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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Prophecy? Or heresy?

Have you ever thought about the spiritual gift of prophesy? What is it? What does it mean? What is its purpose? Who were the prophets? Are there any real prophets now?

I think many of us can too readily remember an image of some crackpot purporting to be a prophet. He or she may have "had a word for us from the Lord." More often than not, he or she was not in a position of credibility - and we disregard them entirely (and not just what they have to say).

But the Bible tells us the prophecy is a true gift. It tells us that prophets are real. So what are we to make of this? How should we regard the prophets? What should we know about false prophecy (a term most of us are more familiar with)?

One of the things that has helped me get peace with the whole idea of prophecy was to simply look at the examples of prophets in the Bible. They are found in both the Old and New Testaments. I noticed something about them that I thought was revealing. Their primary role was to present God’s will to the people and to instruct them in God’s Word. This is what they did most of the time. Sometimes, they also had the gift of predicting the future. But this was much less common.

1 Corinthians 14:1-25 provides further valuable insight into prophecy. Look at some of the statements contained in these few verses:

· Everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.

· He who prophesies edifies the church.

· Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.

· I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others

· … prophecy, however, is for believers, not unbelievers.

· But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced ... that he is a sinner and … the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God

So from these points, I came to some conclusions:

1. God is far more likely to use prophecy to call me to repentance or exhort me to action than to give a prediction of the future. (It is the character and nature of God – exhibited in the Bible.)

2. Prophecy, even that which predicts the future, has a Biblical defined purpose: strengthening, encouraging, comforting, building up the church, convincing sinners, etc.

3. Someone who doesn’t know God or isn’t seeking God won’t listen to a prophet anyway (it’s not for unbelievers).

4. There are probably prophets among us, but we don’t usually recognize them. Jesus said that a prophet is not accepted in his home town. (I think it’s hard for us to imagine that someone we know and are familiar with is receiving an anointed word from God!)

5. True prophesy will always line up with Scripture and never contradict Scripture – since it is impossible for God to contradict Himself.

So if someone gave you a so-called prophetic word, or a word of knowledge, I’d run it through the above filters, especially those in 1 Corinthians 14. Honestly, in the last 10 years probably 20 people have come to me and told me they “had a word for me from the Lord.” There was only one instance where it passed all of these filters. It turned out to be a word of encouragement that gave me confidence to do something I’d felt God was calling me to do. The other 19? I discarded them.

And here’s my final point. Satan can predict the future. So if it doesn’t pass the above filters or tests, then it’s not from God. Who else could be behind it? Fortune tellers, for example, can predict the future. Sometimes they are amazingly accurate. But they are never of God.

The prophets were real. And prophecy is divine. But we need to not be ignorant about either one. Otherwise, we're in danger of being deceived - or of overlooking that which is valuable!

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