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This week, I find myself still in 1 John 4.  Specifically, his admonition in verse 1: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  I have seen stories of those claiming to be prophets and/or claiming to have received prophetic messages from God.  Statements made by these prophets have since turned out to be untrue.  No doubt I need look no further to see what John meant by false prophets. 

Here is where I find study important when I am attempting to understand scripture.  I bring whatever I believe a word means to scripture when I read it and this can be dangerous when I thus interpret the meaning of a passage.  Whenever I read the word “prophet” I know that means “someone who says what God is going to do in the future”.  A modern day prophet is someone like the Old Testament prophets but better because that person is (ought to be) spirit-filled.  Or, at least I assume I know because that’s how the word has been used and is thus the definition foremost in my mind when I read scripture but; is that really what the word means?  It is important to me that I know and so I turn to my Strong’s Concordance.

The Greek word translated “false prophet” is pseudoprophetes (S5578).  What’s cool about studying Greek is the words can be broken into parts and their meanings looked at.  Pseudoprophetes can be split into pseudes which means “untrue, i.e. erroneous, deceitful, wicked–false, liar” and prophetes (S4396) which, while it does mean “a foreteller (“Prophet”)” it also means “An inspired speaker, a poet;-prophet”.  Prophetes can be split into its parts of pro (S4253) and phemi (S5346).  Pro means “fore, i.e. in front of, prior to” and phemi means “to show or make known one’s thoughts”.  My trusty Vine’s Expository Dictionary has: “PROPHETES, one who speaks forth or openly, A), a proclaimer of a divine message…one to whom and through whom God speaks.”1  With just this bit of study, I see that a prophet can be but is not necessarily someone who foretells the purposes of God in the future.  Rather, anyone who stands up and claims to be speaking on behalf of God is a prophet which would include any teacher, pastor, writer, etc. 

I see this is so when I look at Hebrews 1:1-2 and Revelation 19:10.  The Hebrews passage says, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds” and the Revelation passage says, “…for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”  It bears repeating: God speaking by His Son and the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.  To me, these scriptures say it isn’t just a prophet’s declaration of the future I need to be testing but also I need to be testing whatever is said by anyone claiming to speak on the word of God.  I sincerely hope my words are being subjected to the same test.  What test?

 For further clarification, I turn to the words of Jesus Himself.

In Matthew 7: 15-20, Jesus warns to beware of false prophets.  He says “you will know them by their fruits” in verse 16 and says it again in verse 20: “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”  Jesus speaks about two kinds of fruit in this small passage.  “Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?” He asks and then continues, “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit…every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 7:16-17, 19).

How can there be both good fruit and bad fruit?  In the parable of the Vine and the branches recorded in the 15th chapter of John’s Gospel Jesus says, “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you aide in Me.”  To me, this says there’s fruit and no fruit, not good fruit and bad fruit.  Does Jesus contradict Himself?  Can both passages be true?

I find my answer to that is yes but only when I consider the life that flows from the vine to the branch in terms of the Holy Spirit.  There is Jesus and there is Me.  We are separate in a sense (We can’t ever be truly separate as in Him all things hold together as described in Colossians 1:17.  That’s a vast subject I don’t have space to address here).  And yet, His life is my life because His Spirit lives in me.  I am only aware of His life in me because the Spirit reveals it to me.  This is true of every believer so how can a believer bear bad fruit?  When I return to Matthew 7, Jesus says “I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you’.” (Verse 23). 

Intimacy with Jesus Christ is the answer.  When I realize I abide in Him, that apart from Him I can do nothing, that I need the flow of His Spirit every moment of my life, the fruit I bear will be good fruit.  If that flow is stifled or diminished somehow, I would still bear fruit but it would be shriveled, tasteless, perhaps rotten fruit.  I wonder if this is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said “do not quench the Spirit” in 1 Thessalonians 5:19. 

In the very next verse Paul says, “Do not despise prophecies.”  Prophecies are important.  Teachers of the Word are important.  Knowing the difference between good fruit and bad fruit is important.  Galatians 5: 22-23 tells me what the fruit of the Spirit is, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  Here is an entire list of Spirit fruit I can taste for myself, savor, become familiar with as they become part of me.  It’s only by tasting the good fruit that comes from a life in the Spirit that I can recognize the taste of the bad fruit when it is served up to me.

  1. Vine, W.E., Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, 1997, Prophet, Page 894