Rev. Effendi Susanto
About the Gift of Prophecy Today
Bible Verses: Romans 12:4-8
Let us as a church be refreshed and guided in the right way. There is no other metaphor that shows an intimate relationship between one another than a body. Christ as the head and we as the body which has a number of organs with different function that work together. That was Paul’s parting words to the elders and the church leaders in Ephesians whom he never met again (Acts 20:28). He requested them to keep watch over themselves and serve the church diligently. Christ said that church is ecclesia, people who have been redeemed by God, summoned to the world to show the others how life as God’s creation in this world full of sin should be and how we should worship God. How should people, who have been bought with His own blood, praise and worship God?
A theolog named Marva Dawn was questioned by her grandchild’s “Why should we go to church every week?” She gave a very good answer which is “We are not going to church but we are the church”. We gather together to show the world what a church is. We’ve been redeemed by God and we’ve been given time of which we should use for God. Why? Because we want to worship Him as part of the church and help each other as we are part of a congregation.
This concept was found in Romans 12:
- Verse 1-2 talks about the act of worship.
- Verse 3 talks about understanding one self.
- Verse 4-8 talks about our responsibility, how we should be a blessing to others. When we give our offerings, we should always remember that what we have received from God shouldn’t be used just for ourselves. This is the basic understanding of offerings.
The same understanding goes when we serve God, it is because God has served us more in the first place. We serve because we are part of a whole, we couldn’t be self-sufficient and independent by ourselves. When we accept other people’s help, we are not putting ourselves down but we are accepting that we can’t live by ourselves. We serve others because we know should share what we have with others. But when we give or serve others we couldn’t do it all ourselves. Paul reminded the congregation to put in their contributions to church based on their functions and gifts that God has blessed them with. If he had been given the gift to teach, let him teach. If he had been given the gift to counsel others, let him counsel and comfort others. If he has been blessed with plenty, let him help others with generosity. Why?
There are different motivations and reasons why people lend a hand to others. Paul shows one of them, that is generosity. Generosity could always be referred to as simplicity. It means we’re giving without any hidden agenda or expecting something in return. If he has been given to gift to be a leader, let him lead diligently. It is interesting how Paul elaborates on the different gifts and how they should be executed. This means that if you have been given a gift, it should be used. If he has been given the gift of generosity, let him give cheerfully. The nature of the serving is something that is non-reciprocal where the recipient wouldn’t be able to return the favour. We couldn’t expect anything in return when we lend a hand to invalid, mentally retarded, or poor people. There could even be emotional sacrifice and hard work involved in the process. We could become sad and sour. Paul then added another factor that is cheerful. Why do we need to be cheerful? The act of serving is not an easy task. We could be disappointed and start to question “what are we getting out of this?” Let us as a congregation learn from this. A church should be seen as body. A church cannot be treated as a club, or an entertainment place or a cinema. You can’t come to church and ask “what can I get from here?” but you should ask “what can I give after I’ve been given?” A church will need to be support by the congregation not just by one person. That is God’s nature. When Jesus Christ rose to Heaven, He didn’t give any deposit or money to His disciples. The disciples didn’t inherit a big building from Him. The fact that the church exists is owed to the principles, the talents and gifts God gave us, which have been used to support each other. Let me urge you to not only to grow as children of God but also question where our mission field is. We pray for the missionaries who go to the mission field but we often forget that we also have a mission field.
The mission field doesn’t have to be 2,000 mile away but it could be two or three metres away from your seat. It could become a nice mission field if we focus on it. Paul urged us to use our gifts and not waste it.
We’ll now say a few things on gifts. How do you differentiate gifts and natural talents? Many associate gifts with natural talents, however it becomes spiritual gifts when it is used for God’s work. It is a fact that there is a connection between the gifts with natural talents as they are not supernatural. There are people with the tendency of becoming a leader, or tendency of a sensitive heart who can sympathise with others more, or tendency to help others. The list of the gifts in Romans 12 is different to the one in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. The obvious different is the spiritual gift which is not in Romans 12. Being an apostle is an occupation as well as being a person. An apostle is gifted with spiritual gift. Why a spiritual gift? It’s because the occupation was handed by God to build a church. The gift of an apostle has no relation to natural talent. This is a calling from God to a person.
The work of an apostle is unique and as mentioned in the Bible and there are 12 of them. In Acts, Judas had gone and therefore there were only eleven apostles who committed to find a replacement so the total number would remain at twelve (Acts 1:15-26). That’s why when Paul was summoned by God to be an apostle for non-Jews; Paul faced a big challenge on the authentication of his role. Paul said his role is different to the twelve apostles who were called by God to serve the Jews whereas Paul was serving the non-Jews. It raised another issue since the criteria of an apostle will have to be someone who has spent time with Jesus Christ. What about Paul? In his letter to Galatian, Paul argued that even though he didn’t spend any time with Jesus Christ, he met Jesus Christ in his vision. Will this spiritual gift continue? No. The New Testament has indicated that after the passing of these apostles, the role is no longer relevant and required by the church. The spiritual gift was mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 because Paul was referring to the universal Church, not the local one like in Romans 12.
Let us look at Philippians 1:1 and Colossians 1:1 where Paul realised that the role of apostle cannot continue. These letters were both written at about the same time while he was in prison. Philippians 1:1 says “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus…” both in equal status as servant of God. However in Colossians 1:1 Paul wrote “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus and Timothy, our brother…” He didn’t say Paul and Timothy, apostle of Christ Jesus, because it is obvious that Paul was the apostle and not Timothy. They were both called to serve God but the role of an apostle was not granted to Timothy, but only to Paul. God did not call Timothy as an apostle. There is a gift that God is no longer granting to the Church now. That is the spiritual gift.
How do we know where and when the gift will end? Some Churches are still acknowledge themselves as the apostles. Let us look into this in more detail in Ephesians 2:20. Church is built with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone and the apostles and prophets as the foundation. It is clear that Paul considers the role of apostles as the foundational role of a Church so whenever a Church is built the congregation understands the important of the foundation and the chief cornerstone. What does prophets as foundation mean? It means the Church can’t be built outside the teaching of the apostles/prophets. When the era of foundational Church finished there were no more apostles/prophets. The number of apostles is fixed and known, but the number of prophets is unknown from the New Testament but it was obvious that the role of prophet has ceased.
In 1 Corinthians 14:39 Paul wanted every believer to be able to perform prophecy. Why? This is because it was such an important and wonderful gift to contribute to others. At the same time he realised that not everyone is given such a gift. Churches should not use this verse to start looking for spiritual gifts. The Churches now are different to Corinthians Church back then where it was still a foundational Church, the apostles /prophets still exist and God’s message was still being conveyed.
Let us look at 1 Corinthians 14:32 where it says the spirits of prophets are subject to the control of the prophets. Who does it belong to? “The prophecy belongs to the prophets”. The prophet who has the prophecy gift will have to use it according to the standard measure of faith. Paul realized that there were God’s words which didn’t come from the apostles and it was not clear whether or not it came from a genuine prophet that is why they need it to be tested. It was at least mentioned twice in the Bible about the teaching of apostles which were used to test the existing teaching (Galatians 1:8-9). What is the standard whether or not the teaching is genuine? Paul said, the genuine teaching is what came from us. The teachings from the apostles are use as the standard to measure the genuinity of other teachings, if they are different to the standard, do not accept the teaching. The second mention was in 1 Corinthians 14:36-38. The word of God which came from the apostles or the prophets was equally authoritative as they both “thus saith the Lord”. However, the quality of the relationship between God and His apostles is different to the others and that is God’s prerogative. In Numbers 12:8 Miriam and Aaron started to talk against Moses, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t He also spoken through us?” God solved the conflict and said “When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all of my house. With him I speak face to face.” In the Old Testament God spoke to the prophets in dreams and visions, however God revealed his words to Moses in a more intimate way, face to face. Either way when God revealed his words, the quality is the same. The fact that the relationship between God and Moses was different to the other prophets, there was nothing that Miriam and Aaron could do. That is why the teachings of the other prophets were compared to Moses’s as the standard of measurement. The teaching that is against that of Moses was condemned as a false teaching.
Why did God, when he used the teaching from the apostles, He chose as the standard to test the teaching from the prophets? Everyone can claim his teaching was from God’s words but how do we know it’s true? That is why it is resoluted that the teachings from the apostles were the standard measurement as God has had the closest relationship with the apostles He chose. There were specific reasons why the apostles were chosen. There were prophets among the congregation of Romans, however to find out if he was a genuine one, the congregation would have to see if his prophecy was in accordance to the standard of faith. The foundation has now been finalised and God’s words have been completed and conveyed to us in the Bible as the standard of faith. We are now comparing the teachings with the Bible. We should be alert of the wrong teaching which comes to Church through prophecy. Especially when it involves the prophecy of someone’s personal life. There had been prophecy on who someone should get married to, or where someone should go to or whether someone will get rich next year. Things become a blur and mystical when it comes to this type of prophecy. Didn’t the Bible say that we should ask for a spiritual gift? Don’t forget that the condition of the Churches then were different to now.
There are 3 important words in 1 Corinthians 14 through which God revealed His word:
- 1 Corinthians 14:2 “…he ulters mysteries with his spirit”. The original word of musterion is important here as it does not stand for the prediction of the unknown future. In the Old Testament, the word musterion means the mystery of the Gospel which is unrevealed unless through Christ Jesus. This means it contain revelation.
- 1 Corinthians 14:30 “And if the revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop”. Why? It is because the person who reveals the prophecy has the authority from God.
- 1 Corinthians 14:36 Paul acknowledged that a prophet receives the word of God.
So prophecy consists of musterion, revelation and word of God. These three components show us that the prophecy gift is granted from God to His apostles who reveal the word of God to the Churches back then in addition to the word of God that goes to the prophets. The Bible states that the foundation of the Church is the teaching of the apostles and prophets. The Churches now no longer have this gift. So if a man’s gift is teaching, let him teach, if it is contributing to the need of others, let him give generously. All these gifts have not stopped and will continue as they are needed in the Churches now. I hope this give us a good understanding of the word of God of in which we grow.(fang)