“do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”
(I Thessalonians 5:20-24)
I have to admit, I went through a period of time a few years ago where I began to “treat prophecies with contempt.” You know…when people come to you professing, “God said” or “I have a word from the Lord for you.” I not only witnessed these individuals from afar, but also personally became victim to them, when they’d tell me what “God said” with absolutely no accountability whatsoever.
When I first began to experience this, it would throw me into a spiritual tailspin for weeks. Lacking the spiritual maturity to know how to handle or identify modern-day “false prophets,” I would become over-run with fear and confusion:
Did God really say that?
What does it mean?
What am I supposed to do now?
There were times I worried for days. Once we gave a large amount of money toward a ministry. Other times I wrestled with the inconsistency between what a person said to me and what I thought God was speaking to my own heart.
It was all very confusing, because none of these people were outwardly deceptive or mean-spirited. In fact, in most cases, they were reputable Christians with a sincere desire to speak what they thought God was saying. Some were a little more forceful than others. Some were downright flaky.
After being cornered one too many times, I started to avoid certain people altogether. Seriously, if I saw them approaching me, I would literally turn and walk the other way. Then I began to harbor a judgmental attitude toward them, which then grew into a hardened heart toward modern-day prophecy and any who claimed to hear God on my behalf.
That’s when I got the big wake up call that it was WAY past time for me to study what the Bible says about all of this…the role, responsibility and accountability of the New Testament prophet (the fruit of which you are now reading!)
Let’s face it, even the most well-meaning, sold-out-to-Jesus, devoted-to-the-Scriptures Child of God can screw it up once in a while. I know I have. Many, many times. What freedom there is in knowing that God doesn’t leave us without a trusty system of checks and balances so that we can know that we know that we know if it was God or not when someone speaks.
Prophecy in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, God spoke through prophets all the time. Sometimes the only person in an entire generation to hear God’s voice would be the prophet of God. Consequently, prophets were held to a very high standard. Check this out:
“But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.”
You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD ?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)
“When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself.” (Ezekiel 3:18-19)
So basically, if a prophet said something was from God and it wasn’t, he would die.
If he spoke in the name of any other god, he would die.
If he failed to speak a warning that God told him to speak, the prophet would be held accountable for the guilty man’s blood, i.e, they both would die…
Prophets in the Old Testament were expected, therefore, to speak everything God told them to, no more and no less…or pretty much, they would die.
Any questions, class?
Prophecy in the New Testament
In the New Testament, God lives in the hearts of His people. That’s you and me. The Church. He speaks to each of us intimately and directly. Yet, God still anoints some to be prophets:
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified…
Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church…
I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue…
So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” …
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. …
Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”
(I Corinthians 14 [portions omitted by me])
But now we see from New Testament scripture that the role of prophet has been redefined.
Now the prophet’s role is
1. To prepare God’s people for works of service
2. To build up the Body of Christ
3. To strengthen, encourage and comfort
4. To edify the Church
5. To instruct others
6. To convict sinners of their sin in order to draw them to the knowledge and reality of God
And notice, no mention of death. (phew!)
Not only has the role of prophet shifted, but the “burden of proof” as to the authenticity of the prophecy now rests with the HEARER as opposed to the PROPHET! This is important, so listen carefully.
Notice back up in I Corinthians 14:29, “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” Paul is telling the church that when prophets speak, other prophets have the responsibility to test what the prophet is saying.
So there is actually Biblical accountability for the modern-day prophet. It is you and me. We are instructed to hold people accountable for the “God said” words they speak.
By the way, I would hope that you’d hold me accountable should I write anything on this blog inconsistent with God’s Word.
Now look back up at our opening verse at the top of the post. Paul instructs us to test EVERYTHING and only hold to that which is GOOD. What does Paul mean by “good?”
I believe that in order for a prophecy to be “good,” the prophecy should do exactly what Paul laid out in Ephesians and I Corinthians (the above list in red). In other words, it should be consistent with the Word of God.
Look at what else the Bible says about testing prophecies:
“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
Isn’t it interesting that the Berean church examined the Scriptures to see if what PAUL was saying was true? How ironic. Obviously, Paul had no problem with this practice because he went on to admonish the other churches to do the same thing in his epistles.
But more interesting is that God views people who do this as people of noble character.
Finally, notice again back up in our opening verse that God Himself will give you peace regarding prophecies that are authentic. We talked about peace in prior posts, but as a review, always remember two things will always accompany God’s voice:
consistency with His Word
This is a good stopping point for now. We’ll continue this mini-series next time. Until then, please check out my nephew Isaiah’s website (on sidebar). This is my brother Scott and his wife Shannon (my very best friend). They’ve been going through the worst trial of their lives for the past year and a half and covet your prayers.