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DO NOT DESPISE PROPHECY DESPITE 2020

I believe in prophecy and I believe in prophets. But based on what I know from Scripture both are rarer than many would have us believe. I suspect though that there are a lot of Christians who used to share my acceptance of the validity of prophecy and prophets — who no longer do due to the events of 2020.

One of the many reasons I believe in prophecy and prophets is the teaching of Scripture. I will use one particular two-verse passage to bookend this week’s pastor’s desk to make my case.

Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
First Thessalonians 5:20-21

 

THUS SAYS THE LORD!

Prophecy is predicting or foretelling. It is not like a good guess or a mere hunch. It is what happens when the Spirit of God comes upon a person and they speak on behalf of God. For the most part, the only ones who prophesied in the Old Covenant era were prophets. There were occasions when people experienced the Holy Spirit coming upon them in which people wondered whether these people were now prophets. But each of these instances were temporary and the prophetic utterances that resulted were forth-telling rather than foretelling. That is, rather than predicting the future (foretelling), these temporary prophecies were more like declaring God’s praises. Here are some examples- 

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it.
Numbers 11:25

And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” And a man of the place answered, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
First Samuel 10:11-12

It was a grave thing to claim to be a prophet. ‘Grave’ because the consequences of claiming to be a prophet when you were not included shaming and a painful death (Deut. 18:20-22). Little wonder then that several of the Old Testament prophets were hesitant to accept God’s call to be a prophet.

¶ “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
¶ Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold,
I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”
Jeremiah 1:5-6

Anyone who claimed to be a prophet but taught falsehood, was not to be listened to. This required that there was a standard of truth by which the prophet’s words could be evaluated. This is why the written Word of God became increasingly important. Over time, the role of the prophet broadened beyond foretelling to reminding God’s people of His Word, reminding them of the covenant their forefathers had established with God by retelling them their history (the prophet Jeremiah was one of the authors of First and Second Kings for example), and fulfilling the role of an intercessor. In Isaiah 36 we see the prophet Isaiah fulfilling each of these prophetic aspects after King Hezekiah sent messengers to Isaiah pleading for him to intercede on their behalf –

It may be that the LORD your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the LORD your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’” ¶ When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumour and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”
Isaiah 37:4-7

 

PROPHETS AND PROPHECY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

It has been said that the calling of the prophet is the only Old Covenant ministry to be carried over into the New Covenant. Jesus Christ stated that He would be sending prophets, but just like the prophets of old, they too would be mistreated.

Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town
Matthew 23:34

And the apostle Paul tells us that when Christ ascended He gave of people to the church which included prophets.

He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers
Ephesians 4:10-11

Just as we briefly saw from our glimpse of what the Old Testament said about the distinction between the ministry of the prophet and those who received a temporary Spirit-enabled ability to prophesy about the glories of God, so too the New Testament makes a distinction between the gift of the prophet to the church, and the gift of [edifying] prophecy to the believer. Through the Book of Acts we see the unfolding role of the New Testament prophet. In the Old Testament, prophets prophesied to the regents of Israel and their national neighbours. Elijah’s prophetic ministry marked the beginning of the Age of the Prophet. John the Baptist was the last Old Covenant prophet and he marks the end of the Age of the Prophet. After Christ ascended and He gave gifts of people to the church as summarised in Ephesians 4:11, we see in Acts three important indicators about how the understanding New Testament prophet developed. 

 

1. The Leadership team at Antioch

In Acts 13 we are introduced to the church at Antioch (which was the Apostle Paul’s home church) which was comprised of prophets and teachers. 

¶ Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
Acts 13:1

In his commentary on this passage John Calvin argues that prophets and teachers in this sense basically amounts to the same thing – people who could teach and interpret God’s Word. But it seems that later in Calvin’s life he came to recognise that they were distinct ministries and functions1. Calvin acknowledges in his commentary on Ephesians 4 and First Corinthians 12 that there is a similar distinction in the New Testament to the ministry of the prophet and the occasional gift of prophecy.

Through Acts we notice that others become identified as prophets (Acts 11:27; 15:32). But there is one in particular I would like to point out.

2. Agabus

Agabus appears in Acts 11 as one of the pioneers of the church at Antioch. His ministry is truly weird. While it might be popular among conservative scholars to assume that only the Old Testament prophets were foretellers, Agabus makes this assumption untenable.

And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).
Acts 11:28

The next time we meet Agabus is in Acts 21. By this time we see that Agabus had a long track record of being an authentic prophet. The prophecy that he delivers in Acts 21 highlights the difference between the gift of prophecy as one of the charismatic gifts of the Spirit, and the ministry of the prophet. (People whom the Holy Spirit graces with occasional gifts of prophecy for the edifying of the church are not necessarily prophets.)

While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Acts 21:10-13

Prior to Agabus delivering this prophecy to Paul, the disciples at Tyre, where Paul’s ship had landed, were “through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4). What we see when Agabus prophesied is that Paul listens, accepts, and acknowledges what he has said. We note that Agabus did not direct Paul to do anything. Paul may have chosen to heed the Tyrian and Agabus’ prophetic warnings about going to Jerusalem, but he accepted that what they were prophesying to him agreed with what he knew was God’s will was. This should stand as a warning for those who ever have people “give them a word from God” that is directive (that is, ‘God wants you to…’). Be very careful if someone claims to have a word from God for you telling you to do something that takes you by complete surprise. 

3. The Daughters of Philip

Among some Christians there remains some controversy about the role of women within the church. For those who claim that it is against God’s will for a woman to preach/teach/prophesy in a church, Philip’s four daughters present a problem.

On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied.
Acts 21:8-9

There can be little doubt that women prophesied in the early church (1Cor. 11:5). This should not be surprising either because even in the Old Testament times God called women to be prophets – Miriam (Ex. 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2Kings 22:14), Isaiah’s wife (Isa. 8:3), and Anna (Luke 2:36).

 

DISCERNMENT AND PROPHECY

Twenty-twenty will be a memorable year for most us but sadly it will probably be recorded by church historians as the year of discredited prophets and prophecy. I’m not aware any prophet who foretold of the global pandemic, and most of the high-profile American ‘prophets’ unanimously prophesied the President Donald Trump would be re-elected.

I dared to respond to one of these ‘prophets’ with a Youtube video challenging his prophecy that Bill Gates was going to infuse a nano-chip into a coronavirus vaccine which would lead to him being revealed as the prophesied Antichrist. I’ve had around 700 people call me a ‘false prophet’ and condemn me to hell for daring to challenge this ‘prophet’. But this example of modern prophecy serves to illustrate the principle found in our bookend biblical passage. 

Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
First Thessalonians 5:20-21

Based on this text of Scripture, whenever someone prophesies something, we test what they say. This testing should include: 

  • Does it correspond to the teaching of Scripture?
  • Is it conditional? (Most Biblical prophecies were unconditional.)
  • Does it have a time-frame? That is, does it declare that it will be fulfilled by a certain date? This makes it easy to test.
  • Does the person prophesying have a credible prophetic track-record?

Last Sunday (January 17th 2021), someone in our church received a word from the Lord. They wrote it down and gave it to me through the week. This is what it says-

“God is calling His church—individual people to seek Him deeper for a more personal relationship with Him. This will cause people to grow—and lead to church numbers (attendance) to grow. So the church needs to prepare for growth. Be aware that in the past, such calling for knowing God deeper is often associated with upheaval.”

What do we do with a prophecy like this? We should do as First Thessalonians 5:20-21 teaches us. We should test it. Is it contrary to Scripture? No. Is it conditional? Perhaps. But it is an exhortation to draw near to God. Does it have a time-frame deadline? No. Does it come from a credible source? Yes. And it is my pastoral hope that if someone gives you a prophecy, or tells you of a prophecy that will supposedly effect you, you too will apply these tests to their prophecy. Even though recent high profile ‘prophetic’ ministries have brought enormous discredit to the genuinely God ordained prophetic, we should not despise prophecy, but we should test all claims and hold onto that which good.

¶ “For the Lord GOD does nothing
without revealing His secret
to His servants the prophets.
Amos 3:7

 

Footnotes:

  1. Van Alten, H.H. 2017. ‘John Calvin on the gifts of the Holy Spirit in his commentary on Acts’, Koers – Bulletin for Christian Scholarship 82(2), Available at https://doi.org/10.19108/ KOERS.82.2.2350

Your pastor,

Andrew

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HEARING THE WILL OF GOD

Christianity is a dynamic (always changing) journey with the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit within us who works within us to desire to do and pursue the will of God (Phil. 2:13). It is the illumination of the Spirit that takes God’s Word as we read, study, and meditate on it, and makes it seem fresh and alive to us. And it is the Word of God, which He, the Holy Spirit, inspired men to write so that we could clearly discern the will of God for our lives. You don’t need a word from God to know what God’s will for your life is. You don’t need to attend a “Learn To Hear The Voice of God” seminar, or to read a book on the topic. Instead, you just need to dialogue with God in prayer through pouring out your heart to Him with your requests, petitions, confessions, and thanksgiving; and then, prayerfully read His Word as the light of the Holy Spirit illuminates it to your soul.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Second Corinthians 4:6 

Perhaps if more believers were led by the Spirit like this, less Christian marriages would end, less churches would be split, and less Christians would walk away from Christ and His Church after becoming frustrated by the false belief that since these presumptuous Christians have apparently mis-heard God so wildly, the reason must be that God doesn’t actually exist. This is one of the most pressing issues that needs to be confronted today — especially among those of us who identify as Spirit-filled Pentecostals.

LOOKING BEYOND THE MOMENT

home > Pastor's Desk > 2021 > June > LOOKING BEYOND THE MOMENTLOOKING BEYOND THE MOMENT For anyone who is a fan of aviation, the movie Sully (2016) is one you will have probably enjoyed watching. The storyline is biographical drama based on the 2009...

THE BENEFITS OF A DAILY DOSE OF VITAMIN R

The Greatest Exponent of what vitamin R can achieve within a person was the One who introduced vitamin R in small doses to His twelve followers. There initial dose came from simply complying with the request to, “Follow Me.” This they did for some three years or so. After watching Him intently, they then got a larger dose when they were told to, “Go…and proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” And as every example of those who have ever received a near maximum dose of vitamin R bears witness, just before they received their ultimate dose vitamin R they felt two universally common sensations: inadequacy and inability. Yet, as everyone who has received such high doses of vitamin R from the One who gives the ultimate enabling strength found in vitamin R, somehow they were supernaturally enabled to do the very thing they felt both inadequate and unable to do!

A PICTURE IS PAINTED BY A THOUSAND WORDS

The most difficult challenge you’ll ever have to deal with throughout your life is others. They’ll make you angry, get you frustrated, and hurt you. At the root of these challenges will be miscommunication with others and communication breakdowns. Your ability to understand how language and communication really works could save you from much of this heartache. But the most unrealised — and by far the potentially greatest source of — heartache may eternally shock untold numbers of poor souls when they realise too late that they did not respond to God’s communications.

THE BUSY FOOLS ARGUMENT WITH THE BUSY WISE

What makes our busyness wise busyness? It’s when our busyness is doing what Christ wants for the reasons that He wants it done. It’s when we are busy without neglecting the priorities of spiritual disciplines and our obligations to those we are responsible to and for. This is why, when Christ calls someone to take on a greater responsibility in His Kingdom it is almost certain that they are already busy. I am not at all suggesting that a Christ-follower needs to be frenetic in their busyness for Christ, or that they should never sabbath (two points I have tried to make clear in this Pastor’s Desk by contrasting the busy wise with the busy foolish). But I am hoping that those who have been following and serving Christ for some seasons will recognise the doors of opportunity that Christ will enable them to walk through wisely. And as they do, and we do together, may we begin to see glimpse of the Great Commission being fulfilled in our valley-city.

IN LIGHT OF ETERNITY

“That I may know Him!” Fancy that! The apostle who was struck from his horse by the radiant glory of Christ while on the Persecutor’s Road to Damascus; the apostle whom the resurrected Christ appeared to in a vision and spoke directly to him (Acts 18:9-10); the apostle whom Christ used to raise people from the dead and to heal many people miraculously; and, the apostle who testifies that he was caught up to heaven and saw things too wonderful to reveal — this apostle gets toward the end of his life and states that he doesn’t yet know Christ the way he should! This apostle, the apostle Paul, toward the end of his life begins to see his life and his troubles in the light of eternity. And I am thus assured that in this light many of the problems that we face today will fade from our gaze and vanish as we fix our eyes on the Source of eternity’s Light.

EXCUSE ME

The essence of an excuse is the word, no. If we get invited to a party that we don’t to go to and we make a polite excuse to decline the offer, in essence we are saying “No, I will not come to your party.” This is the gist of the parable that Christ told in Luke 14 about His Father who sent His Son as His Servant to personally invite those who had already received an invitation to come to a great banquet. (It’s interesting how Jesus describes His Father’s heaven as a great banquet.) By saying “No” to the great banquet invitation those who were declining this invitation were saying that they had a better offer. What offer could be better than dining with the Source of Life, Joy, Peace, and Power, as His special guest in His luxurious mansion? What happens next in this parable also says a lot about how God feels when people make excuses to decline His offer to dine.

BELONGING

I’m not sure about you, but one of my great wrestles in becoming more Christlike is that sinful tendency to see my time, my resources, my life as belonging to me. I like to control it. I like to own it. I like to decide what happens and when.

God, in His great grace and wisdom, seems to work in our lives reminding us how little we truly control and that it all truly does belong to Him. So often these reminders come in the way of hardship and loss with the call to surrender ownership and control.

If our Heavenly Father was a despotic God, a cruel, tyrannical God who acted arbitrarily and selfishly for His own ends, knowing we belonged to Him would cause us to tremble and live in fear and apprehension.

But praise Him that this is not our God!

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies your with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Psalm 103:2-5

ROOFS AND DRAGONS – THE VALUE OF PLANNING

ROOFS AND  DRAGONS – THE VALUE OF PLANNING
John F. Kennedy once said, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”  J.R.R. Tolkien said, “It does not do to leave a live a dragon out of your calculations, if you live near one.” Having a plan is generally a strategy that will help us to get things done, or respond correctly when things go wrong. A plan may help us to find a solution and a way through an adverse situation that we are experiencing. A plan also helps us to know what resources we might need for dealing with situations that we can foresee.

When it comes to thinking about the importance of planning, a statement that is worth considering is one that I like to get my Maritime Passage Planning students to contemplate:

‘The best thing about failing to plan, is that disaster comes as a complete surprise that is not preceded by hours or days of stress and worry associated with the planning process.’

SOMETHING FOR SLUGGARDS TO CONSIDER

There are those who look busy but are not very productive. There are those who are busy but are highly productive. Often these people have learned that busy needs to be managed so that their time is focused on maintaining their important relationships, taking regular sabbaths, prioritising the important over the urgent, and cooperating with others. These busy people have learned to recognise God’s open doors and have confidence that the Apostle Paul had that it is God who gives them supernatural energy to toil, struggle and work to get things done when no-one else thought it could be.