LIVING STONES THEOLOGY:
THE GIFT OF PROPHECY #2
I Corinthians 14:1-5, 24,25
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Scripture Reading: 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 every one 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.
21. In the Law it is written "Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me" says the Lord.
Tongues then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however is for believers, not for unbelievers. 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. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two or at the most three- should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the control of the prophets. For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace.
39. 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.
Brothers and sisters in Christ:
This morning I would like to start the message by pointing out one of our confessions that has very profound implications for our discussion of the gift of prophecy. Turn with me to
Heidelberg Catechism (HC) Lord's Day 12, p. 873
Why is he called "Christ" meaning "Anointed"?
Because he has been ordained by God the Father and has been anointed with the Holy spirit to be our chief prophet and teacher who perfectly reveals to us the secret counsel and will of God fo our deliverance; our only high priest who has set us free by the one sacrifice of his body, and who continually pleads our cause with the Father, and our eternal king who governs us by his Word and Spirit, and who guards us and keeps us in the freedom he has won for us.
But why are you called a Christian?
Because by faith I am a member of Christ and so I share in his anointing. I am anointed to confess his name, to present my self to him as a living sacrifice of thanks, to strive with good conscience against sin and the devil in this life. And afterward to reign with Christ over all creation for all eternity.
We are called Christians because we share in Christ's anointing - and though he is the our chief prophet, our only high priest, our eternal king, the HC makes it very clear that in sharing his anointing, each one of us is in this world and in eternity a prophet priest and king - by confessing his name, offering ourselves as a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and reigning with Christ eternally.
We like Christ, are prophets, priests and kings, we are living stones in his spiritual temple, each of us like THE Living Stone, Jesus Christ.
The logical consequence of this truth is that everyone of us has been called to be prophets - not only is prophecy the gift which each one of us should desire with the greatest eagerness - each one of us has a role of being a prophet in this world - at home, at work, at school, at the store, as political citizens, every part of our lives includes the role that we are to be prophets. And one of the fundamental themes of this entire series is that God - throughout all our lives has been creating us to fulfill this role of prophet - each called to prophecy in our own specific and unique way.
I would like to remind us very quickly of 5 basic ways that God creates us to be prophets, those who confess his name.
First - he has created us, formed us in our mothers womb - given us a body and personality especially formed to be a prophet - for some of us - our prophesy will be with actions of love and service - for others expression of true care, and so we by our actions express the truth, for others, our personalities are better equipped for confrontation and challenging others around us with the truth, some of us have personalities that speak out easily - God creates us for our prophetic role by giving us personalities that will shape how we prophesy in this world.
Connected with how he created us in our personality is the issue of natural gifts. Some of us can speak freely in public, and do so quite naturally, others tremble at the thought. Again - these natural abilities may shape how we will prophesy - for some of us, our confession of Christ, our testimony to the truth will be bold and blunt, for others, it will be sincere and quiet coming through actions and ways of interacting with people.
3rd, the Lord gives us life experiences that equip us for a prophetic role in this world and in the church. Some of us here who are older can see very clearly that there is moral decay in our culture, they can recognize patterns in behavior that demonstrate that a person is rebelling against God - life experiences can especially equip us to speak prophetically to individuals, God's people or our culture. (Those who forget history are bound to repeat its mistakes)
4th, the Lord provides spiritual gifts - those abilities that are ours by rebirth through the Spirit of God - these may be quite different from our natural abilities - and may stretch our natural abilities to the limit. They are gifts from God that we might be used by him in whatever place we are so that we will be prophets like Christ, confessing Christ, to this world.
5th, the Lord gives us passions - themes, truths of scriptures, concerns that burn like fire in our personalities, and it is hard for us not to speak about them. As we have found, the church ought to be a place where these passions are encouraged because very often they are a call from God to a specific ministry for us. Where there is fire in our bones - we are called not to quench the flames of the Holy Spirit calling us to ministry.
For each one of us who are called Christians - anointed like Christ, God has been pouring into our lives his work so that we will be especially equipped for a unique prophetic ministry, a confessing of his name in this life. There is no exception to that basic truth for anyone in this auditorium - unless it is the case that you are not a Christian.
That having been said - this morning we would like to talk biblically and experientially about prophesying - specifically I would like to talk about the dynamics that happen within us and as a result of our role as prophets. These five points hold true no matter what form of prophecy we are involved in - if our actions of service are prophetic, or if we are compelled by the word of God to speak the truth to our neighbor, or whether we receive an utterance from the Spirit - regardless of the source and mode of the prophecy, these five points are essential. I call them check points in the process of prophesying - however we do it, we need to be watchful in our lives of these.
Check Points in the Process of Prophesying:
The first check point in the process of prophesying is Our heart.
This is in simple obedience to Paul's command in verse 1 of chapter 14 "Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy." In whatever gift we serve with in the kingdom of God, and especially the gift of prophecy - our heart motive must be love.
The illustrations of this truth from the scripture are numerous. The prophets, because they represented the truth of God to the people also had to portray for them the truth of his love for them. And so they did. Even when the Lord's wrath burned against the nation of Israel, his love was demonstrated through the prophets. Jeremiah, the most wrathful of the prophets, was also a prophet who wept for the people of Israel, and when his prophecies of impending judgment came true, Jeremiah himself went with the nation of Israel and experienced the pain of those judgements. The apostle Paul, who tells us in Romans 9-11 that the nation of Israel had no salvation apart from Christ the vine, tells us also that "he had great sorrow and unceasing anguish of heart. "For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.
Before a prophet utters a word, before you speak a single word of truth to your neighbor, whatever your actions or words might be, be in the habit of asking yourself if your heart motive is love. Is your motive for the (eternal) well being of your neighbor? The motive behind our speaking, our confession, our service is to be love. Again, this is very important. Sometimes too often, those who speak as prophets with the truth speak judgement out of a critical spirit, finding fault in everyone but themselves, finding fault in another's efforts rather than their own. And the net effect of their prophecy is to tear down. They do not speak the truth in love. When however we speak the truth in love - whether it is a word of encouragement or a word of judgment, the net effect of those words will be to build up. Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.
The 2nd check point that must be within us as prophets must be God's Word.
We are called as God's people to hide God's word in our hearts so that we might not sin against him. We are called to use it as a light to our pathway. The bible is our source of truth, it reveals to us the way - it focuses our yearnings, our desires, our love on Jesus Christ and the salvation he gives us. It tells us God's will. It shows us what is normal. The scriptures are the corrective glasses through which we look at the world and see it clearly. And it is from that clarity of vision that we prophesy.
People who are ignorant to the word of God become prophets who prophesy out of their own imagination, (severely judged in the OT) their ignorance to God's written word makes them ignorant to the character of the voice of God as he speaks to their spirits - and therefore they may well speak from the wrong spirit. It is for that reason that I John 4:1 says "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world."
To be people who prophesy the truth faithfully, we must know the word of God. We must be familiar with the voice of God as he speaks to us so that we might speak to others. If our 1st checkpoint is our own hearts - that they be motivated by love, and our 2nd checkpoint ought to the be word of God, our 3rd checkpoint is The World.
If we speak prophetically to a person - we need to know the person to whom we are speaking. If we are speaking to issues in our times, our culture, we need to understand well those issues. We need to be like the "men of Issachar (I Chronicles 12:32) who understood the time and knew what Israel should do." Again - the prophets of Israel not only knew the word of the Lord, they also knew all to well what Israel was doing, where Israel's heart was at - and their prophesy arose from a good knowledge of both. We too, if we as prophets want to influence others with the truth, need to understand well those whom we are speaking the truth to. Effective prophecy is well focused, well aimed. It cuts to the quick, dividing soul and spirit - it is the word of God effectively applied.
Analogy. I have a friend named Fred, he is a stationary engineer . His most useful diagnostic tool is his hearing. He knows what the plant should sound like. (If you have ever been there while the boilers are running - it is a roar). If that roar goes off, just slightly - something that most of us would never notice - he notices that something is wrong and it is his job to go and correct it. Some of us would regard a healthy roar as a problem - because we do not know what the plant should sound like. Others of us might not react when things are going terribly wrong.
In the same way - if we know the word of God - we know what normal is - and we can sense when things are wrong and speak accurately to them.
The 4th checkpoint that we need to observe in the process of prophesying is Our fruit.
Paul makes that very clear in this passage: "But every one who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. ... he who prophecies edifies (builds up) the church "- in verse 31 he adds the theme of instruction. The consequence of prophecy ought to be these - and we ought to check for the consequences of strengthening, encouragement, comforting, instruction and building up the church. In the process though, we must also understand that all prophesy is not always positive,. If you were to survey the scriptures - prophesy includes a significant amount of judgment - even on the lips of Jesus. The truth strongly spoken with judgement, can have very positive consequences. We ought to check what fruit our prophesy is bearing..
And finally, we should be aware that God is interested in Good order.
There are times when we might feel motivated to speak out, but the timing is not fitting. Jesus himself did not tell his disciples everything - for if he did, they would not be able to bear it, rather he sent them the Holy Spirit that would lead them into all truth. There are times to speak and times to remain silent. Paul takes this basic truth, and applies it to prophecy in the context of the church - God is interested in good order also in the church, and so, for the sake of good order, it may be that some prophecies need to remain unspoken. That is what Paul means when he said "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the control of the prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace." Prophets have the ability and on occasion, the responsibility, to remain silent! Sometimes, we need to remain quiet so that people have time to grow. Sometimes people need to understand grace before they can face their sin. Other times they need to see their sin before they are willing to receive grace. Knowing when to speak and when to shut up requires wisdom - which God is very willing to give to us if we but ask. If we are urged by the Spirit to speak, we still have the power to remain silent.
Each of these checkpoints are essential in the process of speaking for God in this world as prophets.
There are however times that we remain quiet, when we shouldn't remain quiet - and very quickly in the concluding portion of this instruction, I would like to talk about them - because if we remain quiet for the following or wrong reasons - then our quietness is the quietness of a watchman, who refuses to blow the trumpet when he sees the opposing army advancing - and we will be held accountable for the life of the people who have not heard because of his silence.
I know that I will be held accountable for some of the times that I have remained silent, when I should have spoken, but have not. As I ask myself why I have remained silent - I come up with three reasons which I call this morning hindrances to prophecy. You may see them in yourself, you may find more reasons...
Hindrances to Prophecy
Fear of looking Foolish. I suspect most of us can identify with this. We feel we should speak out about something, we should confess Christ - but even as we have that urge - we have another little voice in our hearts that tells us that we should not look like a fool, after all, if we do speak out, we certainly will look the fool, and then we will loose our credibility ... You know the rationalizations.
Did you know that throughout the scriptures, many of the prophets were regarded as fools, not worthy of respect. Jeremiah was suicidally depressed. Elijah seemed to have bi-polar disorder - one day on a high, the next questioning the value of his life. Ezekiel was a postively strange mystic. Isaiah went naked for long periods of time. Hosea married a prostitute. Balaam talked to donkeys. Daniel was a vegetarian. John the Baptist ate insects with honey and wore very strange clothing. To many, especially those who disobeyed God, they looked like fools.
HOSEA said it bluntly: 9:7 NIV
"Let Israel know this. Because your sins are so many and your hostility so great, the prophet is considered a fool, the inspired man a maniac."
Paul said the very same truth repeatedly in I Corinthians 1 - you should read the whole chapter - best summarized in verse 18
"The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God."
Jesus himself said after the people of his own town took offence with him "Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor."
Prophets look like fools to those who think they know them best - but their foolishness is the wisdom of God. The truth is, sometimes, when we speak out for God, we will look like fools to this world. That is the price prophets have to pay...
One well known preacher in the USA was deeply struck by this theme. He was well educated, respected speaker, and he valued his status as a "Reverend." One day, downtown, he saw a man walking the streets with a board in front of his chest that stated very clearly "I am a fool for Christ." As he watched the man, he could not agree more. This man was making a fool of himself, and of Christianity, as far as he was concerned. And then the man walked past - and on the back placard he had written "And whose fool are you?"
Are you willing to be a fool for Christ - if being a fool means that you speak the truth to your neighbor?
The 2nd hindrance I've notice in my life is a Fear of Consequences. The prophets of old, when they truly spoke the word of God and did not prophecy out of their own imaginations were persecuted, some lost their lives at the hands of the people that they loved. Jesus told us to, that we will be persecuted like the prophets before us as we live confessing his name.(Matthew 5:12). (Even as I preach to God's people, and I preach as a prophet, there have been times when I have trembled with fear - for fear of the consequences of what I am saying).
Again, let me tell you that there is the potential for wonderful consequences - hearts changed, lives committed to God - but not all people respond that way. I will never forget some years ago when I was talking to a retired brick layer. He told me with tears in his eyes of one job sight he worked at. He was a Christian, but when it came to his faith, he kept his mouth shut. There was however another man, a Christian, who fearlessly confessed Christ to his co-workers. Until one day, another bricklayer threw a brick at him, telling him to shut up. The brick struck him in the head. That Christian witness never worked again. I suspect, I am not the only one who fears the consequences of speaking the truth.
The last hindrance that has kept me from speaking the truth to others is Unbelief.
The Devil whispers in our ear - "Is this really the truth of God?" Our Culture whispers - "There really is no absolute truth." We live in a time that says "There is a truth for you and there is a different truth for me and that's the way it ought to be." Because we are not convinced of the truth, we remain silent.
Maybe these points are true to you - maybe not, maybe you have others.
God calls each one of us to be prophets - and among the gifts that we are to be the most desirous of - prophecy is to be our greatest desire - simply because God wants each one of us to proclaim the truth in a time and relevant manner for understanding, correction, repentance and edification of others.
You share in his anointing...
Thank you for shaping our lives, personalities, natural abilities, experiences, passions and anointing us with your spirit that gives us spiritual gifts. Lord motive us by love, help us to fill our lives with your word, help us to be careful and watchful of this world - bear fruit through us, help us to know when to speak.
Forgive us for our unwillingness to be fools for Christ's sake. Forgive us for the fear we have of consequences. Lord we believe, help our unbelief. And gift us by your spirit to Speak for you to this world.
(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.