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Monday 27 March 2023



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Gifted to serve part 4: Prophecy

You can watch the video of this sermon here.


Last week we looked at one of the trickiest and arguably most divisive topics in the Bible, the gift of tongues. Our focus was very simple, we saw from the Bible that this is a gift that reverses the divisions between peoples. Not the division of ethnic boundaries or nationality those are good, and are God ordained. But the division of languages that creates barriers between peoples and was not God’s original intention for mankind. The Old Testament looked forward to a day when those dividing tongues would be bridged and nations would be brought together to worship and praise the Lord. And we saw this begin to be fulfilled at Pentecost and we saw that the gift of tongues served the precise role that we should have expected of God giving a supernatural gift to cross language barriers. And if you are seeking to cross language barriers I encourage you to seek this gift. See what God does.

Today we are going to look at another famous gift which also brings a lot of contention in the church, that is prophecy. I think this is a wonderful gift, and it is the most prominent gift in the whole Bible. From Moses to the Apostle John, from Genesis to Revelation, there are many wonderful prophets whom God has used to empower, warn, rebuke and encourage his people. And I think it is still a vital gift for today. Indeed, with the great apostasy we see in the church today we should expect to see prophetic men and women speak out against the great evils in the church.

Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 14:1, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” Which tells us that this is a good gift, a godly gift, and an important gift for being used by God to bless your brothers and sisters in Christ. But I think it is important to understand that there is also a danger for you if you don’t respect this gift and if you treat it in an unbiblical way. I have seen this happen quite a bit, I think all of us have. So, prophecy is a good gift you should pursue, but you also need to be very careful with this gift.

So, let’s examine what the Bible says about prophecy and why it is so important to pursue this gift in the right way.

An Important Gift - Before we go any further, let’s examine why we need to consider this gift. This is simple, it is listed as one of the gifts the Spirit gives to the people of God, and it is an important gift, 1 Corinthians 14:4-10 –

“4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom,…to another prophecy,…”

As we know Paul says to eagerly desire this gift, but other passages speak of its importance as well.

Paul lists it later in the same chapter as one of the most important gifts: 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 –

“27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”

Paul seems to be implying here that prophecy is one of the higher gifts. Second to Apostleship. When you consider that in the New Testament Apostles appear to be multi-gifted this makes sense.

He then makes this absolutely clear in 1 Corinthians 14:3-5 –

“3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.”

Here Paul again notes how important this gift is “the one who prophesies builds up the church.” Paul’s entire philosophy of Spiritual gifts is Jesus glorifying and focused towards building up others. So, it makes sense he would emphasize gifts that achieved this.  

Ephesians 4:11-13 –

“11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,…”

Paul notes a similar list here as the one in 1 Corinthians 12, and places the prophets second again in the list. He also emphasizes here how important they are around “…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…”

Even Peter acknowledges the importance of the one who speaks the oracles of God. 1 Peter 4:10-11,

“10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Peter’s passages could just as equally be talking about teaching as prophecy, but obviously he held both gifts in high regard.

Again and again the Bible emphasizes the importance of this gift, and notice the focus in many of these passages: It is a higher gift, it is for building up and encouragement, it is for equipping the Church to make it mature, it is one of many gifts for making sure that God is glorified in Jesus Christ.

But what exactly is this gift?

What Is Prophecy? Some people have odd views of prophecy. Some people think prophets are simply word for your day vending machines, with a constant stream of revelations from God. Some think they are able to just sense the word like it is the force and that it is ok to make mistakes when prophesying. I was listening to a weird debate about the trinity and one of the debaters made an interesting point that prophets have the authority to change the law. I am not sure where they got this idea from, but it is not the case. Prophets tend to do the exact opposite: their role is to call God’s people back to God’s revelation and obedience. They do this in two ways, that can overlap: foretelling and forthtelling.

Foretelling is the more exciting version of this gift, and one that we are very familiar with. We read in Deuteronomy 18:18-22 –

“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.”

God gave a simple test to identify a true foretelling prophet: does what they say come to pass? Can they accurately predict the future? If what they say does not come to pass, ignore them. They are obviously not working for the Lord, they are obviously not a prophet.

But, there is more to it than this, because Deuteronomy also says this, Deuteronomy 13:1-5 –

“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. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”

God also warned the Israelites that if a prophet rose up who actually predicted the future, but told them to follow other gods, this was also a false prophet. They should stone this prophet because he was a false prophet.

How were these false prophets able to predict what would come to pass? Because God allowed them to do so to test the Israelites, to test how well they knew the word of God.

But since these false prophets clearly broke the first and second commandment, the people should recognize they were false.

So, a true foretelling prophet is someone who correctly predicts a coming event that they warn people about, but they also stay consistent to the words of Scripture. 

Foretelling is so famous in the Bible. There are many great examples, going all the way back to Genesis 3 where it says, Genesis 3:15 - “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

This prophecy comes directly from God, but was written by Moses, the Prophet of God, and it accurately predicts the coming of the Messiah. The plan was there from the beginning. This sets our model for what a prophet is.

Noah is the next prophet of God, who proved his true prophet gifting, by building a boat, and proclaiming what would happen. His prophecy predicted the future and pointed towards righteousness.

This is a powerful gift.

The foreteller is not sensing the word of God in a force sense, note what Moses wrote, “And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Deut. 18:18).

We see this in Jeremiah 1:9-12 –

“9 Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” 11 And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” 12 Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”

The prophet does not get to be creative with God’s word. They do not get to change it, interpret it, modify it, or deviate from it. As it is given to them, so must they say it, “12 Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.’”

Even a prophet who ended up turning to the dark-side notes this, Numbers 23:5,

“5 And the Lord put a word in Balaam's mouth and said, “Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak.”… 11 And Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have done nothing but bless them.” 12 And he answered and said, “Must I not take care to speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”

Balaam was eventually judged not for his prophecies, but because he encouraged Moabite women to seduce the Israelites (Num. 31:16). He prophesied correctly, but he contradicted God’s law and therefore was false.

Forthtelling – is every bit as important as foretelling, yet it is different. Rather than giving a revelation of the future and predicting events that will happen, forthtelling is being inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak to current circumstances from God’s truth. God still gives the prophet these words. Indeed, even with Old Testament prophets it is not always clear which version of prophecy they are fulfilling: foretelling, a new revelation, or forthtelling, re-emphasizing God’s revelation.

There is no doubt that Jeremiah received direct revelation from God. God spoke to him new Revelations, about the temple and Nebuchadnezzar and many things. But at other times he appears to be taking the Scriptures and applying them to the Israelites sin. For example, Jeremiah 11:1-8,

“1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 3 You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant 4 that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, 5 that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day.” Then I answered, “So be it, Lord.” 6 And the Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: Hear the words of this covenant and do them. 7 For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. 8 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.”

God was still inspiring Jeremiah here, as he says, “And the Lord said to me…” But it seems almost as if God is using Scripture to do this. If you read Deuteronomy 28 it says many of the same things. It is almost as if the Holy Spirit were inspiring Jeremiah as he meditated on the word of God to speak forth to Israel about her terrible sins.

But it is still prophecy as it is still the spirit of the Lord inspiring the prophet of God to speak. But he is speaking forth the words of God as they apply in his day.

The law itself even at times predicts the mistakes Israel would make directly, Deuteronomy 17:14-17 –

“14 When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ 15 you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ 17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.”

It is almost as if this were directed against Solomon, long before he was born.

In fact, when you look at Israel and Judah’s issues, they happen exactly as Deuteronomy predicted they would happen, so specifically some scholars argue that Deuteronomy must have been written after the fact. Deuteronomy 28 reads like a history of the nation of Israel. But it is prophetic.

In other words you can see how many Holy Spirit inspired men, the prophets, would look at the law of God, then look at what was happening in Israel, and then call out Israel to turn back in faithfulness to God. They were forthtelling, speaking the word of God in a Holy Spirit inspired way.

God was directing them to apply his word and call people back to his word.

Indeed, this may be why Peter says when you speak, speak as though speaking the oracles of God. Because the prophets did this.  

Calling Back to God – In fact this calling back to God was the primary role of the prophet. They were God’s instrument to challenge his people when they were in error. We see this in many ways in the Bible.

John the Baptist was an example of this, we see in Matthew how John was called by God to prepare people for the coming of the Lord of lords, we read in 3:7-12 –

“7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

John was considered by Jesus to be the greatest among all men, indeed, the greatest among all prophets. When John says, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” you could say this summarizes the messages and roles of the prophets right there.

The prophets were usually men, but sometimes women, who were used by God to call his people, and other peoples, back to repentance, back to faithfulness. You see this message consistently in their writings. Again and again.

Here comes the rub, because people do not like being told what to do. Rebellious people even less so. So how do people respond to the prophets who call them back to faithfulness? More often than not, poorly.

Persecuted – The prophets who called people back to repentance, were often treated very poorly. John the Baptist was beheaded by one of the Herods. Jeremiah was beaten, imprisoned, ridiculed and castigated by his own people. Moses, the great leader of his people, was constantly being dogged by complaints, rebellions, challenges and more. The prophets of God were often not treated well.

Jesus tells us, Matthew 5:11-12 – “11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

There is great blessing in being a prophet. But for many prophets they won’t experience most of this blessing until the next life.

Are you sure you want this?

Stephen the deacon tells us in Acts 7:51-53,

“51 You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

All of the prophets were persecuted, many of them to death. They were brutally and harshly treated. Why?

Because they were asked to call the hard of hearing back to God. To be a prophet is a great calling, it is an honour, it is a rare, powerful, and remarkable gift. It is also one of the hardest callings you could ever be called to.

Desire it because Paul says to desire it. But know what you are desiring. As Jesus says about Paul to Ananias (the good one), Acts 9:15-16 - “15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

There is an incredible honour in being sent to represent Jesus to “Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel…” But many Gentiles, kings and children of Israel don’t want to hear from you. So, you are going to be rejected or suffer, and often severely.

Even respected prophets like Moses and Samuel had hard times, and they were not persecuted to death.

You might say, I just want to be the kind of prophet Paul talks about that edifies the church, 1 Corinthians 14:3 - “On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” A forthteller. But building up and encouragement includes correction and challenge, and many a person’s ministry has come under attack from simply seeking to “build-up and encourage” in the church context.

-        That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it, it is. It is always of value and importance to speak the truth. But most people stay quiet instead, because they know the cost.

-        Know what it is you are asking for. Know that speaking the truth publicly in any capacity is going to cost you. It is going to etch away at you.

-        It wore away at Jeremiah, “7 O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me” (Jer. 20:7).

-        The true prophet in the Church, who calls out sin in large measure and points to how to return to the Lord, is often treated like a whistle-blower in a corrupt company. They are maligned. 

Take it from someone who has challenged the church at times from different levels, even at the national level, speaking out is hard, it can cause a reaction that stays with you, I still have the wounds from it, but when you are compelled to speak what you know to be the truth you need to do it.

I don’t consider myself to be a prophet. I am a history guy. But often the prophet’s role overlaps with the teachers role and I do consider myself a teacher.

But be warned if you desire this gift, and it is a good gift, recognize the cost and know what you are asking for. Examine and observe those who have it. Ask yourself are you willing to pay this cost?

Some Questions – Before we finish let me address a couple of things.

Can women be prophets? Absolutely. One would have to deny scripture to deny this. Here just two examples from the Old Testament: Exodus 15:20 - “Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing.” Judges 4:4 – “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.”

Even in the New Testament there is Anna the Prophetess who sees Jesus when he is still a baby. But this comes with some important qualifications. In some contexts, prophetess just means the wife of the prophet, for example in Isaiah, Isaiah 8:3, “And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. “Then the Lord said to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz;…” Many of the prophetesses in the Old Testament appear to be of this kind.

However, Philip’s daughters definitely prophesied (Acts 19:8-9). And Acts 2 says this,  Acts 2:17-18,

“17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”

Why don’t we see this gift so much today? I think we do see it more than we realize, 1 Corinthians 14:3-5 –

“3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.”

There is obviously a lot of nonsense out there, and false prophets who predict all sorts of stuff, but notice how few of them, if any, saw the last couple of years of craziness coming?

But, if you understand that God will sometimes inspire someone to inspire, encourage, or rebuke someone with the word, then this likely happens more than we realize, we just are not fully aware of what is happening.

Strict punishments for false prophets (Deut. 13) – remember that false prophets were determined by false prophecies. And in the Old Testament they were to be put to death, in the New Testament they should be ignored. Prophecy is not something you learn, it is something that God inspires. It is not like teaching, though it can overlap with teaching. It is a different gift.

Application – So how do we apply all of this?

-        If you desire this gift weigh up the potential, even likely, When cost.

-        Test prophecies – “19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:19-21).

-        When you speak, speak as though speaking the oracles of God.

-        Ignore prophets who predict things and then direct you away from the true God of Scripture.

-        Allow the church elders to weigh prophecies.

Conclusion – We need God to speak today, we need his word heard more clearly, we need his scriptures preached. There is enough of God’s written word being ignored that we need to be called back to. If you want to hear God speak, read his word and soak yourself in it. He will speak to you, his Holy Spirit will make it come alive to you. If you see this gift of prophecy, just know what you are asking for. Let’s pray.


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