Prophecy: Building up the Church

In my previous post, we looked at how prophets and prophecy are defined in the Old Testament and the role of prophets. They were Covenant Enforcement Officers who were always pointing the people back to the Covenant and the Law. They called the people to repentance and urged them to turn back to God.
Enter Jesus Christ!

Introducing the Christ

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,  2  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Hebrews 1:1-2 (ESV)  

God has spoken to us in these last days by His Son. It is interesting how that is contrasted with how God spoke to His people in times past. Whereas the primary way to hear from God was through His prophets, the writer of Hebrews says that the primary way God speaks to us now is through Jesus Christ. He is the one the Law and the Prophets are about.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him,We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

John 1:45 (ESV)  

He is the means by which man is brought back into relationship with God. He is the Prophet who accomplishes perfectly what God promised Moses in Deuteronomy 18:18.

But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.  19  Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out,  20  that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus,  21  whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.  22  Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.  23  And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’  24  And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.  25  You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’  26  God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

Acts 3:18-26 (ESV)  

The gift of prophecy

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  2  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-2  

By far the most comprehensive discussion on prophecy is 1 Corinthians 12-14. The goal here seems to be to teach us how people with different gifts from the same Spirit should use their gifts for the edification and building up of the church instead for personal glory. The rule here being“What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” – 1 Corinthians 14:26 .  

Here are some points from 1 Corinthians 12-14.

  1. Prophecy is a gift from God to His church
  2. Like the other gifts given by God it is for the building up of the church. Not for personal glory and recognition.
  3. The response to prophecy is the worship of God (‘But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.’ – 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 )
  4. It should be weighed (‘Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said’ – 1 Corinthians 14:29)
  5. When done within the church it should be in an orderly fashion (‘If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. (33) For God is not a God of confusion but of peace’ – 1 Corinthians 14:30-33)

Even though the primary way we hear from God is no longer through the prophets, as seen from Hebrews, their role is still vital to the church because they help in the building up of the church whilst we await the coming of the Lord. What is striking here to me is that prophecy now works within the framework of the church and in the book of Acts we see some examples of prophecy at work.

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.  28  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).  29  So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.  30  And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

-Act 11:27-30  

Agabus is a prophet who appears in the book of Acts. In this first instance, he warns of a coming famine and the Apostles are able to send relief to the christians in Judea.

While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  11  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.’”  12  When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.  13  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.”  14  And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”

Act 21:10-14  

In the next instance he appears, he warns of Paul’s capture when he goes to Jerusalem. Paul decides to go in spite of the warning and ends up being captured. In each instance we see the prophet giving his prophecy and the church leadership weighing what is said and making a decision. They act positively to the famine warning by sending relief, and even though the rest of the church begs Paul to stay he still goes because he was convinced of the path laid out for him.

The prophet uses his gift to edify and build up the church. The prophet ultimately calls people to worship God as they convict people of their sin by disclosing the secrets of their heart. The prophet points to Jesus since He is the ultimate way in which God speaks to us and as seen in the book of Acts and instructed in 1 Corinthians 14, prophecies are to be weighed by the church. Since God has poured His Spirit out unto all believers, the Holy Spirit guides the church in this weighing of prophecy and we can be confident that a Spirit-led church will make the right decision and take the right action.

In the final post of this series, I will be looking at how to make sense of prophets and prophecy as we see them today.

Prophecy: Hearing God’s Voice

There has been a lot of talk about prophets and prophecies with a few people asking questions about both the actions of prophets and the content of their prophecies. Sometime ago I did a bit of a deep dive to try to understand what the Bible has to say about prophets and prophecies and in this series, I will share some of the things I learnt.

Who is a prophet?

You shall be blameless before the LORD your God,  14  for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this.  15  “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—  16  just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’  17  And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken.  18  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.  19  And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.  20  But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’  21  And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’—  22  when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

Deuteronomy 18:13-22 (ESV)  

Let’s start right at the beginning in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 18, we are told who prophets are and their job description.
v13-14 Warning: A warning not to be like the other nations who listen to fortune-tellers and diviners.
v15-16 Promise: The people were afraid of hearing voice of the Lord lest they die. So God says He will raise up prophet like Moses. Moses was the one who served as an intermediary between God and the people. So the people who couldn’t bear listening to the voice of the Lord could still hear what God had to say through Moses.
v17-18 Job description: God will raise a prophet, put words in his mouth and he will speak to them. A prophet basically is the person who relays what the Lord has said to His people. The prophet speaks in the name of the Lord. The prophet is God’s mouthpiece to the people.
v19-20 Warning: A warning to the hearers of the prophet to listen to the prophet and a warning to the prophets who falsely speak in the name of the Lord
v21-22 Litmus Test: The test of the true prophet is that what he says comes to pass. If that does not happen the prophet spoke presumptuously and we need not be afraid of him.

A prophet is God’s voice to the people. God speaks to His people through His prophets. In the Old Testament, this was a gracious act from God. He is not a God who rules from afar but rather He is a God who actively speaks to His people. Encouraging them, rebuking them, warning them and telling them of the future implications of their actions and continuous disobedience.

What is prophecy?
Less than 2 per-cent of Old Testament prophecy is messianic. Less that 5 percent specifically describes the New Covenant age. Less that 1 percent concerns events yet to come.
How To Read the Bible for all its Worth (Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart)
We sometimes seem to think that prophecy is fundamentally around foretelling (predicting the future). But as we can see from Deuteronomy, Israel was forbidden from speaking to fortune-tellers and diviners who specialize in telling people their future. Moses is considered the greatest prophet of the old testament and he doesn’t do a lot of foretelling. He is God’s prophet primarily because he is the mouthpiece of God to His people. God speaks to His people through His prophet. So we have prophets prophesying about how Israel should repent and come back to the Lord. Some of these prophecies don’t necessarily contain a future element but they are prophecies because that is what God wants to tell His people through His prophet.

And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the LORD.  7  When the people of Israel cried out to the LORD on account of the Midianites,  8  the LORD sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery.  9  And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land.  10  And I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”

Judges 6:6-10 (ESV)  

Sometimes the prophets rebuke the people by revealing what they may have done in secret showing that God sees what they do and nothing is hidden from him, and also showing that the prophet is authentic because what has been revealed to the prophet is something only an omniscient being could have seen. When the prophet says, “Thus says the Lord” (and its many variations) the prophet is acting in his role as a prophet and that is prophecy. The prophet is making us aware that he has been given a word from Lord and we ought to listen to what that word is.

Even though foretelling is not primarily what prophecy is about, some prophecy has foretelling. This should not be surprising since God knows all of time and at times it pleases Him to let us know the blessings He has planned for those who obey or the peril in store for those who continue to rebel according to His purpose e.g. the exile of the Israelites and the return from exile.

Prophets – Covenant Enforcement Officers
Interestingly enough, prophets in the Old Testament spent a large amount of their time pointing the people of Israel back to the Law and the Covenant. Reminding them of what the Lord had done for them and warning them of what would happen if they continued to rebel against the Lord. Blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28). Prophecy never goes against God’s Word as represented in the Covenant and the Law but rather highlights it.

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder,  2  and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’  3  you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

– Deuteronomy 13:1-3 (ESV)  

When you read through the books of the prophets (Amos, Joel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah etc), you see the prophets constantly appealing to the people to return to God and obey His commandments. God is always calling on us to stop our rebellion and return to Him so it is no surprise that when He talks to His people, that is His focus.

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;  13  and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.  14  Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God?

– Joel 2:12-14 (ESV)  

 When sin took over the land and the people turned away from the Lord, when people forsook what was good and neglected justice and the care of the poor in the society because they no longer listened to the Lord; God sent His prophets to speak against these things and call to the people to turn back to Him. God is concerned about the holiness of His people and His Covenant Enforcement Officers had the primary duty of calling God’s people to holiness.

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!  11  “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.  12  “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?  13  Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.  14  Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.  15  When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.  16  Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil,  17  learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.  18  “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.  19  If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;  20  but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Isaiah 1:10-20 (ESV)  

 In the next post, we will be looking at how the coming of Christ should influence how we think about prophecy.

Our Weddings and Discipleships

‘To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciple’ – John 8:31

We live in a culture that is obsessed with weddings. It would seem that people even give more thought to their weddings than the actual marriages. At the wedding, the couple profess love for one another. It is a good and beautiful thing. However, what is even more important is that the couple actually love one another in their marriage. The profession of love marks the beginning of marital love not the entirety of it. The case is not closed when the man promises “for better for worse”; it has only began. What use is it if the man promises “for better for worse” and yet does not care for his wife at home. Yet, we celebrate weddings as though it were the end of the matter. As we make much of weddings and little of the actual marriages so, it seems, we make much of calling Jesus Lord and little of actually obeying Him as Lord. We will scour the earth to get people to declare Jesus as Lord but we have no energy to teach them to obey all things whatsoever He has commanded.

A disciple is not merely one who declares with his mouth that Jesus is Lord but one who obeys His teachings. ‘ To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”’ . In Matthew 7:21, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  Again, Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”  If you think that you are a disciple of Christ only because you have confessed Jesus as Lord, think again. True, Paul said in Romans 10:9-10, ‘If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ (NIV) However, Paul clearly means “unfeigned faith” – not one that confesses that Jesus is Lord and yet does not obey Him as Lord.

If you are living in disobedience to Christ, you are headed to hell regardless of your so-called confession of faith. As Paul taught everywhere he went, “repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance ” (See Acts 26:20). You can recognize and proclaim Jesus as Lord but without obeying Him as Lord, your confession is fake and useless. Take heed of Paul’s warning to the Corinthians who were living in disobedience to Christ. “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, NIV).

Just as professing love to your spouse during a wedding is meaningful only if you actually love your wife in your marriage, confessing the Lordship of Christ with your mouth is only meaningful if you obey Him as Lord. If you are not obeying Jesus as Lord, you are not truly His disciple even if you used your mouth to say He is Lord just like if you beat your wife you don’t really love your wife even though you said with your mouth at the altar, “for better for worse”. Faith unfeigned! (See 1 Timothy 1:5)

WHAT ARE YOU READING? 12-03-2018

  • 5 Tips for Engaging with Scripture: 1.Rewrite individual verses and passages 2.Create your own study notes alongside passages of Scripture 3.Journal through or meditate on the meaning of passages 4.Record sermon notes at church 5.Pray through the Bible…
  • What do You Mean by Asking Me to Meditate on Scripture!?: How do you really meditate on a passage of Scripture? Someone has said, “Christian meditation is ‘thinking hard’ about a passage.” Well, how do you actually “think hard” about a passage of Scripture? What follows is a simple method of Scripture meditation for your consideration…
  • Faithful Evangelism: Jesus’ Parables Remind Us That The Gospel Is A Message Of Salvation From The Wrath To Come: Many people regard Jesus’ parables as nice accessible stories that provide a model for our preaching and teaching. I have recently been reading through the gospels and have been reminded that this is a fundamental misunderstanding…
  • Look to the Interests of Others: What does it mean to “look . . . to the interests of others”? Do you do this with people in your life?…
  • Discerning Truth From Falsehood: How do you know is something is true or false? How do you discern whether a teaching is true or false? We are called in various parts of the Bible to stand firm in the gospel and denounce false teaching. But how do we go about doing that?…

 

Discerning truth from falsehood

How do you know is something is true or false? How do you discern whether a teaching is true or false? We are called in various parts of the Bible to stand firm in the gospel and denounce false teaching. But how do we go about doing that?

Picture this scene. Bob is sitting at church listening to a sermon. He is looking at the passage that the sermon is being preached from with a confused look on his face. What is being said at the pulpit seems to be completely unrelated to what is written in the Biblical passage. Even worse it seems to be at odds with other passages in scripture. The congregation responds enthusiastically to the sermon because in truth the preacher is a charismatic and an eloquent speaker. At the end of the service, Bob’s friend comes over to him:

Bob’s friend: “Chaley, the message was powerful ooo”
Bob: “Hmm, I’m just confused about the verse he was using”
Bob’s friend: “Chaley, don’t worry. Didn’t you hear him say it was a revelation. Spiritual levels dey oo. This guy is powerful”
Bob: “But didn’t that point contradict that verse in Romans”
Bob’s friend: “My friend stop all this. The man of God said it, of course it must be true. Do you know the anointing on his life?”

This is how Bob’s friend discerns whether a message is “powerful” or not. The messenger authenticates the message. The anointing on the messenger is what validates whether what he teaches is true or false. The more anointed the messenger the less his words come under any scrutiny. And when challenged the messenger only has to appeal to his calling, his anointing or his ability to perform miraculous signs and wonders. But is that how we are to go about discerning truth?

The Unchanging Gospel

 In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he tells us of how he heard the gospel as revelation from Jesus Christ himself (For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ – Galations 1:12). After many years he goes to Jerusalem (Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also … I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain – Galations 2:1-2). He seems to suggest here that even though he received the message as a direct revelation from God, if the gospel that he had been preaching was different from what the other Apostles preached, he would have been running his race in vain.  This is in line with what he says earlier in chapter 1 (But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. Galations 1:8-9)
 

The gospel Paul preached had to be in line with what was preached by the Apostles. The gospel the Apostles preached was what they were taught by Christ Jesus himself. Therefore both gospels must ultimately be the same message since they are from the same source. The gospel we preach today must be in line with that old gospel.  Those who stand behind our pulpits and preach are held to that old standard.  It’s not about how eloquent they are, what feats of the supernatural they can do, or how “powerful” they are but whether what they preach is in line what the Apostles taught in the Scriptures.

The Berean Attitude

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so; Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.” – Acts 17:10-12

Paul is in Berea and goes to preach at the synagogue. The Bereans are commended for not only listening to what Paul had to say with eagerness but also examining the Scriptures to see if what Paul was preaching was in line with what the Scriptures said. The mark of an authentic message is that it clearly states what is in the Scriptures. The Scriptures authenticate the message. So let us receive the Word with all eagerness but let us also examine the scriptures and ask questions when we don’t understand or aren’t clear about what is being said. As counter-cultural is this might seem, that is a commendable attitude that will help us discern truth from falsehood.

Here are some helpful questions we can ask when listening to a message. They are further expanded here.

1. Is God’s Word the most important part of this sermon?
2. Do you leave understanding the main point of the text?
3. Did the preacher preach Jesus?
4. Did the preacher apply the sermon to my life?
5. Does he speak as one who knows God or knows about God?

What Are You Reading? 12-03-2018

  • 5 Things Singles Wish Married Couples Knew: 1. God settles the solitary in a family—and it might be yours 2. Marriage is sanctifying, but so is singleness 3. Our singleness doesn’t define us. You can help us remember that 4. Culture lies to us a lot 5. Don’t expect all your single friends to get married.
  • Why We Don’t Serve in the Church: 1. We believe that our life is our own 2. Our view of being gifted is shaped by the world 3. We think too narrowly about gifts 4. We are not encouraged to discover our gifts.
  • 3 reflections after my first year as a Christian: I recently asked my friend “what are some things you’ve learnt and stuff that’s helped you in your first year as a Christian?” This is what she said…
  • Four ways to God: While nearly all Christians uphold the authority of the Scriptures, in reality there are other authorities that compete with the Bible for supremacy, other sources of truth about God and our world. Most commonly, there are four claimants to religious authority: Bible, Institution, Experience, Reason