Spiritual Gifts IV: Prophecy
1 Corinthians 14, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
November 29, 2009
Main Point(s) of sermon:
· There is a difference between OT & NT prophecy
· NT prophecy is speaking words that God brings to mind for the edification of the listener.
· All of us may be prophetic in this sense, and should seek to be.
Objectives of sermon:
· Encourage the church to seek to speak prophetically.
· Notes and leftovers, kook file
· 1 Cor 14, other prophecy passages
A prophet comes into town...
Q If someone were to come to our church and claimed they were a prophet, what should we do? What would you do?
· Do prophets still exist today?
· If they do, are their words equal with Scripture?
· And how would you know if they are a prophet? Is there a special prophet dress code? Would they look like this?
· What if they said something that they had no way of knowing, but other things seem to be off?
· And if you disagreed with their words, would that mean you are disagreeing with God?
This is not an academic question. There are many men and women who claim to be prophets, what are we to make of that? I would guess that many of you had self-proclaimed prophets give you a word from God.
Q How do we evaluate prophets and what they say?
· This question is even more important because we are going to hear a prophecy at the end of sermon!
As we finish this series, I pray that you fill us all with your Spirit, and give us discernment to recognize what from you and what’s from us.
Is prophecy for today?
I grew up in a Charismatic church that was balanced, yet I remember there being a controversy about prophecy. One of my best friends almost left the church over that question.
I have a file full of “kooks” prophesying all sort of things.
· But the best response to misuse is not disuse, but proper use.
The purpose of the series:
1. To help us become Biblically grounded in what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit and his gifts.
When we come to a clear, Biblically-driven understanding of prophecy, we will remove both fear that hinders us and the abuse that dishonors God.
2. To see The Gathering become more filled with the Spirit, more dependent upon him, and more empowered by him for life and ministry, through whatever manifestation he chooses.
Prophets are a thing of the past
Are there still prophets today? I have been speaking for the last three week on the Spirit, and how he still operates, so it may surprise you to hear me say “no.”
· Or at least not in the way most of us mean.
Hebrews 1:1-2 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
According to this, prophecy is a thing that ended with Jesus. Because Jesus is the full revelation of God, we no longer need the partial revelation from prophets.
Q Doesn’t this conflict with Paul?
1 Corinthians 14:1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.
Who’s right, Paul or the author of Hebrews? They both are, but they are using the word prophet is different ways, Hebrews in the OT sense, and Paul in the NT sense.
· Almost every error seen about prophecy (for or against) comes from missing this difference, so you need to understand this.
As we compare and contrast prophecy in the Old and New Testament, this difference will become clearer.
The short definition of a prophet is someone who speaks on God’s behalf. Our idea is that they foretold the future, but they only did that in order to persuade people to follow God.
In the OT, there were a very limited number of prophets, and they spoke authoritatively on God’s behalf:
Deuteronomy 18:18-19 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.
To ignore these prophets was to ignore God, and there could be dire consequences for doing so.
· When they spoke, it held the same authority as Scripture, and when their words were written, they become Scripture.
These are uppercase “P” Prophets. Scripture shows that these ceased in Biblical times, Malachi was probably the last Prophet.
The Apostles took their place; they became the ones who had authoritatively carried God’s revelation through Jesus Christ. In the NT, Paul always appealed to his apostleship.
How can I say that?
Q On what basis do I say OT Prophecy ended?
Q Is it just because I am constant debunker, or that I am scared of the Holy Spirit?
It is both expressed clearly through Hebrews 1:1-2 and demonstrated through the new role of prophets. The most obvious thing is that the NT removes the requirement 100% accuracy.
Deuteronomy 18:20-22 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.
You got one chance, that’s it. If your first and every swing is not a home run, the team was supposed to stone you. So what are we supposed to make of this:
Acts 21:10-11 After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”
Later in the chapter, Paul is indeed captured by the Romans, but some key details are off (Acts 21:27-36):
· The whole thing is started by Jews from Asia (not Jerusalem).
· The Jews were in the process beating Paul to death when the Romans stepped in (he was not handed over).
· The Romans bound Paul, not the Jews.
Q What’s going on here?
He gets the main point right – Paul is in the hands of the Romans, but there are many substantial errors in his prophecy.
Q So is this man a prophet?
Q According to Luke he is, but what about the accuracy issue?
· Simply put, Agabus isn’t a Prophet (OT), he’s a prophet (NT).
In a minute, we will look at what it means to be a prophet in the NT sense, but first we need to better define NT prophecy.
Defining NT prophecy
Here is a good definition of NT prophecy which we will look at piece by piece:
“Prophecy is a human report of something God has spontaneously brought to mind.”
1. God has brought to mind
Prophecy does come from God. It is very clear that God still speaks through his people.
· Agabus could not have known what would happen in Jerusalem.
· Spurgeon (a Cessationist) spoke prophetically on occasion.
I have heard prophecies that were clearly revealed by God. He does this not to put on a show, but to bring help us:
1 Corinthians 14:3 3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.
2. Human report
As we have seen, prophecy is filtered through the human mind and is not 100% accurate. It is a mixture of God’s revelation and our thoughts:
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
Paul could never say this about OT prophecy, but its vital instruction on NT prophecy that tells us how to respond to anything that claims to be from God. It’s wonderfully balanced:
To those (like myself) who are inclined to being dismissive:
· Your skepticism and contemptuousness can actually prevent the Spirit from work (and I have shown contempt).
· Test it all, and pull out the good, even if it is only 25% of the content (I have had to learn to do this).
To those who are too willing to accept:
· Test it all, don’t accept it all uncritically.
· Part of a prophecy being true doesn’t mean all of it will be.
Q How do we know which part is human and which from God?
· Line it up against Scripture, ask God to give you wisdom, and seek guidance from others.
This is especially important because there are still false prophets (we just don’t get to stone them). A false prophet is someone who attempt to lead people away from the one true God.
Q Which one are you? Do you need to be more skeptical or less?
· Don’t worry about instruction to others, focus on yourself.
Spontaneously doesn’t mean that you have to give it at the moment you hear it, it can be held for a while, but that it came through an impression, not study.
This separates teaching (another spiritual gift), which is based on careful study of the Word, from prophecy. My preaching is teaching, though there may be prophetic elements in it.
Q Which is more authoritative, teaching or preaching?
To the extent the teaching is a clear exposition of Scripture, it is more authoritative than prophecy, because prophecy is shaped by the human element.
· Teaching is as well, but based off of the infallible Word of God and less prone to the human element.
What makes a prophet a prophet?
The other big difference between OT and NT is that prophecy is not for a select few, but God desires to speak prophetically through all his children:
Joel 2:28 And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.
But on the other hand, he says:
1 Corinthians 12:29-30 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
Q What’s the difference between “all prophesying” and a prophet?
Q Do they have greater authority? Are they like the OT Prophets?
Notice only some have the gift of healing. Does that mean only they can pray for healing? If you pray for someone who’s healed, does that mean you have that gift? What if 2, 3, or 4 are?
· Likewise, it’s a fuzzy scale between prophesying and prophet.
The difference lies in frequency, gifting, and practice (which brings more accuracy). I think it also denotes a recognized role by the church.
But a prophet is by no means more filled with the Spirit, nor more anointed, nor are their words to be given a greater weight. In other words, they do not have more authority.
· All of the “inaccuracies” of NT prophecies that I have cited were in reference to prophets.
Seek that you might prophesy
That part was all vital safeguards, but not the part that changes how we operate as a church. The part that really excites me is seeing more prophecy in the church.
Q How many of you have spoken prophetically?
· I think that actually answer is much higher.
Q Have you ever been speaking to someone and felt you felt like God was speaking through you?
Do you realize that’s prophecy? Remember, prophecy is a human report of something God has brought to mind spontaneously.
· Most likely, God was speaking through you, but imperfectly.
Along with Paul, I sincerely hope that everyone here would prophesy. Think of a time that you have been the one God has spoken to through another, perhaps encouraging or confronting.
Q How much stronger of a church would we have if we all prophesied to each other regularly?
How to practice prophecy
Paul doesn’t explain how to seek, but we find some principles:
1. Earnestly pray and ask the Holy Spirit to fill you and speak through you – not once, but daily.
2. Consider how God would utilize your gifts and personality.
Some people think prophecy has to sound a certain way. Others associate it with a personality type, especially rudeness.
· I’ve actually had people excuse their rudeness because they are “a prophet” – in reality they’re just a jerk.
Q How would “a human report of God speaking spontaneously” sound different coming from a comforter or a teacher or an exhorter?
Look at who you are and think how God will speak through you. It’s not being overcome by the Spirit or out of control.
Some people use a different voice when they prophesy, or throw in lots of words they don’t use in regular speech. That is part of the “human words” part, not the Holy Spirit part.
· You don’t have to talk differently, say “Thus saith the Lord” to speak prophetically, or shake.
Prophesying is kind of like learning to speak a new language: It doesn’t matter how much you know if you don’t do it.
You might say the wrong thing (fortunately the 100% accuracy thing is obsolete), and you’ll make mistakes. But if you play it safe and keep silent, you might rob someone of a blessing.
Q How does this work out in real life?
Pray every morning, then listen for those times when the Spirit nudges you to say something. Share with humility – you don’t need to say it’s from God – and allow them to test it.
As you practice, sometimes you will be dead on, sometimes you’ll be way off (a good reason for humility), but like practicing a new language, you’ll see yourself improving.
· Remember: The purpose is to draw people closer to Jesus and to bring glory to God.
Q & A
I told you that we were going to hear a prophecy: Brian Gentry had something he really felt needed to be said to the church, so he talk to Peter, who brought it the elders, and we agreed.
· This is how we handle prophecy, carefully listen to is and prayerfully consider if it is from God, for the church.