Aside from wisdom and warnings, we need to avoid certain pitfalls and see the danger of wrong motivations. So far, I have focused primarily on helping to release people into the prophetic gifts by explaining the principles of receiving, interpreting, and administrating prophetic words. Now that we have established God’s purpose, ways, and means concerning prophetic gifts, we must discuss the issue of false prophets.
When we speak of false prophets in this series, we are not talking about astrologers, psychics, and fortunetellers. Although these are clearly false, I doubt that anyone reading this series of teachings is in danger of replicating these errors. Rather, false prophets in the church are those who are destructive, ministering with a true prophetic gift, but without prophetic character. The fruit of false prophets is division, strife, and discord in the congregations they touch.
We must understand the origins of a false prophet for three basic reasons. First, if we understand their origins and motivations, we can more easily discern the false prophets who come into our congregations to scatter the flock. Second, this understanding will enable us to help young emerging prophetic ministries avoid these pitfalls as they mature. Third, if we are called to the prophetic ministry; we must understand the traps laid by the enemy to ensnare us.
The Spirit of Prophecy
Being called to ministry means that we are called to represent the Lord. We represent Him in two primary ways – with our words and with our lives. Revelation 19:10 says that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” We must not live our lives or use our words carelessly if we are to accurately represent Jesus, the faithful and true Witness (see Revelation 3:14)
The Lord gave me a dream years ago to help me understand the power of my words. In the dream, I was standing with a group of friends on the construction site of a new home. Building materials and construction tools were lying on the ground around this unfinished house. All at once, different people began throwing steel rods, shovels, and other building tools at me. I easily swatted these aside without any of them harming me. Finally, out of frustration at people throwing dangerous objects at me, I picked up a small screwdriver and gently tossed it at someone. The screwdriver sailed across the landscape and sank deeply into my friend’s belly. He doubled over as blood began flowing out of his stomach. I was panic stricken when I realized what I had done. The dream ended.
The construction site represented the church, which is being built into the Lord’s house. The people on the construction site represented members of the body of Christ. The different objects being thrown by individuals were their words. Although heavy, pointed words were thrown at me, I could easily cast them aside.
However, my words, no matter how small and softly “thrown,” would go deep into the belly (spirits) of others. Although this was a specific message and warning to me, it is also a general message for all who are called prophetically. Our words contain spiritual power and authority. We must not throw them around carelessly. While other peoples’ words may not hurt us, we can kill with ours because of the power God has put behind them.
Ministers who witness of Jesus verbally should also witness of Him with their lives. John 1:14 declares that “the Word became flesh.” Just as Jesus was the Word made flesh, so the Word of God should also be made flesh in us. It must not only be our message; we must also live it. While this is true of all ministries, it is especially true of the prophetic because we are speaking for God.
Because of the dramatic demonstrations of power and revelation that often accompany this ministry, it is especially important that any weakness of character be openly and honestly dealt with. A wise man once stated that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Although not an immutable spiritual truth, it will be true in the case of those who are called to walk in God’s power if certain wrong motivations are not dealt with by God
The Progression of False Prophets
While we all fall short in numerous areas, there are three basic character flaws from which those called to prophetic ministry must be delivered in order to stay on the path of life and true ministry. Each of these flaws involves selfishness and can be found in the epistle of Jude. Jude’s letter to the church was written primarily as a warning about those who are false prophets and the believer’s response to them. In one of the most dramatic and fear inspiring encounters I have ever had with the Lord, He spoke the following verse to me to explain the characteristics of a false prophet.
Woe unto them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah (Jude 11 KJV).
Cain, Balaam, and Korah each represent a different character flaw that will pervert our ministries if we do not recognize them at work in us and then quickly repent. They not only represent a different flaw, but also a progression of selfishness that will cause us to become false in our ministry.
Cain represents those who are plagued with the character flaw of self- will. The name “Cain” means maker or fabricator, or one who makes his own way. Self-will is the desire to do things our own way, instead of God’s way or the way of those whom He has placed as authorities in our life. Cain’s attempt to fulfill God’s plan according to his own methods (see Genesis 4) is a classic example of self-will and its results. When Cain’s offering was rejected, he reacted badly. Instead of acknowledging that his way was wrong and that God’s way was right, he became angry and depressed. Even after God Himself confronted Cain, he still did not turn from his own way. His depression and anger gave place to a spirit of murder as he killed his own brother.
Our self-will possesses the power to pervert our perspective in the same way. If we launch prematurely into prophetic ministry through our self-will and are not accepted in that ministry, we will become depressed and angry eventually spiritually and emotionally destroying those around us.
Many false prophets have devastated entire congregations by using their revelation gifts in self-will to attack the church’s leaders. Even after leaving a trail of division and strife wherever they go, many of these will not listen to correction. At this point self-will, anger, and depression combine to form self-pity, which is possibly the greatest detriment to spiritual growth and maturity that exists.
Self-pity is an enemy of our soul that keeps us making excuses and placing the blame on others so as to avoid taking the responsibility that could help cure us. Those who are going in the way of Cain are self-willed to the point of being unteachable by anyone, including God!
Self-will is the root of much sin. We see this first with Lucifer and then Adam. Each sinned by choosing his own way over God’s. As they did, each released evil throughout the world in unprecedented ways. We are deceiving ourselves if we think that our choices affect only us. If we have been given a place of responsibility and authority with God’s children, any fall that we experience will injure those under our care. If self-will remains a part of our character, we will eventually be captain to devastating spiritual shipwrecks.
There is often much rejection for those who are called prophetically. This is true for many reasons, including the supernatural, and often strange phenomenon surrounding this ministry. However, one reason many prophetic ministers experience rejection is God’s response to the sin of self-will. As Lucifer acted in self-will, he was cast out of heaven (see Isaiah 14:12-15). As Adam acted in self-will, he was cast out of the garden (see Genesis 3:23-24). As Cain acted in self-will and then murdered his brother, God declared that he would be a fugitive and a vagabond throughout the earth (see Genesis 4:11-12).
Jude 13 describes false prophets as “wandering stars.” This is characteristic of those who are false in ministry; they wander from one place to another without any set course. The rejection that arises from self- will has caused them to deviate from the path which God has set for their lives. If we are wise, we will cease from this sin the moment we are convicted of it. If we do, we can find a place of acceptance in life and fruitfulness in ministry. If we do not, we will soon progress from the way of Cain to the error of Balaam.
Balaam’s name means devourer of the people or conqueror of the people. He represents those who devour the sheep or use the people for their own gain. The Bible says that Balaam was once a prophet to whom God Himself came (see Numbers 22:9). However, when tempted to use his prophetic gift to obtain riches and glory for himself at the expense of God’s people, he eventually gave in.
This may be the greatest temptation to those in leadership. Will we use our position, power, and authority to serve the people or ourselves? Jude, describing this characteristic of false prophets, said that they were “feeding themselves without fear” (Jude 12), disregarding the needs of the people and “walking after their own lusts” (Jude 16 KJV).
There are three basic arenas for this temptation—financial or political, emotional, and sexual. Financial and political gain was the first area in which Balaam was tempted. Balak, king of Moab, offered him great riches and authority if only he would use his prophetic gift for Balak’s purposes. Most today will never be confronted with anything so blatant, but are we tempted to subtly change the message God has given us in order to make it more acceptable to people who promise to provide us with finances or influence? Proverbs 15:27 states, “He who profits illicitly troubles his own house; but he who hates bribes will live” (NAS). We would do well to heed this warning.
It is proper that those who preach the gospel should derive their living from the ministry (see 1 Corinthians 9:14). But if we begin catering our ministry to those who have wealth and influence instead of faithfully ministering to everyone whom God has put in our charge, we are nothing more than spiritual harlots selling ourselves for temporal rewards. If, like Balaam, we are respecters of men we may remain true for a while. However, when the more honorable princes come, we will give in to this temptation and go with them, believing that God has sent us (see Numbers 22:20-22).
Possibly the most subtle and therefore dangerous aspect of this character flaw is the temptation to devour the glory and esteem that comes from the people. If we are nourished by the acclaim people attempt to heap on us, we will soon be ministering for the sake of that recognition. We will again be tempted to change the message so that it pleases the people. Consider Jesus’ words to the religious professionals of His day:
“He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (John 7:18 NAS).
“How can you believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” (John 5:44 KJV).
These were looking for their glory from one another. Are we inclined to do the same? Are we tempted to speak words that will bring about our own glory? If we are seeking to find our personal significance in those to whom we minister, our ministry will be greatly perverted. We then become more concerned with the opinions of the people than with the opinions of God. The tendency to receive and begin craving the glory of the people is often intricately linked to the rejection that many have experienced. Regardless, the Scriptures are clear: If we are still seeking to please men, we cannot truly be the bondservants of Christ (see Galatians 1:10).
Another aspect of this Balaam character flaw that often comes through the doorway of rejection is sexual immorality. Some, who have not been healed of their rejection, have fallen to looking for acceptance in illicit relationships with those to whom they are ministering. Because of the dramatic and supernatural nature of prophetic ministry, there is a tendency to be awed not only by the gift, but by the possessor of it. Some prophetic ministers, still harboring deep rejection, have used this as a means to develop inappropriate emotional relationships. From that point, the fall into sexual immorality can happen quickly.
To avoid the error of Balaam, it is imperative to remember that our true inheritance is in heaven. As Proverbs 20:2 1 states, “An inheritance hastily gotten [by greedy, unjust means] at the beginning, in the end will not be blessed” (AMP). Balaam, a prophet to whom the Lord Himself once came, died as a soothsayer (see Joshua 13:22). If we are not willing to wait for our rewards in heaven, we also can digress from prophets to diviners whose end is not blessed.
Korah literally means bald or uncovered. He represents the rebellion often present in the lives and ministry of false prophets. In Numbers 16, we find the scenario that defines Korah and his gainsaying.
Korah and other men of renown in Israel rose up against Moses and Aaron with the accusation that they had taken too much authority upon themselves, since all of Israel was holy in God’s eyes. This seemingly democratic move was actually inspired by Korah’s own desire for more authority. Likewise, many false prophets today will try to use a doctrine of equality as a means of establishing themselves in authority.
The fact that Korah was a man of renown and fame in Israel had no bearing on the amount of spiritual authority he possessed. God, not the people, had placed Moses and Aaron in authority. In like manner today, true spiritual authority does not come from the church – it comes from God! It is possible that Korah was called by God to a greater position of leadership in the nation of Israel than he currently possessed, but he did not endure the test of patience
There is a process by which we all enter into the ministry that God has for us. In general, this process is designed to deal with the character issues that would ultimately destroy us and the people to whom we minister. The final test for most of us is the test of patience. Just as with Jesus, the enemy will offer us a crown without a cross. But like the Son of God, we must be willing to accept only the path dictated by the Father, and it is a more narrow path. If we are impatient and anxious to be in authority, then we are still unfit for that authority.
Learning to wait upon God is an acknowledgment that we understand the source of true spiritual authority. True spiritual authority does not depend on us or our giftedness; it depends on God’s choice. It is possible that Korah possessed greater gifts and abilities than Moses, but he was not God’s leadership choice at that time. We do not fulfill our ministry through our own strength and abilities, but through God’s anointing, which He places upon those whom He chooses.
When Korah stood against him, Moses replied that God would show whom He had chosen. If we are seeking our own advancement instead of the establishment of God’s kingdom, then we also will disregard God’s choice. When we reject God’s choice, we are really rejecting God. Unless the self-will of Cain and the self-seeking of Balaam in our lives is dealt with, they will evolve into a rebellion that rejects God’s anointed leadership, and even God Himself!
This same gainsaying is the source of the gossip and accusation pervading the church today. It is fueled by the selfish ambition of those who are gifted but impatient. Jude, describing this characteristic of false prophets writes, “These are grumblers, finding fault…they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage” (Jude 16 NAS)
Our choices are clear: We can serve those whom God has chosen for our leaders, or we can cultivate the hearts of the people toward ourselves in order to gain illegal and untimely spiritual authority. This type of political maneuvering is typical of those who have become false in ministry. Self-will in Cain becomes self-seeking in Balaam, and eventually self-exaltation in Korah. Jesus said that “whoever exalts himself shall be humbled” (Matthew 23:12 NAS). Consider the judgment of Korah and his accomplices.
And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation (Numbers 16:32-33 KJV).
Korah and his cronies were raptured to hell. They literally went into the pit alive! Korah’s judgment is a prophetic warning. When rebellion of this order has set into the life of those prophetically called, they enter into the dominion of hell and become false prophets. At this point, they have crossed a line and catastrophic judgment is imminent. However, this judgment can be redemptive even at this late stage if they will acknowledge their sin, repent and submit to God’s process of restoration.
Gifts and Fruit
We must come into a better understanding about the prophetic ministry One dangerous tendency has been for the church to accept so open-mindedly anything that calls itself prophetic that when we bend over our brains fall out! It is proper to honor and esteem those who are gifted, but we must never allow their giftedness to overshadow their character. Jesus Himself said that we should judge men by their fruit and not solely by their gifts.
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-16 KJV).
Some in ministry today have left the relationship with the Lord that they once possessed. They have departed from the Path of Life, yet they continue to minister in the supernatural gifts given to them by God. Romans 11:29 says that “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (KJV). God does not take away the spiritual gifts He gives to us. Therefore, we must know the manner of life of those who labor among us (see 1 Thessalonians 5:12)
How Should We Then Live?
This may be hard to comprehend, but most false prophets are still true Christians. Again, we are not discussing those who are obviously false, such as astrologers and psychics, but rather those who have fallen to the errors we have discussed. Many who are truly called of God have become false because they presumed to walk in a ministry to which they have not been called, or because they did so prematurely. By making one of these errors, they stepped outside of the Lord’s plan into their own and have been taken captive by the enemy.
However, they are still heirs of salvation. The greatest victory is to see these restored to the Lord’s desire for their lives. They need to turn from their selfish motivations to a loving and forgiving God. Because it is God’s desire for all to be saved, we must always keep salvation, redemption, and restoration foremost in our interaction with everyone.
Consider Jude’s instruction for our response to these false prophets:
Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference. And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh (Jude 21-23 KJV).
We are now under a better covenant with better promises than were Cain, Balaam, and Korah. One promise is that God chastens and disciplines those whom He loves (see Hebrews 12:5-8). If God brings discipline to those who have become false in ministry and they submit to it, God is well able to change them. Indeed, He is able to change any person who submits to Him without excuses.
If you are overtaken in any of these areas, turn to God and to those who can help you overcome your sin and character flaws. Quit making excuses for yourself and obtain the character of Christ. There is still time to change the course that you are on. Like Jezebel who called herself a prophetess but was false, God is giving you space to repent (see Revelation 2:20-29).
If you are a pastor, help the emerging prophetic ministers in your congregation. Be loving and firm with them. Scripture declares that “open rebuke is better than secret love” (Proverb 27:5 KJV). Hold their feet to the fire. If they get burned, you can help to heal them. You are called to watch over their souls and speak into their lives, and you will give an account to God for your oversight (see Hebrews 13:17). If false prophets come into your fold, you should try to help them, but not at the expense of sacrificing the sheep.
My experience has shown me several potential dangers in presenting these truths. First, those who need a word like this are prone to not receive it. Therefore, if you are called to prophetic ministry; ask God to examine you and see if there is any hurtful way in you. Also submit yourself to those to whom you are accountable for their input. If you do not have such relationships, you need to ask the Lord to help you find them quickly
The second danger is that many who do not need this message will receive it because of their humility. These will have a tendency to stop ministering until their motives are 100 percent pure. Hear this word: God does not want you to stop ministering; He wants you to minister in power and with His character. Continue in the way of the Lord while receiving the correction He brings to you.
Third, many immature prophets look like false prophets; therefore, if some leaders overreact to this message, there is a danger of destroying in their infancy many who are currently being groomed by God for prophetic ministry. Pastors, instead of erring in this way, learn to recognize the young prophets in your midst and help guide them into God’s perfect will for their lives.
Regardless of these and other reactions, we must address these issues and press forward. God is restoring the prophetic ministry to the church and we must receive it. We must understand these wrong motivations in order to not only discern the false, but to also receive and pastor the emerging prophetic ministry so that it comes to fullness in our midst.
Adapted from:“You May All Prophesy!”Practical Guidelines for Prophetic MinistrySteve Thompson