“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.
You are fighting the tide. Your points are valid however 99% of everything we encounter related to the word “prophesy” sets off our internal radar. Whether is it Oral Robert, Nostradamus or Picks with Friends, prophesy or prediction or foretelling all have a high BS factor.
You are spot one when you called out how people advance their agenda by invoking a force field like “God told me”.
We should not be callous. We should be open and prayerfully consider it but it is not easy.
Prophesy in the Bible is not predicting the future. Not even the OT prophets predicted the future, not really. They looked around at what was happening in Israel and reminded the people of God’s Word. God said if we did such-and-such, then such-and-such would happen. And, look around, people. We’re doing such-and-such. God said this is what he would do – in the case of both justice and mercy – and we’d better prepare. We need to know the difference between prophesy and predicting the future. I think preachers are prophets. And, because you are indwelled by God’s Holy Spirit and can hear the voice of God, so are you.
Second, I’m not overly concerned that we begin using the word prophesy. It is a biblical word and, as CofC’ers, we are usually concerned with calling Bible things by Bible names and doing Bible things in Bible ways – one of our creeds. But we don’t have to use it. I just believe we need to pay attention to Christians who hear God’s voice and might have some guidance for us. Take it seriously enough to carefully and prayerfully discern it. Just because we don’t know for sure whether it’s truly a word from God doesn’t mean we blow it off or shut it down. There are ways to discern it. That’s the subject of the next post.