The Apostle Paul said, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy…the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.” Then again, Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”
Is it appropriate to make this correlation: That prophetic words…
a) are the most important gifts for the church,
b) are intended to take people from where they are to where they could be (e.g., change their lives), and
c) will be rejected by the family they intend to serve?
As I go spelunking into the caverns of church history, I have begun to notice an all-too-common theme. There are many men and women who seem to have had uniquely clear vision in their day to see their condition, and a path to its improvement. With 20-20 historical hindsight, we honor these people. But most, in their day, faced stern resistance, rejection, and even extermination.
The sad thing? So many of these simply wanted the best for the church. They died for having a grander vision of what the church family could be than the rest of them could see.
I’ve come to find out in my short time here on the planet this less-than-profound truth: People want to enjoy themselves. That goes for my church family, too. In our age and place, with so many church options to choose from, most will pick a place that they like. Of course. Why would you pick a place you don’t like?
The church, though, is not designed to cater to our wants. It is, by definition, a place of discipleship, therefore discipline. As the author of Hebrews says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all … God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-8, 10-11). When Jesus commanded the Apostles to make “disciples” of all nations (Matthew 28:19), he was charging them baptize people into communities of discipline all over the world. Melding these passages together, Jesus was calling these men to broadcast a call to a life of painful hardship that will train you to become righteous, holy, peaceful and good. Anything less is illegitimate.
Prophets – those gifted by God to see truth, and boldly proclaim it in the church family – are on the front lines of this disciplined life. Like that really hard teacher in high school, or the over-the-top aerobics instructor, or that drill sergeant from your military days, the prophet is the one who calls you out of your present, and into your future. As the contemporary adage says, “No pain, no gain.” When we look back on these disciplinarians, some – especially those who rejected their leadership – might see them as obnoxious. But many of us are now grateful for the vision that they had for our lives, and their persistent drive to see us change. Those who endured bear the fruit, and are thankful.
Despite this whatever belated appreciation we can muster, it is a spiritual axiom that those with prophetic giftings will face rejection from the very family they are trying to serve. They are also indispensable to the life of the family. Paul tells us be especially ardent in seeking this gift … but really, who wants it?
Most all of our most famous aunts and uncles of the faith faced bitter rejection at the hands of the churches they served. Like their leader, they also become “the stone the builders rejected.” Paul. Athanasius. Benedict. Wycliffe. Hus. More. Luther. Hubmaier. Cranmer. Edwards. And a cavalcade of saints in local churches from our modern world. We may not say it … we may not even realize it! … but we’re eternally thankful for your faithfulness.