October 2, 2015

Prophecy or encouragement . . . is there a difference?

Ezekiel 3:16–5:17, Revelation 2:1–11, Job 32:11–22

A Christian told me she is interested in “prophetic ministry” and explained it as being how Christians ‘listen to God’ so they can tell others positive things about themselves. While this could be pleasing to the person on the receiving end, I’m not certain this kind of ministry is biblical or from God.

In the OT, God’s prophets hardly ever praised other people. Their message was usually full of rebukes and strong warnings from God about their sin. Sometimes they ended with promise of God’s blessing in the future.

For example, God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezekiel 3:17–19)

This prophetic message shows how involved the prophet was with his message. Perhaps God designed it this way so he would be sure to obey God and tell people exactly what he heard. This particular message was typical in that it was for those living in disobedience in “the house of Israel” rather than outsiders with no knowledge or relationship with God. 
God even added, “. . . they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezekiel 3:25–27)

This and other commands given to prophets indicate that God gives the words to say. Most of the prophets were not eager to speak and had to be compelled by God because their words would make them very unpopular. Not only that, God’s anger and His chastening would make Israel unpopular also:

“You shall be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and a horror, to the nations all around you, when I execute judgments on you in anger and fury, and with furious rebukes—I am the Lord; I have spoken— when I send against you the deadly arrows of famine, arrows for destruction, which I will send to destroy you, and when I bring more and more famine upon you and break your supply of bread. I will send famine and wild beasts against you, and they will rob you of your children. Pestilence and blood shall pass through you, and I will bring the sword upon you. I am the Lord; I have spoken.” (Ezekiel 5:15–17)

This type of prophetic ministry describes the work of those OT prophets. However, Elihu, one of Job’s friends claimed to speak for God also. He said, “For I am full of words; the spirit within me constrains me. Behold, my belly is like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins ready to burst. I must speak, that I may find relief; I must open my lips and answer. I will not show partiality to any man or use flattery toward any person. For I do not know how to flatter, else my Maker would soon take me away.” (Job 32:18–22)

Elihu was angry with the other three ‘friends’ because Job insisted he was not being punished for sin and their words could not make him admit that he was. While Elihu seemed to think suffering could be God’s way of protecting the righteous against a greater sin, or for moral betterment and warning, or even to elicit greater trust and dependence on God in the midst of adversity, most of his words accused Job in the same way the others did. God later told Job that these friends did not say the right words. Elihu did not fit the description of a prophet.

Those who speak for God could be called prophets, yet making the claim does not make it so. As I read both passages, the message is clear: if I am going to speak to anyone and claim that “God says this to you . . .” I’d better be careful that what I am hearing is from God. He warned about false prophets then, and He still does.

In the NT reading, the Apostle John was approached by the Lord and told to write letters to seven churches. These were definite prophetic messages, yet after Jesus came and died for our sin there is a change in His prophetic announcements. Here is what He told John to write in the first letter:

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’” (Revelation 2:1–7)

God commends and rebukes His people without sugar-coating His words. He speaks to me like that too, but the main difference is that it is almost always about my own sin. If He is pointing to someone else, I’m to make sure my life is in order and pray much before talking to another person about their sin.

As for praise, I’m strengthened far more when someone praises Jesus than if they tell me how good I am. 

1 comment:

KathyB. said...

This is so true, and of course, an unpopular view. Right on !