Luke 16:16: “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John the Baptist. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.” (NIV)
Until the time that John the Baptist began his ministry, the law and the prophets, with the holy writings (it was into these three parts the Jews divided the books of the Old Testament) were the only writings they had, and which contained the whole revelation given to them. Therefore, prior to Christ, the very words of God were spoken to His people through a prophet. So, how does God speak to us today?
God has given gifts to the church. In some passages of scripture it details the spiritual gifts given to believers (I Corinthians 12:4-7), with us not all having the same but a diversity of gifts. And, if you lack a gift, the word tells us that if we earnestly desire a gift we can pray and ask God. However, Ephesians 4 details yet another set of gifts given:
Ephesians 4:11-13 “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
What is a gift? A gift is the transfer of something without the expectation of payment and without it being earned. Although gift-giving might involve an expectation of reciprocity, a gift is meant to be free.
Many of us have seen the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit whether it be speaking in tongues, words of knowledge, gifts of healing, wisdom, etc. However, one gift of the Spirit that is probably the most misunderstood and abused is that of prophesy. As we will see, the purpose of the gifts is to equip the church, not for individual glory or praise. Individual glory or praise feeds our old nature, because we are taking credit for another’s work, the work of the Holy Spirit. The purpose is clear for the gifts of the Spirit, for the common good of the church, to build up the body of Christ. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.
We should strive to flourish under the power of the Holy Spirit, rather than our own strength. For this reason, we should examine the “gifts” we have. We should make sure they are from the Holy Spirit. The Word tells us to test every spirit and if one doesn’t have the fruit of the Spirit, but has fruits of the flesh, then we really need to question, the source of the “gift”.
During a conference I attended, they had speakers who didn’t call themselves evangelists, but rather prophetesses. On one particular night, after giving the word, the prophetess came forth to raise her offering. She told the congregation that God gave her specific amounts for faith or seed offering envelopes and that she knew the people in the building would have offerings of varied denominations (i.e., $1000, $500, $250.00, etc. and it went all the way down to the $30.00 amount that was being asked of each person nightly for the conference offering). The prophetess didn’t budge until she saw her line begin to form. The prophetess stepped down to receive her envelopes personally. She held the hand which had the money, took the envelope and handed it to her “armor-bearer,” and then gave you a word of prophecy. Interestingly, those people who hadn’t moved when she first called the offering began writing checks to get in the line for a “word.” I began to hear her tell individuals how God was going to make people famous in their singing careers, or that God was going to give them significant wealth, that real estate transactions were going to be coming to them within two to three years, she even saw one individual working with various well-known gospel artists and becoming a great producer, and there were many more prophecies along those lines. I sat in stunned silence and amazement.
I share this story to illuminate truth of scripture wherein God said his people are destroyed not for lack of faith, but for lack of knowledge. How are God’s people destroyed from a lack of knowledge? When we fail to know –that is take to heart and follow – God’s word, it’s easy for that man to stumble, lose his way and be led astray.
If we know anything about the building process, we know that first its foundation has to be laid. Once the foundation is in place, everything else is built upon it. Today, we have those who have established themselves in ministry as apostles, prophets and bishops. However, the Bible clearly states that apostles and prophets were the foundation; therefore, we should be very careful as to how we’re building upon it as no other foundation can be laid. Apostles were those who saw Christ personally and were sent out, for a specific purpose and with special endowments. Jesus’ twelve disciples eventually became apostles, meaning they matured from being students to teachers, those ready to carry out Christ’s mandates. In Luke 10, we read the account of Christ appointing and sending forth an additional 70 (some manuscripts say 72) and the book of The Acts details some of those acts of the apostles of Christ. Therefore, be clear that apostles or prophets are not being added in our day as in times past. Ephesians 2:19-22 clearly indicates that the foundation has been laid, with Christ being the cornerstone. It is not merely the doctrine of the apostles and prophets that is the foundation, but who is contained in them and that is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the foundation on which the church, and all true believers are built; He is the chief corner stone that cements and knits together Jews and Gentiles, Old and New Testament saints, saints on earth and those who have preceded us, and it is on this foundation the saints today are being built by the Holy Spirit.
Saints, there are many people operating in positions today who do not meet the qualification of that office. Thus, the positions or titles they hold either were earned or bestowed upon them by others, but only God can give these gifts. For example, there are qualifications for pastors and deacons in I Timothy 3. However, there are pastors today who fit few, if any, of these qualifications. It does not mean God cannot use them in other areas, such as ministry or teaching, but they do not meet the standards for the office they hold. So, if they are in these positions, the question becomes are they being led by the Spirit? Since many of the gifts have an outward demonstration, it is possible for some to lay claim to spiritual gifts, when they may actually be operating in the flesh. Christ said we will know them by their fruit. If there is a lack of fruit, then we need to ask is the manifestations of these individuals from the Spirit or the flesh. You may be wondering why I am saying flesh instead of saying they are not of God. When you have a moment read the book of Galatians and also Romans 8 where Paul speaks of those carnal Christians and those who walk according to the flesh. Oftentimes we don’t properly apply Romans 8. Sometimes I hear people say they know they are in Christ, but they feel condemned about some particular situation. Before most people even ask questions, they immediately begin advising them saying, “Well, you know there’s no condemnation to those in Christ.” Is that accurate? If we continue reading, it says there is no condemnation to those who walk after the Spirit and that is the key. Did you ask them if they were walking according to the flesh or after the Spirit? Conviction by the Holy Spirit should occur if you are walking after the flesh and it is that Godly sorrow that leads one back to repentance.
I Peter 4:10-11 reads, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Ministry is a gift; it is a calling from the Lord. God has appointed people in His church to oversee, govern and set order in the Church (pastors, elders and deacons) and He has given to the church those who will build up the body and equip the saints. These are the gifts given in the form of persons to the church today – evangelists, pastors and teachers. If God wanted his chosen people — the children of Israel — to depend upon his word by faith and we are saved by faith, and live and work out our Christian walk by faith, why would God change now? The just shall live by faith.
In the Old Testament, the Trinity had been spoken of, but not revealed. Thus, God spoke to his people through a prophet, someone who spoke forth, communicated and interpreted the actual words of God. God also made provision for the atoning of sin whereby the priesthood, consisting of the priests and high priests, represented the people before God, interceding on their behalves with blood sacrifices. Why is this so important for me to state? Simply put, many of us don’t know our positions in Christ. Because of the redemptive work of Christ at Calvary – He came, lived a sinless life, and became the perfect sacrifice. He died and was resurrected by the power of the Holy Spirit, rent the veil and gave all those who would believe on Him direct access to God. It is the Holy Spirit who indwells the believer that gives us understanding of scripture, will teach us all things, shapes our character and mind into the image of Christ and distributes gifts for service. We no longer need a prophet to tell us the words of God; we have the written Word and God’s Holy Spirit. We no longer need a priest to atone for our sins as Christ was the perfect sacrifice and is our Great High Priest who makes intercession for the saints to God. All those in the body of Christ become joint-heirs with Christ. If Christ is our Great High Priest then we are his priesthood. Christ intercedes on our behalf to God and we, as His priesthood, should be interceding on the behalf of others to God and showing forth the praises of Him who’s called us out of darkness into the Light.
Again, who are the New Testament prophets? In the Old Testament, the criteria for judging whether the words spoken were of God or a false prophet was to see if the prophecy came true and if it was against the words of God (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). If their prophecy did not, they were in many instances, put to death. Therefore, this New Testament prophet does not operate according to the standards of the Old Testament prophet, but rather is one who speaks forth and proclaims the written word of God with one objective in mind, but you’ll have to keep reading to find out!
At the nearing of Samuel’s death he made his sons judges over Israel. However, Samuel’s sons didn’t walk according to his ways – they were influenced by money, took bribes and perverted justice. The children of Israel decided they no longer wanted a prophet-priest, but rather desired to have a king rule over them as the pagan nations. Samuel prayed to God about the people’s request, but God gave Samuel to know it wasn’t him they were rejecting, but God himself. We know the rest of the story, God gave them a king, but King Saul was not a man after God’s heart. Before Samuel’s death, he rebuked Saul and told him that because he had rejected the word of God that God also rejected him from being king. After Samuel’s death, we read about King Saul sending for a medium to summon a word from her as God would not visit him in his dreams nor speak to him through the prophets. Saul already knew he was losing his kingdom; however, instead of asking what he could do to return to God, he sought out a medium for answers as to his future. Interestingly, Saul learns nothing new from the medium. She confirms that his kingdom had been torn from him and that David would be the next king. You see, God had already spoken!
When God has a call or plan for your life, He speaks or manifests it to you first. The New Testament prophet, therefore, is not someone who foretells, as in predicting what is going to happen, but rather forth tells. Thus, any prophecy you receive should not be a revelation to you, but rather a confirmation of what God has already revealed to you. When someone has a gift of knowledge, it’s the Holy Spirit giving him or her access to information they would not ordinarily know about you, thus – it’s something you already know about yourself – and can immediately determine the validity of the word you’re receiving and whether it be of God. Therefore, when they speak, they speak as to where you are, not your future. If this was God’s way, to have someone foretelling our future, then why would we need faith? The word tells us that He’s given every man a measure of faith and that without it, it’s impossible to please God. God wants us acting on and living by His word. The just shall live by faith!
Take a look at Acts 15:30-35. It says the apostles were also prophets. However, look at the characteristics given the prophets, they exhorted, taught and preached the word of God. Let’s go back to Ephesians 4:11-14. The work of the New Testament prophet, the gifts given the church in the form of evangelists, pastors and teachers, is the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
According to I Corinthians 14:3, the New Testament prophets that prophesieth should do three things: (i) speak unto men to edification (which means to build up not puff you up), (ii) to exhortation (to urge), and (iii) comfort (to strengthen and lift up). Paul encouraged us all to seek the greater gift. Are you seeking?
Many people are calling themselves prophets and prophetesses of God, they hold prophetic conferences and even say they can teach you to prophesy. I’m going to give this nugget to you for free – no registration fee, no offering, no books, cd’s or DVD’s to purchase. You too can prophesy by doing these things: studying God’s word, earnestly seeking Him and presenting your body as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable unto Him for His use. You see, when you do these things, His word promises that no good thing will He withhold from those who walk upright before Him. When you hear people prophesying in church telling you that you’re going to become wealthy in a matter of months/years if you give this seed offering, or that they’re seeing a wealthy spouse in your future, or they see your ministry going in such a way that you’ll be known world-wide or working with known gospel artists or producers, then I would question the spirit at work. These people speak the thoughts of the world, and it’s the world who listens to them. False prophets seek to draw followers to themselves rather than causing us to focus on God. How do they draw to themselves? The fact that they promote themselves by the use of a gift rather than the giver of the gift is one clear indication of the spirit that’s leading them.
Having said this, let me bring this text a little closer to home. First of all, we should expect false prophets today, just as the Israelites were to expect them in the past. Jesus warned of false prophets (Matthew 7:15-23; 24:23-25), as did the apostle Paul (Acts 20:28-31), Peter (II Peter 2:1) as well as John (I John 4:1). Some of these false prophets will come from outside and they will also rise up from within. Some may very well come with false wonders, but we must be constantly on the alert for such who seek to lead us astray.
If God tested the children of Israel, the natural branches, don’t you think He’ll test the grafted in branches, us? These false prophets are a test of our faith and our commitment to God. By allowing them to arise, God tests His people to see whether or not we will follow Him with our whole heart and soul. Therefore, as believers, as members of churches, we can’t always depend on the leaders of the church to deal with false prophets. Therefore, when we become aware of their existence, we must not involve ourselves with them. Stop running to their meetings and conferences. Separate yourself. You see, we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. The ultimate test of a New Testament prophet is whether or not he or she leads you to worship the One True God. Does the prophesy speak of the things of God or the flesh? False prophets tell us what we want to hear, they appeal to the flesh and our appetites, they speak the things of the world because they’re being led by the spirit of the world.
Our defense is straightforward. I exhort you to test every spirit and see if it be of God. And how would one know you ask? The spirit of God always works with the word of God and this sort of “knowing” comes through relationship and fellowship – you have to be abiding in the Word. The New Testament prophet will be led by the Holy Spirit to speak those things of His Spirit!
© 2012 Belinda Powell