LIVING STONES THEOLOGY
THE GIFT OF PROPHECY
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
I Corinthians 14:1-5, 24,25 NIV
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 everyone 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.
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."
Brothers and sisters in Christ:
In our Living Stone series, we have been looking in general at the theme of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Thus far, we have found that God does not want us to be ignorant regarding the gifts of the Holy Spirit for he has given the gifts of the Holy Spirit by his appointment to each one of us for the building up of the body of Christ. We found that the gifts operate best within a community where there is a desire to include differences, where God's people are interdependent, where love is the working rule for interaction, and where there is an ongoing burning desire for the gifts of the Spirit to be operational among us, where the gifts are sought after, studied, where the scriptures are not read in a "This is now, that was then" kind of theology, rather as a picture of what we can expect God to do for us today. And we also noticed last time we looked at this theme, before we start talking about the communication gifts - that God still speaks today, his Spirit still gives gifts of communication, and it is our desire to study and practice these gifts as a church community.
This morning, we are going to start looking at the gift of prophecy, for the simple reason that it is, according to Paul's instruction here in I Corinthians 14:1, the gift which should be the most sought after among us.
Let me begin by saying that "prophecy" has become a very mistrusted word in our time. When we hear the word prophecy in our culture - we tend to think of horrorscopes (punn intended), or those who make predictions based on unknown spiritual influences. We see it used in Star Trek. And then there are those prophecies, especially in America over the years that have predicted the end of the world - many of them associated with dispensational theology - each one of them so far failed prophecies. And then of course there is the big business of "Business" prophecy - predicting the future based on trends of today - Future magazine, Omni magazine, Mega Trends 2000, a variety of futurist reports. All trying to predict the future based on the events and directions of today. One might wonder why we might be interested in the gift of prophecy.
Certainly there are many abuses of prophecy in our time,. This morning, our focus is to get a good biblical perspective on prophecy so that we can recognize/discern what is the kind of prophecy that is of God and what is not. To do that today, we are going to do some comparing between the OT prophets and the NT prophets, especially as it relates to the gift of prophecy. Remember, Paul tells us here that if there is a gift to be sought after, it is the gift of prophecy.
Notice very quickly the definition of prophecy, that we over time will be working with. Prophecy is "The divine enablement to reveal truth and proclaim it in a timely and relevant manner for understanding, correction, repentance, and edification."
Our focus this morning will be to study the concept of prophecy within the framework of scripture so that when we talk about the gift of prophecy, we will have some perspective or insight into how we are to understand its relevance to today.
In Studying prophecy during all time, first of all notice that prophecy has two different focuses. We often think of prophecy as predicting the future, or fore-telling and the scriptures have many illustrations of fore-telling prophecy. The OT has many fore-telling prophecies concerning the coming of Christ - some of the most beautiful ones in Isaiah where not only is his birth announced well ahead of time, but also his suffering and death in Isaiah 52,53. Danial of course is another OT book that tells about the future, as does the book of Revelation in the NT. Prophecy included fore - telling the future.
But prophecy is also forth telling - or bringing the truth of God, his will, his word to a timely and pointed application of a present circumstance, person or issue. Again, scriptures are full of prophecies in which God through the mouths of the prophets re -applies his will, his word that he has previously spoken, to the hearts of his people. In Christian and Reformed circles, we have regarded preaching as forth-telling the word of God - and in that sense we have historically regarded preaching as prophecy - and so we have tended to conclude sermons with the "Amen!" - (in sincereity and truth, the Lord has spoken).
Through both the OT and the NT and the gift of prophecy may include both fore-telling and forth-telling, I would like you to notice some contrasts this morning. And to do that turn with me to Deuteronomy 18:14ff NIV
The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so. The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. For this is whay you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, "Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.
17 The Lord said to me: "What they say is good. 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.
Notice first of all that true prophecies in the OT were the very words of God. So the OT repeatedly says that the Lord gave words to the prophets. Often prophecy is first of all a dialogue between the prophet and God telling the prophet what to speak. Repeatedly, we see in the OT the phrase "The word of the Lord which he spoke by his servant the prophet..." Prophets were to speak only what the Lord gave them...
As a result, the OT prophets had a lot of authority.
19 "If anyone does not ,listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account."
The OT prophets were regarded as the voice of God - their words - His words, their message His very direct communication. And since the people who refused to listen to a prophet refused to listen to the Lord, the Lord would hold them accountable. Prophets had a profound amount of authority, they were to be feared by the people.
At the same time, prophets had to weigh very heavily the integrity of their prophecy. Listen to the next words.
Duet 18:20 "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."
And then of course there was the test of an OT prophet - as explained for us in verse 21ff.
Deut 18:21 "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."
OT prophets had to be true to God or else - and as we find with the true prophets of God, such as Samuel - their words did come true - Samuel was a man of God, established as a prophet "The Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground." (I Sam 3:19) All that he said came true.
Let me suggest to you that if these same criteria were applied today to preaching - everyone of us would be held profoundly accountable - including myself - infact I suspect that there have been some errors in my preaching over the years - on that basis I ought to be dead.
These OT prophets spoke for God to the people of Israel, they were moved by the Holy Spirit to speak, and they form for us the OT scriptures that we have today. They are to be regarded by us as words, messages from God himself.
When we come to the NT, we discover that prophecy does not quite have the importance or rank it did in the OT. For example - the NT is written by a variety of authors, and with the exception of the book of revelation, non of them claim that this is the word of the Lord based on prophecy, rather they claim that this is the word of the Lord based on the fact that they were either with Christ or they were apostles. Again and again, Paul claims his right to lead the church because he was an apostle sent from God. Infact in I Corithians 14:37, Paul pulls rank - and makes the claim that his apostleship is of higher credibility than New Testament "prophecy." Listen to these words "If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command."
Peter points out to us in II Peter 3:16, that even though Paul's words may at times be hard to understand - they were to be regarded as equal with the OT scriptures, ignored to our own destruction.
The words of the disciples and or apostles form for us the NT - reliable witnesses to the truth of God for our lives, trustworthy in their message of salvation through Jesus Christ. The OT and the NT are for us the master reference when it comes to hearing the word of God for our lives today.
The gift of prophecy, in the New Testament however has the following characteristics:
First of all, it is imperfect. Paul says it himself in I Corinthians 13:9 "For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears." Prophecy today is not perfect, and so it is appropriate to evaluate the integrity of prophecy.
So my second point here very quickly, and we will look at that more in the future is that the gift of prophescy ought to be tested. I Thessalonians 5:19-22 says
"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."
Prophecy should always be given and recieved, and evaluated in love. People with the gift of prophecy will make mistakes, in love we are to discern the truth of the gift, and lead them to grow in using their gift with integrity. A good illustration of that happened at one of our church conference meetings called "Classis." A young man wanted a licence to exhort to the churches - he wrote for us a sermon which had some pretty poor biblical interpretation in it - Classis allowed him to preach on the condition that his sermons would first be checked over by a mentor pastor who would work with him on his theology.
At the same time, Old and New Testament prophecies have in common the truth that they reveal the heart. Like the Word of God - prophecy is sharper than a double edged sword - it judges the thoughts and the attitudes of the heart.
The women at the well in John chapter 4 recognized that Jesus was a prophet because he knew her secrets - the secrets that she had committed adultery, not once but a variety of times and the man she lived with at that time was not her husband, nor her fifth husband. Her summary to the towns people "He told me everything I ever did.
Prophecies convict of sin. The scriptures of course abound with this truth - Nathan (II Samuel 12) came as a prophet to David to point out his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, and Psalm 51 records for us the depths of David's conviction. Jonah preached to a city, and the entire city of Nineveh was convicted of sin. So to Peter's prophecy at Pentecost cut to the hearts of his hearers showing them their sin of unbelief in the one who came as the Son of God.
Prophecies also make us aware of the presence of God.
It was well known in the Old Testament that God was with his faithful prophet Moses (Joshua 1). So to, in the New Testament, the gift of prophecy demonstrates the presence of God among his people. "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.'"
Prophecy builds the church, it edifies - that is Pauls hope and intent through the gift of prophecy. Prophets do this by teaching us the truth, calling us to accound for the truth - foretelling - giving us hope, forth telling - confronting us. The fruit of prophecy is so that God's people may be built up.
Prophecy will be rejected, denied by a disobedient heart. Some people will respond to prophecy well, others however throughout scripture will not respond well to the truth - and they painfully reject the prophets, just as they rejected Jeremiah in the OT and Jesus in the NT - the truth on the lips of God's people is at all times not welcomed by some.
Because of time, I have to end here.
Just a couple of concluding notes.
On your sheets, you have some self evaluative questions - how high you rate may be an indicator that you have some of the signs of the gift of propehcy. Encourage you to work through that and keep it inyour file.
Two weeks from now, we are going to look one more time at the gift of prophecy, we may give a short time in the service for the opportunity for some of us to share a scripture passage of hymn that they believe the Lord wants us to hear.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.