Prove all things…. — 1 Thessalonians 5:21
By Rick Renner
I once bought a violin that I was sure was an authentic Stradivarius violin. Of course, if it was real, it was worth several million dollars. Before I purchased it, I studied documents about how to recognize a real Stradivarius compared to a well-made copy. After convincing myself that I had found a real Stradivarius in a remote antique shop in Russia, I purchased it. But after an examination by a violin expert, it proved to be nothing more than a very old, fabulous fake. Only an experienced eye would have been able to discern that it wasn’t authentic. Today that fake Stradivarius hangs on the wall in one of my offices as a reminder that everything that looks real isn’t real and that it’s important not to eagerly believe everything we see and hear.
I share this example because someone in the church at Thessalonica claimed to possess the gift of prophecy, but it wasn’t the authentic gift of the Spirit. It was an imitation, but it so closely resembled the real gift of prophecy that people in the church had been affected by it. When Paul wrote First and Second Thessalonians, he addressed this issue. Someone was claiming to speak by the gift of prophecy — and whoever this person or this group of people were, they had apparently prophesied that Jesus had already secretly returned and that the Thessalonian believers had missed His return. Because of this error that Paul sought to correct, we now have the apostle’s teaching on the return of Jesus Christ, as recorded in First Thessalonians 4:15-18 and Second Thessalonians 2:1-17.
The church in Thessalonica had already suffered terribly due to persecution, so the hope of Jesus’ return was very precious to them. We are not sure who was upsetting them, but whoever the person or persons were, they must have been influential, because it seems many believers took their prophecies seriously that Jesus had already come and they had missed His return. The Thessalonian believers panicked, thinking they had missed Jesus’ return. The prophetic utterances must have closely resembled what a real prophetic message sounds like, because it seems the congregation as a whole took it very seriously.
This deeply upset the Thessalonian believers, as it would upset you if someone you respected convinced you that Jesus had secretly come and that you had missed it. When these believers finally figured out that Jesus hadn’t come yet, they were so distressed by these inaccurate prophecies that they were tempted to turn a deaf ear to all prophetic utterances. But closing their hearts to prophetic utterances would have been a wrong response. Even though they had been exploited by bogus prophecy, the value of genuine prophecy hadn’t changed. It was still a real gift from God that they needed. If they shut their hearts to it, it would have robbed them of fresh words from the Holy Spirit that were a part of their necessary supply from Heaven.
Many of us have been negatively affected by inaccurate prophecy at one time or another. But that doesn’t mean all prophecy is wrong or untrustworthy. Lots of things are used inaccurately in life. For example, a car can be driven in such a reckless manner that it results in a collision — but that doesn’t stop us from getting in our cars. It simply makes us more aware of our need to drive more carefully and responsibly. If we decided to never drive a car again because someone was once fatally wounded in a car accident, that would be an irrational response.
When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he didn’t put a “ban” on all prophecies because of this negative prophetic experience; he simply told them to check their hearts regarding what they heard and to test prophetic utterances before they embraced them. He told them, “Prove all things…” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
The word “prove” is the Greek word dokimadzo, which means to approve after testing. In other words, don’t simply believe everything you hear. Test it before you accept it.
The word dokimadzo was used in various ways, but one significant way was to describe the process of testing coins to see if they were real or counterfeit. The counterfeit coins look very authentic — and there was such an abundance of counterfeit coins in circulation in ancient times that it became an accepted practice to test coins to determine if they were real or counterfeit. If tested and proven phony, they were rejected. Only if the coins were tested and proven authentic were they approved, pronounced good, recognized for use, and put into public circulation to be accepted for payment. That is where the word “prove” comes from that Paul used in First Thessalonians 5:21.
By using this word dokimadzo in the context of false prophecies that were being circulated among believers in the city of Thessalonica, Paul was urging these believers to treat every prophetic utterance with caution. He didn’t tell them to reject these utterances, but to test them.
As noted above, we need prophetic ministry, but we have a responsibility to test the content of the utterances spoken to us to ensure they originate from the heart of God. Just because someone says, “Thus saith the Lord,” does not mean it is a genuine prophetic utterance. It could just be the product of a person’s mind, given out of spiritual immaturity. Or in some cases, it could represent a conscious attempt to deceive, just as that fake Stradivarius I purchased was a deliberate attempt to copy something that was real. In both the natural and spiritual realms, the process of testing is crucial to ensure that only the authentic is received.
So if you have been the recipient of fraudulent prophetic utterances in the past, let that experience be a lesson to you and then move forward! Add it to your list of experiences that provided a spiritual education! But don’t let it cause you to back off from legitimate and biblically sound prophetic ministry, which is vital and needed both by you as an individual and by the Church at large. Learn from it and move on. Draw on the wisdom and discernment of those who are older and seasoned in the Lord to teach you how to recognize the difference between the real and the counterfeit. That is what Paul was trying to teach the Thessalonians when he told them to “Prove all things….”
The gift of prophecy is real — described as a gift of the Spirit in First Corinthians 12:10. We need this manifestation of the Holy Spirit to be active among us; in fact, Paul exhorted us in First Corinthians 14:1 to actively desire that the Holy Spirit use us in the manifestation of that specific gift.
So cultivate a sensitive heart so you can test every utterance that claims to be inspired by Heaven, just as Paul encouraged us to do in First Thessalonians 5:21. And once you’ve proven a word to be authentic, do your best to embrace it, meditate on it, and wage a good warfare with it in the name of Jesus!
Rick Renner is a prolific author and a highly respected Bible teacher and leader in the international Christian community. He is the author of more than 30 books, including the bestsellers Dressed To Kill and Sparkling Gems From the Greek.
In 1992, Rick and his family moved to what is now the former Soviet Union. Two years later, he and his wife Denise founded the Riga Good News Church in Latvia before moving on to Moscow in 2000 to found the Moscow Good News Church. In 2007, the Renners also launched the Kyiv Good News Church in the capital of Ukraine. Today, Rick serves as Bishop for this group of churches.
In addition, Rick and Denise pioneered a Bible school, and a ministerial association that serves thousands of Russian-speaking pastors throughout the former USSR as well as parts of the Middle East.
Rick also founded Media Mir, the first Christian television network established in the former USSR. Its broadcast capabilities via terrestrial stations in Russia, Ukraine, Mongolia, Estonia, Poland, Latvia, Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova, and as well by satellite means millions of people are reached with these messages. It has since expanded into book publishing and managing social media accounts.