“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophesy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people, but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort.” ~1 Corinthians 14:1-3
What do you do when that person shows up and says, “I have a word for you from the Lord?” You didn’t expect it, you weren’t asking for it, but a brother or sister in Christ says, “God told me to tell you…” or “God put it on my heart to say…” How do you discern the word they heard? Let me suggest four questions to ask about the message this well-meaning Christian gives you. How do you know if it’s really from God?
Well, does it lift up Jesus as Lord? The Holy Spirit of Christ will always point to the lordship of Christ.
“No one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” ~1 Corinthians 12:3
Remember, there’s more than one voice out there seeking your attention. Any word from anyone that diminishes Jesus or questions his deity or his humanity, any word that reduces the sufficiency of his atonement, any word that questions his uniqueness as the one and only way to the Father – that message is not from God. The voice of God will always exalt his Son as Lord.
Does it hold up Jesus’ Gospel of grace? This is a very important question. Some people want to share words of encouragement or teaching with you, but these words speak to a form of legalistic slavery. The church in Galatia was being upset and divided by a word that was confirming Jesus as Lord, but was also wanting to add circumcision to the Gospel. Any news that undermines the Good News of grace and freedom in Christ, any news that puts an emphasis on human works and rules over freedom and grace in Jesus – that is not from God.
Does it flow from a Christ-like life? No matter how gifted the person might be, the Bible never exalts giftedness over character. A person who hears and speaks words from Jesus should bear the fruit of Christ in his or her own life.
“Watch out for false prophets… By their fruit you will recognize them… A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” ~Matthew 7:15-17
If someone tells you they’ve got a word from the Lord for you, and your first thought is, “I don’t know about that,” because of the kind of person he or she is, you’re on to something. If that person is a known liar or a gossip, if that person is a busybody or lacks self control, if that person is divisive or ungrateful, that person is not speaking for our God.
Finally, does it build up the Body of Christ? Remember, prophesy is given to us by God to strengthen, encourage, and comfort his people, the Church. Prophesy is not about discovering the mysteries of the end times or predicting the future. It’s not for judging or condemning anyone. It’s intended by God to build up disciples of Jesus. So any words that discourage, insult, criticize, or divide should not be excused with the “God told me” trump card. And they shouldn’t be considered as potentially from the Lord.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” ~Ephesians 4:29-30
Interesting, huh? 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 says you’re quenching the Spirit when you tell people they can’t speak words from God. Ephesians 4 says you grieve the Spirit when you speak words that are ugly or hurtful and claim that God gave them to you.
We need to take care of God’s gifts. And the Bible says one of his greatest gifts is prophesy.
“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophesies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:19-21
We know that one of the ways we hear God is through other people. Other Christians, indwelled by God’s Holy Spirit, receive a word, get a nudge, feel a call, or otherwise hear a message from the Lord and then feel compelled to share that message with you or with me. What a blessing from God! What a great joy and benefit for all of us, to receive and to give strength, encouragement, and comfort straight from the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:3).
So why do we need the warning? If prophesy is such a blessing to the Church, why does Paul say, “Do not treat prophesies with contempt?” Don’t scoff at prophesy. Don’t blow it off. Why?
Because the sad reality is that when the gift is misused, we shut the whole thing down.
Yes, it’s true that some people will use “God told me” or “The Lord has placed it on my heart” as the ultimate trump card to push their own agenda. “The Lord told me…” How do you respond to that? Or push back? Sometimes people use God’s name to promote their own name or their own agenda. They use “God has placed this on my heart” to give more weight or credibility to their own personal opinions.
We’ve seen the abuse. I think about Oral Roberts who told his church and a national TV audience in 1987 the Lord told him he needed to collect $8-million dollars or he would die. “I’m asking you to help extend my life. We’re at the point where God’s going to call Oral Roberts home.” He collected $9.1 million in a matter of weeks. Of course, that approach doesn’t really work in Churches of Christ. If the preacher’s life is on the line, we’d be taking money out of the plate.
We’ve seen this kind of abuse. Maybe you’ve experienced something like this first hand.
But here’s the mistake we make. Whenever somebody abuses a freedom or gift from God, our tendency is to overreact and shut it down. We’re not going to use that gift or engage that practice anymore. We’ve done that with all kinds of things.
There are ways to dance that are lewd and crude and altogether unholy. So lots of Christians have decided that all dancing in sin. Nobody can dance. Even though the Bible says there is a time to dance. There’s a time to dance just for the sheer joy of it. There are ways to dance that express gratitude and serve as a worship and praise to God.
Lots of people drink too much and get drunk and make a mess of their families and even the community in which they live. So lots of Christians have said it’s wrong to drink any kind of alcohol in any amount in any circumstance. Period. Even though the Bible is clear that wine is a gift from God.
If we see the misuse of a gift from God or we experience the abuse of one of God’s freedoms, a lot of the time we will come up with rules so we don’t use that gift at all. Scripture never tells us to do that. The Bible never corrects abuse by commanding disuse. The Bible corrects abuse by teaching proper use. Every time.
The most obvious examples are in 1 Corinthians.
The Christians in Corinth are not sharing their food at the Lord’s Supper. Some people are getting drunk while other people are going hungry. The rich people are getting stuffed and the poor people are getting left out. But Paul doesn’t say stop eating together. He says when you eat together, do it like this…
Some women in the church are disrupting the service, interrupting the speakers and not taking turns. But Paul doesn’t tell the women to praying and prophesying in the assembly. He says when women pray and prophesy during worship, do it this way…
Same thing with tongues. He doesn’t say stop. He says when you speak in tongues, you should do it like this…
Same thing with prophesy.
“Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” ~1 Corinthians 14:29
You should not be offended if you’ve heard something from the Lord and, when you share it with somebody, they want to carefully consider whether it really is from God. That’s what they’re supposed to do!
But just because somebody shares a word from the Lord and we don’t know if it really is a word from the Lord doesn’t mean we need to get rid of all prophesy. Whatever you call it, the receiving and sharing of messages from God is a gift from God to “strengthen, encourage, and comfort” the Church. So how do we do it in a healthy, God-honoring way?
A word of prophesy should always be given humbly.
“We know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9).
Don’t say, “God told me to tell you such-and-such, thus saith the Lord!” Instead, say something like, “I think the Lord might be saying such-and-such. I would encourage you to pray and read the Bible and have a conversation with someone else and seek some confirmation on this from God.”
When you see something brand new in your Bible, something you’ve never noticed before, you pay attention to it. You honor it and thank God for it. When you hear something in a song, when you receive something from a teacher, when you are inspired by something from a sermon or a book, you thank God for it. When a fellow Christ-follower says to you, “The Lord has told me…” or “God is pushing me to tell you…” don’t ignore it. Don’t scoff at it or blow it off. Don’t hold that in contempt or quench the Spirit’s fire. Receive it. Carefully and prayerfully consider it. And thank God for his wonderful gift.
“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophesies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:19-21
What is the Bible calling a prophesy? And why does the Church need this kind of warning about it? Whatever is happening in this passage, the Bible says it needs to be tested. But it doesn’t need to be disregarded. It needs to be respected.
If we’re going to talk about prophesy and use the word, we should probably define it first. So let me take an honest stab at it here. Paul’s not talking about new and/or authoritative revelation. And he’s not talking about predicting the future. A New Testament definition is something like this: a divine confirmation of God’s will and God’s Word to encourage the Church. This is the way prophesy is described in every single list of spiritual gifts in the New Testament – by the way, prophesy is the only gift that’s mentioned in every list. Prophesy is a message of encouragement that comes from God, delivered through one of his people. That’s what the Bible is talking about in 1 Corinthians 14:
“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophesy.” ~1 Corinthians 14:1
Why does Scripture want us to eagerly desire the gift of prophesy? What’s so great about prophesy?
“For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort. The one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but the one who prophesies edifies the Church.” ~1 Corinthians 14:2-4
The Holy Spirit gift of prophesy is one of the great blessings of living in these last days. Before Christ, not every man and woman had the gift of the Holy Spirit, not every child of God had the capacity to hear God’s voice and speak truth from God to others. Moses said, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29) Well, now we can. All of us. All Christians have the blessed gift of the indwelling Spirit, so all Christians have the capacity to hear God and share with others what we hear.
The key to understanding the gift is knowing that prophesy is intended by God to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the disciples of Christ. It’s not a divine revelation that is equal in authority to Scripture. It is divine exhortation/encouragement that comes from God to build up the Church. Do we still need that today? As old Joe Malone used to say, “Shades of reason, neighbor! To ask the question is to answer it!” (I think he would say it every Sunday.)
Yes! For a Church of Jesus Christ, prophesy is not optional; it is essential.
What are you hearing right now from God? What are you hearing through his Word or during prayer or in worship? What is God saying to you through an article you’ve read or a conversation you’ve had with a friend or a good book you’ve just finished? Now, how are you going to share that with another follower of Jesus to encourage her or to comfort him or give him strength?
That’s prophesy. You might call it something else. Maybe you’re nervous about the word “prophesy” because of how it’s used in other places. But this is how the Bible uses the word and instructs about the gift. Whatever you call it, the Church can’t live without it.
Oh, yeah, the Stars are playing tonight. Sigh.
If you had imagined the most terrible things that could have happened to the Stars in that critical Game Three last night, all of them came true in the first seven minutes. Vegas scored just 71-seconds into the game. Veteran team captain Jamie Benn committed a flagrant and dirty foul almost immediately thereafter, earning himself an ejection and costing his team its stabilizing top line center. Jake Ottinger was pulled 7:10 into the game after giving up three goals on five shots. And it was over. As Mark Messier said on the broadcast, Vegas had broken the will of the Stars. After Max Domi’s ten-minute game misconduct was called with 21-seconds remaining in the second period, the crowd hurled garbage onto the AAC ice, forcing an early intermission. Embarrassing. All the way around.
No team in NHL history has ever come from 3-0 down to win a conference championship series. It’s never happened. And we saw nothing last night that would indicate the Stars might do it. Maybe Otter played too many games in a row down the regular season stretch and he’s just worn out. Maybe the physically and emotionally draining seven game series with Seattle took it out of them. Maybe the perfect mix of experienced veterans and superstar youngsters still needs another year or two – rookie Wyatt Johnston whiffed on another wide open shot last night when the game was still close. I don’t know.
I was expecting a Stars win last night. I thought there was just as good a chance Dallas would win in a blowout or hang on in a one-goal victory. It never occurred to me they would lose. And I never would have dreamed they’d get waxed like they did.
They’ll go through the motions in Game Four tomorrow night. They might even win one for the home fans and avoid the sweep. But this thing’s over.
Looks like the Rangers are twelve games over .500 and leading the AL West. Time for me to get serious about finding a Bally Sports password.