Tuesday, February 18, 2003

The Neglected Gift

Several years ago, I was teaching through Ephesians. I came across the phrase "manifold wisdom of God." "What does 'manifold' mean?", I asked myself. How often had I read that and never stopped to wonder about that word. I grabbed the dictionary and soon learned that "manifold" meant many sided. Thus the "manifold wisdom of God" means that God's wisdom can meet many different situations.

I thought that I would have some fun the next day by asking the class what the word "manifold" meant. I was sure that none would know, and if someone did, I could congratulate them.

The class assembled. I was ready. However, as Bill sat down, he put a book on the table. "I brought the dictionary for you Don," he said and the air was let out of my balloon. It's not that Bill had detailed intelligence about what I intended in the class. He was just following what he thought the Holy Spirit was telling him to do. It just happened to coincide with my vocabulary lesson. For those of you who like to think of all angles, that class is the only one in my memory that I planned to ask the meaning of a particular word.

Bill has a prophetic gift. I have a teaching gift. I have the ability to study and see things in the Scriptures that are relevant to me and others today. Bill sees the world in symbols and dreams and inner promptings, but his gift also helps build up the body that is the Church. it was always a good day, when he would call and say that he had a dream that I should know about.

Unfortunately the workings of the self acclaimed prophetically gifted people in the church is suspect, and has been for some time. Some of my fellow Christians would say that this is simply because the miraculous gifts were sign gifts given to the Apostles to give validity to the infant church. They died out when they died. Their arguments have experience on their side, but I cannot find such a hard edge in the New Testament. It is true that we do not see many miracles in Christendom, and some and maybe most of what we see seems contrived and false. Nevertheless, when I read the New Testament, I always feel that the problem is on my end. That there is more that the Church could live and experience.

Maybe I am deluded, but I would rather teach the scriptures than teach my experience. The other elders at my church agree, so we are praying and teaching to enable prophetic gifting to manifest itself.

Models

How should a prophetic gift  operate in the Church. Should it be primarily one on one? Should it be more public? What controls need to be in place? What should we expect? That is what I want to explore here. 

Paul does explain the purpose of prophecy as a gift in the church, "But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement and consolation." (1 Corinthians 14:3, The Net Bible) Of course, such things can come directly from the Scriptures, but often the Scriptures speak general principles and a new believer may not have had the time to give the Book much study. The prophetic gift can help manifest the Lord's individual love to a person by revealing specific details about the situation. It is interesting to note that Paul does not emphasize a forecast of doom and judgment. Prophecy is to build up, not tear down.

The prophetic gift can bring about salvation, "But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or uninformed person enters, he will be convicted by all, he will be called to account by all. The secrets of his heart are disclosed, and in this way he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring, 'God is really among you.'” (1 Corinthians 14:24-25) Note how casually Paul uses the phrase "if all prophesy?" Paul seemed to think that this gift could be very common. Indeed, he would like it to be, "Pursue love and be eager for the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy." (1 Corinthians 14:1) Prophecy is a gift that is legitimately prayed for. I pray for it, but I do not have it -- yet.

Paul also gave instruction about the use of prophecy in a church meeting, "Two or three prophets should speak and let others evaluate what is said. And if someone seated receives a revelation, the person speaking should conclude. For you can all prophesy one after another, so all can learn and be encouraged. Indeed, the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, for God is not characterized by disorder but peace." (1 Corinthians 14:29-33a) Paul gives some important guidelines here. First, the congregation should evaluate what a prophet says. This implies the possibility of error, although Paul assigns no great punishment for such. It does say that you do not surrender your will to a prophet. The prophet must be sensitive to the prophetic gifts in others and give them time. Indeed the prophet must be quick to surrender the stage. Again Paul notes that prophecy is to encourage. Also the man or woman with a prophetic gift must appear in control of themselves. God may speak to them, but He will not be controlling them.

I am watching for men and women that God will raise up who are able to hear His words for the moment and use them to strengthen the weak, encourage the strong, and console the broken hearted. I expect them to habitually defer to others and see their unique gift as something to serve the body and not themselves. They will tend to be symbolic and frequently dream. I would like the gift to be so common that no one will think much of it. It will be just one more example of our God's generous love

Wednesday: The Miracles of Jesus

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