Thessalonians 5 v 21 Prove all things
Some Christians in the church at Thessalonica in the first century were not happy about prophecies uttered in their assembly. They despised them, counted them as nothing and no value or importance. They had reached this conclusion because they had experience of spurious prophetic utterances amongst the false prophets of their pagan religions – which they had left to follow Christ.
The theme of verses 19 – 22 of 1 Thessalonians 5 is that we should be attentive Christians in worship. Paul has exhorted the believers in verse 19
Quench not the Spirit.
Then, and this was our subject last week, Paul tells the Thessalonians that they must not suppress the Holy Spirit’s extraordinary operations amongst them. In particular they are not to treat prophecies with contempt, verse 20
Despise not prophesyings.
1. Prophecy is Telling Forth God’s Word.
This is the meaning of the word prophet!
2. Prophecy has a History.
God remains the originator of the truly prophetic word.
Moses was the pioneer of the prophetic movement in the Old Testament. After Moses a succession of prophets communicated prophetic revelations from God.
3. Prophecy is Divine Revelation spoken forth.
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.
4. Prophecy was a Special gift from the ascended Lord Jesus.
The Prophetic gift of forthtelling exercised by apostles and prophets in the first century was revelational from the sovereign Lord Jesus Christ to believers in the Church.
5. Prophecy could include “Fore-telling”.
6. Prophecy could be counterfeited.
There are several warnings about false prophets in the New Testament. 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.
7. Prophecy today is the Preaching of God’s Word written.
The utterances of the prophets in the Old Testament recorded in the first 39 books of the Bible; through to 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, is final! Yes Final! Today’s preachers are to speak God’s Word that has been already spoken! 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.
Preaching therefore should not be despised nor devalued. Rather preaching should be prized and greatly esteemed. If we despise prophecy or preaching as it is today then we are in danger of despising God’s Word, ignoring Him and despising His Holy person. Preaching 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. Matthew Poole calls preaching “an ordinance of God for instruction, edification and conversion.” We dare not despise prophesyings/preaching.
This morning we move to the next verse in 1 Thessalonians 5 – and think about the first part of verse 21
Prove all things;
We remarked last week that there are new philosophies around today in the Christian scene that fly in the face of God’s arrangements for the communication of His word in this Gospel age. Much has been written and much more claimed by certain teachers that God has more to say – and that they are the ones who have been chosen and ordained to say it! I suppose that we have become used to the more way out charismatic extremists and do not find it difficult to discern their errors in their modern day prophecies and distance ourselves from them. But an increasingly popular writer in America, who has written a large Bible Commentary and many other theological books is a man called Wayne Grudem. He claims to come from a Reformed Church Constituency and much of what he writes is Biblical and Orthodox.
However he has written a book, published in 1988 called “The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today.” In this book Wayne Grudem claims that prophecy of the revelation kind, practised in New Testament churches before the scripture was complete, continues today. Then he maintains that prophecy delivered today is not to be regarded as equivalent in authority to scripture, because there could be the possibility of human error affecting the word spoken. Dr Grudem maintains also that the pure word of the Lord God can be corrupted by factors of human error. This is why, he says, Paul ordered the Church to PROVE ALL THINGS. He is saying that we are to be discerning about the prophecies that we hear in case they are a word from the Lord and we miss them or offend God for not obeying them. We are also to be discerning in case the prophesies are in error and we find ourselves doing something that God has NOT told us to do! This is how we are to prove all things!
Furthermore Dr Grudem, in his new view of prophecy asserts that “God might even cause words to come to mind which he does not want us to take as his own words.”
Can you see the confusion that this view brings about? There is nothing further from the Biblical concept of prophecy than this. What could contradict more radically the nature of the God of all truth? Would the Lord God, whom we know, cause a prophet to serve Him as His spokesman, and yet cause words to come to the prophet’s mind that he himself does not want the people to consider as His words? No – my friends – God is not the author of such confusion!
The Scriptures themselves have always directed God’s people, and any who read the sacred revelation of God’s word, to know how to know the truth when they hear it.
For instance back in the Old Testament we see that the people of Israel were to test prophecy.
Deuteronomy 13 v 1 If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, 2 And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; 3 Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. 5 And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.
Deuteronomy 18 v 15 The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; 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. 17 And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. 18 I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. 19 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. 20 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. 21 And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? 22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.
In these 2 passages the ordinary Israelite was commanded to discriminate about the words spoken by the prophets. They were to judge regularly about the true or false character of the words spoken by a prophet. There were false prophets, agents of Satan, in Old Testament times.
In Jesus’ day there was also the necessity to warn against false prophets. Matthew 7 and 24 were quoted last week. In 2 Corinthians Paul speaks of false apostles who were troubling the church –
2 Corinthians 11 v 13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. 14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.
Again we quoted Peter and John last week in this area.
Dr Grudem seems convinced then that New Testament prophecy was a mixture of truth and error – but he misses the abiding truth that if a prophecy WAS false, in any way, then it did not come from the Lord!
So what does Paul mean by this text before us this morning?
Prove all things.
Let us first examine the word used.
Prove is DOKIMADZOH and in the 23 times that it occurs in the New Testament it mostly is rendered prove. It is also translated try, approve and discern. So it is a word that means test with the expectation of approving.
It is profitable to see how the word is used in other texts to test things.
1. An animal is tested.
In the parable of the great supper one of those invited refused the invitation because he had bought some new livestock.
19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.
This person behaved as we would when we are about to buy a car – we go on a test drive – we go to prove that the car functions properly and is suitable for us. The man wanted to test out his new oxen. Material things were more a priority than the spiritual.
2. God’s will is tested.
Romans 12: 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
None will be able to prove or test what is the good and acceptable will of God for our lives unless and until we have been transformed by the renewing of our minds – in other words had a conversion experience.
3. Our works are tested.
1 Corinthians 3 v 11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. 14 If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
A person’s works can be of different qualities. But the test will be only one thing – fire. Precious metals survive high temperatures in the refiner’s fire – only the rubbish the dross is burned away. The fire will test or prove our works, of what sort they are.
4. Our Spiritual state is tested.
1 Corinthians 11 v 27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
2 Corinthians 13 v 5 has the same thought –
5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?
Self examination – self testing – self proving – is necessary for each one of us – for it will be too late to arrive before the judge of all men and women, the Lord Jesus Christ, and not know whether we can prove that we are in the faith! Are you in the faith my friend?
5. Our Love is tested.
When love abounds in knowledge and judgement we may approve (DOKIMADZOH) things that are excellent. This is what Philippians 1 says –
9 And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; 10 That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;
6. Our Faith is tested.
Peter writing to persecuted believers encouraged them that their trials and sufferings would bring about their glory. Trials were a testing or proving of their faith – to see if it were genuine or not –
1 Peter 1 v 7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
“Prove all things” relates to testing prophecies. The imperative follows the quench not and despise not.
“Prove all things” does not mean this – it does not mean that we as believers are to try everything in life once to see if it is alright for us to do! It does not mean that we should go to every place of wickedness and sin and find out for ourselves what they are about. That is not proving all things! No.
“Prove all things” is a specific imperative to do with prophesying, and in our case preaching of the word of God. Prophesying in the House of God must be tested!
So now we come to discover HOW we are to prove all things that we hear preached.
How do you know that the preachers who come to this pulpit are prophesying, preaching, teaching, interpreting and expounding God’s Holy Word and not promulgating their own ideas!
You are to test what you hear. How can you tell the difference between what you hear in this place and what you may hear in a liberal church, a catholic church or a cultic church?
Here are some practical tests to bring to bear on what ever you hear which is called preaching or prophesying.
1. A Scripture Test.
All Christian preaching and teaching must be Biblical. Remember that prophesy is the forth telling of God’s revealed word and we have God’s revealed word in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Therefore everything that you hear from this pulpit must be tested by the Word of God. The plain truth of scripture is plainly here for all of us to read, handle, memorise and internalise. We are to be like a group of believers in the town of Berea. We are to do what they did, recorded in Acts 17 v 11. When Paul preached the Gospel to them in the synagogue we find this –
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed;
Any Christian preacher, teacher or minister must be tested to see if he is Biblical! And any one of us can do it. We all have the Bible. You are encouraged to bring your Bible with you to church – so that you can verify that what is read from the Bible here is what you also have before you – and then what is preached and explained will also be found in the pages of your own Bibles. We need to have a Berean spirit and attitude. We are not a church where priestcraft rules – where the Bible teachers are worried in case you check up on them! There are some professing Christians in other groupings who never take their Bibles to church, never verify that what they are hearing is Biblical – and the consequence is that their preachers can say virtually anything with authority and they will be listened to! All of us who preach and teach want you to test what you hear – so that you KNOW WITHOUT DOUBT that what you are hearing is GOD’S Holy Word and not man’s opinions. The preacher whose words are at odds with what God has said in the Bible, however plausible his manner and gifted his delivery, has no claim on your attention. It is not that we are not sure of our message as preachers – rather we want you to be sure of God’s word.
This is the Scripture Test and we are commanded to exercise this test week by week in this place –
Prove all things.
2. The Person of the Lord Jesus Christ Test.
This test involves knowing what the preacher or prophet believes about the Lord Jesus Christ. Does he accept the scripture verdict concerning the identity of the God-man? What kind of Jesus does he preach? Is He the Christ of the scripture?
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. 2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: 3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
This is the test of the true preacher/prophet. The gift of anointed preaching comes through the work of the Holy Spirit on a man. It is the Holy Spirit’s great ministry to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ and not to undermine Him. Paul says the same in 1 Corinthians 12 v 3
Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
The tragedy today is this – there are hundreds if not thousands of clergymen today who do not believe in the Biblical Jesus Christ. Most of them have their credibility enhanced because they may have been ordained by some so called Christian Denomination. Such men may enjoy the respect in the academic community and receive invitations to appear on TV chat shows and speak on Thought for the Day. But if they preach any Jesus other than the Jesus of the Bible, true believers will do the best thing and close their ears to them! Don’t put up with them! Don’t stay with them to try to win them by supporting them! John says in his second letter –
2 John v 9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. 10 If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: 11 For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.
The true believer will wish to hear the truth about the Saviour – and the true believer recognises the truth when he or she hears it. This is the Person of Christ Test.
3. A Gospel Test.
Whenever we hear the Gospel preached we need to be sure that it is the authentic Christ centred, Christ exalting Good News of salvation through Him alone. Any preacher/prophet who perverts this gospel deserves a terrible fate according to the scripture –
Galatians 1 v 6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
If any preacher proclaims the way of salvation by works and not the free and sovereign grace of God, then a curse will rest on his ministry! It is a serious as that. I was shocked when as a young believer I was approached by an Army Sergeant who quoted this scripture to me as we stood outside the church where we had just attended morning worship. I could not believe that this man could apply this scripture to the preaching of the minister that we had just heard. I learnt a lesson that day – that it is my Biblical duty to Prove, to test all preaching that I hear. Of course I did not know much then and was ignorant about the features of the message that I had heard. Neither did I know that I must prove all things – until then.
All Gospel preaching must be measured by the clear message that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself preached. Come to me – not work your way to heaven. Repent of sin – not turn up to church and live as you please. Be reconciled to God – not earn your salvation by being kind and giving to charity.
The Gospel test must be brought to bear on all preaching.
4. A Character of the Preacher Test.
The next test as we prove all things is to focus on the prophet/preacher himself. His character would need to be in keeping with his message. He should be practicing what he preaches. If he preaches to sinners who need to be saved – he should know that he is a sinner who has needed salvation too. If he preaches to struggling saints battling with sin and corruption, he should also be one who knows about the battle and how to honour the saviour in His life. If he calls men and women through God’s grace to be holy, he should also know the way of holiness himself.
As someone has said “the passage of 20 centuries has done nothing to make the wolf in sheep’s clothing an endangered species.”
Just as a tree may be identified by its fruit so a teacher may be identified by his character and conduct.
This is also a warning to Christians who may not be as careful as they might in the kind of preachers and preaching that they hear. Do not listen to strangers my friends. Listen to those men whom you know. Listen to those whose lives you can observe and scrutinise. Listen to those who are accountable in the congregation for their life and conduct. This is a congregational test of the prophet/preacher. Any man embarking on preaching must first have a life that can be observed by the congregation. This is the Character test. The message of the Lord Jesus Christ was matched by His perfect life that all could see. Pray for your preachers – that they may be kept pure and holy and that their message might match their lives.
5. An Edification Test.
1 Corinthians 14 v 3 says
But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
Later in verse 31 –
For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.
To what degree does the prophet/preacher build up and benefit the church through his preaching? This involves the testing of whether there is bringing of conviction of sin, an awareness of God and the promotion of unity and discipline within the church fellowship. It involves an assessment of whether the preaching stirs up to holiness and godliness, brings challenge and comfort, and brings inspiration to evangelism. “Prove all things” says Paul.
Do we prove all things here in this church my friends? You who are visitors – does this proving go on in your assembly? This is a scrutiny that has nothing to do with criticising the preacher, or roasting him over the Sunday lunch table! It is all to do with a practical outcome – that the people of God might know to what they should hold fast when they have heard it. Next week we consider holding fast that which is good.
We all have the responsibility to energetically pursue what we are taught when we know that it comes from the Lord God – and to shun it when it does not.
May God the Holy Spirit give us the discernment needed in these days testing everything that we hear – proving all things – for the glory of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ!