'Living as the prophetic people of God': How should we approach this subject? We could embark on a lengthy discussion, centred on the question, "What is prophecy?" Here, I will suggest a general definition of prophecy, and then proceed to consider the principal connections between prophecy and the Christian life.
We may begin with two sentences from the 'Editorial Policy Statement' of the magazine, "Prophecy Today": "We define prophecy as the forthtelling of the Word of God ... Through the Holy Spirit the written Word of God of yesterday becomes the living Word of today."
When a fellow-member was leaving the Presbytery of Dunfermline, I was invited to speak on his behalf. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Dunfermline Athletic ('The Pars'). I used the letters P-A-R-S to characterize his ministry as Preaching Anointed by the Renewing Spirit.
What do we mean when we speak of this 'anointing'? Leonard Ravenhill, in the opening chapter of his book, "Why Revival Tarries" says two things - first, it is impossible to give a precise definition of this 'anointing'; second, make sure that you have this 'anointing'.
We cannot take this 'anointing' for granted. It comes from above, from the renewing Spirit. It comes from the Lord, whose "mercies ... are new every morning" (Lamentations 3:22-23). We trust in His "great faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:23), but we dare not presume upon this 'anointing'.
What are the principal connections between prophecy and the Christian life? What features can we expect to find in "preaching anointed by the renewing Spirit"? Basing our thoughts on 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 and 1 Corinthians 14:3, let me suggest five significant features: (1) Conviction; (2) Conversion; (3) Confirmation; (4) Courage; (5) Comfort.
Where the Word of God is proclaimed with a prophetic edge, there will be conviction (1 Corinthians 14:24). This is more than the work of the 'preacher'. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, and He works through 'the whole Church', through 'all' (1 Corinthians 14:23-24). The convicting power of the Holy Spirit is most mightily at work where the whole Church is conscious of its corporate calling to be 'the prophet to the world'.
What kind of preaching brings 'conviction'? In John 16:8, Jesus says, "When He (the Holy Spirit) comes, He will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment". Where these realities - sin, righteousness and judgment - are taken seriously by those who preach the Word and those who hear it, there we can look, in humble faith, to the Spirit to exercise His ministry of conviction.
God's purpose is that conviction should lead to conversion. We are to pray that the "unbeliever" will not only be convicted but also converted (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). Where the Biblical teaching concerning conversion is taken seriously by preachers and their hearers, there will be earnest prayer for the working of the Spirit in bringing men and women to faith in Christ. The essence of true conversion is described in 1 Corinthians 14:25 - "He will worship God". Where such worship is truly inspired by the convicting and converting Spirit, it will be offered with confession of our sin and rejoicing in God's salvation. This is where the Christian life begins. The convicting and converting Spirit brings us to an end of ourselves and the beginning of new life in Christ. If preaching is to retain its prophetic edge, the call to conversion must be heard.
"He who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding" (1 Corinthians 14:3). those who have been converted need to be confirmed in their new-found faith. In Christ, we are called to "safety, certainty and enjoyment". If we are to enjoy Jesus Christ, we need to grow in our assurance of His salvation. Scripture encourages us to "draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith" (Hebrews 10:22). This assurance grows in us as we rest in "the promises of God" (2 Corinthians 1:20). Through the working of "His Holy Spirit in our hearts", we grow strong in the conviction that "God is faithful" (2 Corinthians 1:20). The strengthening of our faith leads to joy - "the joy of the Lord (which) is our strength" (Nehemiah 8:10). Preaching, which is anointed by the renewing Spirit, will not rest content with getting people started in the Christian life. Its aim will be to lead God's people on to "mature manhood" (Ephesians 4:13) by letting "the Spirit of the Lord" do His work of revealing Christ to us, and making us more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
"He who prophesies speaks to men for their ... encouragement" (1 Corinthians 14:3). At the heart of the word 'encouragement' is the word 'courage'. Prophetic ministry requires courage. It calls for courageous speaking and courageous living. The "word of exhortation" must be spoken (Hebrews 13:22). The word of warning must be spoken, together with the word of promise. The ministry of "encouraging one another" is to be exercised by every believer (Hebrews 10:25). We are to speak prophetically to one another, speaking out of a growing awareness that "the day is drawing near" (Hebrews 10:25). This is the ministry of "encouraging one another", confronting one another with the challenge of living with courage, as those who are "not ashamed of the gospel" (Romans 1:16). This ministry consists not only of the 'speaking' we associate with preaching. It consists also - and primarily - of the 'speaking' of the whole life, the life that is committed to being the people of God and doing the will of God.
A prophetic ministry, which brings courage to God's people, will alert its hearers to the fact of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:12). Together with the call to "be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might", the the call to "put on the whole armour of God" (Ephesians 6:10-11), there will be the encouraging declaration that God Himself has "put on righteousness as a breastplate and a helmet of salvation upon His head" (Isaiah 59:17). To know that God Himself fights with them in this spiritual warfare gives the Lord;s people the confidence to take their stand on "the heritage of the servants of the Lord": "No weapon that is fashioned against you shall prosper" (Isaiah 54:17).
"He who prophesies speaks to men for their ... consolation" (1 Corinthians 14:3). The word 'consolation' carries our minds in the direction of the 'consolation prize'. That's one step removed from the 'booby prize'! Prophetic ministry directs our attention to the greatest prize of all - "the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14). With such a glorious prize in our view, we are given every incentive to "press on toward the goal" (Philippians 3:14). The link between consolation and courage is found in the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter (John 14:16, AV). William Barclay makes some helpful observations regarding this word, 'Comforter': "The word 'Comforter' has in it the Latin adjective 'fortis', which means 'brave' ... A comforter was one who puts courage into a man". Not forgetting how great a function of the Holy Spirit comfort - in the modern sense of the word - is, Barclay insists that "to limit the function of the Holy Spirit to that, takes much of the strength and iron ... out of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit". Barclay advises us to take care with our use of "the word 'Comforter' since it is very apt to make the Holy Spirit the refuge of age rather than the inspiration of youth, the consoler of the sad rather than the spur and stimulus to prophetic living. This is our high calling. We are to live prophetically, as men and women whose lives embody the relevance of God's Word for today's world.
"Living as the prophetic people of God": We speak here not only of prophetic preaching but also - and more importantly - of prophetic living. The preaching emerges from the living. If it does not, it cannot and will not be prophetic. If the Church is to be the prophet to the world we must live God's way and not the world's way. "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within ... " (Romans 12:2, J B Phillips).
* The world does not take sin seriously. It may not be popular, but we must persist in asking the question: "Whatever happened to sin?" (John Hesselink). Today's world cannot really be understood without reference to the divine declaration: "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness" (Romans 1:18).
* The world dismisses the 'born again' as fanatical extremists. When we hear this kind of thing, we must remember that it was our Lord Jesus Christ who said, - "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Whatever the world may think about us and say about us, we must take our stand with Him. We must continue to issue the great challenge that was first given out by Jesus, our Saviour: "You must be born again" (John 3:7).
* The world challenges us, "How do you know?" We may be dismissed as arrogant authoritarians. However the world may regard us, we must take our stand on God's Word. Standing on His promises doesn't mean that we must speak with arrogance. It does, however, mean that we can speak with assurance. We do not speak on the basis of our own 'authoritarian personality'. We stand upon the divine authority of God's Word, the "more sure word of prophecy" in which "men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:19-21).
* The world may look upon us as if we are "touched", "beside ourselves" (2 Corinthians 5:13). With boldness, we reply, "Yes, we have been touched - by the Lord": "He touched my mouth and said, 'Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin is forgiven" . Touched by the Lord, we receive courage to accept our prophetic calling - "Here am I, send me!" (Isaiah 6:6-7).
* The world may write us off as hopelessly out-of-touch. 'Live in the real world', they tell us. We feel the pressure to conform. Alongside this pressure to conform to the world, there is a presence within our lives, a presence which has brought us into contact with another world, a world of grace, a world of glory. This powerful presence - the presence of the Holy Spirit - strengthens us in our experience of being "delivered ... from this present evil world" (Galatians 1:4). and our hope of of being "welcomed into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:11). As a prophetic people , we are to live as a people of hope, a people who long for a "better country - a heavenly one", living not only for "the secular city" (Harvey Cox) but for "the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:16,10).
"Where are the prophets now, when we need them so desperately? Who will step out from the crowd and be strong enough to lead?" (Steve Camp).
"Christian Irishman", June 1996