We talked last week about prophecy and prophetic gifts in the Bible and Today. We saw that the work of the Holy Spirit which is most widely referred to and is in some ways the most important in the church is the Holy Spirit being “the channel of communication between God and man”, inspiring prophetic gifts and messages. We read God’s promise in the book of Joel, “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.” This is the nature of the Spirit poured out on the church – the Spirit who inspires prophecy.
So I introduced the phrase, `The Prophethood of All Believers’. We all know about the priesthood of all believers – all can come into God’s presence and pray – we dont need special priests as intermediaries. The prophethood of all believers means the opposite, the corollary, we dont need other people to bring us messages from God – God will speak directly to ALL of us – because the Spirit who inspired the prophets is the same Holy Spirit who lives in each one of us as Christians!
The apostle Paul commands “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt” (1 Thess 5:19f). For Paul, prophecy is (next to love) the spiritual gift to be valued most highly (1 Cor 14:1ff).
Prophecy 1 Cor 14:1-5, 24-25, 29-32; 12:29-13
Prophecy means not only fore-telling but more often forth-telling a revelation from God. “While the written word is God’s truth for all people at all times, the prophetic word is a particular word, inspired by God, given to a particular person or group of persons, at a particular moment for a particular purpose,” writes David Watson/Michael Green. Prophecy is not just good Bible teaching. “Prophecy would express a new word from God as such, whereas teaching would tend to denote more a new insight into an old word from God”. “Prophecy receives its content through revelation, teaching from tradition”.
“Prophecy is receiving a revelation from God and subsequently communicating it to others.” Its function will be to build up the church, edifying, “strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (14:3). As such prophecy is also in itself a “sign for believers” of the presence and love of God (14:22).
Paul would like all believers to prophesy but recognises that not all will be used by God in a regular way as prophets (“ou me” in 12:29 must imply “surely all do not …”, c.f.14:5). He envisages that some believers will exercise a regular ministry as “prophets” subject to their recognition by the local Christian community, whereas others (not known as “prophets”) will occasionally prophesy. But he longs that ALL Christians would prophesy.
Reception and SUBSEQUENT communication: “Two or three prophets should speak…and if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn, …” (1 Cor 14:29-30) This implies that the Christian prophet will always be in complete control of his utterance, able to stop speaking at will, rather than in a trance or some other ecstatic state.
In the Biblical pattern prophetic messages should generally be received in their entirety and then communicated later to other people, in sharp contrast to some “practitioners” who suggest that they may only receive the first few words and then the Spirit supplies the rest of the message while they are speaking. The reflective refining involved in subsequent rather than immediate communication might well considerably improve the quality and value of much prophecy in certain circles today.
In general it is the sense of the prophetic message which is inspired, rather than the precise words which are under the control of the speaker. Thus prophecies delivered in King James’ English or in the first person in the name of God are no more authoritative or authentic for that. `Prophesy does not rant.’ (Michael Green). So we thought this morning about UNRECOGNISED prophecies, that when God impresses something on our heart or gives us an insight into something, that could well be prophecy!
Paul teaches specifically about the gift of prophecy, but there are a number of other spiritual gifts listed in 1 Cor 12 and 14 which can be grouped together under the general description of COMMUNICATING GIFTS because they involve God speaking to believers in some way. All of these are aspects of what the Bible broadly means by prophecy.
Words of knowledge and Words of Wisdom Acts 5:3; Acts 10:17-23
“Words of knowledge” and “words of wisdom” to refer respectively to specific supernatural insight into situations and to divinely revealed solutions to practical problems
Guidance to a Pastoral Visit
PBT in counselling
Discerning the spirits Acts 16:16-18, 1 John 4:1-6
“The discerning of spirits” refers to a God-given knowledge of the divine, satanic or psychological origin of another’s prophetic utterance (c.f. 1 Jn 4:1ff) or of their actions.
Speaking in tongues 1 Cor 14:1-5,13-19, 22-23, 27-28
“Tongues” is also a prophetic phenomenon (seen by Peter in Acts 2 to fulfil Joel 2) as are interpretations or explanations of tongues.
WAYS GOD SPEAKS (see especially D.Pytches, Prophecy chapter 6)
Dreams (Deut 13:1, Joel 2:28) – PBT dreams – last week – children in church
TWCCC, friends converted, ,
Visions (Dan 7:15, Acts 7:55-56; 16:9-10; 18:9-10))
Pictures (Jer 18:1-6) – should be much more obvious than many! e.g. BROKEN HUB
Voices (1 Sam 3:4, Acts 9:4)
God can also speak through situations and circumstances, subjective impressions, riddles, allegories and parables. Much rarer, and needing much more careful testing are supernatural visitations, trances, and out-of-the-body experiences.
We need to be Listening To God. “Have you listened for God’s voice speaking directly to you? Have you considered that He may speak through your intuition, through your imagination, through dreams and visions, through flashes of inspiration?” Most of us need to grow in the many ways of “Listening to God”! We need to explore silence in prayer and meditation much more, to discover an awareness simply of the presence and love of the Father and to learn to hear more clearly His messages to us.
Looking at NT, prophecy and prophetic gifts arent peripheral to activity of Holy Spirit in life of believer – but central activities of Spirit of Prophecy. Christian prophetic gifts rest on direct revelatory experiences. No believers are excluded from receiving such direct communication from God, and many more might expect to, because we have all received the communicating Spirit, the Spirit Who inspires prophecy. So we share in `the prophethood of all believers’.
EVALUATING and WEIGHING PROPHECY
All prophecy is mixed “We prophesy in part. We see through a glass, darkly;” (1 Cor 13:9ff AV).
UNLIKE OT prophecy – NT prophecy is not simply true or false. People who prophesy falsely, i.e. make mistakes in their prophesying, are not “false prophets”.
Prophecies may be “bad” because they are “impure” (mixed with the speaker’s own ideas), “weak” (carrying little content), or “sloppy” (delivered carelessly or irreverently). (B.Yocum chap 7)
See Acts 21:4; 11ff, Agabus’s prediction was correct but the hearers’ interpretation was mistaken
IMPURE (mixed with own thoughts) – Curate sneaking out of retreat – `I trust that the Spirit and yourself are aware that today is early closing day.’
WEAK (little content) – so many!!!!
SLOPPY (delivered carelessly or irrelevantly – I the Lord who created and redeemed you, who know everything about you, I the Lord (although just at this moment I forget thy name) am with you. (Dave Tomlinson)
TESTS we should apply when we think God is speaking to us:-
1. Scripture and sound doctrine.
2. The traditions of the Church
3. Effects – in building up the hearers and the church and glorifying Christ.
4. All who prophesy must be judged by their works and lifestyle, “by their fruit,” (Matt 7:15ff).
5. The spirit of love with (or without) which the message is delivered.
6. The gift of discerning spirits – and “resonance” or “inner witness” of Spirit
7. Specific utterances must be evaluated by others with prophetic ministries (1 Cor 14:29)
8. “Two or three prophets should speak” (1Cor 14:29) T.Pain argues that this implies a prescriptive minimum, and that “Isolated prophecies are highly questionable”. Is he right?
9. Does the speaker submit to the church leaders?
10. Is the speaker in control of himself when speaking? Evil spirits take over people, the Holy Spirit very rarely does. (1 Cor 14:30-32).
11. Most prophecy is not foretelling but forth-telling, “telling forth” God’s word. For rare predictions the biblical test is in the prophecy: fulfillment, or lack of it (Deut. 18:22).
Throughout history false prophets have succeeded in leading Christians astray. But just because a gift can be counterfeited does not mean that the real thing does not exist. The Biblical Criteria for testing prophecy are only abidingly necessary if genuine prophecy also remains a possibility.
We need education. We need to build up our experience of hearing God speak directly to us. Above all, we need expectation. Samuel prayed, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” We can be confident that God still wants to speak directly today, not just to some but to all his children, for each believer has received the Spirit who inspires prophecy and communicates revelations. But let us all become more open to the word of God coming to us in all sorts of different and unexpected ways. Or when He does speak, we may not hear Him! `Eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. ….. He who prophesies edifies the church.’ ` Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. Do not treat prophecies with contempt. ‘ `Speak Lord for your servant is listening’
FINAL EXAMPLE – Dream of paintings – picnic by riverside, and waterfall