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In our previous studies in this series we have been dealing with the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit and we have devoted a certain measure of time to studying each one of them. The last gift that we dealt with was the gift of prophecy. At the close of the previous study I pointed out that the Scripture clearly indicates that prophecy in the New Testament is to be subjected to scriptural judgment. In fact, it is unscriptural to admit prophesying in a New Testament congregation if it is not submitted to judgment. In my opinion, on the basis of what I’ve seen over the years, I would say it’d be better not to have prophesying at all than to have prophesying which is not checked or judged by scriptural standards.
I want tonight to present to you briefly an outline of the various different standards of judgment which are presented for us for this purpose in the New Testament. I’d like to begin by pointing out certain general facts about prophecy in the New Testament. First of all, let’s look in 1 Corinthians 14:22. I only want to deal with the second half of the verse but I’ll read the entire verse.
“Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.”
This is a verse that we dealt with already under the subject of tongues. The particular function of tongues as a supernatural sign to unbelievers where a believer, by the Holy Spirit, speaks a language that he does not understand but which is understood by an unbeliever present. In this way God brings supernatural conviction upon the unbeliever. This is not the regular use of tongues; this is an occasional and exceptional use. But, in this way, by an unknown tongue, God speaks to unbelievers through believers.
On the other hand, Paul says prophesying in the New Testament is not used by God to speak to unbelievers, but to believers. This is a very important basic fact. Prophesying in the New Testament congregation is used to speak to believers. God does not speak to believers in the way that He might speak to unbelievers. I’ve heard from time to time prophesying that claimed to be by the Holy Spirit that was of rebuke and condemnation and along that line which could have been appropriate for unbelievers but was not appropriate for believers. Therefore, it is very important we bear this in mind—the primary purpose of prophesying in the New Testament congregation is to speak to believers and God speaks to them as believers, not as unbelievers.
In this respect, prophesying in the New Testament differs from prophesying in the Old Testament where God often used His prophets to speak to people who were complete unbelievers. For instance, Elijah was used to deliver messages to men who made no real profession of faith. Jeremiah was given messages that went to all the Gentile nations surrounding Israel. In this respect we have to observe a distinction between Old Testament prophesying and New Testament prophesying in the church which is the body of Christ. New Testament prophesying is addressed to God’s people and the tone of it will always be appropriate to God’s people.
Then, in 1 Corinthians 14:29 we have this further statement. In previous studies I’ve already dealt with the distinction between the ministry of a prophet and the gift of prophesying, pointing out that the Bible says “all may prophesy” but it does not say that all will have the ministry of prophets. I cannot go back on that in this study again. Here, we are dealing with the word prophet possibly meaning the ministry of a prophet or possibly meaning simply those that exercise the gift of prophesying. For our present purposes it’s not too important. The Scripture says:
“Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.”
That’s the King James Version, but the Greek there is plural, “let the others judge.” And, by others I understand “the other prophets.” This is another very significant fact about New Testament prophecy and New Testament prophets. They do not normally operate as individuals on their own. If you read the use of the word prophet in the New Testament you’ll find that it’s always used in the plural except in one particular place. In that place there is actually no exception as the context indicates. In other words, prophets in the New Testament are part of the body of Christ, they function as members in the body, they’re related to other members, they are not men acting on their own. Again, you have a man in the Old Testament like Elijah who was a kind of rugged individualist standing out against the background of apostasy and wickedness. He said, “I only am left.” As a matter of fact, the Lord had to correct him about that. But, actually, he was functioning as the only mouthpiece of God at that time to the nation of Israel.
But, in the New Testament this is not how the prophet operates. The New Testament concept is of a body with many members all operating together and in a relationship to one another. No one member can operate effectively merely on his own. This applies to the prophets. They are in groups. And when one is ministering the others are exercising judgment or discernment. So, Paul says, “Let the prophets speak two or three at any one meeting—not everybody—and let the other prophets judge [or in the Greek, discern].”
If you turn to Acts 11:27–28 you’ll find there what I take to be a typical New Testament exercise of the prophetic ministry.
“And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be [a] great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.”
Notice, the prophets came in a group. One of them was given the actual opportunity to minister and brought the message that God had, but it is clear that he was the representative of a group. He was not an individual operating on his own. I believe that in the New Testament, or in this dispensation, many have gone astray through exercising of prophetic ministry simply as an individual on their own. In fact, I’ve seen this happen. In not a few cases, you actually find people more or less representing themselves as the soul mouthpiece of God to a certain group, a congregation or a prayer group or a church, whoever it may be. In my opinion, not merely is that incorrect, but the whole attitude is totally contrary to the spirit of the New Testament.
If you go a little further back in the history of the last few decades you’ll find that in what is called the “apostolic church,” which is a section of the Pentecostal movement, in every congregation they normally have the set prophet who appointed the set apostle. These two individuals actually ran the congregation. I’m not speaking to criticize the apostolic movement but as I understand Scripture today, that is totally alien to the whole spirit and purpose of the New Testament. Let me say this, and I’ll probably repeat it again later, there are no dictators in the body of Christ. No gift and no ministry is intended to create any kind of dictatorship. There is a sharing together of ministry and of responsibility for that ministry.
So, prophecy must be subjected to judgment. Not in the sense of picking it to pieces, but of discerning Is it of God; is it true; is it really something that we have to give heed to; or is it not? This is brought out again in 1 Thessalonians 5:19–21.
“Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prohesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
We are not to quench the Holy Spirit, we’re not to refuse the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit as some people have done. Usually this comes about where there has been a misuse of spiritual gifts. For instance, I know a Pentecostal church in Britain where they have a sign on the wall in the main auditorium, “No speaking in tongues except in the basement.” The reason being that speaking in tongues was so misused and overdone that they just couldn’t cope with the problem so they banished it to the basement. That really isn’t a scriptural solution. There’s a congregation here in the United States where now they only have messages in tongues on Thursdays. You may smile at that, but it’s actually a fact in a very, very large, prominent congregation. This is not the scriptural way to solve the problem, but we have to recognize the problem is real.
So, quench not the Spirit. Don’t give orders to the Holy Spirit not to turn up or manifest Himself except on Thursdays or in the basement because that isn’t really respectful to the Holy Spirit.
Then it says, “Despise not prophesyings.” Why does it say that? Obviously there could be situations where people would despise prophesyings. I have to say, frankly, and I want to be careful how I say it, if the Bible didn’t say, “Despise not prophesying,” there would have been times when I would have despised prophesyings, because I’ve heard so many screwy, half-baked, useless utterances put forth under the guise of prophecy that actually there’s a shield comes up in me immediately now as soon as I hear anybody beginning to do what they claim to be prophesying. I’m on my guard and I have to be careful I don’t become negative. So, I understand why Paul said, “Despise not prohesyings.” But, the solution to the problem is not to quench the Holy Spirit; it’s not to despise prophesying, generally. It’s found in verse 21: “Prove all things.” Or, test all things. “Retain that which is good.” There’s the answer. This is specifically in the context of prophesying. Don’t accept all prophesying, without question, as being from God or being relevant or being true or being authoritative. Test it. And then you retain that which is good.
What I always used to say to the Africans in Kenya about the missionaries was this: Not everything the missionaries have brought you is good. Some of what they’ve brought you is good and some is far from good. Some of what you had before was better than what the missionaries brought you. I said, “Don’t accept everything the missionaries bring. If you eat fish you know what to do: Swallow the flesh and spit out the bones!” I said, “Do the same with what the missionaries have brought: Swallow the flesh, spit out the bones.” I do the same with prophesying. I swallow the flesh but I don’t give myself indigestion trying to swallow the bones. I spit them out. Sometimes it may not be too polite to spit them out, but it’s a lot better than swallowing bones. This, I believe, is good advice.
Again, in 1 John 4:1 the apostle John returns to this theme:
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God...”
The same word that’s translated “try” there is the same one that’s translated “prove” in 1 Thessalonians 5:21. Test the spirits:
“... because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”
You’ll notice that a false prophet is one who has a false spirit. Actually, you are not testing the prophet as an individual; you’re testing the spirit that is speaking through the prophet. We are warned that there are many false prophets who’ve gone out into the world having false spirits operating through them.
And, a little further down in the same chapter, 1 John 4:6, the apostle draws the distinction between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. There is a spirit of error and it will seek sometimes to impart error in the guise of prophesying. I have actually heard people sustain what I believe to be false doctrine by the exercise of prophesying. In fact, it was very obvious that their whole purpose in prophesying was to get you to swallow a doctrine that they were trying to put across. This altogether, again, in my opinion, is an unscriptural attitude towards prophesying.
Now I want to go into the actual practical principles for judging prophecy. Each one of these could be the subject for a sermon. I’m going to try to give you nine in the course of the remainder of this study. Nowadays if you go to a doctor and ask him what’s the matter with you or are you well or are you sick, it’s a well-known fact that he will not just do as they used to do in the old days, say “Put out your tongue, it looks pink, you’re healthy.” Or, feel your pulse or even take your temperature. He’ll subject you to all sorts of tests related to different organs of the body, and when he’s been through every test he’ll come up with his total diagnosis of what your condition is.
I would say the same applies to judging prophecy. You cannot accept just one or two tests. There’s a whole battery of tests and if you really want to be sure, you should work through them and only form your judgment when you have been through a selection of different tests. I’m offering you nine tests. Let’s begin with the first one and we’ll turn to 1 Corinthians 14:3:
“He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.”
As I understand it, this is a general statement of prophesying. What does it do? It speaks to men. Remember, those men are believers. What does it speak to them? Edification, exhortation and comfort. None of these things are negative, none are destructive, none are condemnatory. Whenever I hear a message that is condemnatory, negative, destructive, I do not accept it as genuine New Testament prophesying because the limits are set there.
This has happened quite frequently. I always remember an occasion when I was preaching in a congregation in Chicago. I was on the platform waiting to speak on a Sunday morning and they were going through the song service which usually took about an hour with the announcements and all the rest. In the beginning of one of the songs a man stood up somewhere near the back and started to do what he obviously wanted us to believe was prophecy in a rather harsh voice. The message that he brought had very little real meaning. What I could pick out of it was a general sense of condemnation and a warning of judgment hanging over people’s heads. I sat there on the platform and boiled and did nothing about it. About two hymns later the man stood up and did the same. This time I couldn’t sit quiet any longer so I stood up while he was still prophesying, got to the microphone and said, “I just want to tell you all that I do not accept this as a genuine manifestation of the gift of prophecy because the Scripture says, ‘He that prophesieth speaketh unto men edification, exhortation, and comfort.’ All I’ve heard in what our brother has said so far has been condemnation and confusion which are the exact opposites.” Well, that created something of a stir, as you can imagine. After a little while another brother who also had the gift of prophecy stood up and he said, “I want to offer my opinion and I agree with Brother Prince. This was not genuine prophesying.” Then a third brother stood up on the other side and said the same and we had dealt with the situation in a scriptural way. The others had judged, they had given their unanimous verdict, the man was squelched. I thought he would never come back but, as a matter of fact, he came back next Sunday and behaved in a very much more respectful and decent way.
After that had settled down, I said to the people there, “I want to tell you one main reason why I did what I did. In the two front rows we have two complete rows of young people [teenagers and college students and so on]. While that man was prophesying I was looking at their faces and their faces were registering one thing, “This is phony.” I just want to tell those young people I agree with them, it was phony. I have seen far too many young people turned off from the whole business of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit through their elders and so-called “betters” trying to pretend that something that’s wrong is right for the sake of being dignified and decent in church that I will not go along with it.”
Generally speaking, I have to say, I believe I did the right thing in that situation. Normally, the religious thing would be either to try to sing the man down with choruses or at the end to say a pat “Amen, Praise the Lord,” as if it was all right when it wasn’t. I don’t believe that God is pleased with that. I believe that if we permit the exercise of prophesying we have an obligation placed upon us by Scripture to have the operation of judging or discerning along with it. If we have no judgment and no discerning let’s have no prophesying. It’s much better. It’s too dangerous to have prophesying without judgment. It’s like turning a young person loose in a very fast sports car without checking the steering and the brakes. They’ll end up in a wreck.
I would have to say in the years I’ve seen scores and scores of wrecks through the misuse of prophecy. I’ve seen homes broken up, churches divided and people ruined financially and in other ways through the wrong use of prophecy. Prophecy is an extremely powerful instrument and if it’s misused it can be misused to the destruction of people.
We have to bear out that there is a time when God does rebuke and chasten. There is a place for this but it’s never the ultimate. Just let’s look for a moment in Jeremiah 1:10 as an example of this. In verse 5 of Jeremiah 1 the Lord says:
“I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”
In verse 9 the Lord puts forth his hand, touches Jeremiah’s mouth and says:
“I have put my words in thy mouth.”
This was his commission to be a prophet. Verse 10, the Lord says:
“See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.”
Notice there is a place for the negative but the negative is never ultimate. There is a place for rooting out and pulling down those things which are not the planting of God. Jesus said, “Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up.” But, the ultimate purpose is planting. There is a place for destroying and throwing down but the ultimate purpose is building.
If we never come to the positive, then we are not moving with the Holy Spirit. The ultimate purposes of the Holy Spirit towards the people of God are always good, they’re always positive, they’re always to upbuild.
In 2 Corinthians 10:8 and 13:10 we have this principle stated by Paul. We don’t need to dwell on it but let’s look at it for a moment. Second Corinthians 10:8. Paul has had to use pretty stern language to the Corinthian church, and he has also had to assert his own authority which was in question. He says at the end of this:
“For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed…”
Notice, the authority given to Paul as an apostle was for edification, not for destruction. And, in 2 Corinthians 13:10 Paul says again exactly parallel language.
“Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath give me to edification, and not to destruction.”
We have to bear this in mind. The ultimate purposes of God in the ministry of the gospel to the people of God are never for destruction, they’re always for edification, for upbuilding.
I think it’s so important to learn this because I can look back on a time in my own ministry when I thought if I left people feeling miserable and guilty and condemned I’d done a tremendous job. I certainly succeeded, but it wasn’t a tremendous job. Then God showed me that God never makes people feel guilty. If you’re left feeling guilty it’s the devil that’s done it. God never condemns His people. There’s a great difference between condemnation and conviction. The Holy Spirit convicts, the devil condemns. Conviction is specific. If you told a lie, you stole money, you’ve got to take it back and apologize. It’s never vague, it’s never obscure. It always leads you with something specific you have to do. Condemnation will be vague. You’ll nail one of the devil’s accusations; he comes up with two more. You nail them and he’s got four more. Whenever you get into that area you’re outside the operation of the Holy Spirit and you’re letting the devil play with you like a cat plays with a mouse.
Unfortunately, it’s often preachers or people who claim to minister that are doing this part of the devil’s job for him.
Now, I must go on. The next test of prophecy is in relation to the Scripture. This is very clear, we do not need to dwell on it, but it’s very important. Second Timothy 3:16 says this:
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness...”
All Scripture is given by the Holy Spirit. In other words, the authority behind all Scripture is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit in all true prophecy is the Holy Spirit. One thing is absolutely clear; the Holy Spirit will never contradict Himself. In other words, anything given in prophecy will never be opposed to the letter or the spirit of Scripture. This is a vital fact.
Let me give you one further Scripture along that line in Isaiah 8:19–20. These words of Isaiah 8 are very, very applicable to today.
“And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits [mediums in modern English], and unto wizards [fortune tellers or diviners] that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God?”
If you want the answer, do you need to go anywhere but to God?
“... for the living to the dead?”
If you want to find the living, should you go to the dead for him? This speaks particularly about attempted communion with the dead, which is not a new thing and which has always been under the curse of Almighty God from the time it was first manifested. Here’s God’s answer:
“To the law and to the testimony [to the written word of God]: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
Alternative translation, “They are not to be sought unto.” It doesn’t matter which way you translate it, the test is, Do they speak according to the Scripture? If not, the spirit that’s in them and speaks through them is not the Holy Spirit. Here, of course, is where unfortunately millions of people in modern America are going astray doing the very things that’s warned against here: seeking mediums, seeking to communicate to the dead, going to fortune tellers. The basic reason is ignorance of the Word of God.
I’ve spoken to scores of people and told them (and they’ve often been professing Christians): Do you realize that if you’d done that under the Law of Moses you would have been put to death instantly? That’s God’s estimate of what you’ve been practicing. Some Christians are hard to convince. But, there it is. The test is this: Does it agree with the letter and the spirit of Scripture? If not, it was not given by the Holy Spirit.
Second Corinthians 1:17–20 just says this. With God there is not yea and nay. God doesn’t say yes in one mood and no in another. God actually has no moods. I know some people, their prayer life is trying to catch God in another mood, but you’ll never do that because that isn’t the way He operates.
The third test is their relationship to Jesus Christ. Turn, if you will, to John 16:13–14:
“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.”
There’s another specific characteristic of the Holy Spirit. He always glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. It is true that He will reveal us things to come but He’ll always do it in the context of glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are people today whose names are well known—one lady who is associated with a book on prophecy that I don’t want to name her, and I’m in no sense reviling or criticizing her. But, in actual fact she claims to be able to show things to come and you’ll read the whole of her book without one reference to Jesus Christ or without one sentence that exalts Jesus Christ. It does not pass the test of being the Spirit of God. It is, in actual fact, precisely what the Scripture calls “the spirit of divination,” which can also give supernatural revelation concerning the future—in a measure. So, whenever anybody comes to you with any kind of revelation or new doctrine or prophecy, what is the attitude to the Lord Jesus Christ? Do they exalt Him? Do they glorify Him? Do they give Him the preeminence which is due to Him alone?
Revelation 19:10 takes this thing, I think, even one step further. John says:
“I fell at his feet [the feet of the angel] to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
The spirit in all prophecy from the first prophecy ever given to the last prophecy that will ever be given centers in testifying to Jesus Christ. Anything that departs from testifying to and exalting Jesus Christ is not given by the Holy Spirit.
There are various different things that people will put in the place of Jesus. Some will put a human personality, a teacher, a preacher. Some will put a denomination or a group. Or, their particular church. I was invited—I would say, I wasn’t invited, I would say enticed—into preaching in a certain congregation once here in the United States that will remain nameless and unspecified. They never invited preachers because they left the meeting open to God and they didn’t exalt any human personality. But, they indicated to me if I turned up on a certain night, they’d ask me to preach, which is as close to inviting a person as you can come without doing it. Personally, I don’t go for that kind of sham anyhow. They certainly didn’t exalt the human personality, but what they did from the beginning to the end of the meeting was exalt their own particular setup, congregation and mode of doing things. Really, I would have been happy to listen to them exalting a preacher just for a change! So, it isn’t always a person, it isn’t always a denomination; it can be their particular group. You will find in the United States today not a few groups that have that problem. I tell people if you ever meet a group that says, “If you want to be right you must join us,” you can be sure of one thing: when you’ve joined them you’re wrong. Any group that has that spirit is wrong to start with.
In Colossians 1:18 you have this further statement that in all things Jesus should have the preeminence. That is indeed true of prophecy.
The fourth test of prophecy is, of course, fruit. Let’s look at what the Scripture says about fruit. First of all, the good, then the evil. In Romans 14:17 we have a very clear statement what the kingdom of God and the gospel is all about.
“For the kingdom of God is not [food] and drink ...”
It’s not a set of rules about what you must eat and not eat. Nor about what you must wear and not wear, nor about the places you may go to and the places you may not go to. It is not a lot of institutional rules. It consists of three things.
“... but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
I want you to notice that righteousness comes first. Any form of presentation of joy and peace which bypasses righteousness is a deception. I’ve been with many, many groups that wanted to get happy, clap their hands and praise the Lord and have a good time, but I’ve learned that in the end this is just self- deception if there isn’t a continual strong emphasis on God’s requirements of righteousness. And, a lot of the type of joy and happiness that we see in some groups is really nothing but soulishness because it is not based on the requirements of God concerning righteousness. There is no true peace and there is no true joy unless they’re based on righteousness.
I’m sure, I know from looking at some of you I can tell that you’re already considering a particular situation where you’ve seen the spurious. I’ve seen it. I can think of half a dozen examples in the last two years where I’ve been confronted with the spurious—people trying to make people happy without getting them to live right. It does not produce the results that God has promised. God’s order is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Do you know, we talk so much about the Holy Spirit these days that I think we sometimes forget that He’s holy. Really, it’s almost shocking sometimes the way in which people will talk about the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of holiness.
Galatians 5:22, we have, of course, this beautiful ninefold list of the fruit of the Spirit. Just let’s read it out.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
If that’s what your life is made up of, there’s no regulations to stop you doing anything you want to do. Isn’t that beautiful! There are no laws to forbid that kind of thing neither by government nor by God. You’re as free as a bird when you’re living in that realm.
Now, what about the opposite kind of fruit? Jesus was very specific about this in Matthew 7:15–16:
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”
You see, the sheep is the type of the Christian disciple; the wolf is the natural enemy of the sheep coming to destroy. The wolf puts on sheep’s clothing with what purpose? To pass itself off as a sheep. This is the nature of false prophets. They will not come to you telling you that they’re Mohammedans or Buddhists. They’ll come to you professing to be Christians, professing to have the message of the gospel, probably professing to have a higher revelation and to bring you into a new experience that you’ve never had before. A wolf is not dangerous if it comes as a wolf. When it’s dangerous is when it comes with sheep’s clothing on. Then, of course, it takes the sheepdog to discern the wolf. You know what the sheepdog discerns? It doesn’t judge by the sight of its eyes, it has another sense which tells it and that’s the sense of smell. In the Bible the sense of smell is sometimes a type of the discernment of the Holy Spirit. Those who are responsible for caring for God’s flock need to cultivate that extra sense which detects the wolf even when he has the nice white sheepskin on. Now, Jesus tells us, apart from discernment, the objective way to test whether this prophet is a true prophet or false (verse 16):
“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”
If every time you stick your finger out you get a nasty prickly thistle, then don’t expect a grape. And don’t call it a vine because a vine doesn’t produce thistles.
I have made a little list here of some of the things that, to me, are obviously not the fruit of the Holy Spirit. I’ll confess I’ve made the list out of many possible versions that might be made on the basis of experience and observation. I could say, I think without exception, that I myself have observed every one of these things which I’ve listed here in the lives of people who claim to be preachers, evangelists, or prophets and ministers of Jesus Christ. I don’t think there’s a single thing in this list that I’ve added just out of my imagination. The things that I mention here are, on the whole, probably the commonest forms of fruit that are not the fruit of the Holy Spirit. I’ll read the list. Pride, arrogance, boastfulness, exaggeration—what’s called “evang-e-l-a-s-t-i-c speaking”—dishonesty.
Do you know, we have to be careful about what we say. I read a magazine sent out by a group that I respect. I know them, full gospel people, and they are helping to build a church in a certain city in Kenya and pictured the church up to the walls without a roof. They’re going to provide the roof. Well, God bless them for providing the roof. But, under this they said, “This will be the first church built in this city.” Well, to my certain knowledge there have been churches in that city for at least twenty years. It cannot do anything but harm to the work of God to come out with a completely false statement like that. This is not uncommon. I don’t say this group are a group of false prophets but, oh, how little respect so many ministers and groups show for just simple basic facts.
Dishonesty, covetousness, financial irresponsibility. How common. It cannot be of God. I will say this, over the years I occasionally minister to people that cheated me out of an offering. I mean it in this sense. They would announce that they were taking an offering for the preacher and the preacher never saw it. This has happened to me on a few occasions. Do you know what I’ve discovered? Their finance was never their only problem. Never. There was always some other major doctrinal or moral problem there as well. I have come to a conclusion that people that have financial problems always have some other kind of problem, too.
Licentiousness, immorality, addictive appetite, broken marriage vows and broken homes. So, when the preacher comes to town next time just ask yourself: Whose wife is he traveling with? That’s relevant. Ask yourself: Is he going to skip town with somebody’s car or somebody’s wife? Does he pay his debts or does he walk out and leave somebody else to pay them? There’s a lot of important questions to be asked when visiting ministers come to the town. If you don’t ask them you’re going to feel sorry for yourself some day.
Let’s notice Matthew 7:21–23. Jesus said:
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out [demons]? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
I was listening to a group of young people one day talking about that verse and they were trying to think whom it would apply to. One group said, “It must be the Baptists,” and another said, “It must be the Episcopalians,” and another said something else. I said, “Now, look. Let’s be real. It couldn’t apply to anybody but full gospel people. Nobody but full gospel people—Pentecostals, Charismatics, whatever you like to call them—would ever talk like that. They’re the only people that would make those claims. We are the people that it’s talking about.” I hope I won’t shock you when I say, it’s perfectly possible to cast out demons in the name of Jesus and be living wrong. It’s perfectly possible to prophesy and be living wrong. It’s possible to do miracles and be living wrong, living with somebody else’s wife, embezzling money, telling lies. If it weren’t out of place, I would go down and give you names of people who’ve done it and are doing it today. You say, “How can it be?” Remember, the authority is in the name of Jesus and in faith. And, God has committed Himself to where if any person will do something in faith and the name of Jesus it will happen. The fact that a person prophesies, preaches, casts out demons, performs miracles does not prove that he is living right. Just get that absolutely clear. There’s only one sure evidence that a person is living right. Do you know what that is? That he’s living right. That’s the only way you can know, by knowing how he lives. Nothing else will prove for sure that a person is living right. And heaven is made for those who have lived right. People that don’t live right won’t get to heaven. It’s that simple. We’ve let a lot of sentimentality and loose thinking obscure the issue.
Second Peter 2, we find another picture of this type of thing. It is so common, so relevant to our situation that I want to read it. Peter is talking about false prophets. You’ll see that’s how he begins that second chapter. He speaks about certain characters operating within the congregations of the New Testament church in Peter’s day, and he says in verses 12–15:
“But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; and shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you...”
They come to the Christian love feasts, they take part even perhaps in the Lord’s Supper, but they are unclean and vile.
“... having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls...”
It’s remarkable how the people in a congregation that won’t listen to the truth will swallow any kind of lie. It’s the most fantastic thing. You’d be amazed; you wouldn’t think people could believe the things they believe. They’ll believe anything but the truth.
... an heart they have exercised with covetous practices [they’re after money in simple, plain English]; cursed children: which have forsaken the right way [they were in the right way and have left it], and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;… What was his problem in modern English? Money. You say Balaam wasn’t a prophet? You read Numbers 23, 24 and 25. There are no more beautiful prophecies in the Bible than came out of the lips of Balaam. I’d like to show you one thing he said. It was a pious wish and it never came true. Numbers 23:10. It’s a strange thing. Balaam only occupies three chapters in the Old Testament but he’s referred to frequently in the New. Here is Balaam prophesying over Israel. Balak had told him to curse Israel; he couldn’t curse Israel because when he prophesied he couldn’t speak anything but the truth. He said, “I can’t say anything but what the Lord puts in my mouth.”
“Who can count the dust of Jacob, and number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!”
But you know what? That was just a pious aspiration, that’s all it was. He didn’t die the death of the righteous; he was killed by the children of Israel. Turn for a moment to Joshua 13:22, just that one verse talking about the children of Manasseh when they moved into their inheritance east of Jordan.
“Balaam also the son of Beor, the soothsayer, did the children of Israel slay with the sword among them that were slain by them.”
See, he wanted to die the death of the righteous, but he didn’t because he didn’t live the life of the righteous. What led him astray? Desire for money.
And, there is a realm of spiritual gifts and power that open up the possibility of making money, let’s be frank about it. Any person with a real ministry of healing can always cash in on it if they will. And one of the greatest temptations that confront people with that type of power is not to use it for that purpose. Let me not suggest that all people are like that. I respect the men and women whom God has used down the generations that have had these powers and not misused them, prostituted them. But, the temptation is always there.
I’m going to go on to the other test. I hope I can go through these in one study. The fifth test, it’s pretty simple. You find it stated in Deuteronomy 18:20–22. I’ll read out my comment. If prophecy contains predictions concerning the future, and these are not fulfilled, the prophecy did not come from God. Deuteronomy 18:20–22:
“But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in he name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.”
So, there is the possibility of a person that makes a prediction and it does not come to pass. The word of God says very simply and practically that wasn’t the thing that the Lord spoke because if the Lord had spoken it, it would have come to pass. So, don’t be afraid of that prophet, and under the Law of Moses he would have died. That’s God’s estimate of deceiving His people.
Now, there is a situation which is referred to in Romans 12:6, if you’d look at that for a moment, where people begin in the right and go too far.
“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion [or measure] of faith…”
It does happen that people start prophesying in the Spirit and get excited, puffed up, enthusiastic and go beyond that which the Holy Spirit actually gave them. I have known of cases of this. The man was not out to deceive, he was not a false prophet, but he just moved out of the Spirit and back into the flesh. God warns us. Paul says in Romans 12 just previously before that, the third verse:
“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think [don’t get puffed up]; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”
You can operate perfectly within the measure of faith God has given you. If you go beyond the measure of faith, you’re not operating in the Spirit, you’re operating in your own carnal will and personality. Now we come to the sixth test which is very, very important because the fifth test said, if the thing doesn’t come to pass then the man was a false prophet. You might easily conclude from that that if the thing does come to pass the man must be a true prophet, but that isn’t true. See, that is not logical. In fact, we’re warned against it. Deuteronomy 13:1–5. I’ll read my comment before I read the verses. Even if prophecy contains correct predictions or supernatural revelations, it is not from God as its effect is to promote disobedience against God and the Scriptures. Here’s the example:
“If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder [something supernatural], and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; thou shalt not hearken unto the word of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you [He’s testing you], to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.”
Notice the word “thrust.” There’s a certain kind of pressure which is not the pressure of the Holy Spirit. If you’re getting into a place where you feel, “I must do that because it was prophesied,” ever so much, don’t do it. That isn’t the way prophecy works.
Just two weeks ago I had a long distance call from California. They said, “Brother Prince, have you heard anything about a resurrection?” I said, “What did you say?” “Have you heard any prophecy about resurrection?” I said why? They said, “Well, some believers here have a little child that died and everybody is getting prophecies he’s going to be raised from the dead.” I said, “How long ago did he die?” “Oh, about three days ago.” “What did he die of?” “We don’t know.” “How old was it?” “Six weeks.” They had refused to notify the coroner for three days and so on and so forth. They said, “What do you think?” I said, “If you want to know what I think, I think that baby is not going to be raised from the dead. The thing I feel about you immediately is a kind of pressure that is not the pressure of the Holy Spirit. You’re all under pressure. Take it slowly, be very careful.” I’ve heard nothing more. I guarantee the first thing they would have done if the baby was called back to life would have been to phone me. This has happened amongst Spirit-baptized people who were seeking to do God’s will and be, I would have to say (quote), “spiritual” (unquote). Of course, one sympathizes with people who lose a little baby, but this is the type of thing ...
The word there is thrust. If ever you get under that kind of pressure, find out what’s causing it because it isn’t the Holy Spirit. How many, many times I’ve learned in my own life— Oh, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that. Put on the brakes, step aside, get into a rest area and find out what’s driving you because it isn’t the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t drive in that way.
Here’s a case where a man in Deuteronomy 13 gave a supernatural sign and it came to pass. But, he was a false prophet, a servant of Satan turning God’s people away from their obedience to God. I saw this happen in Africa. In a certain village in Africa two families quarreled, which is quite common. One family went to the witch doctor and said “put a hex” on the other family. He said give me my goat and I’ll put the hex on. So, they paid him the goat and he put the hex on. He was a psychologist and he said, “On a certain night in the village a jackal will cry at midnight. When the jackal cries the youngest child of that family will die.” Do you know what happened? The jackal cried, the baby died. Exactly as he said. But he was not a servant of God; he was a servant of Satan. He made a correct supernatural prediction. It came true and he was still a servant of Satan.
Look in Acts 16 for a moment and see an example of this in Scripture. Acts 16:16–18. This happened in the city of Philippi when Paul and Silas arrived there for the first time to preach the gospel.
“And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination [the Greek says a spirit, a python] met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying [fortune telling]: ... followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.”
Wasn’t that remarkable? Everything she said was true. Absolutely true. She was the first person in Philippi fully to realize who Paul and Silas were. And yet, she was a servant of Satan. It was an evil spirit that was causing her to say those things. It says:
“Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out [of her] the same hour.”
See Satan’s cunning? He wanted to get that girl in on the ground floor of the new congregation. He wanted the people of Philippi to feel there’s nothing new in this gospel, it’s just the old thing that you’ve been familiar with, the prophetesses, the oracles, all this which is familiar way back in Greek history for nine centuries. How subtle the devil is! The devil does not always tell lies. He’d never deceive everybody if he did. He tells enough truth to get you hooked and then he injects the lies.
We must go on. Second Corinthians 3:17, the seventh test.
“... where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
The Holy Spirit never produces bondage, He never brings you into bondage. I’m not going to turn to these Scriptures but you’ll find three things which the Scripture says are not the products of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:15:
“Ye have not received the spirit of bondage ...”
1 Corinthians 14:33:
“God is not the author of confusion...”
2 Timothy 1:7:
“God has not given us the spirit of fear...”
Bondage, confusion and fear are not the products of the Holy Spirit. My wife—I don’t know whether she remembers this—we were in a congregation in Britain where there was a young woman of about 18 or 20. Somebody, I think the prophet in the congregation, had prophesied that this young woman was to marry a young man in the congregation who was in a wheelchair, a cripple. She didn’t love the young man; she had no desire to marry him whatsoever. But, she was in agony because she thought that if she didn’t marry this young man she was going to be disobeying God and something awful would come in her life. We took her and explained to her, “God doesn’t terrify you. He doesn’t send you the spirit of fear. God is not the author of confusion. He doesn’t get you all mixed up. This is not the way the Holy Spirit operates.” Eventually, we got her released and I suppose, thank God, her life was saved from wreck.
You see, many, many times you’ll find—and this is particularly true in prayer groups—a person who prophesies—and frankly, it’s quite often a lady—will use this to get people hitched onto her. She’s making disciples of herself. She may not be aware of it. But people can’t solve their own problems; they’ve got to go running to Sister So-and-So. What does she say? There’s a group not far from here, some of you know it—they can’t cross the road without consulting the prophetess. This is totally alien to the spirit of the New Testament. In the New Testament every believer is a priest. Every believer has got the right of direct access to God. If you can’t hear direct from God there’s something wrong with your life. You better put that right and stop listening to anybody else till you’ve done it.
Second Corinthians 3:6, the eighth test. True prophecy given by the Holy Spirit will always inject fresh life into a meeting, and harmonize with God’s overall purposes. See, sometimes we’ll get the operation of a gift or an utterance or something. It’s very religious, it sounds good, it’s all Scripture. It’s not of the Holy Spirit. It’s a religious spirit. When I say that, I really mean it. It’s a religious spirit.
I had an example of this, I always think of it. I was preaching in a Businessmen’s convention somewhere and I was dealing with the gifts of the Spirit and I was emphasizing the responsibility of the person leading the meeting to take control if anything went wrong. Sure, just as soon as I finished and I was standing around the pulpit, the only person on the platform, a lady gave a most beautiful, anointed utterance in a tongue. We waited for the interpretation and a man stood up and he gave what obviously he wanted us to believe was the interpretation. It was all Scripture, “It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out my Spirit ...” I can give you the references for everything he was saying. But, it was as stale and as dead— it had no life in it, it was out of line with the whole moving of God in the meeting.
So, at the end I thought, What do I do now? I’ve just been telling everybody that it’s my responsibility to do something. So, I think the Lord really gave me wisdom. I stood up and I said very quietly, “Now, a brother has quoted some of the Scriptures which he has memorized. Let’s ask God for the interpretation.” There was dead silence and it came and it was quick, it was powerful, it was in line with the meeting, it lifted everybody, there was a spontaneous outburst of praise. It was totally different. So remember, the Holy Spirit is the author of life, not death. He doesn’t deaden. If a thing is deadening it may be ever so good, ever so religious but it’s not the Spirit of God that’s doing it.
Then remember, you have something inside you put there by God to warn you. First John 2:27:
“But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.”
Now, “the anointing” is not exactly the same as the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The anointing is being baptized in the Holy Spirit and walking in the Spirit. When you’re walking in the Spirit there’s something inside you that bears witness to the truth and rejects that which is false. So, you’re sitting in a meeting, gifts come into operation. Tune in to this thing inside you. Some people get an actual pain in their chest when there is something false in the meeting. Now, if you get this warning from God, don’t jump up and say, “That man’s a false prophet.” See? Because you’ll be headed for trouble. This is subjective and you can’t deal with things in the congregation on the basis of subjective tests. What do you do? You just put the other tests into operation. I’ve given you eight objectives, one subjective. If you’re warned subjectively by the Spirit within you that something is wrong, don’t open your mouth and get into trouble because there will end up an argument. One will say, I believe he’s right and another will say no. Just sit there quietly and start operating the other eight tests. And, if the man is wrong the other tests will show it. This test is to warn you personally.