The ministry of prophets is very prominent in Scripture. In the Old Testament in particular we find many individuals who are identified as prophets. Some, like Isaiah, have under divine inspiration written books which are included in our Bible.
There are also a lot of other people who are referred to as prophets who, while also speaking under divine inspiration, did not write any biblical books. People like the prophet Micaiah (2 Kings 22) and Huldah the prophetess (2 Chronicles 34:22) would fall into this category. A lot of space is given to the ministry of prophets in Scripture.
The reason for this is clear, the ministry of the prophet is very important. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us just how important they were: God spoke through them (Hebrews 1:1).
The apostle Peter also stressed that they were God’s spokespersons when he wrote that no prophecy of Scripture was of human origin, but rather was of divine origin, because the writers wrote as they were guided by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). The prophets had a high and holy calling, one in which they delivered the mind and will of the Lord.
From our vantage point in history, as we look back over the biblical texts, we view the true prophets of God in a positive light. We see them as heroes, proclaimers of truth and righteousness. This was not, however, always the opinion of their contemporaries. They were sometimes seen as antagonistic and troublemakers.
Jesus spoke about prophets without honor (John 4:44), James wrote about prophets suffering (James 5:10). It was not an easy road that they walked. One of the major reasons for their hardships was that they came with an unpopular message, the minority message. Frequently the prophets were the only ones presenting the true message of God and at times they had to stand alone in the face of their opponents (the false prophets) who outnumbered them.
In what follows I would like to call attention to a couple of challenges that one can encounter in ministry. These are aspects of ministry that may be particularly difficult to deal with. We can sometimes read over these things in the biblical text without making them much of an impression on us. As we consider these challenges we will look at the experience of one of the Lord’s prophets, Jeremiah.
Jeremiah was from a priestly family (Jeremiah 1:1). However, he was called to serve as a prophet (Jeremiah 1:4). If you read through the book of Jeremiah you will find that he was called not just to address the people of the Jewish nation but also the priests and prophets who were not faithfully following or representing God.
Jeremiah was called to address the spiritual leadership of the nation, the “clergy” of the day. He had to speak to people that many in the community looked to for spiritual direction and guidance. The priests were to maintain the traditions and carry out the sacrifices written about in the Law. The prophets were to deliver God’s Word into the particular historical circumstances of the Jews. Both of these ministries were part of the plan and purposes of God to bring about His will.
However, as I have already mentioned above many priests and prophets were not doing what God wanted (see Jeremiah 23). Jeremiah was called to address this. How uncomfortable that must have been. In a sense Jeremiah was called to address “peers,” fellow spiritual leaders. That must have been difficult, especially since he was a contrary voice, his message was not the message of many of the others. This would be an especially difficult task if these leaders were well established, as no doubt some were, or if they were older than he was.
In the New Testament we find one spiritual leader confronting another. In this case, we find one apostle confronting another apostle, and they were both true apostles! In Galatians 2, we find the apostle Paul confronted the apostle Peter regarding his hypocrisy about his first eating with the Gentiles and later withdrawing from eating with them when some other Jews showed up (Galatians 2:11-21). This may have been a bit awkward for Paul since Peter had been an apostle longer than he had. In fact, Peter was one of the original twelve apostles.
However, there is another dynamic we might easily miss regarding Jeremiah’s situation. He was called to address the priests. Priests were to come from the tribe of Levi and Jeremiah was from a priestly family. So when he had to address the errors of the priests he may very well have been addressing relatives that he knew. Taking a stand in opposition to family members and telling them they are wrong about spiritual things is never an easy task.
In another Old Testament account, Gideon was called to stand against the idolatry of his family in order to stand for God (Judges 6:25-26). This was not a task that he was comfortable with, this is evident because he carried out what the Lord told him to do undercover of night (Judges 6:27).
Christian leaders, whether they are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, or teachers can at times find themselves at odds with the people they are called to serve, this includes “peers” and “relatives”. When this happens there can be tension, conflict, accusations, and hostility. None of these are pleasant. However, as servants of God we are called to be faithful to the Lord no matter who the other persons involved may be.
Jesus spoke of loving Him more than all other earthly relationships, even those of one’s immediate family (Matthew 10:37). We are called to love and serve the Lord above all others. While this can be a difficult and uncomfortable task at times Scripture show us that it can be done. May those who are Christian leaders be faithful representatives of the Lord, who do not buckle under to the pressure of people, but who are true to the Lord and help others also faithfully follow Him.
John P. Lathrop – United States
John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Western Connecticut State University, Zion Bible Institute, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME). He is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies and has twenty years of pastoral experience.