Meditations in 1 Thessalonians
Part 3 : 28. Care with Prophecy
1 Thess 5:20 do not treat prophecies with contempt.
The reason we said in the previous meditation that we would not look forward linking this verse with the previous one but wait and look back linking it, is that the attitude that quenches the Spirit comes first and because of the attitude, people then treat prophecies with contempt. First they say, “God doesn’t move like this today,” and then they say, “(So) We don’t believe in the prophetic gift.” Both are unbelief and both come out of insecurity and fear.
What does it mean to “treat prophecies with contempt”? Well, first it means to declare that prophecies cannot happen and then, second, it is a denying of specific words. It is also, of course, challenging the person with the gift to say they are deluded. So let’s consider what the New Testament says prophecy does: “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3) Strengthening, encouragement and comfort? One cannot complain about those things surely? Aren’t each of those three things good, things for building up the body? Remember what we said in the previous meditation, that people who quench the Spirit write off all the gifts of the Spirit seen in 1 Cor 12 as things no longer needed since the completion of the Scriptural canon, so any words of revelation are denied, including words or wisdom or words of knowledge.
Let’s take an extreme case for those of us living in the West, but not so extreme if you are a Christian in some other parts of the world. Suppose persecution hits even harder and some of your family are thrown into prison. At this point the evangelical Spirit-quenchers try to bring words of encouragement through words of Scripture. “Oh, the apostle Paul warns that anyone who wants to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12)” Well as true as that is that doesn’t do much to strengthen, encourage or comfort. When such people then scratch around and try and apply various scriptures, they are in fact saying, “God says these things to you,” which may not be as dynamic but they are in effect claiming divine mandate in exactly the same way as someone exercising the gift of prophecy does.
But supposing someone brings you a word that says, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.” Now that does bring strengthening because a) it claims to come from God who is on your case and b) He warns about something coming, indicating He knows all about it and c) it will not last long. Now of course you know I have taken the verse of Rev 2:10 to illustrate this but if this was a ‘now word’ for you who were living in a land of persecution that WOULD be strengthening, encouraging and comforting. The fact that it is a ‘now word’, a word that applies right now to this unique situation, brings strength, encouragement and comfort in a special way.
The fundamental question we have to ask such people is, “Do you deny that the God who communicates with people right the way throughout the Bible, no longer communicates? Does the presence of a written testimony and teaching (the Bible) mean that God’s character and personality have changed so that He no longer wishes to speak directly to people? When you stop to think about it seriously, you are actually challenging the very Being of God Himself. Imagine a father whose child has grown up saying, “I no longer speak to him/her any longer because I taught them everything they need to know throughout their childhood.” How silly is that! You deny the very essence of fatherhood which is to communicate with your children – as long as you and they are alive! God is no different! He is our Father and He still loves to speak to His children!
May I give some examples. Over the years I have had the privilege of being permitted to bring the following words. I have been warned by God of a leader’s impending death, so it wouldn’t come as a shock to me and that I could warn his son to put right his faulty relationship with his father before it was too late.(He died within three months). I have told a couple who had been told they would remain childless that they would have a child within a year. (They did). I told a middle aged lady who had given up any hope of ever getting married that she would be married within eighteen months. (She was.) Now please understand, I intensely dislike bringing such words as these last two, because if I am wrong I am playing with people’s deepest feelings and bringing unfounded hope which only brings further hurt if not fulfilled. When you understand the pastoral dynamics of such things, you never bring words casually.
I give these examples simply to illustrate the concept of bringing strength, encouragement and comfort through the prophetic word. The prophetic word releases faith in people that is specific in such a way that it goes even beyond preaching, which I hold in the utmost respect for releasing faith. Yes, faith is risky, yes people can get it wrong, and yes churches may not handle it well, but that is true of all aspects of Christian life. People do take words of scripture out of context and wrongly apply them to their lives to justify wrong attitudes (the slavery movement accepted by Christians was the classic example of this), but merely because some get it wrong should not mean we quench the Holy Spirit. Prophecy releases vision, confirms calling and gifting and sets people up to serve God in ways that nothing else does. When God speaks a word to me about me, that is revelation. When He speaks information about the state of another person that is knowledge. When He speaks a word about their state and then brings understanding, purpose and direction about them to be conveyed to them to strengthen, encourage and comfort them, that is prophecy, and we are foolish if we treat such words with contempt!