(7) But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: (8) for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, (9) to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, (10) to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. (11) But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.
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Reading through this list, we may think, “I don't have any of these!” Quite frankly, we may have seen few of these actually exercised over our years attending the church. We may have never even seen a miracle or a healing with our own eyes or heard anyone get prophecy right, at least not yet. How about the word of wisdom or the word of knowledge? We may have witnessed a little more of those than we realize, not being “tuned in” enough to recognize it!
What about the gift of discernment, or as it reads in the passage, “discerning of spirits”? The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips paraphrases Paul's expression as “the ability to discriminate in spiritual matters.” This latter phrasing seems to be a more precise expression of what Paul means—not just the ability to detect evil spirits but to distinguish between the spiritually positive and negative.
Dictionaries like Wikipedia define discernment as
the ability to obtain sharp perceptions or to judge well. In the case of judgment, discernment can be psychological, moral, or aesthetic in nature. . . . Christian spiritual discernment can be separated from other types of discernment because every decision is to be made in accordance with God's will. The fundamental definition for Christian discernment is a decision making process in which an individual makes a discovery that can lead to future action.
This description of discernment emphasizes making correct decisions that proceed to wise actions.
Of the verb form (diakrino, Strong's #1252) of the word Paul uses in I Corinthians 12:10, Strong's Concordance comments, “to separate thoroughly, i.e. (literally and reflexively) to withdraw from, or (by implication) oppose; figuratively, to discriminate (by implication, decide), . . . contend, . . ., discern, doubt, judge, be partial, stagger, waver.” Discerning is a matter of separating, discriminating, evaluating, and judging, and once done, a person either approves or opposes the subject of his discernment.
In our society, words like “discriminate” and “judge” are considered almost taboo, but the truth is that we must make judgments all the time. What would be the point of discernment if it does not lead to a judgment? In Solomon's prayer before God in I Kings 3:9, he asks for discernment between good and evil so he could judge God's people. God, pleased with both the humility and good sense of his prayer, rewarded Solomon immensely.
— Ronny H. Graham