Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22)
These words might as well have been written for our time, and seem to aptly describe the daily pressure every believer faces in the light of end-time deception. But it’s also encouraging, because it conveys a sense that the early churches faced similar challenges, so much so that Paul felt it necessary to amonish and guide them in their response to the ‘supernatural’ things that they encountered.
The reality is that, where the Spirit of God is working, the enemy will always seek to provide a counterfeit in order to deceive, and to turn believers away for the true manifestation and power of God at work. Now, more than ever, as apostacy increases and as the world embraces ever-increasing evil and godless behaviour, these words emphasise the fine line we need to walk between recognising and welcoming the move of God among us, and recognising and rejecting the work of the enemy or the flesh among us.
We need to remember that Satan is not responsible for each and every deception we may encounter. This is important, because the Bible does warn us that we sometimes deceive ourselves. We may, for example, truly desire to see God move among us. We may truly desire to see Him work in us and our church. This is not inherently wrong. What is dangerous, however, is when we measure God only by manifestations, i.e. when we seek the signs and wonders we imagine should accompany His working instead of the God who performs the work. At this point, the needs of the flesh for self-gratification – emotional experience – take control, and it is incredibly easy to be deceived from this point onwards.
This is a critical issue facing believers and the church today. I have absolutely no doubt that God is able, and often willing, to perform the most incredible, incomprehensible, life-changing signs and wonders should He wish to do so. I also believe utterly and completely that He is able to speak through prophecy, and that this is, now more than ever, a vital gift for His church and for every believer. What we so easily lose sight of, however, is that these things are always a confirmation of His Word. Any sign or wonder, or prophetic utterance, will confirm and align with His Word, both the Scriptures and that rhema word that He has spoken directly to a particular person.
Today’s verse aptly paints two pictures that are both prevalent in our churches. On one hand, there are those who view everything with suspicion to the point that they won’t tolerate anything that even resembles the supernatural working of God. In shutting themselves off from God’s power, they effectively quench the Spirt and despise prophecy. They limit themselves, therefore, to faith that has form but not substance, because, ironically, it is the Spirit of God that imparts life. Shutting off life ultimately leads to a slow death. We cannot grow and bear fruit without the life-imparting ‘sap’ of the Holy Spirit flowing and working continually though and in us.
The other extreme, of course, is the one we’ve already touched on – an obsession with the ‘supernatural’ workings of God without proper grounding in the practical truth and self-surrendering walk with the Spirit. Immersing ourself entirely in supernatural experience and gratification inevitably leads to deception because, at some point, we will be moving entirely in the flesh. What we feel becomes more important than wisdom and truth. Ironically, this extreme also results in quenching the Spirit and despising true prophecy.
This may seem contradictory, but a focus on feeling and experience effectively shuts off the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit. We should remember that He is the Spirit that leads us into all truth, i.e. into the Word. The Spirit does nothing without the Word, and they cannot be separated. The Word is the spoken nature, character, will and purpose of God, and the Spirit is the power of God that fulfills it. Both require something from the true believer – humility and submission. Yieldedness involves a laying down of self, a surrender to both Word and Spirit, an acknowledgement that God is sovereign and that all His works are to our good – a good that does not always include a ‘supernatural validation of self’ that so often accompanies counterfeit ‘moves of the Spirit.’
To understand this better, it’s good to look at the fundamental purpose of prophecy – which, in effect, is the Word of God spoken through the spiritual, supernatural empowerment of the Spirit. There is no doubt that prophecy is a vital, necessary part of a life of faith. God has always desired and willed to speak to His people, and that will never change. We are told that it’s purpose is to exhort, encourage, guide and challenge God’s people, and also to verify and confirm the Word and will of God. Inherent in all of these is one single, underlying purpose: to bring people into a deeper relationship with God.
There is a prevalence among believers to include an element of ‘foretelling’ in prophecy, i.e. revealing the future. I believe this to be the most dangerous aspect of ‘modern’ Christian prophecy because it preys on one of the most powerful human emotions: fear. Mankind has always had an almost superstitious fear of the future which explains the fascination with clairvoyants, mediums, witchcraft and self-designated prophets. Those who could reputedly see – and provide solutions for how to control – the future have always been a magnet for humanity.
While it cannot be disputed that the Old Testament prophets, Jesus Himself, and others, particularly the book of Revelation, undoubtedly provide prophetic revelation of future events, the Bible states emphatically that nothing can or should be either removed from or added to the written Word of God. God may, according to His sovereign purpose, raise up prophets today who are called to speak a particular revelation, but it will not be the ‘norm’ and will never, ever contradict the Word, nor claim any ‘new’ revelation.
In other words, it will always be based on what already is contained in the Word of God and will provide guidance or understanding in a particular situation. It is critical that we understand this. If we don’t grasp this truth and hold on tight, we run the risk of being swept away by the ‘foretelling’ that seems so prevalent in the church at the moment – deceptive clairvoyance that seldom, if ever, finds confirmation in the fulfillment of the predictions.
We are warned, in today’s verse, to test everything, to hold fast to what is good, and to abstain from every form of evil. With so many contradictory opinions, teachings and practices within the modern-day church, how do we do this? The answer lies in properly understanding what it means to ‘bring people into a deeper relationship with God.’ A look at the purpose of prophecy and the supernatural working of God throughout the Bible reveals an abiding truth. God’s primary purpose is not to make us feel good, it’s to make us good. Every single prophetic utterance throughout Scripture is grounded in this principle. They all issue a call to repentance, obedience and surrender.
This is our ‘measuring rod’ for all things spiritual. Does it make us good or make us feel good? Does it bring us into a place of repentance, humility, obedience and surrender? This is the only way to a deeper relationship with God. It’s important to understand that being ‘made good’ is only possible through the supernatural working of God in and through us. We cannot do it ourselves. It is also a wonderful testimony of grace that real righteousness through saving grace will inevitably make us feel good, but it is a spirit experience rather than a fleshly emotional experience. It is the joy of the Lord, an overflow of the life within us, rather than an an emotional ‘high’ that fades and leaves us, at best, unchanged or, at worst, hungering not for God but for the next ‘high.’
The purpose for which we were created is for deep, intimate fellowship with God for His praise and glory. We are to live in the Spirit, not the flesh. Our bodies are simply the house, the place in which we live, and our thoughts and emotions the ‘furnishings and gadgets’ – those things that we are given in order to facilitate our living and entering into the life we have in Christ. They are to be subject to the Spirit – the ‘real’ person who lives and participates in life through union with the Creator. For that reason we are to hold fast to what we have – salvation, sonship, fellowship and truth, the Word of God and the Spirit of God – so that we do not lose the crown when Christ returns.
A sobering thought. When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on earth? Or will He find a people whose entire focus is on self, a people who have scorned the truth in favour of satisfying themselves? We are called to walk the straight and narrow way, the ‘unnatural’ way of Calvary. We are called to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. That is the defining principle. Only then will ‘all things be added.’ It is only in laying down our lives that we will ever fully gain it – a life that God intended, a life that is beyond human comprehension or measure, a life that is eternal. Will we test everything and hold fast to what is good, or will we settle for second-best, for the counterfeit and the deception that is the broad way that leads to perdition, filled with those who refuse the truth?
Father, help us to see Your Truth in all things. Guide us through Your Word and by Your Spirit, so that we may test all things and hold fast to what is good. Bring us, Lord to that place of surrender, repentance and obedience, that we may life Your life according to Your purpose, where the flesh has no place and all that matters is You.