Our Scripture text this morning is 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21:
On October 17, Ligonier Ministries released the results of a major new survey on the State of Theology in America, the results were both shocking and alarming.
Among those who identified themselves as Bible-believing Evangelicals, the majority said:
Most people are basically good.
God accepts the worship of all religions.
Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God the Father.
Now each of these statements are not only unbiblical, but the church as historically identified each of these as heresies!
What can account for this depressing state of affairs?
I believe it is because people, as Paul says in our text, despise prophecies—especially the Written Prophetic Word, which is the Bible.
Perhaps at this point some of you are confused—you have identified prophecies as ecstatic utterances similar to what you see at a Pentecostal or Charismatic service, certainly not your Bible.
To help us understand this text, it is necessary to carefully examine how the word “prophecy” is used in the New Testament.
What we discover when we do this is that there are three ways “prophecy” is used in the New Testament.
The first is the Written Prophetic Word.
Don’t Despise the Written Prophetic Word
Peter writes of this type of prophecy in his second letter:
In this text, Peter is very clearly equating Scripture with prophecy.
Throughout Scripture, there is a distinction between the Prophets and Apostles who wrote Scripture and all the other prophets.
The ones God used to write Scripture are Prophets with a capital P and all the others were prophets with a lower case p.
The only prophecy that is infallible, inerrant and authoritative is that which has been written down for us in Scripture.
This is why the Reformers insisted Scripture alone is our only rule for faith and practice.
The other two types of prophecy we will look at can and often do contain error, this is why in verse 21 we are told “to test everything.”
What is the standard by which we "test” other prophecy?
John Stott wrote a nice summery which I placed in the “Take Home” section found in your bulletins.
In this list, first and foremost it is the Word of God contained in the Old and New Testaments.
Writing of elders, Paul gives this instruction:
Our Bibles are that “trustworthy word”!
At this point, it is important to note that all orthodox Christians agree that the Written Prophetic Word ceased with the completion of the New Testament.
Many of the abuses of prophecy we see are by those who claim more authority than is warranted.
John the last apostle, who wrote the last inspired book of the Bible, included this warning at the end of Revelation.
Moreover, we don’t need an additional word, Scripture contains all we need for life and godliness.
God assures us of this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
What we need is men who are called by God to take the Written Prophetic Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit proclaim that word in a way that “causes our hearts to burn within us.”
This leads us to the second type of prophecy we find in the pages of the New Testament—The Prophetic Preaching: Therefore...
Do Not Despise the Preached Prophetic Word
We don’t normally think of preaching as prophecy, but when done right, preaching is just as Spirit-inspired as the other two types of prophecy.
We find of good example of such preaching earlier in 1 Thessalonians:
Notice that Paul is equating the preaching of Silas, Timothy and himself with “the word of God.” Silas and Timothy were not apostles; this means that when done correctly preaching is not the “word of men” but “the word of God”.
Spirit-inspired preaching is by far the most common type of prophecy we find in the pages of Scripture.
In preaching, the prophet proclaims and applies what God has already revealed in Scripture.
Spirit-inspired preaching is more than mere teaching; it has the power to cut to the very heart and soul of a person.
I cannot tell you how often I have had people tell me after a sermon, “Pastor, it was just like you were talking to me.
That was what I need to hear this week.”
When a minister prepares and delivers his sermon by the power of the Holy Spirit, he is speaking the “word of God” to his hearers.
This truth should cause both the preacher and the congregation to approach preaching with a greater reverence and care.
As we will sing in our closing song,
Will you pray with all your power,
While we try to preach the Word?
All is vain unless the Spirit
Of the Holy One comes down;
Brethren, pray, and holy manna
Will be showered all around.
How sad it is when a preacher “quenches the Holy Spirit” and “despises prophecy” by not diligently preparing through study and prayer!
How sad it is when a congregation “quenches the Holy Spirit” and “despises prophecy” by not diligently listening and praying!
Let us not despise the preached prophetic word!
Do Not Despise the Practical Prophetic Word
This is the type of prophecy most misunderstood and abused.
Throughout the pages of the New Testament, you find examples of God spontaneously revealing practical information about the future or an individual.
A good example of this found in Acts 11:27-30:
Notice that the elders of Antioch decided what to do based on this information; they were NOT told what to do.
In another example found in Acts 21, this same Agabus, accurately prophesied that Paul would be arrested and bond if he persisted on going to Jerusalem.
As a result, the Christians urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem.
Paul however, chose to reject their counsel and continued on to Jerusalem knowing that he would be arrested.
The important thing to note is that in rejecting their counsel there is no hint that he was disobeying God.
This is because this type of prophecy is only informative; it is not binding upon our consciences as Scripture is.
The important thing to note about both these examples is that they did not treat these prophetic revelations as authoritative.
In fact, Paul tells the Corinthians that when these types of prophecies happen in the church we are to “weigh what is said.”
(1 Cor 14:29) This type of prophecy is to be “weighed” and “tested; but we are never to test or weigh Scripture!
There is much debate as to whether or not this type of prophecy is still happening in the church today.
I honestly don’t know the answer, but what I do know is something similar is still happening in the church today.
Charles Spurgeon relates this story in his autobiography:
At the Monday evening prayer-meeting at which Mr. Spurgeon related the foregoing incident, he also mentioned the sermon at Exeter Hall, in which he suddenly broke off from his subject, and, pointing in a certain direction, said, “Young man, those gloves you are wearing have not been paid for; you have stolen them from your employer.”
At the close of the service, a young man, looking very pale and greatly agitated, came to the room which was used as a vestry, and begged for a private interview with Mr. Spurgeon.
On being admitted, he placed a pair of gloves upon the table, and tearfully said, “It’s the first time I have robbed my master, and I will never do it again.
You won’t expose me, sir, will you?
Spurgeon himself did not call such revelatory experiences “prophecies,” but rather “impressions of the Holy Spirit.”
I know of other Christians who have related to me similar “impressions.”
Whether or not these modern-day “impressions” are the gift of prophecy, we would be wise to “test everything” as we are commanded in our text today.
The Devil is a master at give us false “impressions,” and we would be fools to live our lives by impressions, rather than the trustworthy Word of God.
At this point, we have come full circle; we are back to the Prophetic Written Word.
This is why in my opening illustration concerning the state of theology in America I said the root cause of this is our despising the Word of God.
Few would make that claim about themselves, but our actions and attitudes speak otherwise: We do not respect and honor the Word of God as we should, we do not read and study it as we should and most importantly, we do not believe and obey it as we should.
People often wonder why the Holy Spirit is not working as powerfully among us as it did in the early church, is it not because we do not honor the Word of God as we should?
What was the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation?
Was it not the rediscovery of the Prophetic Written Word?
We will not experience powerful Spirit-inspired preaching and revival, until we give the Word of God the place it deserves.
Brothers and Sisters, I plea with you, “Do not despise the prophetic word.”