Longing to Hear God speak
by Jack Wald | February 23rd, 2020

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

At the end of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church, he writes short exhortations and we could preach on each of those for the next month. But because we have preached about most of those topics in other sermons, I am going to pass over most of those exhortations and focus on one I have not preached on, at least not directly.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil. 

Why not quench the Spirit? Who is the Spirit? Is the Spirit a messenger from God who tells us what God wants us to know? Absolutely not! The Spirit is God.

There are some incredibly amazing truths about our faith in Jesus. One is that God became flesh, was born as a Hebrew baby boy in Bethlehem. Another is that God died on the cross and Jesus was separated from his eternal relationship with the Father and the Spirit. As Jesus died on the cross he cried out, (Mark 15:34)
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

A third incredibly amazing truth is that God has made the bodies of his followers his temple where he dwells on earth. The Ark of the Covenant God instructed Moses to build in the wilderness is where God dwelt. When Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, the most holy part of the temple was the inner sanctuary where the Ark of the Covenant was placed and where God’s presence appeared. It was so holy that only the high priest was permitted to enter and that only once a year to make atonement for the sins of Israel.

But now, we are the temple where God dwells. We are the inner sanctuary of the temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16)
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?

When we pray, we don’t have to wait for our prayer to make its way up to God and then wait for the answer to return. As Dallas Willard writes, “God is as present with us as the air we breathe.” God is present in us.

How does God work in our lives? God works in us through the Spirit. Let me run through, as briefly as possible, all that the Spirit does in our lives.

  1. The Holy Spirit is a helper who teaches us. (John 14:26)
    But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
  2. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin. (John 16:8)
    When [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:
  3. The Holy Spirit is a source of revelation, wisdom, and power.

God gives his followers the Holy Spirit so that we may know him better. Since the Holy Spirit is God, he knows the thoughts of God and reveals those thoughts to believers. The Holy Spirit opens believers’ eyes to the hope of salvation and the inheritance they have in Christ.

What we do in our own strength has limited effect. But it is the power of God in us that makes what we do have great significance. Christians have access to power, revelation and wisdom from the Holy Spirit, just as Paul wrote to believers in Ephesus, (Ephesians 1:17-20)
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.”

  1. The Holy Spirit guides us to all truth, including knowledge of what is to come. (John 16:13)
    “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
  2. The Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to believers. We read about this in Paul’s letters: Romans, Ephesians, and Corinthians.
  3. The Holy Spirit is a seal in the lives of believers.

In the ancient world, a seal was a “legal signature” attesting ownership and validating what was sealed. The Holy Spirit is our mark of adoption as God’s children. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to his followers so that they could be confident in their salvation. (Ephesians 1:13)
“When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

  1. The Spirit helps in a Christian’s weakness and intercedes for them. (Romans 8:26-27)
    “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
  2. The Holy Spirit makes believers new and gives them eternal life.

The Holy Spirit works in the lives of believers to renew, sanctify, and make us holy. Just as the Holy Spirit raised Christ from the dead, the Holy Spirit will give eternal life to believers in Christ. (Romans 8:10-11)
“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you”.

  1. The Holy Spirit sanctifies and enables believers to bear good fruit in their lives.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit, with our cooperation, that transforms us into the holy beings God means for us to be. As we work with the Holy Spirit, our lives become more and more characterized by the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-25.

In light of all that the Spirit does in our lives, who in their right mind would want to quench the spirit? What does quench mean?

When you camp in the woods and are about to leave your campsite, you quench the fire you used to cook and keep warm so you don’t cause a forest fire. How do you quench the fire? You take a stick and scatter the coals, making sure they are not still burning. You put water on it. You might throw some dirt on the ashes. You want to make sure the fire does not start up again.

This is the opposite of what Paul encouraged Timothy to do. (2 Timothy 1:6)
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

We want to be more and more on fire, not having a smoldering spiritual life. To quench the Spirit is to block God’s work in our lives.

Does God speak to us?

God spoke to Abraham. He spoke to Moses. He spoke to Samuel. He spoke to the prophets. And most powerfully, God spoke to us through Jesus. (Hebrews 1:1–2)
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

God still speaks to us. How does God speak to us?

It has been a long time since we have had the Alpha Course at RIC and I would love to do this again. The Alpha Course is a great opportunity for people who are curious about Christian faith to explore what Christians believe. It is also a great course for followers of Jesus to be reminded of what it is they believe and how what they believe can be communicated to others. (Let me know if you would be interested in doing this course with me.)

In this course, Nicky Gumbel, the teacher for the course, talks in one session about how God speaks to us. He talks about the 5Cs.

We are led by Commanding Scripture. Scripture leads us in many cases into what we should do. It teaches us how to live a life that is pleasing to God.

We are led by a Compelling Spirit. When we read the Bible the Spirit gives life to a particular verse that instructs us, comforts us, guides us. The Spirit feeds us ideas when we prepare a Kids’ Church lesson or prepare a sermon or a Bible Study or what to say to someone who needs encouragement and advice.

The Spirit speaks into our lives and guides us. The tragedy is that most of the time we are not listening. But even so, the Holy Spirit continues to speak to us, encouraging us to follow a path that will lead to God. We can receive a sense that a particular decision is the right decision for us to make.

We are expected to use our Common Sense. God gave us a mind and we are expected to use it to make good decisions. We can make a list of pros and cons for the choices we face and come to good conclusions.

We are expected to seek the Counsel of the Saints, which means asking for advice from other Christians. There is a wealth of experience and knowledge in the body of Christ. Your brothers and sisters in Christ have learned a path of obedience and can help you as you make your way.

And Nicky Gumbel says, we are to pay attention to Circumstantial Signs. God uses circumstances to lead us and direct us. If you think you should marry a certain woman but she says no, that is a pretty clear sign. Daniel Defoe in his book, Robinson Crusoe, says we need to pay attention to the little details of life because that is how God often leads us.

God is not limited in how he speaks to us and what is clear is that God wants to speak to us. He has a lot to say to us. The question is: are we willing to listen.

Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil. 

What is prophecy?

Prophecy is a gift of the Holy Spirit and depending on your theological background, this gift is defined differently.

So let’s go to the Old and New Testaments and see what they say about prophets.

Old Testament prophets spoke the messages they received from God. They spoke to contemporary situations, giving advice to kings about how they should respond in times of crises. They also spoke of things that would not be fulfilled for hundreds of years. They spoke of the Messiah who would come. They spoke of the destruction of Israel and the capture of Jerusalem. Jeremiah sent a message to the Jews living in exile in Babylon that they would be there for a long time, so they should settle down, work hard, marry, and build homes.

The New Testament covers a much shorter period of time but here too there were prophets and those who spoke prophetic words.

In the New Testament, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, prophesied about Mary and her unborn child. Her husband, Zechariah, prophesied at the naming of his son, John. Simeon prophesied at the purification of Jesus in the temple. Anna also prophesied at the same time. John the Baptist was considered a prophet and he spoke of the Messiah who was to come, not knowing that he was speaking of his cousin, Jesus.

In the early church, Agabus predicted a famine in Jerusalem. Agabus also prophesied that Paul would be taken prisoner in Jerusalem. Judas and Silas in the church in Antioch were viewed as prophets. The four daughters of Philip the evangelist prophesied.

If you come from an evangelical background, prophecy will be understood as preaching and this is partially true. So one definition of prophecy from this theological perspective says: Prophecy is speaking what God wants said with clarity, creativity, and power. It is also called the gift of preaching. The primary ministry in this gift is not prediction, but in confronting people with the truth about God and man–with conviction and repentance as the result. It enables the person to speak forth the message of God to His people.

But this definition does not include the prophetic gift of prophets in the Old or New Testaments that looked into the future. So a definition of the gift of prophecy from a charismatic or Pentecostal theological background says:
The gift of prophecy is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the Body of Christ to receive and communicate an immediate message of God to His people through a divinely anointed utterance.

Prophecy is both of these, not one or the other.

Why do those from an evangelical background minimize or reject the prophetic gift of speaking messages that come from God? (I am going to speak as someone who grew as a follower of Jesus in an evangelical world and if you identify as an evangelical, please don’t take offense. What I say will not apply to all who identify as evangelicals. I am speaking very broadly here.)

One reason prophecy is not viewed positively by evangelicals is because there has been so much abuse with the gift of prophecy. There have been so many prominent Christian leaders who have prophesied about what is going to happen and most of them did not happen. The history of the church is full of men and women who built up large followings of Christians who believed that their leader was right when he or she prophesied when Jesus would return.

Hal Lindsey wrote a book, The Late Great Planet Earth, in 1970, a year before I became a follower of Jesus. It has sold 28,000,000 copies and one of those copies is mine. Lindsey predicted that Jesus would return in the 1980s, which did not happen. He continued to make new prophetic announcements over the years. He is now 90 years old and still waiting, as we all are, for the return of Jesus.

There are so many people like Lindsey that we distrust those who prophesy.

A second reason evangelicals distrust prophecy is because we see people who call themselves prophets using that title to promote themselves. They present themselves as special and anointed leaders who should be honored and respected because they know what no one else knows. They stand above others because of the gift they claim to have.

A third reason evangelicals distrust prophecy is because they fear losing control. Evangelicals distrust not only prophecy but also the other, so-called, charismatic gifts. Some evangelicals distrust speaking in tongues because they can’t understand what is being said.

When a preacher tells everyone “Say this with me,” I rarely do. I want to think about what I say before I say it. If I were to speak in tongues, I would not know what I was saying. As an evangelical it is much safer to stand on the Word of God in the Bible.

(But I need to add that many people read what is in the Bible and misunderstand what is being said, misapply what they read, and end up abusing the Word of God rather than hearing God speak through what they read. So how much safer is that?)

I read this in an article about why people resist the “charismatic gifts.”
“A lot of people are very uncomfortable with these sorts of things. They’d rather go to church and sing a couple songs, hear a good sermon based on the Bible, sing another song, clap their hands, and go home. But the idea that God, the Holy Spirit, might break in and our schedule be interrupted or extended can be fearful to many people.”

In response to these reasons evangelicals mistrust prophecy, let me say that it is true that prophecy and other of the charismatic gifts are abused. There is plenty of evidence for that. But so are the other gifts of the Spirit abused. How many people with the gift of preaching use it to dominate and control their congregation? How many people with the gift of leadership use it to build their own little empire with themselves on the throne? How many people with the gift of caring or helps use that gift to control others in the church? They talk about how much they do for the church and so the church better listen to them.

It’s not the fault of the Spirit if people misuse the gift he gives them. If I give someone a ball and they kick it inside the house breaking a window, is it my fault that I gave them the ball? The ball is still a good gift; it just needs to be played with properly.

We don’t reject the gifts of preaching and teaching because there are bad preachers and bad teachers. Why should we reject the gifts of tongues, words of knowledge, and prophecy because those gifts are misused?

There are prophets in the Bible, but there are also false prophets – just as there were preachers who were leading the Corinthian church into heresy. Paul had to contend with false preachers, false teachers, false prophets.

It is speculated that the reason Paul gives this exhortation at the end of his letter is because there were prophecies being made in Thessalonica about the return of Jesus – and not all these prophecies were helpful. This was a problem in the early church. Paul wrote to Timothy and warned him about false teachers. (2 Timothy 2:17–18)
Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.

Peter warned the church, (2 Peter 2:1)
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.

John also warned the church, (1 John 4:1)
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

So Paul writes:
Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

Test the prophecies. Is the prophecy from God, from the devil, or is it the invention of the one who wants to be a prophet?

When I think about how to handle prophecy, I go to an incident in the life of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was in prison because he had prophesied that Jerusalem would be taken by the Babylonians (a message the king thought was traitorous). While there, he received a prophecy. (Jeremiah 32:6–9)
Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me: 7 Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.’
8 “Then, just as the Lord had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.’
“I knew that this was the word of the Lord; 9 so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver.

This tells me that a prophecy needs to be held loosely in our hands, waiting to see if this is indeed a word from the Lord. Jeremiah knew it was a word from the Lord when his cousin came to him in prison. Prophecy must be tested – to see what is good and what is evil. If it is good, hold on to it. If it is evil, reject it.

The same is true of preaching. Paul had to leave Thessalonica and went south to Berea where he preached and I love the reaction of the Bereans to his preaching. (Acts 17:11–12)
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

We are never to be blind followers. We are responsible to examine the Scriptures and see if the teaching, preaching, word of knowledge, or prophecy is indeed from the Lord.

I’m out of time and there is so much more that needs to be said about this. I will put some books to read in the RICEmail this week if you want to go further into understanding the gift of prophecy.

The gifts of the Spirit are to be used with humility. They are given to build up the body of Christ, not the one using the gift. When you see someone drawing attention to themselves as the one who is doing a great thing, be suspicious of what they say and what they do. If you can not imagine Jesus acting that way, it is a good indication the person is using the gift in a harmful way.

A few years ago RIC was asked to host a group from the US who came to have a weekend conference. The leaders of the team brought students from their school so they could have practice using the gifts of healing, words of knowledge, and prophecy. I was uncomfortable with this group and a couple times almost went to the front and stopped what they were doing. They were manipulative, trying too hard to make their gifts work, and humility was noticeably absent.

One young woman stood up and said, “Hi, my name is _. Most people think I am a third year student but I am only a first year student.” And then she proceeded to talk about how angels in heaven work. She went on and on and nothing she said came from the Bible. I talked to the leaders that night, who were staying in my home, and told them why this was upsetting to me. They were defensive. I resolved to never again allow this group to come to RIC. What they did gives prophecy and healing and words of knowledge a bad name.

When my daughters were teenagers we visited a Vineyard Church outside of Boston. They were meeting in a gymnasium. There was enthusiastic singing, people waving banners as part of worship. And then the pastor had the elders sit on the edge of the stage and each one had to have a word of knowledge about someone who needed healing. I think I have the gift of discernment and it was clear to me that some of these men and women felt obligated to say something. So one man talked about someone needing healing in a little toe. It was embarrassing for me to hear this. I have great respect for the Vineyard Church but this branch was clearly trying to simulate what other Vineyard churches did and pastor was trying to force the gifts to operate in people who may or may not have had the gift.

On the other hand, I have been at services where the gift of prophecy was used in a healthy way. I visited the church my sister attended three or four times. During the worship service there was time for people to speak out with words of prophecy. Five to ten people would speak out, some reading from Scripture, some speaking a message they received. At the end, a member of the church who was a dentist summarized what he thought God was trying to tell the church community. On the Sundays I visited, there were no prophecies about what was to come, but the words were encouraging. There may have been people who wanted to stand up and say something without having a word from the Lord, but the dentist controlled what was shared with his gift of discernment.

I have a Moroccan friend who has the gift of prophecy. In 2009 he prophesied that there would be seven years of spiritual famine in Morocco which would be followed by seven years of spiritual feasting. The year after this prophecy more than 150 foreign followers of Jesus were deported and the Moroccan house church members were interrogated. Most of the house churches stopped meeting.

Now, in the last few years, there has been a significant increase in the number of Moroccans becoming followers of Jesus. It seems to me that this was a message from the Lord.

My friend has other prophetic messages and what I love about him is that he holds his gifts with humility. He does not try to puff himself up. He uses his gifts to build the body of Christ.

Here is what I want you to take away from the sermon this morning. I want you to grow in your hunger to hear God speak to you. In the words of one of the songs we sang before the sermon, “Is anyone thirsty? Anyone?”

I want you to surrender to Jesus and not hold anything back. God wants to speak to you. He will speak through the Bible. He will speak to you through brothers and sisters in Christ. He will speak to you through the common sense he gave you. He will speak to you through circumstances. And he will speak to you through the Holy Spirit. In fact, it is the Holy Spirit who will help you to understand the scriptures you read, help you to sort out the wisdom you receive from others, help you to evaluate the pros and cons of a decision, help you to see his will in the circumstances of your life.

I want you to be open to all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Don’t block the work of the Holy Spirit by limiting how you will allow him to work in your life. Don’t let your theological background limit what the Holy Spirit can do in your life.

Trust God to not give you a snake if you ask for a fish or a stone if you ask for bread. God loves you and will not give you anything that will be harmful to you.

I have prayed to have the gift of words of knowledge. It would be wonderful to encourage someone by hearing a message that speaks to something personal in their life. It tells them that God is aware of them, that God loves them. I don’t have this gift but appreciate others who do have this gift and use it to bless others.

I want to see us grow in the use of the gifts God has given to us. If you have the gift of prophecy and have a message to share with us, speak to me or to Pastor Elliot. We want to hear what God has to say to us. We want to be encouraged. We need to be encouraged.

I am not afraid of God being in control, but I do not want an inauthentic experience with God. I want the real thing.

I love this prayer of Charles Spurgeon who was a leading preacher in England at the end of the nineteenth century. He wrote this prayer for revival. You can pray this with me if you would like.

A PRAYER FOR REVIVAL

“O God, send us the Holy Spirit! Give us both the breath of spiritual life and the fire of unconquerable zeal. O You are our God, answer us by fire, we pray You! Answer us both by wind and fire, and then we shall see You to be God indeed. The kingdom comes not, and the work is flagging. Oh, that you would send the wind and the fire! You will do this when we are all of one accord, all believing, all expecting, all prepared by prayer.

Lord, bring us to this waiting state! God, send us a season of glorious disorder. Oh, for a sweep of the wind that will set the seas in motion, and make our ironclad brethren, now lying so quietly at anchor, to roll from stem to stern!

Oh, for the fire to fall again – fire which shall affect the most stolid! Oh, that such fire might first set upon the disciples, and then fall on all around! O God, You are ready to work with us today even as You did then. Stay not, we beseech You, but work at once.

Break down every barrier that hinders the incoming of Your might! Give us now both hearts of flame and tongues of fire to preach Your reconciling word, for Jesus’ sake! Amen!”

C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)