A Christian’s one-and-only hope is Christ, who may permit him to bare, in his heart (and sometimes in his body), a modicum of His sufferings. Those things, which His death and Resurrection will one day eradicate, may still plague him for a time. A great mystery of the new covenant is its efficiency. In Christ, nothing is lost, especially suffering. Even when a cause of suffering is not removed, it can be redeemed for eternity.
In the swirling winds of man’s existence, he is bruised and slammed by a hundred assailants from within and without. The particular danger of western culture is that we have 99 firewalls between our legions of perceived threats and ourselves. We can easily retreat into any one of them and insulate ourselves from the heat. But is this wisdom? Perhaps we should pause and ask, “Are these sling and arrows our friends or our enemies—or both?” When in doubt, consult an apostle:
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. I Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB)
The soul conditioned in western culture recoils, “What are you saying Paul? You must be insane. I cannot rejoice in everything—because everything includes evil. Look around, you fool. Do you not see evil robbing and killing and destroying us on every front? Evil is crouching at our doorstep, just waiting to devour us.” Paul replies, “You are mistaken. Let me tell you how to redeem your mourning.” Let’s back up and capture the larger framework of Paul’s rejoice-always council:
We don’t really know when Jesus is coming back do we? All we can say for sure is that it will be without warning. Very much like a woman in travail, a few contractions and the child will be crying in her arms! However, as children of a new dawn, it should be quite different for you. The sun of a new kingdom has already arisen in your hearts. You have been awakened. Remain so. Protect your heart with the realty of Christ’s presence in you. Faith and love will flow from you as you do. God’s anger is off the table for you. Whether you are present in body or not, a banquet has been prepared at your table. Christ, your abundant Life, is the main course. Continue to encourage each other with these realities, born of your new dawn. (My paraphrase of I Thessalonians 5:1-11)
Let’s explore the balance of our passage in the same light:
Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass. I Thessalonians 5:19-24 (NASB)
Most evangelical Christian’s eyes cross and blood pressures rise if you use the phrase prophetic utterances. Most of their teachers have told them that prophecy was one of the childish gifts entrusted to primitive Christians before scholarly officials could gather and place their imprimatur on a canon of ancient literature. Even though I understand this, I’m not buying it.
I have seen a person deliver a prophetic utterance while it appeared they had been hooked up to a 440 volt current. (I would call this ecstatic.) I have seen variations of this all the way down to 9 volts. (I think of this frequency as tremolo.) Most of the prophetic voices I know seem to have no current beyond the Holy Spirit stimulating the substance of their words. (I call this normative and wise.) Anyway, I try and dismiss the current and hold on to the content. My evangelical friends and family are certain this sort of thing is at best fleshly and likely demonic. I’m not sure what they would say if it they saw real tongues of fire. I suspect they would defer to McArthur on that.
Can we not agree together that it was expedient that the Spirit was left on the earth to do more than just say, “Amen” to us when the Bible is read? Can we not all agree that heavenly truth is beyond the grasp of our natural minds? After all, heaven is at least a mile or two above the plane of our human thought. Is it really all that crazy to imagine that it might be despised when it is heard, alien as it were, to our world-conditioned ears. The Holy Spirit remains the ladder between that eternal realm and our temporal one. We should listen to those who know they sit with Christ in heavenly places and are walking in the Spirit, moving in overlapping realms. The words that have formed in their hearts are unavoidably prophetic utterances.
My council is to observe the vessel. Do their lives bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit? What is going on in their families? Do their utterances align with scripture? Did their words offend a fleshly agenda or worldly viewpoint? Did their words have the impact of a question mark—an exclamation point? How about a highlighter? These are not childish words then. Hold on to what they say; these are words to be held in the heart as Mary held Gabriel’s. Prophetic utterances are compliments to the inner workings of God’s Word and Spirit in our hearts. Paul wished we would be inundated with them:
Desire…especially that you may prophesy… One who prophesies edifies the church… I wish that all would prophesy that the church may receive edification… Seek (that prophecy might) abound for the edification of the church. In the church I desire to speak five words (prophetically) with my mind so that I may instruct others… (A condensing of I Corinthians 14:1-9 in the NASB, less Paul’s instructions on tongues)
Here’s the deal according to Paul (and I concur):
Hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
So be it, Lord!