Father). This need for Holy Spirit-wrought teaching and learning is affirmed in John 16:13 “Howbeit when He, The Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, [that] shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come;” and in John 15:26 “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, [even] The Spirit of Truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me;” and in John 14:26 “But the Comforter, [which is] The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.“
Seeing that God works through means, however, we must also make use of what He has ordained for us if we are going to truly prosper, with such means being prayer, comparing spiritual things with spiritual, reasoning together as brethren (via systematic dialogue per the original languages), and so on. In light of this, I cannot stress enough how important it is to not only focus heavily on the quoted passages (many will be referenced throughout) but to strive to note and remember the emphasized words found therein. I truly believe that God repeats them, over and over, as a means of weaving His tapestry of truth; through such repetition we not only more easily see the connections but remember them as well. Please consider:
1 John 4:1-2 “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. 2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.”
Acts 17:11 “These [Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 “Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.”
1 Corinthians 14:26-40 “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. 27 If any man speak in an [unknown] tongue, [let it be] by two, or at the most [by] three, and [that] by course; and let one interpret. 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. 29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. 30 If [any thing] be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. 31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not [the author] of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. 34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but [they are commanded] to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. 36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? 37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. 39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
Part One: Receive The Word With All Readiness Of Mind; Hear the Matter; Quench Not The Spirit of Truth; Despise Not Prophesying; Let Us Prophesy One By One, Decently And In Order, That All May Learn, And All May Be Comforted, Unto Edification.
1 John 4:1-2 starts off by commanding that we are not to believe every spirit. However, this instruction presupposes that we are hearing their prophesying (their teaching, preaching, interpretations) in the first place. How do we know this? We know this because that which we are not to believe (i.e. hastily, automatically, prematurely), is the words (the prophesying) these prophets are bringing forth. How can we know this? We can know it by noting carefully the words that God Himself has chosen to use within the surrounding context. Consider the passage again:
1 John 4:1-6 “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits [Job 34:2-4] whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. 2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: 3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that [spirit] of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. 4 Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. 5 They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. 6 We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the Spirit of Truth, and the spirit of error.”
It should be clear to all that such words as confesseth, speak, heareth, and prophesy (the last one by way of the term prophets) all pertain to that which is spoken forth in a manner that can be heard! Note also that the word confesseth is homologeō/G3670 and it means to speak the same thing in the sense of being of the same mind (spiritually, it is speaking in agreement with, assenting to, in affirmation of, and in harmony with, that which the word/logos of God declares about a matter). It is Literally formed by two root words: homos (via homou), meaning same / together, and the dominant root word Logos, which means word / speech / saying. Remember that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Logos of God, and the Bible is likewise called the logos (and rhema) of God.
In light of these truths, we see that we are not to rashly and ignorantly believe the prophesyings of others; we cannot simply believe on the spot what is spoken before us. However, we are also instructed not to rashly ignore or reject such prophesying either. Proverbs 18:13 declares, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth [it], it [is] folly and shame unto him.” We are not to answer hastily, nor reject, any doctrinal teaching/interpretation before we properly hear it; to do so would be to conduct ourselves as shameful fools per the actual language above. We must give all diligence to hearing the spiritual matters providentially brought before us, doing so attentively, impartially, and discerningly. This call to hear aright is affirmed by Acts 17:11 which states: “[The Bereans] received the word with all readiness of mind.” The Beareans were deemed more noble than the Thessalonians because they did not attempt to silence Paul’s words, nor did they carelessly reject it; instead, they heard him willingly, attentively, and with a mind striving towards right comprehension and consideration. Therefore, with this instruction to rightly hear in mind, consider again:
1 Corinthians 14:26-29 “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. 27 If any man speak in an [unknown] tongue, [let it be] by two, or at the most [by] three, and [that] by course; and let one interpret. 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. 29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.”
In this passage, and in the others referenced above, we clearly see that those coming with a psalm, doctrine, tongue, revelation, and/or interpretation [all things capable of being spoken or read out loud] were not to be shut down, they were not to be silenced, but they were to be not only allowed to speak, but they word to be actively heard with all readiness of mind. In other words, the Spirit of prophecy was not to be quenched and their prophesyings (again, their biblical preaching/teaching/expounding, in our day) were not to be despised. This precept is clearly affirmed in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 “Quench not The Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings…“
Why are we commanded to despise not prophesyings? It is because God knows that we are all prone, to one degree or another, to stick to our own guns, leaning upon our own understanding, entrenching ourselves deeper into our personal, familial, factional, and/or denominational positions, rather than readily receiving the prophesyings of others, and searching them out with diligence to see if the doctrines contained therein are so. In addition, we are instructed to despise not prophesyings given that, if the words are faithful, such prophesying is the primary means by which God teaches His people (Philip with the Ethiopian being a prime example).
Therefore, whenever someone professing the true Gospel comes to us with any doctrinal understanding, interpretation, etc., we are to readily let them speak, giving them a fair hearing, but we are to also examine and scrutinise their words. We are to try the spirits, judge all things, prove all things, as we discuss the matter amongst ourselves with the aim of prayerfully and carefully determining the veracity of what is being put forth. We are to do this, we are to judge righteous judgment, via Scripture alone and not through carnal traditions, teachings, convictions, and so forth. Why? Again, because the Holy Spirit teaches us through His holy word, the Bible, which is His inerrant prophecy. This truth is affirmed in 2 Peter 1:20-21 “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] borne along by The Holy Spirit.” We know first and foremost concerning His holy word that, per Revelation 19:10, “…the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy;” and yet, we also read in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture [is] God-Breathed, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” Herein we see what a blessed, fearful, and holy word we have. This is why we are so heavily warned in Revelation 22:18-19 “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book , If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book : 19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book.”
Consider also how the Holy Spirit teaches via Scripture; we read in Isaiah 28:9-10 “Whom shall He teach knowledge? and whom shall He make to understand doctrine? [them that are] weaned from the milk, [and] drawn from the breasts. 10 For precept [must be] upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, [and] there a little.” Likewise we read in 1 Corinthians 2:13 “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which The Holy Spirit teacheth; comparing Spiritual things with Spiritual.” Note that the word comparing is a very important one both by its inherent meaning and by its construction. The Greek word is sygkrinō/G4793; please try to remember the krinō portion, it will come up again later. Sygkrinō literally means to judge of one thing in connection with another because the primary root word krinō means to judge, try, determine, etc., and the supporting root word syn means with or beside. We are to judge spiritual things next to, with, and along with other spiritual things.
And what are these spiritual things that must be compared with other spiritual things? They are the very words of God as found in the word of God. In usage, Sygkrinō also means to joint together fitly, compound, combine. I only recently came across this definition but it affirms my point that God’s words serve as connectors, as links in a beautiful, perfectly fit together, golden chain of truth. We are to fitly join God’s breathed-out words, combining and compounding them (via exposition in systematic fashion), to more accurately and thoroughly understand His blessed truth. We are to compare spiritual things with spiritual things by (1) fitly joining together, and connecting/combining/compounding, God’s inspired words; as we (2) judge/discern His words in connection with His words (here a little and there a little); (3) doing so line upon line, precept upon precept; (4) all with the aim of being subject to what God has ordained via His own choice of words, their inherent meanings, and their scriptural use (both in the immediate and in the greater scriptural context). We read in Job 34:2-3 “Hear My words, O ye wise [men]; and give ear unto me, ye that have knowledge. 3 For the ear Trieth [Examines, Tries, Proves, Judges, Scrutinises] Words, as the mouth tasteth meat.” Truly, “[As] it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4) seeing that The Lord Jesus likewise declares in John 6:63 “It is The Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, [they] are spirit, and [they] are life.” God must give us spiritual ears to hear so that we may rightly try the spirits, try the words, even try the prophesyings brought before us.
Consider the following passages regarding the connection between spirits and words:
- 2 Samuel 23:2 “The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and His word [was] in my tongue.“
- Proverbs 1:23 “Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out My Spirit unto you, I will make known My words unto you.”
- Zechariah 7:12 “Yea, they made their hearts [as] an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in His Spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts.”
- Nehemiah 9:30 “Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by Thy Spirit in Thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands.”
- Job 8:2 “How long wilt thou speak these [things]? and [how long shall] the words of thy mouth [be like] a strong wind [ruwach/H7307]?
- Jeremiah 5:12-13 “They have belied the LORD, and said, [It is] not He; neither shall evil come upon us; neither shall we see sword nor famine: 13 And the prophets shall become wind [ruwach/H7307] and the word [is] not in them: thus shall it be done unto them.
- Job 16:3 “Shall vain [ruwach/H7307] words have an end? or what emboldeneth thee that thou answerest?
In the above verses, lying words and vain words (whether correctly or incorrectly perceived as such) are all associated with the wind in a negative sense; they are deemed vacuous, the true word is not in them or with them (at least not concerning the false/vain words being spoken). But note that the word wind here is ruwach/H7307; out of its 378 instances in the Bible, it is translated as spirit 232 times… which is over 60% of the time]. Faithful words, spiritual words, are of the Holy Spirit (either unto inerrancy in the biblical canon (pre-Revelation 22:18-19) or unto right proclamation and exposition as it relates to faithful biblical reading, teaching, and preaching.
Summary of Part One: If we put all of the above together, we see that:
- All of Scripture is God-breathed and the God-breathed words of God are spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; John 6:63).
- Holy men of old were borne along by the Holy Spirit to declare these God-breathed spiritual words (2 Peter 1:21; Luke 1:70; 1 Peter 1:11).
- These words, and these words only, form the collective, and completely inerrant prophecy that we call Scripture, the Bible, Holy writ (Revelation 22:18-19; Psalm 19:7).
- The entirety of the Bible testifies of Christ seeing that the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Christ (Revelation 19:10);
- These words are all profitable right doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, that God’s people may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
- We are to be taught by the Holy Spirit as He moves us to compare the spiritual words of Scripture with the spiritual words of Scripture so that we may come to a right understanding of doctrinal truth (John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:9-16; Isaiah 28:9-10).
- God’s people then share the truth that God has given, doing so in a decent and orderly fashion, as well as a careful and reverent one, so that we may all be edified together as God has edified us personally, in whatever teaching He has given us individually, via His word (1 Corinthians 14:26-40, see esp. v31; 1 Thessalonians 5:11 Proverbs 9:9; Ephesians 4:11; James 3:1).
- We are to each receive with readiness of mind the doctrinal teaching (scriptural interpretation) put forth, being willing to hear patiently, objectively, and attentively (as God enables), seeing that we are not to quench the Spirit, and we are not to despise biblical prophesying (Proverbs 18:13; Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:20).
In light of the above, we are to carefully examine, test, and judge the doctrinal/interpretative words we hear. Seeing that iron sharpens iron, and seeing that in the multitude of (faithful) counsellors there is safety, we are to discuss the teaching at hand, as brethren, with the understanding that such discerning discourse, in and of itself, is not tantamount to carnal strife nor to ungodly contention. This last statement is true despite what many have been incorrectly and repeatedly taught. There is a common but false view, one that many have been deeply indoctrinated into, which states that if we cannot agree immediately on a matter (or nigh immediately) — we mustn’t discuss it — because to do so would amount to sowing the seed of discord, pride, variance, and disunity. However, beyond being sheer foolishness (per the scriptural testimony and examples), this mindset is absolutely both spiritually and intellectually destructive. Such reasoning stems from the ill-effects of the heightened anti-intellectualism of the Victorian era, with that mindset being passed down to our very day, with oppressive political correctness; the removal of the free-marketplace of ideas; and the unwillingness to think too deeply or too critically about matters (lest we offend) being the very troubling end results. Those who hold to this error fail to see that the hearing, testing, and proving described in this article is the very God-ordained, God-commanded method that the Lord would have us to use to reason together so that we may collectively come to truth… if the Spirit enables. Now it is true that we are not to debate for the purpose of one-upmanship, nor to “just be proven right,” nor to esteem ourselves over others — we are to reason together patiently, long-sufferingly, and lovingly, so that we may all grow and learn. Likewise, we are not to receive one another unto doubtful disputations; that is, when weaker brethren are concerned, we are not to push matters, debate matters, that are not of any real spiritual significance (e.g. disputes over food, drink, holy days, etc.). All of our proving and systematic discussions must be engaged in with the intent that we be found of one Spirit, of one (homologeō) word, and of one mind… even the Mind of Christ, through Holy Scripture, unto edification, comfort, and true (prudent, healthy) unity. Yet sadly, there is no easier and more destructive way to shut down any such discourse, and to end any proper scrutinisation of a matter (especially one in controversy), than to imprudently and irresponsibly cry “contention!“…”strife!” when there is no contention or strife (at least not when the words of God alone are used to define such terms). When any Christian speaks for the truth on matters of controversy, or on matters that cause discomfort to the flesh, we should not be surprised when we must ask, like the Apostle Paul by the Holy Spirit (in Galatians 4:16) “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?”
This completes Part One. Before going on to the next part, please consider how the following words were used above and how they formed a powerful chain yoking the quoted passages together. The terms at issue included Holy Spirit, spirit, words, word, mouth, tongue, speak/spake, testimony, testified, prophecy, prophesying, book, Scripture, doctrine, compare, trieth/try, prove, search, judge, etc.. These same words will be very important in the next part as well.
To God be the Glory, in Christ Jesus, Amen!
Continue to Part Two of Three.