Saturday, March 4, 2023

Don't Despise ... But Test (1 Thess. 5:20-22)

If you need proof that I'm scatterbrained, here ya go. My "desk" at Bo's is pretty much always a shambles. 

Which means my mind is going a mile per second. Today's distraction? A note I had written years ago in my Greek New Testament (left bottom). 

Why did I write that? What in the world does it have to do with anything? The note in question reads:

1 Tim. 1:3 Paul tells Timothy to "command" (not just urge) certain people to stop teaching false doctrine. But Timothy's not functioning as elder-pastor. He carries Paul's full authority.

Now, I suppose this note is in reference to the middle part of the photo (right side) -- 1 Thess. 5:20-22. This is an exhortation to listen to God's word, to be spiritually discerning, and to resist evil in every shape. "Do not despise prophecies," writes Paul. His warning here is specifically against ignoring messages that claim to come from God. 

Now, I need to be clear. The topic of New Testament "prophecy" as a gift of the Spirit is a hotly debated one. I can't discuss that topic here. What we do know with certainty is that before the New Testament was written, the word of God came to believers through the apostles and prophets, who were the living and infallible teachers of the church. Today things are obviously different. Today we have the written word of God. Just as there is no apostle like Paul alive today, so there can be no prophet like the biblical prophets. If there were, we'd have to add their words to Scripture. No, it's not like that today. Paul himself gives us a wonderful definition of prophecy in 1 Cor. 14:3 when he says that "the one who prophesies speaks to men for their edification, encouragement, and comfort." There can be no doubt that today the primary vehicle for these things is the written word of God. Of course, that word often comes to us through the word preached and applied. That's why biblical preaching is so important. Who of us hasn't left a sermon saying, "Yes, that was a word for me." We all need to listen to the preached word of God attentively and receptively and to value it. But we are not to be indiscriminate when it comes to preaching. We are not to put our brains in park or neutral when we come to church. We are to evaluate what is said against Scripture. "Test everything to see if it is true," says Paul, "and if it is, then accept it." As a well-known preacher once put it: "A pastor without a Bible is a pastor without authority." 

And so I come back to the comment I wrote in my Greek New Testament:

1 Tim. 1:3 Paul tells Timothy to "command" (not just urge) certain people to stop teaching false doctrine. But Timothy's not functioning as elder-pastor. He carries Paul's full authority.

I do not hesitate to say that blind adherence to the words of men and the filling of the Holy Spirit are mutually incompatible, because the Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and there is only one standard of truth. Again, I want to be clear. I am not saying that the Holy Spirit is the only teacher we need. But he is the most important one (1 John 2:27). And though we have no apostles or prophets in the technical sense of those words today, their teaching is found in the New Testament. To put this another way, the church and its leaders are not over the Holy Scriptures, but under them. Let, then, the first mark of a healthy church be an unqualified adherence to the written word of God. Even though we may be privileged to sit under the teaching of wonderful pastor-teachers, yet it is not their word that matters in the end; it is God's. None of us, neither preacher nor pew-sitter, has proprietary rights over it.