Discerning the Prophetic: ARTICLE IN PROGRESS!!!!
1996 by Jefferis Kent Peterson
First of all, let me say that I believe that the present day ministry of the prophet is a valid and necessary ministry in and to the Body of Christ. According to the Word of God as I understand it, the prophet is one office of the government of Christ in the Church; and is a continuing office for the Church until the Body of Christ reaches complete maturity (Eph. 2:20, 1 Cor. 12:28, esp. Eph 4:11-16). So, I believe that present day prophets are of God. However, I believe there is also much foolishness taking place in the name of the prophetic, and such foolishness poses a great danger to the people of God. For the benefit of the Body of Christ, those dangers need to be pointed out. What follows is a means of discerning the nature of the prophet and the prophetic. While these principles can be used to reveal false prophets and counterfeits, they are meant primarily to help discern the prophetic failings of those who are genuinely called to be prophets of God, but who, like us all, are subject to mixtures of motives and failings of every sort.
The greatest advice I can give to any pastor is first to get to know the person who walks in the ministry of the prophet. Get to know the heart of the one who seeks to speak. Even someone who is corrupt can speak a true word, but why expose your people to someone whose motives are unclean? And even one of a good heart can make mistakes. So it is good to get to know the intentions of those who co-labor with you.
Dangers and Temptations:
In the Old Testament, any prophet who gave a false word was to be stoned for speaking falsely in the name of God (Deut. 18:18-22). In the record of scripture, however, it appears that only the true prophets of God were the subject of stoning, which there is no record of false prophets being punished in such a manner. Many people today say that a prophet in the New Testament should never err, but there is a significant difference between the Old and the New that changes the nature of the prophetic. In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God rested upon the prophet, but in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit resides inside not only the prophet, but in all the people of God. As children of God, we are being trained to discern the voice of the Lord within us as opposed to the clamor of our own impulses, thoughts and desires, and as opposed to lying and deceiving spirits which may tempt us. Because we are human children of God, we grow in maturity by the Spirit who lives within us, and as we grow we learn to discern the true Word of the Lord from our own good intentions.
Those who are given the gift of prophecy in the service of worship, for example, may be very immature believers, but they may have a genuine Word of the Lord for the congregation. Paul speaks of the moral and emotional immaturity of the Corinithian church, yet at the same time he states that there is not one gift of the Spirit lacking among them (1 Cor. 1:7). And Paul goes on to outline how the gift of prophecy operates in the congregation and how it is to be judged by the people of God.
It is obvious that in the context of worship, some immature believers may think they are prophesying, when in fact they may be spouting their own ideas and interpretations. For that reason, Paul expects the congregation to weigh and test the words of prophecy that are being given (1 Cor 14:29-32). God's patience for his children allows us time to learn to discern, so that we may distinguish the true and the false within us. It would be extreme to say the least to command the stoning of a new believer for making such an easy error. The safeguard for the congregation from error is the Holy Spirit who also gives us he gift of discerning spirits. So, there is a time of training as people learn to become like their Father in Heaven, and we need to tolerate the mistakes that are made in the process as the members of the congregation grow in maturity and wisdom.
While there may be prophets out there who never make mistakes, I am not confident I have ever met one. Even the best of us are still only human. And there are temptations and errors that even mature and well trained prophets may make.
Prophecy for hire:
Prophecy to desire:
Prophecy out of need:
Just Missing it!
Not hearing clearly
Interpreting the word according to theology
Just not hearing and prophesying own ideas - fatigue.
Vulnerability of the People:
Escape from the demands of servanthood
There are four principles when receiving the ministry of the prophetic. All prophecy is to be judged and tested. The scripture says the people of God are to weigh the words of the prophets (1 Cor 14:29). The people are called to test the words given, so the responsibility for discernment is upon the people of God.
Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, RSV).
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already. (1 John 4:1-3, RSV).
Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth. There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree. (1 John 5:5-8, RSV).
So, how do you test the words of the prophets?
1) The word a prophet gives must be in agreement with the Word of God and can never contradict it. If someone prophesies that you should commit suicide or that Jesus is already on the earth waiting to be revealed, you should know the written Word of God, the Bible, well enough to know that these "words" cannot possibly be a word from God. That means it is your responsibility to know the scriptures well enough that you are not deceived. If you don't study the written Word of God, then if you are deceived and led astray, it is your own fault. Test everything according to what God has already spoken in the Bible. If it doesn't agree with the Bible, the word is false.
2) The word a prophet gives must be in agreement with the peace of the Lord which governs your heart. It is your responsibility to develop a relationship with God to the point that you have an inner witness of the Holy Spirit which confirms or rejects the words a prophet might give. Often the words a prophet speak will only confirm a word that God has already spoken in your heart. At other times, the word of a prophet will give specific direction to the already known will of God for your life. A prophet may indeed speak of something new that God intends to do in your life, but you should have enough of a personal relationship with God that what has been spoken will either rest with your spirit or your spirit will not bear witness to what has been spoken. Treat such words with extreme caution if you do not have peace about what has been spoken. But also remember, if the prophet speaks a word of correction to sin or error in your life, you may not feel good about what has been spoken, but you should also know if it is true.
3) Test the word of a prophet by the counsel of elders. Often, we may be in a place of vulnerability or need such that we are open to receive any word given by anyone as the word of God, especially if that word lines up with our hopes and desires. But God has given in the Body, pastors and teachers, elders, prophets, and apostles to give counsel and wisdom and discernment. If your own relationship with the Lord is not sufficiently established that you cannot discern by the Spirit of God the truth of a prophetic word, or if your are in such a state of vulnerability that you just cannot separate your own emotions from God's inner witness by the Spirit, it is helpful to be able to take such words to other members in the local Church. Prophets may speak to your life, but pastors have the God ordained responsibility of helping you grow to maturity, and if your pastor is obedient to God, God will affirm and confirm the words given by the prophet or will be led to give you caution and counsel. For you to be protected, it is your responsibility to be in fellowship in some local body of believers and be submitted to God's oversight there through the elders. If you run in to a church to get a word and run out on your own, you have no one but yourself to blame if you walk unwisely.
4) Test the words of a prophet by the Spirit of God. If you are saved, you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you, and His anointing teaches you all things (1 John 2:27). You may speak directly to the spirit that is motivating a prophet or challenge the words given by a prophet in the Name of Jesus by saying silently or under your breath: "In the Name of Jesus Christ, I command you to tell me whether you agree that Jesus is the Son of God and that Jesus came by water and the blood!" Often, by testing spirits in such a manner, you will hear by the Spirit of God a word of confirmation within you of whether it is the Holy Spirit who is speaking or whether a lying spirit is speaking deception. You may hear a lying spirit adamantly refuse to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. You have the responsibility to test the spirits to see if they are of God!
You must weigh the word and how to apply it. God may give you a word that the business you want to start is his plan for your life, but that doesn't mean you should quit your present job and start tomorrow. Samuel prophesied over David that David would be King of Israel, but David did not go out and announce his new position. Rather, David went back to the task at hand: tending his father's sheep. He let God work out the circumstances to bring the prophetic words to pass (1 Sam 16:13-19). Wisdom is needed.
Remember: prophets are only human, and they can make mistakes, but the written Word of God will never be false. God has given you the responsibility of weighing the words of the prophet. Don't be lazy or irresponsible.
1996 Jefferis Kent Peterson
The Scholar's Corner