Despise not Prophesy
Prophesy is sometimes a misunderstood word in the Bible that oftentimes gets lumped into future telling. And while at times telling what is coming in the future is part of that spiritual gift, it is not the primary focus and is really just a byproduct.
The word for prophesy is the word “prophēteia” meaning: a discourse emanating from divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the afflicted, or revealing things hidden; esp. by foretelling future events
The prophets of old are all sent to correct, reprove, admonish, the wicked. Or to comfort and encourage the afflicted. The word they brought oftentimes has a foretelling aspect, ie: If you don’t repent “this will happen”. Or, because you didn’t repent, “this will happen”. But the foretelling aspect was not the primary focus of the gift. Thus the prophets and the gift of prophesy are tools God uses to get his wayward kids back on track.
Nowhere is this more evident than in 1 Thessalonians.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-24 (ESV) 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. 23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
Do not quench the Spirit - we quench the Spirit by engaging in something the Spirit of God tells us not to or by not doing something the Spirit of God tells us to do. Both of these are preceded by conviction and an unmistakable prompting from God to which we can harden our hearts and willfully disobey.
Do not despise prophecies - immediately following this is Paul’s statement not to hate prophesies. If this is merely a foretelling of events then it has no relevance here. But when we see it as correction it very quickly makes sense. The Spirit of God not only convicts us but through the gift of prophesy prompts us to confront one another when we’ve hardened our hearts to the conviction and become dull if hearing… when we’ve “quenched the Spirit”.
So Paul says, “don’t ignore the Spirit of Christ, quenching the fire within you, but also don’t hate those who come to you to confront you when you have”.
Now lest we open the door to all sorts of “thus sayeth the Lord” statements and an intrusive involvement in one another’s affairs that is not prompted by God, Paul continues with:
But test everything - were to test every prophesy, every voice of correction, and measure it soberly against the word of God.
Hebrews 4:12 (ESV) For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Each of us possess a body, a physical manifestation. A soul, our base of consciousness that has been corrupted by sin, referred to as the flesh. And a spirit, which when we are born is dead. This is a result of Adam’s sin in the garden and the fulfillment of Gods promise to him that, “in the day you eat of it [the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you shall surely die”.
Some have tried to make a case that the death referred to here is a physical death. But there is a problem with that view. God was very specific, He said “in the day you eat of it…” if physical death was all that was to occur here then Gods promise was overstated. Because Adam didn’t die that day. No, while the effects of physical death, deteriorating of the body, might have been set in motion here the death that occurred according to Paul in Romans 6 is that of a spiritual death.
The word death merely means “to be separated from”. In the context of our vocabulary we understand and associate that to mean, “to have our consciousness separated from our physical bodies” ie: physical death. But the separation that God warned Adam of was that of the death of his spirit. The part of his three-fold being that communes directly with God, because God is Spirit.
For the born again believer this creates an issue. Because within him resides a consciousness that is now at war with two forces. 1.) His soul which is corrupted by his fleshly desires as a result of original sin and 2.) his spirit which has now been made alive in Christ. This is all explained by Paul in Romans 7:15-25. So how do we distinguish between the two? The word of God. It is the “word” according to the author of Hebrews that is capable of dissecting and examining and differentiating between the closest of entities. It is so sharp that it can sever between joints and narrow… and soul and spirit.
Another interesting aspect of the gift of prophesy is how one can prophesy on Gods behalf without their own knowledge. Caiaphas, the high priest of the Pharisees did in John 11:49-52 when he predicted that Jesus would die to gather Gods children to Himself.
John 11:49-53 (ESV) 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.
I want you to see vs 51: “he did not say this of his own accord…” He wasn’t a believer, he spoke out of his OT office position, not his faith. But he did accurately predict the what and why if Jesus’ death, though he himself was not necessarily conscious of it.
Caiaphas, not having been born again, since Jesus hadn’t yet died, prophesied in the OT fashion by Gods Spirit falling upon him momentarily. We need to see that Caiaphas himself was not even aware that he was speaking on Gods behalf, although when we examine his words against scripture we see that based on Isaiah 53, Psalm 22 and many other OT passages that he was in fact prophesying correctly. Thus his words are verified by scripture.
The last aspect I want to look at regarding prophesy and its testing is found in 2 Peter.
2 Peter 1:20-21 (ESV) 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
In this passage Peter clearly indicates that the way prophesy operated in the OT (which he refers to here as scripture) is that it could not be interpreted subjectively as many liberal theologians would have you believe. But that it must be interpreted objectively… literally… because these words didn’t originate in the thoughts and minds of men. But rather they came from God Himself. There is no room or allowance here for relativism, emotions or feelings, all of which have been tainted by sin. But instead can only be filtered through scripture itself and followed up with obedience in faith.
Hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil - once we have examined the prophesy, whether correction or encouragement, Paul admonishes us to hold firm to that which is good, and let go of that which is bad.
This isn’t providing us an allowance to partially adhere to prophesy or decide which parts we deem are good/bad based on our own twisted sense of self justification, but rather in response to the prophesy of correction, to let go of that which is bad, which has been brought to our attention through the spiritual gift of one prophesying to us. By the same token we’re told to hold firm to that which is good, not regarding the parts of prophesy we agree with, but rather that in light of the prophesy of encouragement we’re to hold firm to that which we’ve been encouraged toward.
Both of these examples having already been filtered through the lens of scripture in the previous statement “test everything”. So I don’t think it’s likely that Paul is telling his readers that if someone has already quenched the Spirit by throwing off conviction and God sends a brother to hold him accountable and prophesy to him, that that individual is then to filter that prophesy through scripture and then to filter it one more time through the tainted lens of his own preferences, subjectively applying scripture to his circumstance to justify his actions.
No, I think it’s clear by the stated purpose in the next verse that this is not the case. Because in the next verse Paul states:
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ - Paul clearly closes out this argument with the reasoning behind the conviction that we’re not to quench and the prophesy/correction that we’re not to despise. The reason is that it is through these two mechanisms that God is sanctifying you and that it is His desire to present you: body, soul and spirit, blameless at the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He closes this thought with one final statement:
He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it - a statement of Gods sovereign commitment to do that which He set out to do. GOD is faithful to complete the work HE started unto those whom HE CALLED.
The question then is this… has He called us? Has He started a work in us? How can we tell?
We can tell by how we respond to the Spirit under conviction. Do we yield or do we resist and harden our hearts? We can tell by how we respond to prophesy of faithful brothers sent by God to get us back on the path. Have I hardened my heart to conviction? Have I made allowance for my sin? Am I now, having walked willingly in the pursuit of my fleshly desires, blind to the state of my sin? These are all healthy responses to prophetic correction. Paul tells each of us:
Galatians 6:1 (ESV) Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
The author of Hebrews says it this way:
Hebrews 10:23-27 (ESV) 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
Just as it’s incumbent on us to respond to prophesy/correction, we are also responsible point it out when it’s been laid upon us. We are called to go to a brother caught up in sin… but we’re also told to encourage one another… both are aspects of prophesy.
Our chiefest goal should be to finish the race and to see our brothers around us finish as well. This is what it is to love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. God is faithful. God is sovereign and committed to our sanctification. But our response to it is what reveals whether or not we have truly been born again. Whether the Spirit of Christ has given life to our spirit. Or whether we are still dead in our sins. Because, if our response is to merely go on sinning, to go on in willful rebellion… there is nothing left but a fearful expectation of judgement. We prove ourselves to have never been in Christ and thus reveal ourselves to be tares amongst the wheat.