Yesterday, May 19, was a day of celebration for Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians. It was Pentecost Sunday, a day commemorating the Holy Spirit coming upon the followers of Jesus on the traditional Jewish festival day known as Pentecost.
The events on Pentecost roughly 50 days after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ brought about what is sometimes called the birthday of the Christian Church. Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching in a local church, talking some about its birth.
The Hirao Baptist Church was started by missionaries Bob and Kay Culpepper in the 1950s. The church’s first meeting place was in the upstairs of the missionary residence where June and I, and our two older children, moved in 1968 after the Culpeppers had moved to another part of the city.
Then in its own building, Hirao became our church home from 1968 until 1980, when we helped start the Fukuoka International Church under the sponsorship of Hirao Church. It was a real joy to have the privilege of preaching there again yesterday—in the fine new facilities built several years ago at the same location as their first building.
|Hirao Baptist Church, Fukuoka City, Japan|
My text was 1 Corinthians 14:1-5a and my emphasis was upon “prophesying.” 1 Cor. 14:1 says, “Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy” (NRSV). In Eugene Peterson’s delightful Bible paraphrase known as “The Message,” this verse reads, “Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it—because it does. Give yourselves to the gifts God gives you. Most of all, try to proclaim [God’s] truth.”
One of the main points of my message was that the thrust of that first Christian Pentecost was not the speaking in “tongues.” Rather, it was speaking/proclaiming God’s message. That is what needs to be emphasized now. And speaking/proclaiming God’s message is something that can and should be done by all Christian believers, not just by those who are pastors or missionaries.
Moreover, proclaiming God’s message is something that needs to be done by deeds as well as by words. Of course, for some groups, such as the Quakers and maybe many Mennonites, perhaps the emphasis needs to be on proclaiming God’s message by words as well as by deeds. (Long ago I heard of someone who said to a Quaker, “Why don’t you preach what you practice!”)
But who speaks for God? There are so many different voices all claiming to be speaking for God, how can we tell true “prophets” from false ones? This is no new problem. But it is still a problem, and it is a big problem.
The words of 1 Corinthians 14:3 are helpful here: “. . . the one who proclaims God’s message speaks to people and gives them help, encouragement, and comfort” (TEV). This is not the only guideline for discerning who speaks for God, but it is an important one.
Those who truly speak for God, proclaiming God’s truth, are those who speak words and do deeds that help, encourage, and comfort others—especially those who are hurting: the physically and spiritually needy, the exploited and discriminated against, and (among others) the victims of violence and the ravages of warfare.
Next month I will have the opportunity to speak at the dedication service of a new church building in Cambodia. Please pray that I may truly speak for God to people of that troubled country who have been hurting for such a long time and desperately need God’s word of help, encouragement, and comfort.