Eeyore wasn’t the first talking donkey: The Gift of Prophecy in I Corinthians 12

“Thus saith the Lord. You are like cinnamon rolls baking in the oven. God is preparing you for a feast. Do not be burned! Do not let the icing be poured upon you making you a soggy pastry! Do not be eaten by the birds of prey or be scorched by the hellfire because you stayed too long in the oven!”

Wait…what? For some people, this is not too much of a stretch for what passes for prophecy these days. It seems that if someone is so bold as to pronounce “Thus saith the Lord” before their metaphor-laden monologue in the middle of a church service, then many will accept it as a “word of the Lord” without examining its content. Perhaps the speaker is just really hungry. Or maybe he/she has a common ailment in church circles today: the fear of silence. Whatever the reason, it is possible that what one believed to be prophecy in the moment, turns out not to be so. We ought to give grace and mercy to those who dare to speak on behalf of God – even it proves to be a mistake. Despite such mistakes, the gift of prophecy is still a vital element in the church today.

Paul makes it clear that anyone can potentially prophecy. “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy.” (1 Corinthians 14:5) Caiaphas, the high priest at the time of Jesus’ death, made a bold statement in John 11:50. “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” The irony is that it was he who did not realize what he was saying. John comments, “He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation.” In other words, though Caiaphas was an enemy of Jesus and meant something completely different when he spoke about Jesus’ death, God used him to prophesy to the Jewish people that Jesus would die for all of them.

That seems to be just the trouble with prophecy. Even those who speak it may not know they are doing it at the time. In fact, even a donkey prophesied in Numbers 22. So the character or integrity of the speaker is not as important a consideration as the content of the prophecy. God can use anyone to speak to His people – even asses!

A common misunderstanding is that prophecy always predicts the future. While it often points to the future, most prophecy actually pertains to the present or even reminds the hearers of the past. The easiest way for me to remember these distinctions is by using two terms: foretelling and forthtelling. Foretelling is prophecy with future consequences. It is usually in the form of an if/then statement like “if you do this, then I will do that.” Forthtelling is prophecy with present day ramifications; it is what God is saying right now to His people. It may bring comfort or judgment or a warning or a reminder or a challenge or consolation, but its ultimate goal is building up the people of God (Thiselton, NIGTC, p.964).

Prophecy is usually “spontaneous, Spirit-inspired, intelligible messages, orally delivered in the gathered assembly” (Fee, NICNT, p.595). However, prophecy “does not necessarily exclude teaching and doctrine” (Thiselton, NIGTC, p.963). In other words, a sermon might be prophetic, but that is the exception more than the rule. Unprepared and spontaneous utterances seem to be norm, but they should not define prophecy either.

There is so much more that can be said about prophecy, but rather than describe how it operated in Paul’s time, I thought it might help to hear the words of Jesus from a different perspective. Rather than thinking of Mark 13:11 as a prediction of the future, try to think of this as an encouragement for you yourself to prophesy today. “Say whatever is given to you at the time; for it is not you speaking but the Holy Spirit.” May God give us the words to say and the boldness to say them.

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No miracles today? Not so fast, my friend.

The following is my written testimony of a miracle that took place back in November 2008. It is one example of many of how God is at work today.

On Sunday morning I decided I needed to wash my clothes instead of leaving them as a pile of colorful decor on the floor of my room. After a few loads I needed to add more items to complete a third load so as to not waste energy and water so I grabbed my coat and hastily threw it into the washing machine – without checking the pockets! An hour later I returned and moved my clothes into the dryer, when I noticed a small object lying on the bottom of the washing machine. It was my hearing aid! In a panic, I grabbed it, put in a new battery, and prayed that it still worked. It did not (though it was very clean and smelled like spring mountains – whatever that is). I could not find the other one and I prayed to God that it had fallen out of the pocket of my coat of which I suddenly remembered leaving them in upon my return from school the previous night. I prayed for God to help me find it, but it was nowhere in my room.

I can function with one hearing aid; in fact, the one I had already found only worked intermittently at best even before it “went for a swim” so I had learned to cope with having one. Losing both however would leave me helpless – especially in my line of work. (If you want to know what it is like, hold your hands over your ears and hum Jingle Bells as someone is talking to you and you will get a good idea of how much of the conversation I would be able to hear without hearing aids.) But God wanted me helpless so that He could show His glory.

Stressed and panicked, I prayed, crying out for wisdom or provision or something. Then I searched my room like the woman with the lost coin, but all I got for my efforts was a massive headache and a twitching eye from all the stress. I called my mom and asked where I should go since she had had experience buying my hearing aids when I was younger and when we were poorer. All of the options involved a lot of paperwork and lengthy payment plans, neither of which I could afford as a student and a worker still on the ground floor of my newly launched career as a counselor. She offered to call her friend whose daughter was an audiologist to see if I could get a good deal, but it seemed like a long shot.

She also suggested checking the drain for my other hearing aid. Sure enough, I found it in a rubber crevice inside the washing machine. As if one cycle wasn’t bad enough, it had gone through another one for good measure when I did another load after I thought I had searched it thoroughly enough. It was deader than a Texas salad bar. My heart dropped. I really thought that God would spare me from disaster by sparing one of my hearing aids, but He did not. I went to bed that night weak and afraid. I prayed one more time and experienced that “peace that surpasses all human understanding.” God told me, “Do not be afraid” and let me know that everything was taken care of and would be resolved “beyond anything I could imagine.” I went to sleep glad that I didn’t have to write the script for my answer to prayer; God’s script is always better.
The next day I woke up early. I was anxious and still confused as to what I should do. I turned on my computer and searched for the number where I got my previous hearing aids. As I was dialing the number, my phone began to ring. God’s timing is perfect. It was my mother. She also had awakened early and received a call from her friend’s daughter. She happened to have two brand new hearing aids that she had received from a vendor several months ago that she had no use for since she is not hard of hearing. All I had to do was go to her office and have them programmed properly. These are top-of-the-line and worth $5800 and cost me nothing! God’s grace is so much more than I had ever imagined. He not only provided, but he went WAY above what I needed.

Wet Willies for Jesus: Gifts of Healing and Workings of Power (1 Corinthians 12)

Peanut butter and jelly, fries and ketchup, milk and orange juice. These combinations complement each other to produce something even more delicious than if one was to eat just one of the ingredients alone. (Try the third one with a dash of sugar; it tastes like a creamsicle milkshake!) Continuing the third part of our series of the spiritual gifts, we come to perhaps the two most spectacular manifestations of the Spirit: “gifts of healing” and “miraculous powers.” These are complementary gifts often overlapping so much that it is difficult to tell them apart. Let’s unwrap these gifts together.

“Healing” refers to a healing of the physical body, which either improves from its present condition or is completely cured of the disease or injury that afflicts it. It can be as small as a wart falling off your big toe or as big as a cure from cancer. It can be instantaneous or progressive healing, beginning a process of improved health over time.

Physical healing can also be a symptom of the healing of one’s soul. In Luke 8:50, Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” The word translated “healed” means “saved” in most contexts. Jesus purposely used this word because He had a double meaning in mind; as a result of her physical healing, she would believe as her father did, and receive spiritual healing as well. The child had died in her sins, but she was raised to life, physically and spiritually. The same is true today: often when people talk about the day they turned their life over to God, that day also marks their first day of freedom and the turning point in their battle against alcoholism, abuse, and/or habitual sin.

Miraculous powers are similar to healings. They are literally translated “workings of power” and cover everything from moving mountains to exorcising demons to the Detroit Lions winning the Superbowl. Some simplify things by translating it “miracles,” but that term does not include everything that displays God’s “power.” Fee thinks works of power “covers all other kinds of supernatural activities beyond the healing of the sick” (Fee, p. 594). In other words, if it does not fit in the “healings” category, then it is a miracle.

Both of these gifts are plural (“gifts” and “powers”), showing that the operation of these gifts are “enacted in a diversity of ways to address a variety of conditions” (Thiselton, NIGTC, p.948). In other words, they are done in different ways by different people in different situations. Jesus healed a deaf man by giving him a wet willy (Mark 7:32-37) and healed a blind man by making mud from His own spit and applying it to the man’s eyes (John 9:6-7). Jesus’ disciples followed suit including Peter healing some with his shadow (Acts 5:15) and Paul healing the sick with his sweaty hanky and aprons (Acts 19:11-12).

No one has these gifts exclusively. During His ministry, Jesus sent out His disciples two by two to drive out demons and anoint and heal the sick (Mark 6:12-13). No one has control over the use of these gifts either. Even Jesus was limited in the operation of this gift “because of their lack of faith” (Matthew 13:58). Paul could not remove his own “thorn in the flesh” (possibly chronic migraine headaches or eye ailments) even though he pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from him (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

What does all this mean? Fee suggests both gifts are “not a permanent ‘gift,’ as it were, but that each occurrence is a gift in its own right” (p.594). Arnold Bittlinger says it even better. “Every healing is a special gift. In this way the spiritually gifted individual stands always in a new dependence upon the divine Giver.” (Gifts and Graces, 1967, p.37)

Some claim that miracles and healings don’t happen anymore, but my experience tells me otherwise. I have been miraculously provided for (read about it here.)I have driven a car with no oil because God answered my prayer when I did not know why my car wasn’t running. I have seen my dog’s body restored so that she did not need a bolus of saline injected three times a day. She lived happily to the ripe old age of 14 without needing a single injection. I have seen the power of God displayed in my life on many more occasions. If we would stop being afraid and only believe, we will see God come through in mighty ways with more frequency.

Gotta Have Faith: The Gift of Faith in 1 Corinthians 12

Previously we discussed the gifts (or manifestations) of knowledge and wisdom. The next gift is faith, one of the most misunderstood of the nine listed in 1 Corinthians 12. Throughout the Bible, faith has several different definitions depending on the context in which it is used.

Usually faith means trusting in God – especially for salvation. This is what some call “saving faith” and it happens when an unbeliever first believes in Jesus as his/her savior and Lord.

First Corinthians 12, on the other hand, is talking about manifestations of the Holy Spirit among believers. Believers already have saving faith. The gift of faith must then be something extraordinary and obvious to be considered a gift above and beyond saving faith. It is a faith that can move mountains as Paul later describes in 13:2. Since Paul does not describe it in detail for us, we are forced to guess what the gift of faith looked like in action. Gordon Fee’s educated guess is that it “probably refers to a supernatural conviction that God will reveal His power or mercy in a special way in a specific instance.” (NICNT, p. 593, 1987) It is knowing that you know that you know that God will show Himself in a given situation. For instance, before I begin my internship, I have to raise thousands of dollars to support myself. I admit at first I literally woke up in the middle of the night with a jolt covered in sweat at just the thought of trying to raise that much money. Soon afterward, as I was praying, I was overwhelmed by a sense of peace and knowledge that God would show Himself in a mighty way as The LORD my Provider. I knew in that moment that God would miraculously provide the means so that I can begin my internship at my church. Certainly there are moments of doubt, but I have a quiet confidence from this gift of faith that God has given me for my current situation.

Fee also argues that the gifts of healing and miraculous powers that immediately follow the gift of faith “belong together – and indeed would at times seem not quite possible to differentiate.” (p. 593) In other words, it seems these three (faith, healing, and miraculous powers) go hand-in-hand-in-hand (three hands!?) So you gotta have the gift of faith for a miracle to happen and a gift of healing might never occur if the gift of faith did not come first. Anthony Thiselton (NIGTC, 2000, p.947) thinks the one being healed has the gift of faith while the healer has the gift of healing, but he cautions that this is not always the case.

Something strikes me as odd when I read First Corinthians. Is it possible that these gifts were so prevalent that Paul did not need to describe any of them? Did they happen so often that everyone had seen them in action and already knew what they looked like? I suspect the answer is yes. Now, allow me to make the leap of faith…maybe we wouldn’t need written descriptions of these gifts if we really believed that these gifts should happen with the same frequency today as they did in the first century. Maybe it would require the gift of faith to believe this, but I believe that God would show Himself to us in spectacular fashion if we stop making excuses for the lack of healings and miracles and start believing in the only One who could actually perform miracles in our churches, small groups, and families. Then, instead of educated guesses, we might have testimonies of God’s power revealed in our lives.

Paul did not provide vivid descriptions of each gift; I think this omission was his way of saying, “You’ll know it when you see it.” My prayer is that we do see these gifts as our knowledge and expectations for them increase and through them we see Jesus in whole new light.