Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Gift of Prophecy

TEXT: 1 Thess 5:20 Do not despise prophecies. 21 Test all things; hold fast what is good.

Intro: God commands us to not look down on prophecies because there is a natural tendency for rational people to do that. When someone says God is speaking, we tend to despise it and say it is only another human opinion. Also, when prophets do strange things it seems a little crazy. Agabus bound himself with Paul’s belt and used that as an illustration that Paul would be bound when he went to Jerusalem. A prophet in the Old Testament commanded a man to hit him as another illustration. Isaiah walked through the streets naked as an illustration of how God would carry His people away naked as captives. When God sent a prophet to anoint Jehu as king, “Then Jehu came out to the servants of his master, and one said to him, ‘Is all well? Why did this madman come to you?’ And he said to them, “You know the man and his babble” (2Kings 9:11). This illustrates the normal attitude of humans to “speak evil of whatever they do not know” (Jude 10). (Jude, however, was speaking of false teachers.)
We should not despise prophecies, but on the other hand Paul tells us not to be gullible in receiving just anything. He says we should “test all things” and “hold fast what is good.” How can we test all things? What is the standard? Since the Old Testament prophets had been tried and tested, it seems to me that they should be the standard. And since the Apostles had been tried and tested with signs, wonders and the personal teaching of Christ Himself, and were proven to be in accord with the Old Testament prophets, they too should be the standard. Anything that contradicts what the prophets and apostles said and taught should be rejected.
Some claim that the gift of prophecy ceased when the canon was completed. The first Reformers, however, knew of no such doctrine. John Knox made several prophesies that were shortly fulfilled. See my tract on that where I document from The Life of John Knox by Thomas M’Crie.

"Being conveyed to the pulpit [in his old age], and summoning up the remainder of his strength, he thundered the vengeance of Heaven against that cruel murderer and false traitor, the King of France, and desired Le Croc, the French ambassador, to tell his master, that sentence was pronounced against him in Scotland, that the divine vengeance would never depart from him, nor from his house, if repentance did not ensue; but his name would remain an execration to posterity, and none proceeding from his loins would enjoy that kingdom in peace."

That prophecy was fulfilled two years later. This was just one example of several in the ministry of John Knox. His son-in-law, John Welch also prophesied, as did scores of the Scottish Covenanters. (Read The Scots Worthies.) Current denials of the gifts of the Spirit are due to the humanist enlightenment. Man’s intelligence is supposedly more enlightened than to believe such things. The Scripture used to prove that the gifts have ceased is 1 Corinthians 13:8-10.

"Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether
there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has
come, then that which is in part will be done away."

They say “that which is perfect” is the completion of the New Testament. Did knowledge pass away with the completion of the New Testament? It says, “whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.” Paul says two verses later, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” Do we now see face to face? Do we now know just as we are known? That seems like heaven to me. Only when we arrive with new bodies will we “put away childish things.”
There seems to be a presupposition, a prejudice, a despising of prophecy that is based on the enlightenment. I know of so-called Reformed men who know nothing of the heritage from which they came. What do they do with the fulfilled prophecies of the reformer Savonarola? They probably have not even read about them. How about Columba (600 AD) and his 50 miracles and prophecies? Do they just deny them? On what basis? PREJUDICE AND UNBELIEF! Despise not prophesies!

Proposition: How can we prove all things?

There are three areas I would like us to consider. 1. How to know a false prophet. 2. How prophets are still human. 3. How the prophet still has self-control.

I. How Can We Recognize False Prophets?
God tells us through Moses in Dt. 18

20 ‘But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who
speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’
21 “And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’--
22 “when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing
which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.

False prophets can sometimes make a true prophecy; but not 100% of the time. True prophets never miss. Thus we have Edgar Casey, Jean Dixon, and many others who dazzle the people and tickle their fancies. But when they miss, they just dismiss it and forget it. The same is true with all the prophecy books and their misses. They rake in the money and the people just forget.
In front of the congregation, a traveling prophet told a sick man that he would be healed and he died. The pastor was left with the dilemma of how to explain this to the people. He told them that the promise was conditioned on faith and the man who died did not believe. The fact is the prophet was false, according to Moses. “You shall not be afraid of him.”
Prophecy is not learned or conjured up. It comes from God. God initiates it. God has no trouble communicating when He wants to. Only the pagans like the prophets of Baal need to work themselves into a frenzy to hear from God. Anyone that says, “I missed God that time” is not a prophet of God according to Moses.
I hear both non-charismatic and charismatic people say, “God told me this” or “God told me that.” These people seem to hear from God more than the prophet Elijah did! It strikes me as blasphemous. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God. “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” Our Reformed forefathers would not dare to make such statements.

II. The Human Aspect of Prophets
According to Peter, the Old Testament prophets did not always clearly understand what they were saying.

Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow (1 Pet 1:10-11).

Paul said the mystery had been hidden from the ages but is now revealed through Christ and His apostles (Col 1:26). Psalm 102:18 says it would be written for the generation to come. Prophets spoke in enigmas, visions, and dreams. God spoke to Moses plainly and face to face, but to the prophets in riddles (Numbers 12).
When Agabus told Paul he would be taken captive at Jerusalem, his friends begged him not to go. Prophecy can be mis-interpreted by jumping to unfounded conclusions. Paul responded that he was not only willing for captivity, but also to lay down his life.

III. How The Prophet Has Self-control
True prophets do not work themselves up into “Dervish” frenzies. They do not conjure up or work up a message from God. They simply pray as Elijah a short fervent prayer. Prophecy does not come by the will of man. Holy men of God speak as they are moved by the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:21).
Someone said, “I could not control myself. I just had to speak…” But Paul says, “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor 14:32).
When the High Priest prophesied that someone must die for the nation, he was probably not even aware that he was prophesying. He willfully spoke out of what he saw in his own mind. God made him see it and he spoke.
When Saul lay naked all night prophesying, he was not out of control. His carnal nature added that part. The First Great Awakening in Kentucky witnessed people falling and barking like dogs. Why? Like Saul, it was their own rebelliousness added to the powerful sense of God’s Presence. God did not do it. They did. God does not possess men like demons do.

1Co 14:39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.

It is up to God to speak through us. He does it when He wants to and not when we “confure” it. But we can pray for inspiration and the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ. Several times God has inspired me to speak things that came to pass - usually through dreams and sometimes not. But I have no control over that. We must submit to the sovereign will of God and not be seeking thrills. Everything, like the prophets of old, must be related to the covenant.
One can prophesy like King Saul and not have any character at all.

Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and
done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who
practice lawlessness” (Mat 7:22-23)!

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