8 common ways to misapply the spiritual gifts

Marko Joensuu         4 comments
It is common to see Christians misapply the nine spiritual gifts listed in Corinthians 12. This happens mainly because they haven’t identified what their spiritual gifts actually are, or they have received poor and imbalanced teaching about the gifts.

Over time, misapplying the gifts leads to their quenching, by the person trying to use them, by the surrounding community that begins to see them as destructive, or by God Himself. At worst, people will seek to use the gifts even when they don’t have them anymore, mainly because they are addicted to the sense of the power their use gives, potentially opening the door to false revelation and false manifestations from demonic sources. 

The gifts demand the anointing and protection of the Holy Spirit to work safely and properly; opening yourself to the gifts and then rejecting and losing the anointing and the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life will leave you exposed to deception by demonic forces, as your spiritual awareness has been awakened,  but is no more saturated in the presence of God.

Unfortunately, there is very little understanding about the different dynamics of the different gifts in the Church, and frequently, Christians seek to apply all of them through their most dominant theological framework: usually what they have heard about faith, or alternatively, what they have heard about prophecy.

There are many gifts listed in the New Testament, but here I focus on the nine gifts of the Spirit, listed in 1 Corinthians 12::4-11:

“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 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. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”

Eight ways of misapplying the spiritual gifts

1. ‘Prophesying’ a word of knowledge

A word of knowledge is a supernatural revelation about the current state of affairs in someone's life. For example, you might be praying for someone and have an insight that the person you are praying for has a debt problem, or that he is considering making an important decision.

In this situation, unless you are careful, you can easily ‘prophesy’ the debt over that person’s life. Admittedly, that doesn’t happen very often, as we have been taught that debt is bad, so it’s likely that most of us would pray for deliverance from that debt. But even that can be misleading to the person, if we pray for that 'by faith' rather than seeking revelation from God for that particular situation.

But things are different regarding a word of knowledge about an important decision. If you ’prophesied’ a word of knowledge about that, you could easily affirm a decision that might be the wrong one—just because God shows you that someone is considering a decision doesn’t mean that you know which decision is the right one, but if you confuse your word of knowledge with a prophecy, you can easily present a solution that is not from God.

I often sense the state of affairs in someone's life, but I use it as a starting point for prayer and, occasionally, for prophecy. 

Most times, you get that word of knowledge to give the person an assurance that God knows their situation, which will give them the confidence to make the right decision prayerfully. It might seem more impressive to tell the person what ‘God’s will’ is for them, but in fact, it is much better for their spiritual development if you release them the confidence to make the right decision by themselves, as they seek for it in prayer.

Many Christians operate as if a word of knowledge was enough on its own, but it’s never enough on its own; it should always be followed by a prayer, word of wisdom or prophecy.

At worst, ‘prophesying’ a word of knowledge can lead you to keep someone in bondage to the current state of affairs, when it was merely meant to comfort the person in question through knowledge that God knows what they are going through. 

2. ‘Prophesying’ what you see through the gift of discerning spirits

This can be one of the most destructive misapplications of gifts, and it largely happens because we have very little sound teaching about the gift of discerning spirits. 

For example, if someone doesn’t understand that she has the gift of discerning spirits, and she prays for someone who is under demonic attack, she can easily assume that what she’s seeing, hearing or sensing is a word of knowledge or a prophecy. But proclaiming that demonic attack over the person prayed for, so that they internalise it, can lead to sin, depression or demonic oppression.

The gift of discerning spirits is a diagnostic tool that is meant to work alongside other gifts, but it doesn’t give the reason for the presence of demonic powers in someone’s life by itself. To understand why, you must apply other gifts, such as the gift of prophecy and the word of knowledge.

This is one of the reasons why the ministry of some of the charismatic leaders has become no more than manipulation and witchcraft. There are ministers who release fear and intimidation nearly every time they speak. They are subconsciously sensitive to demonic forces but rather than discerning their operation and fighting against them, they let them colour their message, and often they even their harness their power deliberately to gain control over their congregation. 

Many churches are governed by fear and intimidation, but that has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit and healthy respect for leadership, but the spirit of fear that is allowed to run rampant, because it benefits the leaders.

Another area where many more people, who have a the gift of discerning spirit are affected, is their dream world. I have lost count of the people who have come to me that have been influenced by  demonic disturbance, but not noticed it, until it has influenced their dreams. Our subconscious is quite sensitive when it comes to the spiritual atmosphere, but rather than recognising that there is an operation of demonic forces around them, these people declare what they have seen as prophetic dreams. This is mainly as no one has taught them that dreams can have three sources: our subconscious, the Holy Spirit and the demonic world.

Often, these kind of dreams spread a lot of fear, although the content of these dreams might not be demonic as such, but the subconscious of the dreamer has been influenced by  a demonic operation of fear and has dreamed a story around that fear to illustrate it.

So, these people have a slowly developing gift of discerning spirits, but because they don’t understand what is happening, they let what they sense right but interpret wrong affect them so that the misapplied gift of discerning spirits produces a false prophecy, and the gift that is there to warn them leads them away. But that is not God’s fault, as all through the Bible, God is asking us to seek wisdom in all things, and He has never said that all dreams are from Him.

3. Prophesying by ‘faith’

Prophecy demands faith that God can and wants to speak to us, but more than that, it demands revelation. The emphasis is on revelation which releases faith in the specific revelation that God has given to us. But we can’t choose the revelation we want to receive ‘by faith’; we can only receive by faith the specific revelation God wants to give to us. The decision to receive revelation can be our choice, at least partially, as we seek God in prayer, but the content of that revelation is determined by God. 

But I often encounter Christians that believe that you can ‘prophesy by faith’. This is usually linked to the Word of Faith and prosperity school teaching on ‘naming and claiming’. This kind of ‘prophesying’ by faith is a waste of time, as it is not proclaiming by faith what God has already clearly promised to us by revelation, but simply proclaiming what you want without consulting God.

4. Confusing the gift of discerning spirits with a word of knowledge

Some have the gift of discerning spirits but they don’t know that they possess it, and they declare what they sense through the gift of discerning spirits as a ‘word of knowledge’, attributing what is really the work of the demonic forces to the person, so that the person will 'own' the work of the demonic spirits. That brings guilt and condemnation and can lead to a bondage of sin, as rather than bringing discernment and understanding that you are simply being tempted, you are under false understanding that you have already fallen.

Often, when I meet people, I sense spiritual disturbance in their lives, but rather than proclaiming what I sense, I ask questions that might look quite normal but they are in fact diagnostic questions. 

Once, I met a friend of mine, and I sensed that there was a spirit of pornography around him. Had I mistaken that it was a word of knowledge, I could have proclaimed it as a fact in his life, which he could have accepted, as he was tormented in the area. This would have brought guilt and condemnation, which would have weakened his defence, and caused him to fall into temptation.

So, you can see how the gift that is available to bring deliverance and freedom through discerning the operations of the enemy can in fact bring more condemnation and oppression if the gift is not recognised correctly.

There are some people who blame the devil for every sin, when they should just repent and amend their ways, so this teaching isn't applicable to them.

5. Trying to operate the gifts of healings by faith

The faith healing movement has given us a false understanding about healing, and many Christians try to heal ‘by faith’, forgetting that there is in fact a specific "gifts of healings" that operates separately from the gift of faith. There are a lot of misunderstandings about what Jesus meant when He told some people that their faith has either healed or saved them, but what seems clear is that the faith He refers to in those situations has very little to do with the psychological faith—man’s natural ability to believe—that many faith healers propagate. And these faith healers often blame the person that has not been healed by their prayers to have "lack of faith", or attribute the rapidly vanishing effects of their prayer to wavering faith. But real healing is a physical fact, and it doesn't vanish just because our emotions waver.

6. Letting the gift of discerning spirits weaken your faith

Many Christians have the gift of discerning spirits operating at some level but they don’t really understand they have it. So, they are sensing the spiritual influences of their environment more strongly than most Christians—fear, anxiety, restlessness, etc. but perceive them to be their own emotions. This leads to the weakening of their faith. What they should do is to understand that these are demonic spiritual influences around them, and block them with the shield of faith.

If you have the gift of discerning spirits and you don’t know it, you will be easily depressed and intimidated, as you discern the demonic operations around you but internalise the emotions rather than block them with faith. 

7. Trying to heal through the gift of discerning spirits

Some people are both under attack from demonic spirits and sick. We must be clear that the Bible never attributes sickness to a demonic force, although there are cases in the Bible where demonic possession also has a physical manifestation. For example, in Mark 9:17 a man brings his son to Jesus and says that his speech has been robbed my a mute spirit. It is clear that the father understands that this is not a sickness but demon possession—not a sickness that is secretly a demon possession. 

It is clear that in those instances in the Bible, the family and friends of the person were all too aware that these people were possessed by a demon, and that their ‘illness’ isn’t really an illness but a physical outcome of being controlled by a demonic spirit.

There is a false teaching in the charismatic church today that sees all sickness as demonisation or demon possession but that is unbiblical. But because of that false teaching, many Christians who have a genuine gift of discerning spirits tend to attribute a physical sickness to demonic forces, and they will try to heal the person through casting out a demon or demonic influences.

8. Confusing the presence of God with a spiritual gift

There is a widespread belief in the charismatic church that an experience of the presence of God or tangible experience of His power automatically bring healing. Hence, when someone is praying for a sick person and senses the power of God, they automatically assume that this is because God is healing that person. But that is not always the case, as God might be responding to another need.

Even with someone who is sick, healing is not always the greatest need. Luke 5:18-26 says,

 “Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him. And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus. When He saw their faith, He said to him, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’ And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, ‘Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said to them, ‘Why are you reasoning in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say, “Rise up and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’—He said to the man who was paralyzed, ‘I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’ Immediately he rose up before them, took up what he had been lying on, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. And they were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today!’”

Jesus saw straight into the paralysed man’s heart and his longing to hear that his sins had been forgiven. For the paralysed man, his healing was a secondary need.

I once hurt my shoulder and a friend of mine prayed for me. We both experienced the tangible presence of God, as we sensed how the power of God streamed into my body, as my friend prayed for my shoulder. My friend, sensing the power of God, declared that my shoulder had been healed.

But it wasn’t healed that day but it took weeks of natural recovery. Instead, the power of God I had experienced was there to strengthen me through a time when I experienced other challenges. 

This happens often to me when I pray for someone who comes forward to be prayed for. I sense how the power of God streams into their body, but there is no healing. Instead, God has chosen to strengthen them in a different way.

But many believe that experiencing the power of God in that kind of situation always signifies healing, and because of that, many ministers automatically proclaim healing, even when it has not taken place. This leads to disillusionment, and soon the genuine gifts of healings cease to operate.

Also, others believe that because of the presence of God, the gift of prophecy or gift of faith are automatically activated by the presence of God, and that because of the presence of God, everything that takes place in that environment is safe and from God. But that’s not necessarily the case, as even the demonic spirits can still operate in a “revival” environment and we must stay discerning and sober spiritually.

1 Samuel 19:19-24 says,

“So David fled and escaped, and went to Samuel at Ramah, and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and stayed in Naioth. Now it was told Saul, saying, ‘Take note, David is at Naioth in Ramah!’ Then Saul sent messengers to take David. And when they saw the group of prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as leader over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. And when Saul was told, he sent other messengers, and they prophesied likewise. Then Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they prophesied also. Then he also went to Ramah, and came to the great well that is at Sechu. So he asked, and said, ‘Where are Samuel and David?’” And someone said, ‘Indeed they are at Naioth in Ramah.’ So he went there to Naioth in Ramah. Then the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on and prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he also stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Therefore they say, ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?’”

Undoubtedly, it was the Spirit of God that fell on Saul, but because of his unrepentant heart, Saul’s reaction to the presence and power of God was impure, and he lay down naked all that day, whilst prophesying. The problem of the charismatic church is that we are willing to accept the impure, because we desire the supernatural when we really should be rejecting the whole ministry of Saul. 

That someone is using the gifts of the Spirit should never be used to justify a leadership position in the Body of Christ or anyone’s spiritual authority.

1 Timothy 3:1-7 says,

“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

The gifts don't even feature in the list! The apostle Paul never chose the leaders because of their spiritual gifts but because of their wisdom and character, and we should be doing the same.

How do we avoid misapplying of the gifts?

First, if you seek to operate in the gifts, you must develop a lifestyle of prayer.

Second, you should always put the needs of the people first rather than yours. You don’t have to declare aloud all that you see, as "love conceals a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:8)

Third, always minister in humility not seeking for showmanship.

Fourth, the more you minister in the gifts, the more you must study the Bible. Only the Scripture can separate the soul from the spirit. (Hebrews 4:12)

Fifth, the church must begin to teach about the diversity of the gifts and not just teach about one or two gifts, so that people learn about all the gifts.

The gifts of the Spirit are freely given by God, but using them falls into the sometimes mysterious area of man’s partnership with God.

The apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:32, “And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”

It is because we have to learn this partnership in practice that sometimes God is more long-suffering with the failures of His servants in this area than many of us would like to. But unless we learn to partner with Him in a reasonable time, He will remove His gifts eventually, and that is the story of how most revivals ended.

You can connect with Marko on Twitter @markojoensuu and on Facebook at facebook.com/marko.joensuu or by visiting markojoensuu.com.

Published by Marko Joensuu

Marko Joensuu has worked for over sixteen years in the publishing and media ministries of Kensington Temple. He is an author, publisher and screenwriter.
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