“Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’ Thus says the Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!”
The Israelites often encountered the problem of discerning between true and false prophecy. Some prophets were saying one thing and other prophets were saying another, yet both claimed to be speaking in the name of the Lord.
This problem must have especially been troublesome to unpopular (though genuine) prophets of the Lord like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, whose message was not well received by their contemporaries. Two classic battles between false and genuine prophets are illustrated in the stories of Jeremiah’s confrontation with Hananiah (Jer. 28), Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kgs. 18) and Ezekiel's denunciation of Israel's false propehts (Ezek. 12-13).
The ancient Biblical authors kindly note the distinction between genuine prophets and false prophets but to those living in the moment the distinction was much less obvious. In the Law of Moses, God did equip His people with the tools necessary to discern truth from error. Deuteronomy 18:22 was a simple rule of thumb: just wait to see if the prophet’s words were fulfilled. If the prophecy never came to pass, then you have your answer. But some prophecies were too far distant for this rule to be relevant to the hearers. Another test, Deuteronomy 13:1ff, was simple enough as well. If the prophecy did not agree with the sound doctrine of the Mosaic Law (for example, if it encouraged idolatry) it must be rejected and the false prophet must be dealt with.
The early church encountered the same problem. God’s Spirit bestowed the first century church with many gifts, chief among them was the gift of prophecy. God’s will for Christians was still be revealed at that time so this spiritual gift was a necessity for the early church to live and worship in the way God wanted (1 Cor. 12; 2:9-13).
A number of warnings and rules were given to believers to instruct them how to discern truth from error (1 Thess. 5:21-22; 2 Thess. 2:1-3; 1 Jn. 2:18-23; 4:1-3). To some extent, the proof was within the hearer himself, “he who is of God hears the words of God” (Jn. 8:47), that is, his ears are attuned to hear only the spiritual frequency of God’s voice (Jn. 10:16). Another significant test is the life of the prophet, “you will know them by their fruits” (Mt. 7:16).
What about today? It is common for religious people to claim that God has spoken to them or that God has spoken through them. Any skepticism toward the mechanics of this process of “revelation” is usually met with quotations of 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20, “Don’t quench the Spirit! Don’t despise prophecies!” To which it may be helpful to respond politely with the very next verse, “but test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thess. 5:21)
The severity of judgment leveled against false prophets in the Bible should give sufficient warning any God-fearing person who claims to exercise this gift. The Bible teaches that God’s inspiration of His apostles and prophets was both “verbal” (word-for-word) and “plenary” (every word is equally authoritative) (2 Cor. 2:9-13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Though the Bible was written by human authors, the words were prompted and guided by the Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 1:19-21). If pressed, contemporary “prophets” will explain their experience of receiving revelation as a vague feeling or a few disjointed words that require interpretation later. Whatever they are experiencing, it is not Biblical inspiration and does not fit the pattern of Biblical prophecy. When "false prophets" are condemned in the Scripture it is not just their prophecy that is false but their heart, their character (2 Pet. 2:1ff). They may genuinely believe God is speaking to and through them but in reality they are "follow[ing] their own spirit" (Ezek. 12:3) instead of God's Spirit. God will allow people to believe a lie, even sending a deciving spirit to false prophets to seal their condemnation (1 Kgs. 22:22-23; 2 Thess. 2:11-12). Let us be very careful to speak only where God has spoken (1 Pet. 4:11) and we can be sure He is speaking to us in the Bible.
“And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.”
Sometimes when discussing a disagreement about what a Scripture says or what it teaches, we may hear the response, “Well, that’s just your interpretation.” This response may be an attempt to backpedal a previous statement, devalue another’s point or even end the discussion. Though this is a difficult barrier to overcome in a Bible study, disciples must try to build a bridge of understanding as best we can for our Lord is deeply concerned with the unity of His people (Jn. 17; 1 Cor. 1:10; Eph. 4:1-6).
Here are a few principles to keep in mind if you are ever met with the common response, “That’s just your interpretation.”
Try asking, “What’s your interpretation of this passage?” This is what the Lord Himself did (Lk. 10:26). To interpret something is to explain its meaning. It’s only fair to honestly hear out another’s explanation. It could be that their interpretation was correct all along!
Hearing out another’s interpretation demonstrates the virtues of integrity, fairness, humility and open-mindedness, vital qualities of the honest truth-seeker (Prov. 18:12-13). A great example of this wisdom playing out in real life is found in Acts 18:24-28 when Priscilla and Aquilla gently and privately taught an honest preacher “the way of God more accurately.”
Then you might ask, “How did you come to that conclusion?” For an interpretation to be valid or at least believable, one must provide some evidence for its validity. In math class, the teacher called this ‘showing your work’. This is an important tool for Bible study as well (Acts 17:11). This practice of defending your view is called apologetics and must be in every Christian’s toolbox (1 Pet. 3:15).
By providing evidence for your beliefs you are being reasonable (Phil. 2:5) and persuasive, practices common to Paul’s method of evangelism (Acts 18:4). For faith to take shape through studying God’s word one must be convicted of its truth (Heb. 11:1).
Finally, it is critical to note “There is a correct interpretation.” Every text must have a correct interpretation otherwise every interpretation would be equally valid. This common belief is called pluralism. Another extreme is to be so skeptical of every interpretation to believe that truth is unattainable. This false belief is born from postmodernism.
Jesus said all will be held accountable for the words that He spoke (Jn. 12:48). If His words cannot be understood then there is no hope for any of us! The denial of the existence of absolute truth is becoming more commonplace no less philosophically inconsistent.
The claim “there is no truth” is a self-defeating argument for the statement is an absolute truth claim. If it is true that there is no truth then the statement “there is no truth” cannot be true. Thank God this is not the case! Thank God His word can be read and understood (Eph. 3:4; 4:12-13; 5:17) and if humbly received, can set us free (Jn. 8:32).
Working towards a correct interpretation of Scripture is an important part of our developing faith and maturity but it also is an indispensable tool for evangelism and working towards unity among disagreeing brethren.
After the sermon folks strolling past the preacher say something like: “Good job” or “Good sermon;” the majority say nothing. This got me to thinking about how people listen to a sermon.
Preaching is the means by which God’s word is communicated (1 Corinthians 1:21). Therefore, it is no wonder that throughout the book of Acts we find men preaching God’s Word. Such was the case when Paul traveled to Berea (Acts 17:10-11). Luke records how the Bereans listened to the sermon. “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
At least three things of importance are seen. One: they had open minds. Two: they had open Bibles. Three: they had open schedules so they could listen. The attitude of these Bereans is commendable—they knew how to listen to a sermon. How do you approach a sermon?
“That was a good sermon” we say. What do we mean? Some have in mind the entertainment level of the speaker. Was he interesting? Did he have a good delivery? Was he able to keep our minds from wandering? Did he have any irritable mannerisms? Was his voice deep and velvety or high and shrill? All too often we mean: “He was entertaining!”
This is because we are living in a culture where entertainment has reached an all-time high in terms of its importance to people, including Christians. Thus it is just a small step to begin viewing preaching as something designed to entertain.
Now wait! I am not lobbying for boring, long-winded, sloppy, uninteresting preaching. Just because a man wants to say something does not mean he can. Those men who preach the Word of God should do so with passion and clarity. Preachers should endeavor to preach with such plainness as to do what Paul did in Galatia. “. . . Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified” (Galatians 3:1).
This being said: how should we listen to a sermon?
Listen with a desire to learn and know. Remember the Bereans searched the Scriptures. Those who just sit and stare are not emulating the fair-mindedness found at Berea. Do you really have a desire to learn? If so, open the Bible! Honest mistakes can be made—but we wouldn’t know unless we search the Scriptures. Pay close attention to what is being said. Jesus admonished us, “Therefore take heed how you hear” (Luke 8:18). The Thessalonians understood the message they heard was special. They were not being entertained by some smooth talking insincere sales-person. They were hearing the very words of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13). When the Word of God is preached the audience is in the presence of God (Acts 10:33).
Make a personal application. This is the most challenging thing for hearers to do. It is much easier to think: “I sure wish so-n-so was here because she sure needed that!” Or, “I hope old so-n-so is listening.” Or, perhaps we just become angry at what was said—because it fit us so well. So, instead of making a personal application—some just talk down the message.
In truth the thing to do is make a personal application. When Jesus told the disciples that someone eating with Him would betray Him, they did not begin to apply His words to others. Peter didn’t say: “Is it John?” James didn’t say: “Is it Andrew.” Instead each one took the message to heart. “And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, Lord, is it I?” (Matthew 26:22). Such introspect would serve us well!
Guard against personal prejudice. When Jesus came to Nazareth preaching the kingdom of God, His message was rejected
because of their prejudice against Him (Matthew 13:53-58). Jesus had grown up there—they knew Joseph and Mary, His siblings, therefore “Who is He to tell us what to do or believe?”
Perhaps we have a personal misgiving about the speaker, so we just dismiss the entire message. “He hurt my feelings once and so I don’t listen to a thing he has to say!” Or maybe we conclude that he lacks the expertise to speak about the subject he selected. A young preacher preaches on the role and responsibilities of husbands—but his sermon is rejected because he isn’t married. His marital status does not change what the Bible has to say.
Listening is not simply passive; we must put forth an effort so as to benefit from the message preached. In the words of the Master: “Therefore take heed how you hear” (Luke 8:18).
- J.R. Bronger
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
Have you ever heard of “glamping”? The combination of the words “glamorous” and “camping” refers to a new trend of luxury camping gaining popularity among affluent millennials. According to glamping.com, “Glamping is where stunning nature meets modern luxury. It’s a way to experience the untamed and completely unique parts of the world — without having to sacrifice creature comforts.” Another site says it is “camping without any of the hassle or hard work or dirt… a bridge to the outdoors for people who, quite frankly, don’t want to rough it.”
If you are still reading this you are probably rolling your eyes at yet another pricey fad hip young people have created to keep themselves entertained. But could this annoyingly-hip (and, dare I say, embarrassingly attractive) trend contain a spiritual lesson and possible warning for us?
The Hebrew writer points out that Abraham, the prototype of the person who lives by faith in God, lived in Canaan in “tents”. Even though he lived there the rest of his life after being called from Ur (cf. Heb. 11:15, 39), he did so as if it were “a foreign land” (Heb. 11:9; Gen. 23:4). He had not gained possession of it yet so he lived a nomadic existence in Canaan by dwelling in “tents”, temporary structures characteristic of those who have no permanent settlement or claim on the land.
The word “living” literally means to “settle down” but the only “settling down” Abraham did was wandering! Why? Because he lived in view of a better, permanent dwelling to come, “a city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). Of course, the Hebrew writer is encouraging us to be like Abraham, living as strangers in this present world, exiles away from our true home (cf. 1 Pet. 2:11). Like Israel, we are journeying on our way to Canaan land (Heb. 3-4), camping all the way.
But sometimes we want our camping in the wilderness to be as nice as glampers want their camping to be. We’re willing to make the trip as long as we get to bring along all our creature comforts. Unlike Paul who longed to put on his “heavenly dwelling” in the resurrection (2 Cor. 5:1-2), we waste our lives making our tents as comfortable as possible. There was nothing glamorous about Israel’s journey in the wilderness and as we camp toward our home we should expect to “rough it”, so to speak.
I’m not suggesting we don’t enjoy the good gifts God gives us, we should (1 Tim. 4:3). Neither am I suggesting there is value in “asceticism and severity to the body”, there is not (Col. 2:23). But the more attached to the luxuries of the wilderness we are, the less fervently we will desire heaven. Afte all, Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:21).
Perhaps it’s time some of us consider “roughing it” for a change. Trying to make this wilderness-life as cozy as possible is a losing battle. The wilderness-life is not supposed to be a bed of roses. Nor is it supposed to last forever. It is a test of our faith and endurance (Deut. 8:2). As Gary Henry put it, “The less luxurious your tent, the more you’ll yearn for home.” That truth should give us a new perspective on our suffering and our living hope of the resurrection!
Some of the greatest stories of love and heroism are true stories in times of war. In moments of intense danger and terror some rise to the occasion in tremendous acts of self-giving love inspiring others to do the same.
Captain William Swenson is one such hero who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on September 8, 2009. He and his men were tasked with defending a group of Afghan government officials who were to meet with local village elders. The group was ambushed and came under heavy fire on three sides. Among many other things, Cpt. Swenson was recognized for running into live fire to rescue the wounded and pull out the dead. By sheer coincidence, one of the medics had a GoPro camera mounted on his helmet, capturing the whole scene on video. Cpt. Swenson was seen dragging a soldier who was shot in the neck to a helicopter when, just before leaving the man to rescue others, the captain bent over and kissed the wounded sergeant.
Stories like these impress upon us the great potential for love within all of us. These are the moments when God’s image (Gen. 1:26) is most clearly reflected in us. We are surrounded with plenty of examples of humans doing their worst but what makes the best come out in these heroes? Are they just better people than the rest of us?
I don’t think soldiers are inherently better people than civilians. Rather, it is the environment of loyalty, trust and sacrificial leadership that inspires this kind of godly behavior in their comrades. It is no surprise, then, that the Biblical authors compare being a disciple of Christ with being a soldier in the military (1 Cor. 9:7; Phil. 2:25; 2 Tim. 2:1ff).
In the military, awards are given to people who sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others. In contrast, in the business world, bonuses are given to people who sacrifice others to benefit themselves! The difference is the attitude of service and devotion in the military compared to the me-first model in the business world. People are capable of great evil or great good depending on their attitude and their environment.
When war heroes are asked why they risked so much for others their answer is always the same: “They would have done the same for me.” So, in the military there is a deep sense of trust, loyalty and cooperation.
In physical battle there are dangers that threaten our existence all around. Our spiritual lives are also a battle (1 Tim. 1:18; 1 Pet. 2:11). There must be a circle of safety and trust where we cooperate to warn one another of impending danger and to come to one another’s aid. God’s model for this environment of spiritual safety and growth is the church (Eph. 4).
For others to become what God created them to be requires a positive example. People need to see the good in others for them to see the potential for good in themselves. We have the ultimate example in Christ (1 Pet. 2:21) but we also have examples of mature Christians who are further along in their spiritual journey of discipleship (1 Tim. 3; 1 Pet. 5).
Leadership among God’s people is not a promotion or the acquisition of a title to lord one’s authority over another (Mt. 20:25-28). Leadership is all about positive, inspiring influence (Mt. 5:13). Leaders in the church lead by following Christ. Following Christ means serving others. Serving others means that we “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3-4ff) That’s what Christ did for us so that we can do the same for others.