Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit

Dark Wisdom

I have always thought of wisdom as coming from God. But in my sermon preparation this week, I encountered a new dynamic in my understanding of wisdom. James speaks of wisdom from above (heaven) and wisdom from below. In James 3, he describes the below-wisdom as including bitter jealously and selfish ambition. He says of this wisdom,

(James 3:15 ESV) “This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”

You might not be comfortable calling this wisdom. You might want to limit the use of the term (wisdom) to the understanding that is given by God. But I think it might be helpful to consider the idea of a dark or evil wisdom. Paul speaks of a wisdom of this world (1 Corinthians 3:19) in his first letter to the Corinthians. This wisdom stands in contrast to God’s wisdom.

As we learn to discern God’s Spirit, we must be aware of multiple sources speaking into our decisions. Certainly, we pray for God’s wisdom. But too often, we encounter another kind of wisdom. James describes this wisdom as earthly, unspiritual and demonic. These are powerful descriptors. It might be helpful to consider each word.


The first Greek word that James chooses to describe the wrong kind of wisdom is epigeios (earthly). This would tie into Paul’s term (wisdom of this world). James wants us to know that earthly (in contrast to heavenly) forces are at play. Paul uses this same word in his description of those who are enemies of the Cross.

(Philippians 3:19 ESV) “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”

May we be careful to break free from earthly mindsets as we discern.


The second Greek word is psychikos (unspiritual). This word is used six times in the New Testament. The ESV translates four of these occurrences as natural. The word describes an animal instinct in contrast to a spiritual sensitivity to God’s promptings. We are reminded that following God’s Spirit often requires us to resist our natural way of doing things. We often revert to the default mode of decision-making in churches. But discerning the Spirit (seeking God’s wisdom) is about living into our full humanity (Imago Dei). We are not animals; we are spiritual beings that have the potential to live by the power of God’s Spirit in all we do.


The final descriptor is the Greek word daimoniodes (demonic). We are reminded that worldly wisdom is anything but neutral. Evil forces are disseminating wisdom that is contrary to God’s wisdom. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he describes this force.

(1 Timothy 4:1 ESV) “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,”

Solomon (the man who knows something about wisdom) describes the destructive path as seemingly right.

(Proverbs 14:12 ESV) “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”

We must aware of evil forces at work in our discernment. We will be tricked into adopting the cultural wisdom of the day. We will be tempted to follow the most natural route as we seek God’s Spirit. We will be given alternative solutions that lead us away from the Spirit’s desire. May God give us the power to tell the difference between dark wisdom and His wisdom. No doubt, God desires our attentive discernment in church decisions. Jesus promises that seekers will find truth.

(Matthew 7:7 ESV) “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

We simply need to be aware that discernment requires us to fight against dark forces along the way.