Is Prophecy Real Today? How can you tell? 1 Corinthians #22.

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Prophecy is one of the more complex “things of the Spirit” that Paul talks about here. Prophecy figures very importantly in the New Testament. Later in 1 Corinthians, Paul says:

So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39)

He lists Prophets alongside Apostles, Pastor-Teachers and Evangelists as special gifts that God has given the church to equip the whole church for ministry.

Most of us tend to think of prophecy as predicting the future. However, there is more to it than that. In fact, there are three distinct variations in the gift of prophecy described in the New Testament.

The first sort of manifestation of prophecy is the traditional “foretelling” gift, wherein God reveals the future to the prophet, and the prophet tells others. I will call this predictive prophecy. One person through whom God gave his people the gift of predictive prophecy was Agabus. In Acts 11:28 we learn that Agabus, through the Spirit of God stood up and predicted a severe famine. Luke notes that the famine did come, during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius. How did this gift build up the Church? First, Christians were encouraged to set aside gifts for the needy during the coming famine (Acts 11:29). Second, when the famine came to pass it must have been a faith strengthening experience for believers everywhere – God still really speaks to and through people! And finally, the fact that the famine was predicted by God must have been a source of comfort as believers realized that God not only knew about their situation, but saw it before they did. They must have felt very much in His hands.

Predictive prophecy is the easiest sort of prophecy to distinguish. The formula is very simple and is given as far back as Deuteronomy 18:21-22. If a predictive prophet’s message does not come to pass, then the Lord has not spoken and believers should not listen to him.

On the other hand, scripture teaches that even if a prophet successfully predicts the future, and yet leads people away from the Lord in some manner, that prophet is not from God (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Pauls says something like this Galatians 1:8-9

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Therefore we see again the “Lordship test” of 1 Corinthians 12:1-3 at work: if a prophet somehow leads people away from honoring Jesus and his name, then that particular prophecy is not from God.

A second sort of prophecy that the new Testament speaks about is when God reveals his will for a specific situation. I call this present prophecy, because it is something God is saying he wants to do, or begin to do, right now, rather than in the future. The prime example of this in the New Testament is in Acts 13:1-3.

“In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”

The prophecy uttered here is not so much a prediction of the future as it is a direction for the present. The Holy Spirit, through the gift of prophecy, revealed his will for the congregation at Antioch. We can see first that this revelation of God’s will was consistent with his Word (that is, the Bible), honored Jesus, and recognized and utilized the variety in the Body of Christ. All that is to indicate that there was good reason to trust this as a genuine prophecy. Results are not always indicative of this sort of prophecy, for I can imagine all sorts of things which might have prevented God from doing what he wanted through Barnabas and Saul (their own potential sin being one of them). In spite of that, however, the results of obedience to this prophecy were pretty spectacular in the long run!

Some of you analytical types may be wondering what the difference is between present prophecy and, say, a word of knowledge or wisdom. Ultimately, if it is a message from God, does it matter which specific name we call it? Of course not. However, it seems to me, for you categorical types, that the primary distinction is that present prophecy implies an instruction which should be followed – like sending out Barnabas and Saul.

The third sort of prophecy described by the New Testament is what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 14:3

“But everyone who prophecies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.”

This is prophecy of exhortation. This is a potent gift if you hear someone using it. It can come in a variety of styles, and can actually often appear very low key. The essence of prophecy is not how it is delivered, but rather its effect in building up the church. A prophecy of exhortation might sound like this:

I think the Lord wants us to know that we are in the center of his will right now, and that he is pleased with us. He doesn’t want us to give up hope – he wants us to press on, to stay consistent, to keep reading, praying and meeting together. He isn’t done with us yet.

Revelation chapters 2-3 contain basically prophecies of exhortation for the seven churches that John is writing to.

One person you may have heard of. whom I consider to have this sort of prophetic gift is Jack Hayford. Often musicians use their music prophetically – that is, for the strengthening, encouraging and comfort of the body of Christ. I would consider both Michael Card and the group Delirious (especially in The Cutting Edge) to have prophetic ministries through music.

Now, I have no doubt that the Lord wants to continue to use this “spiritual thing” prophecy – in our churches today. Like all of the gifts, one of the best places for it is in a small group.

However, there is a down side to prophecy, and I believe this is why it began to fall into disuse. Because it is a powerful gift, it is also powerfully attacked by the devil, and can be powerfully corrupted by people who lack integrity. Shortly after the time of the apostles some people claiming to prophets, tried to lead Christians astray (they were known as Montanists). They almost destroyed Christianity.

However, the Holy Spirit had anticipated this evil, and before this happened, inspired the writers of the New Testament to say these things:

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)

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

So the scripture clearly places a high value on prophecy, but also places a high value on testing potential prophecy, to make sure it really comes from God.

How do we know a false prophet? How do we “test everything?” Well, we just saw that we need to consider if a prediction comes true. If it is present prophecy or a prophecy of exhortation, we need Paul has already us in this passage how to know if it comes from the Holy Spirit. If the effect is to glorify Jesus (not the prophet) if it leads to people allowing Jesus to be Lord of their personal lives more and more, it’s probably from the Lord. If it has the effect of building up the church, it’s probably from God. If the opposite things are true, we should ignore it, or, in some cases, denounce it.

Some of you may be thinking, “well, I’ll probably never hear a prophet, so I don’t need to worry about it.” Don’t be too sure! I’ve heard plenty of preachers on the Television, radio and Internet, who claim to be speaking what God wants them say. Sometimes what they say results in people allowing Jesus to be Lord of their lives more fully. Sometimes they build up the church. Sometimes the main result is that the preacher gets more popular and influential and more wealthy, but there isn’t a clear sign that it really helps anyone, or glorifies God. These people need to be tested, and, as Paul says, we need to hold on to the good.

Faith Healing? Miracles? 1 Corinthians #21

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To another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers…” (1Cor 12:9-10)



We have been looking at “spiritual things.” Paul tells the Corinthians he does not want them to be ignorant of them. I think it is safe to say that we should not be ignorant of them either. Because the goal of this passage is to alleviate our ignorance, these next two messages or so will seem very informational in style. Even so, as you read this, pray that the Lord not only informs you, but also inspires you and fills you. We don’t want to only know about spiritual things – we want these things of the Holy Spirit to be active and real in our own lives.

A gift of faith. When Paul includes faith among his examples of the workings of the Holy Spirit, he clearly does not mean saving faith in Jesus Christ. The faith we place in Jesus, the faith we exercise in giving Jesus control of our entire life, is indeed a gift of God, and it is a gift which is given to all who will receive it. In other words, if you are a Christian, you already have the gift of saving faith – faith that trusts everything to Jesus alone. The point Paul is illustrating is that God gives many different kinds of gifts, and they are all given to the church as whole. No single individual exhibits every possible gift of God for touching lives. Therefore, here, Paul is speaking about a gift of faith that some Christians do not possess – a faith that blesses the Church in a unique way beyond the faith that entrusts one’s life to Jesus. Perhaps the best way to describe this gift of faith is to offer some examples of Christians who possessed it.

James Hudson Taylor was a missionary to China in the nineteenth century, who clearly possessed the gift of faith. Hudson Taylor founded one of the world’s largest and most effective missionary societies in the face of a complete absence of financial backing, while holding to a principle that forbade members of the society to ask for any kind of material support. Taylor had only a firm conviction (a gift of faith) about God’s desire for the China Inland Mission to be formed – while all of common sense, and past history suggested that his goal was impossible. The gift of faith through J. Hudson Taylor was used by God to bless the church at large in mighty ways. Many Chinese met Jesus through the work of the China Inland Mission (CIM); many new missionary organizations were formed, inspired by God’s provision for CIM; glory was given to God as He was given opportunity to show how He provides for his children. The work of the China Inland Mission continues today, though under a different name. The gift God gave the church was one of faith to lay hold of something beyond human vision, and the result was that lives were touched!

George Müller was another through whom God gave the church at large the gift of faith. Müller founded and maintained a large orphanage, depending on God in prayer alone, for the resources to build buildings, maintain facilities and operate from day to day. The orphanages he founded, provided for and ministered to literally thousands of children in Müller’s lifetime, and the work has been continued (albeit in different form) to this day.

We can see then, that the gift of faith is given by God to his Church, to touch lives by trusting God for things that may seem impossible, perhaps even things that have never been done before. The gift of faith may be given to someone in the church for the salvation of someone who seems absolutely beyond hope. The gift of faith is exercised in starting new churches and ministries. It is a powerful gift.

Graces of healings”. The next “grace” mentioned is healing. It is interesting to note that in the Greek, both “graces” and “healings” are plural. The implication is that rather than giving one individual a certain “gift of healing,” God considers each time a person is miraculously healed to be a gift. There are some individuals through whom the gift of healing seems to be given fairly often. However the emphasis seems to be on the incidence the healing itself, rather than the person through whom it comes. Though some people clearly have “healing ministries,” any Christian might be used to bring this gift to another as they lay hands on, and pray for, a sick person.

When I pray for others to be healed, I usually do it in a small group. The Lord has healed a few of people I have prayed for in this way. Once we prayed for a lady with Crohn’s disease, the night before she was to have surgery. The next day, the doctors sent her home, saying she didn’t need surgery any more. I once prayed for a friend who was trying to quit smoking, but couldn’t seem to do it. That was 15 years ago, and he hasn’t had a cigarette since that prayer.

There is just one time in my life when I am positive I experienced miraculous healing myself. Some of you were there – it was at a church retreat a few years ago, and I was immediately healed from a kidney stone.

But quite often, when I pray for people to be healed, I don’t see anything happen. The same is usually true when others pray for healing for me. I am not alone in my mixed experiences. You could fill a library with books written about this subject. Some people claim that the problem is lack of faith. I don’t buy it. I had no faith that my friend would quit smoking when I prayed for him. I didn’t even ask for prayer about my kidney stone – I asked for pain meds (some of you can testify to this). At other times I have felt tremendous faith, either in praying for others, or in being prayed for – and nothing has happened.

I don’t think we can boil it down to a formula that always works. That is the nature of our faith-relationship with Jesus. If we had a formula for healing, then who needs Jesus? Jesus told us many times to keep praying and not give up. So I keep praying, and though sometimes people are not healed, sometimes they are.

It is important also to remember that any healing that takes place during our life on earth, (whether supernatural or “normal”) is always temporary. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but eventually, years later, Lazarus died again. The judgment of sin on our physical bodies is death, and death’s effects will always be manifested sooner or later. There is no such thing as truly complete physical healing until Jesus gives us new bodies when he comes again. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Jesus did not devote his full energy to healing while he was on earth.

Miraculous powers. The Greek term describing this action of the Holy Spirit conveys the sense of dynamic power in operation. Since the term is distinguished from healing, we must assume that Paul is speaking of supernatural power manifested in some way other than healing. The New Testament brings to mind several incidences of such power. After a shipwreck, Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake and suffered no ill effects. On the island of Cyprus, Paul caused the “magician” Elymas to be struck blind. But the most pervasive New Testament example of the Spirit’s dynamic power (apart from healings and conversions) is exorcism. Jesus dramatically and unequivocally demonstrated his power by casting out evil spirits. He himself connects the exorcism of demons with the life changing activity of the Holy Spirit saying, “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). The apostles, at Jesus’ command, made exorcism a significant part of their ministry, both before and after his death and resurrection. There can be no doubt that the Lord wants to continue the offensive against the powers of evil, and that he wants to do so by power of the Holy Spirit through His Church. He may indeed want to bless us with miracles of many kinds, but it is also safe to say that he wants gifts of exorcism (power) to be part of the pattern of a church that touches lives.

My former professor and mentor, Dr. Eugene Bunkowske, was a missionary in Nigeria for 22 years. When he first went there, he moved in among a tribe which had no Christians. The most prominent witch doctor of the area heard they were coming. He said, “I will put a curse on this man’s wife and his children, they will get sick and they will die, and then the missionary will go back to where he came from.”

Shortly after Bunkowske arrived, the witch doctor got sick; and then he died. Many people came to Jesus as a result of seeing the power of God manifested in this way. My friend only found out about the witch-doctor’s words later, but he believes firmly that it was the Lord, demonstrating his power and relevance to people who had been trapped in animistic religion.

More needs to be said about using the gift of powers, particularly exorcism. Jesus gives all of those who know him, spiritual authority over evil spirits. The principle is simply that Jesus is in us, and His power is greater than that of the devil (1 John 4:4). Our power is not sufficient to drive out Satan or demons, as the sons of Sceva found out (Acts 19:13-16). Jesus does promise us the power to overcome evil (Luke 10:18-20), but he cautions that if we simply drive out an evil spirit and do not see that the Holy Spirit enters in afterward, the individual will be no better off than before (Luke 11:24-26). We must also use discernment (that gift will be discussed later) in determining whether the problem is truly caused by the presence of demonic power, or something else.

There are some individuals who have a special calling to help others address demonic strongholds. It is an exhausting ministry, but also intensely rewarding. Our neighbors a few years ago were people with that calling. Some other friends of ours were struggling with their adopted son. He was diagnosed with reactive-detachment disorder, a traumatic and violent psychological syndrome that is very difficult to treat. Our friends were in despair over their son, and were on the verge of placing him permanently in an institution. I suggested that before they did that, we should take him to our neighbors who had the gift of dealing with demonic issues. We spent about three hours with boy. I can’t say it was a comfortable time. But when we were done, he no longer had the disorder. A psychaitrist later confirmed that he no longer had it. The boy’s life, and the lives of his parents, were completely changed. This is a wonderful gift for the body of Christ!

Years ago, I preached through this passage of 1 Corinthians with the goal that the church I was leading at that time should learn about these “things of the Holy Spirit.” The church was full of ordinary people. They weren’t super-Christians. They had jobs, and rent payments and car trouble and kids, just like most people. But we all agreed that we wanted the Lord to be doing these “spiritual things” among us, just as he did in the early church. And so, when someone wondered once if just maybe God wanted to say something, he spoke up, and it turned out to be a message of wisdom from the Lord. Another person was physically ill, and we laid hands on him, and prayed for him, and he was healed. Over time, the Lord did all kinds of amazing things in that church because the people were informed about these spiritual things, and they asked God to do them among us, and they were willing to take risks and possibly look foolish in order to learn.

The Lord can do that anywhere, if he has people who are willing. I pray that you are willing.