Thessalonians with Todd Braye

The Excellent Ministry (19)

Six Marks of an Excellent Ministry

Do Not Quench the Spirit (26)

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

We come now to four very intriguing verses. Notice the five commands:

  1. Do not quench the Spirit.
  2. Do not despise prophecies.
  3. Test everything.
  4. Hold fast what is good.
  5. Abstain from every form of evil.

One might begin to address each of these commands as though they stood by themselves and were unrelated to each other. To be sure, our result would be useful and beneficial. For example, who would argue against the notion, that Christians are to “test everything” and even “abstain from every form of evil?” Any serious Christian knows he must be on guard against the wiles of the devil and the scheming of the enemy. He knows he must abstain from all evil and firmly grip all that is good.

However, I suggest to you this is not Paul’s intent. His instructions are not to be taken in isolation from each other, but in concert.There is a deliberate sequence to these five commands, and we must see them linked together, not divorced from one another. This approach is more than sensible. Surely, no one speaks or writes as if each statement made is to be understood apart from what came immediately before and what comes immediately after! Yet, how often do many Christians read the Scriptures this way! Far too often verses and exhortations are plucked from the Scriptures as if they were meant to stand alone. But here’s the thing: We all say what we say in a context, and that specific context helps others understand what we are trying to say. The apostle Paul is no different than us. And like us, he needs more than one word, or one sentence, or one command, to convey his mind. So, in order to properly understand what he means, we must take these commands as a unit lest we miss Paul’s point.

Do Not Quench the Spirit

The command to not quench the Spirit is simple enough. To quench is to at least suppress or restrain. But mere suppression might be too weak. The apostle might be forbidding the putting out, or complete extinguishing, of the Spirit. That would be much stronger! Whichever it is, one thing is abundantly clear: Paul is not afraid of the Holy Spirit. And neither should we fear Him.

The church is not a place for those afraid of the Holy Spirit and His presence, however He decides to show up and manifest Himself. Of course, there will always be those who, in a manner of speaking, throw a wet blanket on the Holy Spirit. Their entire approach to the Bible and the Christian life can be described as cold and rigid. Everything to them must be understood in logical terms, or so it often seems. Some theologies are guilty of this. Intellectualism quenches the Spirit’s fire and diminishes a full, robust Christianity to a rational religion stripped of supernatural substance. We must understand that Christianity – genuine, Biblical Christianity – is a supernatural religion. Yes, we must exercise our minds and use reason and logic when studying our Bibles. This is without question. This is not optional! We are to love God with our minds, right? Remember the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). And in his second letter to Timothy, Paul urged him to consider, to think about, what he wrote to him because the Lord would give Timothy understanding. So, make no mistake. When reading Scripture, we must use our minds and think to learn of Christ and life in Him.

But we must not leave it at that. We work hard to understand, but we must acknowledge the fact that some aspects of Christianity are beyond our comprehension. Logic and reason and our ability to grasp reality and truth have their limits. I have only to remind you of a couple of truths to show you what I mean. First, think of the very incarnation of Christ. What man fully understands how the word became flesh and dwelt among us? How can it be that God of very God became a man, that the Almighty was conceived in a virgin’s womb in the Person of His Son? This is neither logical nor fully understandable. That the Creator became as the creature is a reality of which it is impossible for us to fully fathom. There is a limit to our reasoning capacities, and even logic itself. Logic does not help us grasp the awe of Bethlehem. It cannot unlock the mystery of the manger! We simply embrace the truth of it because God has revealed it to us in the pages of sacred Scripture.

This brings us to the second truth that proves what I am pressing upon you. I remind you of Isaiah 55:8-9. These verses are written in a certain context, but what is revealed in them is true in any context. Read those verses for yourself and you will discover this: As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s thoughts higher than ours. There may be numerous implications of the immense superiority of God’s mind. For now, consider two: By comparison, even man’s best thinkers are mental midgets. And, number two, it is not inconceivable that there are categories of reality outside our current realm of thought! God is God. We are not. So, let us be humble and keep our mouths shut rather than insist we have it all figured out! So, allow me to repeat: The church is not a place for those afraid of the Holy Spirit and His presence, however He decides to show up and manifest Himself. Let us not be a people busy quenching the Holy Spirit. We must not diminish Him or His work in and amongst us.

A word of caution is needed. Before we go any further, we must affirm with all seriousness that the primary work of the Holy Spirit is the growth of the believer to maturity. Once the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual life and we trust Christ and begin turning from our sins, the Third Person of the Triune God is most concerned with, and active in, our becoming Christlike. This cannot be overemphasized. Those in union with Christ by grace alone through faith alone have been predestined to be conformed to Christ’s image (Romans 8:28). Therefore, all in Christ will be, without exception, brought to maturity, “to the measure of the fullness of the stature of Christ” and be like Him, being “transformed into the same image.”

The same cannot be said of spiritual gifts. God sovereignly oversees the manifestations of His Spirit and sovereignly distributes spiritual gifts as He sees fit. The Apostle Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 12. I encourage you all to read that chapter to see for yourself how God manifests Himself in the body of Christ. But at this moment, I wish to simply press it upon you that the Holy Spirit’s biggest concern is His work of growing us in grace and holiness. I submit to you that His manifestations in supernatural gifts is a secondary concern. A good foundational verse to always bear in mind for this is Galatians 5:22 – “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness” and so on. Love – Christlike love – is the greatest of all spiritual gifts. It is the “more excellent way.” And without love there is no pursuit of Christ or righteousness. Every believer in Christ pursues Christ. Every believer loves Christ and His people. So, mark this and mark it well: The primary work of the Spirit is our maturity in Christlikeness, our growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ. The secondary work is giftedness. We must keep this order in view, lest we major on what is minor and emphasize what we should not. But this is most assuredly good and wise for us to always bear in mind: in both His primary and secondary work, we must not quench the Spirit.

Do Not Despise Prophesies

Paul’s second instruction tells us exactly what he has in mind when he says, “Do not quench the Spirit.” There are many ways to quench the Spirit. Sinful acts quench. Sinful thoughts quench. “Sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” quench the Spirit. All unrighteousness of any kind quenches the Spirit and thus snuffs out the fruit of love, joy, and the pursuit of Him! You know that to be true! I do not need to tell you. I need not tell you that sin not only grieves the Spirit, it quenches the Spirit.

But that is not what the apostle has in mind here. I think the apostle is very specific. Quenching the Spirit by despising prophecies is what Paul has in mind, and he says don’t do it! Don’t quench the Spirit by despising prophecies!

Now, this is very controversial. The question at the centre of the debate goes something like this: “Is prophecy for today?” This is a big question. And I am convinced great care must be taken in answering it. The very first thing we must do to arrive at the Biblical position is underscore with great emphasis the absolute authority and absolute finality of the sixty-six books of the Bible. The Bible is a closed canon. It is not an open document, but a completed standard. We are not free to make additions to it. Wise is the one who does not add to the Scriptures. But the one who adds to the Bible will not go unpunished (cf. Rev. 22:18). So, whatever one might conclude about this question of prophesies and not despising them, we must understand this one monumentally important truth: God’s written revelation is complete. The sixty-six books of the Bible are the fixed and final authority for all matters of faith and practice. We must affirm this without the slightest hint of doubt or reservation. We must equally affirm that the Scriptures alone are sufficient, “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). So hear me on this! Scripture, the Bible, is the authority, the standard by which all else must be measured and tested. We must have the highest possible view of it; after all, the Lord has “exalted above all things [his] name and [his] word” (Psalm 138:2). God esteems His Word more than His works (Ebenezer Erskine)! Did you know that? God esteems His Word far more than that penetratingly stunning sunset last night! So, with great vigour and conviction, we must uphold the absolute authority of the Bible. It is the sole standard of objective, revelatory truth about God.

The next assertion we must make in arriving at the Biblical position is a difficult one, but only because many great and respected men in the history of the church disagree with it. However, the apostle Paul has made it plain: prophecy is indeed for today. But I must hasten to tell you not to jump to any conclusions about what I mean. So, let me explain. I must first draw your attention to 1 Corinthians 13:8-12:

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away…12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Note:

  1. Love never ends. It is permanent.
  2. Every other gift mentioned in these verses – prophecies, tongues, and knowledge – will pass away. These gifts are temporary. “They will cease.”
  3. The spiritual gifts of knowledge and prophecy are “in part,” or partial.
  4. The partial (knowledge and prophecy) will pass away “when the perfect comes.” This is extremely significant.
  5. The question arising from this is “When does the perfect come?” The answer is in verse 11: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face…” When will we see “face to face?” There is only one possible answer. We shall see “face to face” “when the perfect comes!” Sounds like 1 John 3:2-3. Just listen to it:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

And the apostle John has also written in Revelation 22:3 and 5, speaking of that which is surely unspeakable and almost resists description on account of its glory:

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever.

When does the perfect come and we see “face to face?” And when, therefore, will prophecy cease? Answer: When the end of the age comes and the New Heavens and the New Earth become reality! The gift of prophecy is therefore a New Covenant gift valid this very moment. Prophecy is for today.

Towards Understanding Prophecy as New Covenant Gift

But what, exactly, is this prophecy? And what is this spiritual gift?

I submit to you that the gift of prophecy is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7). As a spiritual gift (1 Cor. 1:10), it is sovereignly given – God freely grants the gift according to His purpose and will, not ours (1 Cor. 12:11). Only select members of the New Covenant receive the gift of prophecy (1 Cor. 12:28-29). As heaven-anchored, Christ-exalting, Spirit-aroused speech, it is for “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3), edification of the saints (1Cor. 14:4,5,12), and the common good of the church (1 Cor. 12:7). In other words, this is revelation the Holy Spirit gives to whomever God chooses to give it. It is a timely word from God for the good of a particular local church fellowship and not for the Church at large.

And what is the nature of this prophecy? This is a very big question worthy of much honest reflection upon Biblical texts. But starting with the one before us, we may say at least this: When Paul tells us to not despise prophecies, I do not think he’s telling us to not despise those who speak as the Old and New Testament prophets spoke. I conclude this for one obvious reason. At issue is not prophets, but “prophecies.” That is the apostle’s exact language. He says, “Do not despise prophecies!” So, the messengers are not the concern, but the messages. The words themselves are the important matter to be considered. Therefore, we can dismiss two categories of prophets, namely the false and the true. We can further dismiss their messages. This is not about true and false prophecies as exclusive types or classes; the apostle is not thinking in terms of one or the other. Of course, we do not deny the Bible of its true and false prophets with their true and false prophecies. To do so is unthinkable. We embrace the true and reject the false, even as the God of Scripture decries and denounces those who speak falsely in His name, speaking visions of their own minds and not from the mouth of the Lord. But here’s the deal: Evidently, not all prophecy carries the weight and authority of Holy Scripture. We must take a very close look at Paul’s language here if we are to see this. He writes:

20Do not despise prophecies, 21but test everything; hold fast what is good.22Abstain from every form of evil.

Paul calls upon us to put every prophecy to the test. He instructs us to critically examine every prophecy to determine whether it is good or bad. Examination is commanded. Christians must test every truth claim, holding fast what is good, abstaining from all that is not good. We must never forget that all that glitters is not gold. It may look or sound good, but it might be trash. Counterfeit. Fake. False.

So, it does seem that there is another kind of prophecy. There is, of course, the “prophecy of Scripture” produced not by man’s will, but “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). These words were written down for us, captured in ink on parchment. And of course, the Bible records that many false prophets lived alongside the true. Until now, I viewed prophecy in these terms, that there are only two categories, true and false. But here, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul apparently speaks of a third kind of prophecy, one that requires testing. Dr. John Piper is very helpful here. He says:

“…we need to create a category in our thinking for a kind of speech that is Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained, revelation-rooted, and yet in need of testing and sifting. We need another category of prophet besides the one of true prophet, on the one hand, who spoke with infallible, verbal inspiration (the prophetic biblical authors and Jesus and the apostles), and false prophet, on the other hand, who is condemned in Deuteronomy 13:3; 18:20 (cf. Jeremiah 23:16). The teaching that we find in the Bible about prophecy is simply not exhausted by these two categories. We need a third category for the “spiritual gift of prophecy”—Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained, revelation-rooted, but mixed with human imperfection and fallibility and therefore in need of sifting.”[1]

I find this to be very helpful. Yes, it may be very difficult to swallow – How is it that prophecy, as a message from the God who does not, nor cannot, lie, be imperfect and “in need of sifting?” In wrestling with a response to this question, I suggest we consider two things. First, we must lean on what Scripture itself says. And Scripture plainly indicates, as Paul does in the verse before us, that prophecies (as from the spiritual gift) require testing. By that very fact, by this evidence alone, I think we must allow for a class of prophecy “mixed with human imperfection and fallibility.” Second, we must hasten to remember that Paul is speaking of the New Covenant gift of prophecy and not the kind of prophecy inscripturated by the writers of the Old and New Testaments. The writings of the Old and New Testament prophets together with the apostles are inerrant and infallible. They, the writings, were free from error and unable to be in error, in other words. The words themselves were breathed-out by God. The prophecy of Scripture is verbally inspired.

But evidently, the prophetic speech resulting from the New Covenant, spiritual gift of prophecy is not so. One might receive a revelation from the Holy Spirit. Because God is a God of truth and cannot lie, all revelation He gives is perfect. However, transmission of that revelation may not be perfect. The gift of prophecy does not come with the promise that the revelation will be passed on to others free from error. What the gifted person passes on to us may very well contain inaccuracies and misconceptions and mistakes and thus be “in need of sifting.” It therefore does not, and simply cannot, carry the authority and weight of Scripture. The Bible is inerrant (without error). It needs no sifting. But not so with the prophecies in view here. These prophecies are mixed with error. This class of prophecy will have both good and bad in it which makes close examination and testing necessary.

The Standard for Testing: The Bible

Examples are always helpful to us. I wish to set two before you. The first comes from Paul’s second letter to this same church. In 2 Thessalonians, the apostle addresses the matter of the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Someone had been saying that Jesus had already returned. This unsettled the Thessalonian believers. It caused great concern.

We, of course, can easily sympathize. We who love Jesus and eagerly await His return do not wish to miss Him! But here we have it, you see. In a manner of speaking, we find ourselves in the land of prophecy. And there is both good and bad in it. That Christ is coming back is good. But to claim that He came back already is not good. I cannot say if the prophecy came from those gifted with the spiritual gift. Maybe. Maybe not. But one thing is certain, and that is how the Apostle Paul deals with the issue. O this is very good! This is tremendous! I will not quote it for you here; you may read the second chapter of 2 Thessalonians for yourselves. When you do so, you will discover that Paul reminds the Thessalonians of what he taught them previously. “Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things” (2 Thessalonians 2:5)? The apostle had been reminding them of events which would take place before Christ returns, happenings which he himself had given them in detail: rebellion, the revealing of the man of lawlessness, “the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God…” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) But the thing we must observe for our present purpose is this: the Apostle Paul tested the claim that the Lord had already returned by his very own teaching. This claim to truth failed the apostolic test!

This is what I press upon you, beloved! Prophecies must pass the apostolic test. They must not contradict the teaching of the apostles in any degree. Do not despise what agrees with Scripture. Throw away and ignore what disagrees with the Bible. The Bible and the Bible alone is the standard of the Christian faith and its doctrine. We must never forget this! Never! No pastor, no pope, and no historical creed or confession must ever be allowed to occupy the place of Holy Scripture. The Bible is the authority in matters of faith and practice! Remember, God has exalted His Word, and not man, above all things! His word is truth! O that all would quote Him more and more and man less and less! And in matters of prophecy, when men claim to speak a word from God, don’ t despise what is spoken. Test it. Examine it. Keep the good. Avoid the evil. In all things, let us remember Paul’s instruction: “…stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:5). Here it is again, you see. We must stand firm, holding on to the traditions, the doctrines, that the apostles taught. What they taught in the first century is written down for us in the 21st century, captured in ink on the pages of Holy Scripture. So we see that apostolic succession is not by a man or men – not by the papacy – but by a message. The message, the doctrine, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the only head of the Church, is what must be passed on! So beloved, I urge you, aim to know your Bibles. Know the truth so you can sift out the untruth, false, and evil.

My second example comes from my pastoral experience. I remember an elder pastor in the area of churches in which I was ministering. He once claimed that God told him homosexuality is okay. In a letter to the editor, he wrote:

“I felt compelled to write to congratulate publicly our MP Joe Jordan for his positive and forthright support of the proposed legislation on same-sex marriage. I honour his personal integrity and his high moral standard in promoting this legislation to give legal equality to all marriage relationships, whether they be heterosexual or same-sex unions…My experience has shown that homosexual couples are genuinely loving and committed to each other…And Joe, don’t worry. God will honour what you are doing…”[2]

Brethren, this public statement is full of serious problems. But do you see the root issue? The claim is made that God will honour the actions of this elected member of Canada’s parliament! “Don’t worry, Joe! God will honour what you are doing, Joe!” Is that right, sir? Will God honour the promotion of homosexual activity? To answer, we must apply the apostolic test! The Bible is God’s Word; He will not contradict Himself! God is not a God of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33)!

What, then, has God said about homosexual activity? We open our Bibles and discover God’s law forbids it (Leviticus 18:22), God’s eyes detest it (Leviticus 18:22b), it is a capital crime in God’s court (Leviticus 20:13), it is a rejection of God’s design (Genesis 1:27-28; 2:18-25; Romans 1:26,27), and it bars entrance into God’s kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Furthermore, it is contrary to sound doctrine and not agreeable to “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:10,11).

Will God honour what the Member of Parliament did? Absolutely not! This entire thing fails the apostolic test. Indeed, the consistent witness of Holy Scripture is that homosexuality is a sin. And God never honours sin. Now, I understand this is not a great example of the spiritual gift of prophecy, not at all. But I use it here to illustrate how we must always put what we hear to the test. Examine all things. Hold fast what is good. Avoid the evil.

Prophecy’s Purpose

I wish to now draw your attention to the purpose of prophecy. For this, we return to First Corinthians. Even a quick survey of the section dealing with the matter (ch.12-14) tells us that prophecy – that is, the new covenant gift of prophecy – has a twofold purpose. First, it is for edification. What is edification you ask? In the words of the apostle, it is “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3). Prophecy seeks to build up the church, not tear it down. It seeks to strengthen the church, not weaken it. Says Paul, “If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and be encouraged(1 Corinthians 14:30-31). But encouraged how? In what? For what? Dear brethren, it is impossible to overstate what I am about to say. We must not think of this encouragement and building up in psychological, feel good terms, at least not at first. Prophecy’s purpose is not to make you happy for happiness’ sake. No. You see, the encouragement of the New Testament is encouragement in truth. Let me repeat that: it is encouragement in truth. It is encouragement to “walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:12). The apostolic burden is that the body of Christ “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). This is the thing, you see! This is edification! This is that encouragement which is Biblical! To all outside of Christ, this is meaningless. But for all united to Him through faith alone, to be so built up into Christ is to be happy indeed! What did Paul just say to the Thessalonians after giving instruction about the day Christ returns? Just a few verses back, he says: “…encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (5:11). Paul had been telling them to live according to who they were as children of light and of the day. They were not of darkness nor of the night. Therefore, he says, be sober! Keep awake! Don’t get spiritually lazy and spiritually intoxicated! Jesus is coming back! God has not destined us for wrath, but for salvation through Jesus! This is the stuff that encourages! This is what edifies believers and builds us up!

The second purpose, or effect, of prophecy is adoration. The first effect is building up in the faith, or edification. The second is adoration. I get this from 1 Corinthians 14:24-25. Paul is contrasting the gift of tongues with prophecy and writes:

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.”

The setting is easy enough to picture. Believers are gathered. Gifts are being used. An unbeliever enters and something marvellous happens. He becomes convinced of his sinfulness, his innermost thoughts are exposed, and he worships God! Wow! He does not run away! He does not shout profanities upon the gathered assembly! He worships God! It’s not enough to say prophesy leads to conviction. It certainly does effect that here. But conviction of sin is not the end! Conviction of sin is the means to the end which is worship!

Now, why do I draw your attention to these things? I do so for one simple reason, and that is to show you what this prophecy is. We must know what a thing is if we are to test and sift and be a discerning people, equipped to know the will of God. Let’s remember that if it doesn’t build up or cause one to bow down, it isn’t prophesy!

Two Examples from Church History

John Flavel was an English Presbyterian pastor who lived in the 17th century. The night before he left on a ship’s voyage, he reportedly had a dream. He saw himself on that ship during a storm. Against a backdrop of frightened passengers, Flavel saw a man sitting at a table, writing. Next to him a child laid in a cradle. The father took him along with a whip, and as he lashed his son with it, he said, “Child, be quiet, I will discipline, but not hurt thee.” Immediately, Flavel woke up and concluded from his dream that trouble was in his near future. Upon sharing his conclusions with his friends at dinner, they comforted him since the weather was fair. Surely, nothing terrible would happen on their voyage! But as it happened, they soon encountered a storm and were overtaken “by a dreadful tempest.”[3]

Did God not warn Mr. Flavel by revelation? And did that revelation not console him? Did God not speak? “Child, be quiet. I will discipline, but not hurt thee.” 

Perhaps you have heard the story of Mr. Holland, the martyr. The Reformed pastor Cotton Mather (1663-1728) records that after Mr. Holland was sentenced to death by burning at the stake, he proclaimed that his burning at Smithfield would be the last in that location. He declared:

“This I dare be bold in God to speak; and I am by His Spirit moved to say it: That God will shorten your hand of cruelty: For after this day in this place, there shall be no more put unto the trial of fire and faggot.”

And so it came to be – Mr. Holland was the last to die a fiery death. Speaking of that strong impression upon the mind, “with as clear a Light, and as full a Force, as if it were from Heaven Angelically, and even Articulately declared…,” Mather writes the following:

“You may see it a little further illustrated in the strange afflations, which have enabled and impelled many confessors of Christ in the Renoumed Church of Scotland, sometimes to break forth into passages that might be expected from none but such as have lapses of the Prophetic Spirit upon them.”[4]

Evidently, church history confirms what the New Testament teaches: there is a prophecy for the church today, the day far beyond the apostolic era. But we must always bear in mind that the inspiration of Scripture is not the same as the gift of prophecy. Scripture is infallible and without error. The gift of prophecy, like the gift of teaching or preaching, is not. And while the Scriptures are binding and authoritative on the Church worldwide, the prophecies new covenant believers speak are mixed with error and therefore need to be sifted.

Conclusion: But Not the Final Word

We must draw this to a close, and as we do it seems that we must take the cautious position in this matter of prophecy. We must affirm the validity of the gift of prophecy. And though we must not despise prophecies on the one hand, we must also affirm the need to be critical, testing all things by the Bible, on the other hand.

There is something else of which I am compelled to say on the subject before we end. It’s quite simple actually, but it begs a hearing. Personal experience in a matter does not determine the truth of a thing. The final, and truly authoritative, court of appeal is not whether or not we have seen, heard, or felt a thing, but God Himself. And so once again I press it upon you: get out of yourself and into the Scriptures. Let the Scriptures themselves determine your view of things. Of course, you may have no problem agreeing with the reality and validity of prophesy. You might even relish it. My word to you is this: Are you testing all things? Are you examining the prophesies, sifting them, gripping the good and shunning “every form of evil?” You see the balance here, do you not? To those who despise prophesies, the apostle says “Do not!” But there is a word for the uncritical and undiscerning, for those who embrace whatever is said to be a word from God. You must be critical. You must test all things by the plumb line of truth, the Bible.

And so, dear Christian, do not quench the Spirit of God who is the Holy Spirit. Do not despise prophecies! Test all things, rejecting what is evil, embracing what is good. And in all that I have offered to you here, I press it upon you this day: take it upon yourself to see if these things are so. You are a sensible person. You have your Bible. The Bible and the Bible alone is the authority in these matters. Indeed, give much thought to these things with the sacred Scriptures in hand, for the Lord will give you understanding. Amen.

[1] http://desiringgod.org/messages/the-authority-and-nature-of-the-gift-of-prophecy (accessed on February 25, 2016).

[2] Brockville Recorder & Times, August 2003.

[3] The Life of the Late Rev. Mr. John Flavel,” The Works of John Flavel (London: Banner of Truth, 1968) 1. Viii, in quoted Vern S. Poythress, “Modern Spiritual Gifts As Analogous To Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit Within Cessationist Theology” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39/1 (March 1996): 71-101.

[4] Cotton Mather, Parentator: Memoirs of Remarkables in the Life and Death of the Ever-Memorable Dr. Increase Mather (Boston: B. Green, 1724), 189-191, quoted in Vern S. Poythress, “Modern Spiritual Gifts,” Journal of the Evangelical Society 39/1 (March 1996): 71-101.

 

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Pastor Todd BrayerAbout Todd Braye

Pastor Braye studied at Canadian Theological Seminary and the University of Alberta. Presently he labors for “Pastoral Leadership Development at Action International Ministries” In the past he served as pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church and Beckwith Baptist Church. He is From Edmonton, Alberta