How to know when we are true and false prophets

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How to know when we are true and false prophets

August 11, 2022 - Jim Denison, PhD

© By oatawa/stock.adobe.com

© By oatawa/stock.adobe.com

I believe that the greatest need in our world today is for people to hear a word from God. Not just about him but from him. A message from the Scriptures inspired by his Spirit for the crisis of the hour. A prophetic word in the sense of “communicating and enforcing revealed truth.”

I believe God is calling pastors to be such prophets today. How can we know when we are speaking a true word from God?

I am reading through the book of Jeremiah in my personal Bible study and came to chapter 23. Here we find an extended answer to our question with more depth than we can consider in a single APV article. For today, let’s focus on two key points.

How to be a false prophet

The Lord declares through Jeremiah: “Both prophet and priest are ungodly; even in my house I have found their evil” (Jeremiah 23:11). He continues: “In the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil” (v. 14). Later in the text he states, “I am against the prophets, declares the Lᴏʀᴅ, who steal my words from one another” (v. 30).

Here we see that God measures prophets by their personal lives (“they commit adultery and walk in lies”). This fact calls to mind the horrific clergy abuse scandals of recent years. He also measures prophets by their public ministry (“they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil”). I am thinking of ministers who pray for God to bless abortion clinics and who endorse and perform same-sex marriages.

And God opposes prophets who “steal my words from one another” rather than paying the price to hear directly from him. This is a condemnation of plagiarism, of course, but there’s more. When we spend more time in commentaries than in prayer, more time listening to other preachers’ sermons than listening to the Spirit, we are also guilty.

Here’s the bottom line: If “no one turns from his evil” as a result of my ministry, if I am not leading people from sin to the Savior, calling out the evil of the culture and speaking redemptive truth, I am an “ungodly” prophet.

How to be a true prophet

In the text, the Lord also asks, “Who among them has stood in the council of the Lᴏʀᴅ to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened?” (v. 18). God grieves over those who refused: “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied” (v. 21).

But here’s the good news: “If they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds” (v. 22).

If we have “stood in the council of the Lᴏʀᴅ to see and to hear his word,” we can then speak what he speaks to us. Over and over in Scripture, we see prophets in God’s presence who are marked by what they hear and then declare that message to others. Isaiah’s experience in the throne room of God comes to mind (Isaiah 6:1–8), as does John’s worship of the risen Christ on Patmos and the Revelation that resulted (Revelation 1:9–20).

If you and I will pay the price to be in the presence of God, genuinely listening for his word to and then through us, we will hear him. As Francis Schaeffer said, “He is there and he is not silent.” God wants to speak to us more than we want to hear him. As with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, he is pursuing us, seeking to speak to us and to call us back to himself.

If his prophets will listen, he will speak to us. His words will change us. And then he will speak through us to those we serve in ways that will change them as well.

J. I. Packer called the Bible “God preaching.” If we will listen to its “sermon” with hearts open to its truth, we can never be the same. Then, when we speak what we have heard, our people can never be the same.

Seven words have gripped my heart

The hunger of the human heart is to hear a word from God, to ask, “What has the Lᴏʀᴅ spoken?” (Jeremiah 23:37).

In response, the Lord invites his prophets, “Let him who has my word speak my word faithfully” (v. 28). With this promise: “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lᴏʀᴅ, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (v. 29).

Remember God’s famous promise: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10–11, my emphases).

When we hear and speak a word from God, we can never be the same. Nor can the people we serve.

Paul told the Colossians, “I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known” (Colossians 1:25, my emphasis). These seven italicized words have gripped my heart in recent days.

I have therefore rededicated my life to making the word of God fully known in our day.

Will you join me?

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