Monday, January 11, 2010

Spiritual Gifts, Part 7: Looking At Prophet and Prophecy

Hey gang!

Sorry that I am a week further behind than promised, however I was sick last week for the first four days of the week and saw no sense in rushing back on Friday to begin anew.

When last I wrote about the spiritual gifts, I talked about the office/spiritual gift of evangelist/evangelism. Today’s topic is as exciting. However, unlike with the evangelist/evangelism, Spiritual Gifts author Bryan Carraway gave separate writings to the office of prophet and the gift of prophecy. So, I’ll do both of those here to save time and sounding redundant later on.

Carraway defines the office of prophet as a unique, God-given ability to receive special revelations from God and to then serve as a messenger, delivering those communications to those whom God directs. The definition of prophecy is not much different; Prophecy is the unique, God-given ability to receive an inspired message from God that is then shared with others to bring encouragement, edification, or correction. Don’t those definitions sound pretty close to the same? Yes, yes they do. However, as we cover the material a little more closely, you will see differences.

Most of the examples of the office of prophet (or prophetess) that are in Carraway’s book, Spiritual Gifts, Their Purpose and Power, and most of the ones that I came up with are Biblical examples. People like Peter and Paul in the New Testament and the men that the names of the books are after in the Old Testament, which would cover every author from Isaiah to MalachI.

In the greek, prophets are described with prophetes meaning “one who proclaims.” The related verb, prophemi, means “to speak forth.” Carraway describes prophets as those that speak forth the word on behalf of the Lord. Prophecy has another related verb, propheteuo, which means “to proclaim, or to make known.”

Let’s continue looking at the office of prophet and the gift of prophecy with some scripture references.

Eph 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,
Eph 4:12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
Eph 4:13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

1Co 12:10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

We’ve looked at the Ephesians reference before. These are the five-fold ministry gifts. Let’s keep in mind that there is a difference between each of these gifts. People often ask if all prophets are teachers and vice versa. Here’s a major difference between the two. While teachers disseminate information from the scripture and give examples to explain that information, prophets are primarily viewed in two camps in the Bible; as either forth tellers, men who declare God’s truth, or foretellers, declarers of the future. Prophets will declare and may or may not explain what the word means.

In forth telling, if you look at the Old Testament prophets, the men continuously told the nation of Israel how she strayed from God’s commands and used the themes of holiness, justice, and repentance from the world’s standards. The New Testament prophets were doing the same thing. Just take a look at John’s letter of Revelation in his letters to the seven churches.

The verse from 1 Corinthians, prophecy is sandwiched with miracles and tongues. In truth, these are three gifts that are challenged most as legitimate today. I think we’ve all heard of the miracles of Mary and Jesus in bread and I don’t recall the exact office within the Catholic religion that sends people out to examine and explain if these are true miracles or hoaxes. Many churches dismiss all three as being only Old Testament gifts and not for use today. We’ll examine this more when we also talk about tongues later on.

As we begin to look at the characteristics of the prophet, Carraway makes several good points with the first characteristic. Even though I think that there is a certain zealousness to share any of the spiritual gifts, Carraway tells us that most people with this gifting have a zealousness even above the average Christian. Their desire for God’s holiness, justice and mercy are high and sin even might seem more grievous to prophets. The last line from Carraway on this first characteristic deserves direct quote. “Society’s lack of respect for God’s standards deeply disturbs the heart of a prophet.”

The second characteristic is almost a normal receiving of supernatural revelation from God. These messages aren’t just for the church as a whole, but often can be for individuals or nations. The third characteristic is a divinely given authority that is recognized by the local church.

The difference in people with the gift of prophecy is that the authority is not included. People receive revelations from God and these are usually given to minister effectively for individuals. What amazed me in what Carraway says here is not that these words are usually to encourage, confirm or console, but that they also reveal danger, traps that Satan is putting out for us or outright sins that have been committed. He even mentions that a man he loves with this gifting, Charles Spurgeon, disturbs him by the way he called out people on their sins in the middle of sermons. I think in majority, I would tend to agree. However, I could think of some people who may need this type of shaking to get them to depart from sin.

Carraway tells us that the telling factor of prophecy is answering a few simple questions after a person has stepped out in using the gift. They are, “Are their predictive messages later proved to be accurate? Are their messages of comfort or confrontation effective: do they cause a change in the hearts of others?” Also, the person needs to learn the ability to share in such a way that it be received by the person it is directed at. That statement isn’t as simple as it sounds. If a name isn’t being used in the prophecy, the words need to be effective and have meaning to that person.

There are some other examples from scripture that point both of these giftings out. I’ll close by sharing a few of them.

Act 21:9 He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.
Act 21:10 After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.
Act 21:11 Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, "The Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'"
Act 21:12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.
Act 21:13 Then Paul answered, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus."
Act 21:14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, "The Lord's will be done."

In the verses up to this, Paul is traveling and has landed by ship at the city of Tyre. He met up with the disciples and they began to urge him not to go to Jerusalem. However, they could sway him to stay with them and he continued the voyage and eventually reached Caesarea and stayed with Philip and his four daughters. Keep in mind, the disciples were impressed in the spirit for Paul not to continue to Jerusalem as well.

Paul went on anyway, even after this prophet spoke to him in this way. Why would Paul not listen to a prophet? It’s not for the same reason that we might not listen to one who would speak to us. We might even have an attitude of arrogance that we could the situation. However, this is not what Paul was saying. Paul had realized his gift and could not deny the people of Jerusalem an opportunity to come to Jesus. Even if it meant death, Paul was willing.

Act 2:16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
Act 2:17 "'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
Act 2:18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

1Co 14:1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.
1Co 14:2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.
1Co 14:3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.
1Co 14:4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.
1Co 14:5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.
1Co 14:6 Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?

In Acts, Peter wanted us to understand that prophecy wasn’t just something that would die out with them at Pentecost. In the last days, all would be eligible. There would be no class breakdown. It doesn’t mean that Joyce Meyer would prophecy and the lady in the second row of your congregation couldn’t. It was a matter of receiving the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t status attainment. You don’t receive any of the gifts based on video game qualifications. Eating so many communion wafers doesn’t bring you to a level.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul also talks about tongues along with prophecy. Again, we’ll talk more about tongues later. When Paul speaks about edifying the church, he means the body not the church itself. Paul shares further how important prophecy is and is even more important that what people would consider tongues because of the fact that prophecy is more about others, tongues can be more about God and you.

1Th 5:19 Do not put out the Spirit's fire;
1Th 5:20 do not treat prophecies with contempt.
1Th 5:21 Test everything. Hold on to the good.
1Th 5:22 Avoid every kind of evil.

This last set of verses is from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. I include this not as a pressure point, but more for churches that seem to want to screen away from some of the gifts. Honestly, I do think exercising caution on anything that can be deemed outside our comfort zone is wise. However, I don’t want to dismiss this pair of gifts because I think God wants us to be able to listen clearly for His voice. You can define as intuition or anything else you want, but don’t stifle these gifts because of fear. One of the notes that Carraway says several times with different gifts is that they will proven over time. Does time mean one month, one year, one decade? I don’t know for certain. But what I do know is that God has placed authority in elders, pastors, deacons to use wisdom. This probably includes prayer, discussion amongst people of wisdom and then more prayer. I think God wants our hearts and ears open. God tells us to test him in the things of heaven and earth.

The next spiritual gift that we’ll talk about is pasturing. Is it limited to the office? Find out as we explore this gift when we get together again.

I love you guys!
Frank

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