1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
There are many false teachers in the world. There are many who “perceive godliness as a means to gain.” (1 Timothy 6:5). I think of the many revival tents and faith healers that became so prevelant during the 1980s, the many “prophets for profit,” declaring their own futures while exploiting the name of out beloved Christ as though they were speaking of a common brothel-maid, using Him to attain their own selfish pleasures. I think of the many churches where the congregatns fall down incoherently babbling while seizing, as though caught in an epileptic fit. And I get it, it’s hard work to rightfully discern what is truly the work of God from what is merely show, merely for profit, merely filling one’s own purse or feeding their own prideful desire for undue attention. Yet, as it evident from this passage, these instances are not exclusive to our generation.
And yet, when we look at this passage, how does the beloved apostle respond? Look closely at how he responds to the idea of people falsifying the workings of the Holy Spirit in the believers. Now contrast that to what our response has become. See, in our church culture, we’ve responded to the false prophets and faith healers by saying that the supernatural gifts have ceased. That the Lord stopped performing these supernatural miracles with the close of the canon. We’ve determined that the power of the Holy Spirit has been distilled to “cleaning our lives up,” to turning ourselves around. That He’s gone from casting fire down from the heavens to putting the fires out on our lighters as He gives us the power to quit smoking. Our generation teaches us that God, who Himself declares that He never changes (Numbers 23:19, Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17, Malachi 3:6, etc.), has changed and ceased from granting the supernatural gifts. And yet, NOWHERE in Scripture is this found. In fact, to the contrary, Jesus teaches that “Whoever believes in Me, the works that I do, he shall also de, and greater works than these.” (John 14:12). In the Book of Hebrews, we learn that “God, also bearing witness, both with signs and wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit.” (Hebrews 2:4). Has the Lord stopped bearing witness, since this is the same Holy Spirit that we receive at baptism? Has the Holy Spirit changed? In the letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes that “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each for the good of all…to one is given the word of wisdom, to another the gift of knowledge…to another the gift of healing…to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy…to another a different kind of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:7-10) and again “God has appointed these…first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, administration, varieties of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:28). Notice, in this list, that we’ve removed any of the appointments that the Lord has given that would require faith; we’ve distilled the list to things that the secular world would accept. We remove apostles and prophets, retained teachers, removed miracles and healing, maintained helps and administration (have to have secretaries), and removed tongues. Anything supernatural that the Lord has appointed, we’ve determined has been removed, anything that the secular world can’t argue with, we’ve maintained. But, Jesus Himself, after the resurrection, proclaims that “These signs will follow those who believe. In My name, they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will not harm them; they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17-18). Is it any wonder that so many in the world reject it when we speak to them of miracles when we ourselves seem not to believe?
Again, I get it, the supernatural gifts of the Spirit would be easy for a double tongued person, a manipulative person, to imitate. In a world where Simon the magician can make the statue of liberty seem to disappear, it’s easy to see how someone could falsely “heal” someone who appeared to be sick but wasn’t, or how anyone can “speak in tongues” that no one can understand and claim that they were speaking some angelic dialect. And, it’s oh so embarrassing when a false prophet gets a large platform and proclaims a prophecy that doesn’t come true, the alignment of moons signalling the end of the world, or the Sabbath year equaling a shift in our economic climate. It’s embarrassing when these false teachers and false prophets get this platform and then are exposed as frauds. But the answer to this is not to disregard the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but rather to stop giving these teachers the platform. Scripture prescribes very strongly the remedy for that. Scripture tells us that “when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if that thing does not come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken.” (Deuteronomy 18:22). When someone prophecies something that does not come to pass, then they should no longer be given the platform. There are many such prophets right now who have incorrectly prophesied multiple times and yet we are still giving them the platform to continue to do so in the public eye. Paul, in this passage, admonishes us to test all things; in the letter to the Corinthians, he tells us that the gifts are given for the good of all. Incoherent babbling is good for no one other than the ego of the one doing it. False prophets and faith healers do none any good outside of the collection that goes into the coffers of the false healers and prophets. John warns us, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God.” (1 John 4:1). See, the answer to false prophets and false healers is not to deny prophesy and healing, but rather to test those prophets and healers, to test those miracle workers to see that they are of God, and if they are not, to remove them from that position. When we deny the signs and wonders themselves, we deny the power of the Holy Spirit to do those things, we (as the apostle warns against) “quench the Spirit.”
Consider this, when we hear a prosperity preacher, or when we hear of a group using the gospel to spread hatred, picketing funerals and such; whenever we hear of anyone proclaiming a false gospel, do we deny the gospel itself? Of course not, we exposed the false teacher for teaching a false gospel, but we would never deny the gospel itself. When we hear that a teacher is teaching that “God wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and happy…to be your best self and live your best life now,” we would never dream of denying the true gospel message of Christ, rather we brand that teacher as a false teacher, confused at best and heretical at worst. So, why would we not use the same discernment and apply the same response to someone who falsifies the supernatural abilities of the Holy Spirit? Why would we not merely proclaim that this one “healer” who is under investigation for financial fraud as a false teacher, rather than teaching that the power to heal in the name of Jesus was rescinded with the close of Scripture? That is a lesson that is taught nowhere in Scripture, yet we have all completely accepted, thinking that it must be there somewhere.
See, I think about our Church today. And I consider the Church that Jesus built. Jesus built a Church which, through 12 men, most of whom were uneducated, could turn the world upside down. Jesus didn’t come to build a Church that could have Bible studies, attend a once a week service, and say no to “R” rated movies. He came to build a Church that could change the world. When we teach that He no longer gives these supernatural gifts, the very signs and wonders that He Himself uses to bear witness, that what is left? We remove the supernatural witness of the Holy Spirit, we quench the Spirit. And, when we do that, we cease to be the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are no longer able to “do the works He did.” Our baptism becomes the baptism of John the Baptist, where we choose to turn our lives away from our sinful ways, but there is nothing beyond that. The Church without the supernatural is nothing beyond a moralistic social club. Baptism becomes our initiation, the Eucharist our weekly meeting snack food, and Jesus becomes our mascot, some ideal that we can aspire to and look to for inspiration, but never attain to. Our faith becomes superficial and our church becomes impotent.
We must be especially careful, my beloved family, that this is never allowed to happen. We must always test the spirits, we must test everything and never allow false teachings and false miracles to permeate our Church. However, we must avoid the spirit of the age which says that it’s easier to run from something than to confront it. This mentality is costing us our very Church. We can never allow the power of the Holy Spirit to be removed by even well-intentioned false teachings. We have to remember that in response to the faith healers and the false prophets, we’ve created a safe-guard theology that doesn’t allow for anything that we can not see with our eyes. We’ve created a very safe theology that states that the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives can help us overcome addictions, help us not cheat on our wives, help us stop using profanity, etc; but we’ve denied any supernatural aspect of our religion beyond Jesus’ death and resurrection. And that’s not the religion of the God of Scripture. To the contrary, we are taught that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1) and that “hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what they have seen” (Romans 8:24); therefore, to only believe in what you can physically see with the eye is not hope, and thus, not faith, and “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).
See, the God of Scripture constantly spoke through His prophets, performing great and wondrous, miraculous signs. And He still does, we just don’t believe enough to see them. We’ve been blinded by the “wisdom” of the age so strongly that we don’t see the signs regularly. And our faith has been weakened so much that we don’t believe that He even can still perform these things. “Elijah was a man just like us,” and through the strength of his faith, he was able to call down fire from the heavens. Joshua, through the strength of his faith, was able to destroy a city by walking around it for seven days straight. The apostles, through the strength of their faith, were able to multiply from the twelve, to 2.2 billion (currently) worldwide. That is the power of the Holy Spirit. And we must never quench that Spirit. The book of Acts says that “there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house…then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:2-4). The apostles, having just been arrested for proclaiming the name of the Lord and prophesying in His name, went back to the Church and got the entire congregation to pray that they would be able to proclaim His name with even more boldness (Acts 4:23-32). That is the power of the Holy Spirit, and the faith that doesn’t stifle Him. That is the faith that we are called, in Scripture, to imitate. By the strength of their faith three young men were put into a furnace and the Holy Spirit protected them from the flames (Daniel 3:15-26). By the strength of their faith Abraham and Sarah conceived a child, though she was barren (Genesis 21:2). And by the strength of his faith, Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John, when he was martyred for not renouncing the Lord Jesus, had to be stabbed because the flames would not touch him (the Martyrdom of Polycarp). That, my beloved family, is the power of the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit which is the very seal of our faith. And, we must be very careful not to allow any to convince us otherwise. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1), and we must be careful. The enemy would love nothing more than to have the entire Church believe that the Holy Spirit no longer has the power to do any of the things that Scripture promises to us that He will do.
May the grace of the Lord be with you all, my beloved family.