August 10, 2015

The Spiritual gift of Prophecy

Isaiah 20:1–22:25, Luke 7:36–8:15, Job 5:8–16

In the spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12, the one most difficult to live with seems to be the first. It is called a gift of prophecy, a word that means ‘to discern and declare the will of God.’ Those who study spiritual gifts have found that the people who have this gift are black and white in their judgments, hold terribly high standards, usually feel as if no one measures up including themselves, and can be blunt and unwavering.

Another characteristic of the prophetic gift is being quick to see sin and desire repentance. This can mean less optimism, more pessimism, and would rather be sorry for sin than go to a party.

When I do the ‘gift tests’ my scores are high for perceiver (and teacher, which is an ‘information gatherer’ who loves research). I find the surveys are right. The prophetic gift is hard to live with, but even teachers can be resented for popping up with things like, “The reason that happened . . . .” for we are analytical and always wanting to share what we know.

God can use the gifts He gives and each of them has value for kingdom building, as long as the Spirit is in control and not the flesh. Isaiah and the other prophets are examples for what the gift of discernment or prophecy looks like. Today’s reading shows how it worked in Isaiah:

In that day the Lord God of hosts called for weeping and mourning, for baldness and wearing sackcloth; but behold, joy and gladness, killing oxen and slaughtering sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” The Lord of hosts has revealed himself in my ears: “Surely this iniquity will not be atoned for you until you die,” says the Lord God of hosts. (Isaiah 22:12–14)

Isaiah expressed God’s frustration with people who partied rather than repented. For them, a party was a way to escape conviction of sin. Some of us do become overly focused on guilt and the fact that we do not measure up to God’s high standards. For that, we need continual reminders that Jesus died for our sin and that we are not saved by our performance, but by His grace. A party is not at all helpful.

Eliphaz, one of Job’s comforters, may have had some gifts but he does something that shows he really has no idea what God is doing. He is too quick to accuse and condemn Job for sin when in reality, Job’s faith is being tested. Eliphas is totally out of the loop and I suspect the reason is spiritual pride. He says this: “As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number . . . .” (Job 5:8–9)

He is right that God does great things, and is quick to praise Him, yet is terribly judgmental toward Job. His words, “As for me . . . .” come across as “I am better than you, Job.” He offers praise but he does not give God any credit for grace that enables him to seek God. Whatever gift Eliphaz may have had, it became twisted when pride crept in. Ask me how I know!

God’s people have one or two dominant gifts from the seven listed in Romans, but Jesus Christ had all of them in full perfection. He knew and proclaimed the will of God perfectly, never sliding into despair, or spiritual pride. The Pharisees thought the prophetic gift should be totally judgmental, not realizing that all gifts are balanced by God’s character. A prophet also must display mercy and grace. Isaiah showed that, and Luke tells of how Jesus showed grace to the Pharisees . . .

One of them invited Jesus to dinner. A sinful woman heard of it and went to the man’s house with an alabaster flask of ointment. She wept as she wet the feet of Jesus, wiped them with her hair, kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.

The Pharisee saw this and said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” He thought that his perception made him a prophet who could judge this woman.

Jesus knew not only the mind of God but also perceived what the man was thinking. He said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you . . . . A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

To his credit, the Pharisee got the answer right. He said it would be the one for whom the moneylender cancelled the larger debt.

Jesus then said, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36–50)

The true prophetic gift condemns sin, but to be like Jesus, it also forgives sinners.

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