Friday, March 31, 2017

In Hot Pursuit of “the Barnabas Gift”

Notice a recurrent theme running throughout the Letters of Paul in the New Testament: “Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11). 

Why does Paul, the “addendum apostle,” since he was not one of the twelve who knew Jesus during the three years of his public ministry, repeatedly urge fledgling believers to “build up one another, encourage one another, and comfort each other”? (1 Cor. 14:3,4) 

If Paul had not received that same ministry from his friend and later coworker Barnabas, Paul might not have become the pioneer missionary, prime witness to Christ throughout the then-known world, foundational teacher of our Christian faith for centuries and millennia to come.

Without Barnabas to run front for him and vouch for his genuine conversion, Paul might not have been accepted by the apostles who were understandably suspicious of him because of his background as an enemy and persecutor of Christians. And without the encouragement and prophetic words of lay Christians Priscilla and Aquila, Paul's ministry might have been truncated or less spiritually on target (see 1 Cor. 2:2 and Acts 18:1-5) and we would not have the authentically inspired encouragement of Paul's letters in our New Testament.

So what does that have to do with me, a 21st century Christian? Paul addressed all believers throughout the ages when he said we should all prophesy, that it was one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and we should be well aware of it. Paul clearly stated that we should earnestly desire to prophesy above all the other gifts of the Spirit and that every believer should practice it. (1 Corinthians 12-14)
Prophecy is not something mysterious or spooky, something over which we don't have self-control. The New Testament gift of prophecy is not the same as prophecy in the Old Testament, which was primarily concerned with predicting future events. (And if it didn't turn out as you said...they did away with you as a false prophet!)

Encouragement seems to be the most common way to express the gift of prophecy, speaking a word as from God. We are each responsible to build ourselves up on our most holy faith (Jude 20, 21). At the same time, every Christian is to be a “cheerleader” to encourage others. (Rom. 12:8; Heb.10:24) To prophesy means to inspire others to persevere in their faith, to walk closely with the Lord, to resist the constant accusations and temptations of the evil one, (Rev. 12:10) and to remain faithful under trial and suffering. Prophecy equips the saints so that the Body of Christ may be strengthened (Eph. 4:11, 12). If we minimize or disparage the gift of prophecy, or ignore it, we grieve the Holy Spirit who gives prophetic utterances (1 Thess. 5:19, 20). 

We are all to be “Barnabas people.” (Acts 4:36, 37; 9:27) In the early church Barnabas was so zealous in exercising prophecy that they called him “a son of encouragement.” (Acts 11:23; Heb. 3:13). Making it personal, isn't it sobering to think that without our words of prophetic encouragement offered to other believers, they might not fulfill the purpose and destiny of God through their lives?

From the context of the above passages it would seem that the gift of prophecy is not narrowly defined or restricted to preaching or exposition of Scripture in some formal setting by special people as in pulpit ministry. (14:1) Through prophecy lay Christians build one another up in the Body of Christ, the Church. Whatever spiritual gifts God gives are for someone else's spiritual benefit, not for the pride of the person exercising the gift. 
The Holy Spirit gives one or more spiritual gifts to each of us, no exceptions. The gifts of the Spirit may overlap, for instance sometimes it may take several spiritual gifts at once to deliver God's prophetic message. We don't have to be exceptional Christians to qualify. God may give us different gifts at different seasons of our lives or adapt them to the changing circumstances. The Holy Spirit is looking for our availability to be His channel. Some of His gifts through us may come and go according to the need, the circumstances, and His overall plan. However, the gift of prophecy is available to us and through us always.

After earnest prayer, to apply a particular Scripture, God's words, to a situation is a way to exercise the gift of prophecy. We must, however, respect the context. A Scripture passage always has a first literal and historical application for the chronos time in which it was written. Secondly, the biblical principle or God's promise might be applied uniquely in a kairos way to an individual's situation—if the Holy Spirit leads. It's the kairos words that bring life to the one who hears. If we speak our own words to someone, the words often fall flat or they leave a negative impact. God's prophetic words have great impact and cut straight to the depths of the human heart and bring life. (1 Cor 14:25) 

A person who would prophesy asks the Holy Spirit for the gift, prayerfully makes himself available to the Lord by listening faithfully and attentively to Him every day, discerning what God wants said in a particular situation, then speaking or in someway communicating God's prophetic words at the proper time. 
The gift of prophecy may manifest itself in many forms: as a spoken or written statement, during a conversation, while counseling, while praying for someone, etc. The Holy Spirit is not limited in how He wants to reach men through us. We should deliver God's message with an attitude of humility and genuine love not with an authoritarian spirit (1 Cor. 13:2). 
Let us all pray and look around in our sphere of influence where the Lord has planted us at this season of our lives and discern to whom the Lord might have us bear a prophetic message from Him. To have an opportunity and privilege of being a messenger to deliver a “Barnabas gift,” a kairos word from the Lord, to someone “in season” is truly to offer them “apples of gold in a frame of silver!” (Proverbs 25:11) (Other translations: words spoken at the right time, appropriately, well-expressed, at the proper time, at a fit time.)

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