Thessalonians 5 v 20 Despise not prophesyings.
Verses 16 – 22 clearly identify the 4 elements of Public Worship that we have been considering for several weeks.
1. We should be Joyful Christians in worship – v 16 2. We should be Prayerful Christians – v 17 3. We should be thankful Christians v 18 4. We should be attentive Christians in Worship v 19 – 22
Last time we considered verse 19
Quench not the Spirit.
We discovered the specific intention that Paul the Apostle had in writing this to the church at Thessalonica. Paul wanted the believers to know that they must listen to the Word of God. We found that the Word of God came through various ministries appointed by the Holy Spirit. If through ignorance of the ways and intentions of the Holy Spirit; or if through failure to recognise His directions, disorder strife and division appeared – these were evidences that there was a serious problem – namely what is called here THE QUENCHING OF THE SPIRIT.
19 Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22 Abstain from all appearance of evil,
are a set of verses that recommends intelligent listening, scrutiny and testing the validity of what we hear – and then having judged the preaching as good to go out and practice what we hear preached!
This is summed up by attentive worship – when Christians hear the word of God.
We also looked at some of the ways that we as individual Christians can quench the Spirit in our own experience.
1. We can ignore His presence and deny that we have been saved. 2. We can resist His leading when He prompts us to obey a command or take some action. 3. We can covet other Christians’ gifts thinking that we should have what they have. 4. We can fail to rejoice, pray and give thanks in our own devotional life. 5. We can indulge in sins and rebellions wilfully and carelessly. 6. We can neglect what we call the means of Grace.
Corporate and family worship, prayer meetings and spiritual activities of all kinds keep the believer in happy routine and willing duty – near to the Lord Jesus. Neglect of these things – partial or reluctant attendance WILL – not may – but will quench the Spirit in your life and mine.
If you neglect a fire it will go out.
If you pour sand or water on a fire it will be extinguished. No more light or heat to bring benefit.
Let us never do anything to quench God’s work or influence in any aspect of our Christian lives and Church life – rather let us stir ourselves up to holiness, devotion and love towards God – and fan into flame all that we are and do – for the glory of our wonderful saviour the Lord Jesus Christ. This then was the teaching of verse 19
Quench not the Spirit.
Since fire is associated with the power of the Holy Spirit, and to smother the Spirit’s work is to quench that Holy fire, Paul next tells the Thessalonians that they must not suppress His extraordinary operations amongst them. In particular they are not to treat prophecies with contempt. The next verse deals with this –
20 Despise not prophesyings.
On of the ways that the Holy Spirit nourished the life of the early church was through this gift of prophecy. As we saw last time this remarkable period of the New Testament church, before the Scriptures were completed, was marked by God speaking directly to His church through gifted Prophets.
We now have the opportunity to examine exactly what the Bible means by prophecy and we will list 7 things about it.
1. Prophecy is Telling Forth God’s Word.
W.E. Vine says that Prophecy is the declaration of that which cannot be known by natural means. We can gather information ourselves from the natural world. We can make amazing discoveries. We can make assumptions about the creation and even the Creator. But we can only know certain things about our Great God and His way of dealing with us, His creatures, through a special means – not a natural means.
Prophecy therefore is a miracle.
The word prophecy – and its derivatives, prophet, and propheyings – explains itself in the original language. The Greek word comprises 2 words joined together – PRO meaning forth and the verb PHEMI – to speak, utter or tell. A prophet is a person who SPEAKS FORTH. In the Biblical sense he tells forth, and openly declares the mind and the will of God. He is a forth teller.
A prophet often prefaced his forthtelling with “Thus saith the Lord!” This phrase occurs 414 times in the Bible – all in the Old Testament – the first text is in Exodus 4
22 And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn:
And the last one is in Malachi 1
4 Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever.
It is, as we shall see later, necessary first for a prophet to have the word of the Lord revealed to him before he could utter the prophecy starting “Thus saith the Lord!” This leads us to our next point about prophecy
2. Prophecy has a History.
Prophecy has a long history in the word of God. This gift of the Holy Spirit has a revelational character in which God remains the originator of the truly prophetic word.
Moses was the pioneer of the prophetic movement in the Old Testament. He was the original prophet and law-giver in Israel, playing a unique role as mediator of the word of God to the people of Israel.
Before Moses, God spoke personally to the various patriarchs in the families of Israel. Each tribal leader would then communicate the word of God to his clan. But when the numbers involved millions of people as they came out of Egypt it would have entailed the Lord revealing Himself simultaneously to 600,000 heads of families. According to Deuteronomy 18 v 16 the people pleaded with Moses to give them a substitute for the terrifying experience of hearing the thunder of God’s voice –
16 According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.
God provided Moses! One man would receive the word of God in the mountain and mediate the word to the trembling people below. Moses’ main task was to declare God’s will – forth telling the Decalogue and all that flowed from the Law – and on occasions foretelling the future.
After Moses a succession of prophets communicated prophetic revelations from God.
3. Prophecy is Divine Revelation spoken forth.
The Apostle Peter saw prophecy as an experience of Divine revelation. He tells us that all truly prophetic experiences had this same character. Notice his words in 2 Peter 1 v 21
For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
This is the connection between Old and New testaments with regard to Prophecy. Notice also that from the verse it was not merely what these prophets wrote – the revelation came with what they spoke. All that came through them was the very Word of God whether spoken or written. The Prophets were passive – they were moved or borne along by the Holy Spirit. To be borne along is not the same as to be led – much less to be guided or directed. The man that is borne along contributes nothing to the movement that has been induced – he is the object to be moved. They were borne along by God much as a ship is moved by the wind. Peter tells us that ALL prophecy is of this sort – there is no exception to this phenomenon as it relates to prophecy. Paul supports Peter’s representation of prophecy in Ephesians 3 v 2
If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery;
The New Testament consistently represents a MYSTERY as a truth about God’s plan of redemption once concealed, BUT NOW REVEALED. The mystery has now been revealed by the Holy Spirit to the Lord’s apostles and prophets. So from this our next point about prophecy –
4. Prophecy was a Special gift from the ascended Lord Jesus.
Several texts in Ephesians help us here.
Ephesians 3 v 5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
New Testament prophecying is different from Old Testament prophecying only in this – that the Lord Jesus Christ sent these gifts after His ascension as He promised.
Acts 1 v 8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. 9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
The fulfilment of this is recorded later in Acts – the Day of Pentecost – and confirmed by Paul in Ephesians 4 v 8
Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
The Prophetic gift of forthtelling exercised by apostles and prophets in the first century was revelational, as we saw last time from 1 Corinthians 14 and other passages. The prophets and teachers at the church in Antioch mentioned in Acts 13 are such men who brought revelation to the church –
1 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
And these gifts were from the sovereign Lord Jesus Christ to believers in the Church – these prophets were among those who were called the Foundation of the Church –
Ephesians 2 v 20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
5. Prophecy could include “Fore-telling”.
Many people today have the notion that prophecy is about telling what is going to happen in the future. They call someone prophetic who appears to make some forecast about what lies ahead. New Testament prophecy could include an element of foretelling, just as the Old Testamenr version did. Acts 11 and 21 makes mention of a particular prophet named Agabus.
Acts 11 v 27 And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. 28 And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. 29 Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: 30 Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
An immediate fulfilment of a revelation that no one could have known – God revealed the information about the great famine which occurred during the reign of Claudius Caesar. In Acts 21 v 10
And as we tarried there (Caesarea) many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. 11 And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.
However we should notice that details of foretelling by prophets only appear in the narrative portions of the New Testament – they are not found in the Epistles.
The next important point to make about prophecy is this
6. Prophecy could be counterfeited.
We are getting close to the reason why Paul writes to the Thessalonians
20 Despise not prophesyings.
It would seem that the new community of believers in Thessalonica were extremely suspicious of claims that the new revelations were coming in the form of contemporary prophetic utterances. Their natural inclination might well have been to treat them as though they were nothing. The Jews among the converts knew that the Old Testament prophetic gift had not functioned for 400 years – since Malachi uttered his last word form the Lord. The pagan babblers and prognosticators were regularly exposed as charlatans when they claimed to utter words of knowledge from their gods. When you are suspicious it is not long before you despise what you suspect!
Indeed there are several warnings about false prophets in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself sounded the warning bells in His ministry –
Matthew 7 v 15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 24 v 11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. 24 v 24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Luke 6 v 26 Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.
Peter and John make the same point.
2 Peter 2 v 1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. 1 John 4 v 1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
Wherever God sows wheat, Satan sows his tares – weeds. Wherever God establishes a Church, Satan is there with his chapel. And whenever the Holy Spirit brings a TRUE prophet onto the New Testament scene, the deceiver presents his FALSE prophet often appearing as an angel of light. The easiest thing to do in such circumstances is this – despise ALL prophesyings! This is what the Christians were doing in the church at Thessalonica. And as we have seen in recent months there were idlers, fanatics and busybodies at Thessalonica. These especially would not have appreciated prophetic utterances when they were admonished or rebuked! So it is no wonder that some in the congregation had despised prophesyings. They were fearful of being mistaken!
An illustration is appropriate.
An elderly man said to an evangelist at the end of a Gospel meeting, “I will not go on unless I know I’m saved, or else know it’s hopeless to seek to be sure of it. I want a definite witness, something I can’t be mistaken about!”
The preacher replied, “Suppose you had a vision of an angel who told you your sins were forgiven. Would that be enough to rest on?”
“Yes, I think it would. An angel should be right.”
The preacher continued, “But suppose on your deathbed Satan came and said, ‘I was that angel, transformed to deceive you.’ What would you say?”
The man was speechless. The evangelist then told him that God has given us something more dependable than the voice of an angel. He has given His Son, who died for our sins, and He has testified in His own Word that if we trust Him all our sins are gone. The preacher read 1 John 5 v 13
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
Then he said, “Is that not enough to rest on? It is a letter from heaven expressly to you.”
God’s Spirit used that to bring assurance to the man’s heart.
Paul therefore gives the imperative DESPISE NOT. Yet he still has more to say on the positive side – namely
21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
This will be the subject of next week’s sermon.
The seventh thing to say this morning begins our application of the whole area of Prophesying.
7. Prophecy today is the Preaching of God’s Word written.
We move forward in time from the utterances of the prophets in the Old Testament recorded in the first 39 books of the Bible; through the special never-to-be-repeated prophetic utterances of the Apostles and gifted prophets in the first century to what we have today – God’s Word of both the Old and New Testaments – authoritative, clear, inerrant, unchangeable and final! Yes Final! Today’s preachers are to speak God’s Word that has been already spoken! Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13 v 8
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
Today’s hearers of preaching are to apply their Spirit filled minds to understand the Word preached.
The preachers are to interpret God’s word for today to the minds and hearts of the hearers – and then to apply the preached word to everyday living. The preacher/teacher has taken the place of the prophet. The difference is this. Whereas the message of the prophet was a direct revelation of the mind of God for the occasion, the message of the preacher/teacher is gathered from the completed revelation of the whole Bible.
Preaching therefore should not be despised nor devalued. Rather preaching should be prized and greatly esteemed. It is God’s way today of increasing our knowledge of Him, magnifying His grace; building us up as individual believers and a church; pointing us in the direction of holiness and Christ likeness and also to comfort our souls in days of trial and difficulty.
This is prophecy to day my friends. God has said all that He intends to say – so there are no more revelations to come. We have the whole of the remarkable canon of scripture in our hands. And it must be preached faithfully and powerfully by men of God set aside and equipped to do so! They will not come with their own words of enticing wisdom – but they must come in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power.
Do you have an appetite for listening to preaching? Richard Baxter said that preachers are to “screw the truth into men’s minds!”
Bernard Manning said “Preaching is a manifestation of the incarnate Word, from the written Word, by the spoken word.”
And I have to confess that this sermon this morning has been more of a Teaching Sermon that flows from the text and little preaching.
So I close with this! The missionary Paul said “But we preach Christ – crucified”. He also said in Galatians 6 v 14
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
We should not glory in preaching itself – but in the person preached! The Lord Jesus Christ is the most important person in the whole universe. If you do not know Him this morning my friend, then you are in serious trouble! You need to know the significance of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ – what happened there at Calvary – why He went there and who for!
He died on the cross for sinners – people who have broken His laws, rebelled against His will and offended Him by their wickedness and sins. This describes every one of us. And the cross was for those who believe in its saving power! When people believe that their sins were dealt with, paid for at the cross, then they will turn from their sins and seek God’s mercy and pardon – only to be found in a direct approach to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Have you done this my friend?
Have you been to the foot of the cross and asked the Lord God to take away your burden of sin? Are you ready to shed it and its load of guilt and shame?
This risen and ascended saviour Jesus Christ is ready to receive sinners, to forgive them and give them new life.
Will you come this morning? Turn to Him – repent and tell Him that you are sorry, and mean your sorrow.
And begin to enjoy the peace and joy of knowing the greatest prophet and preacher who ever lived – the Lord Jesus Christ – the living God – who has spoken His word and keeps it!