How Not to Speak for God

January 25th, 2012

Whether you’re a pastor, a teacher, or a "regular" Christian, God probably uses you to speak for him from time to time. You may not even realize he’s doing it. Since we often either don’t listen or can’t process it whenever he speaks to us directly (see Exodus 20:19), God uses other believers to speak into our lives and situations. It’s like a checks and balances system to keep us from deceiving ourselves.

In the Old Testament, God usually spoke through priests and prophets. Even under the New Covenant, we have pastors, priests, ministers, teachers and modern-day prophetic voices who communicate God’s word to us on a number of levels. But this is an age where the Holy Spirit is freely available to all God’s people, not just to a few chosen. So whether or not you’re in a special ministry role or have the spiritual gift of prophecy, you should look for opportunities to communicate to others what God is saying.

In Old Testament times, prophets showed up to bring a new word from God that could affect both the nation of Israel and people’s private lives. When Moses was talking about prophets who would succeed him, he said that God told him: “Any prophet who arrogantly speaks a word in my name that I haven’t commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods—that prophet must die.” (Deuteronomy 18:20 CEB).

Most of us aren’t in the office of prophet, and thankfully we’re no longer under the old covenant—talk about pressure! But God still uses people to speak for him, and he still takes it quite seriously. So there are a couple of principles you can grab and apply from this passage when you’re communicating the word of God.

Specifically, there are things you’ll want to avoid:

Don’t speak arrogantly. Don’t be presumptuous when you speak. Don’t be insolent. Don’t show disrespect, either to God or to the people you’re talking to. No one likes a know-it-all, and no one wants to be talked down to. Don’t get a big head because you have a word from God— he’s even spoken through a donkey on at least one occasion. (See Numbers 22:22-35.)

Don’t say something is a word from God when it’s not. Watch how you present information—if you’re not sure about what you're saying, perhaps you should give a disclaimer. Speaking in God's name is a big deal, even if the situation isn't a formal one. The word name in the Deuteronomy passage can mean honor, fame, or reputation. So when you're perceived by others to be speaking for God, you’re not only putting your reputation on the line, but God’s reputation too. So unless God leads you to do it kicking and screaming, you might consider omitting “This is what God says...” If what you say is truly from God, it will become evident to people over time.

Don’t speak in the name of other gods. We know there’s really only one God, but there are plenty of idols in our lives. When you’re attempting to share God’s word, make sure what you’re saying isn’t coming from your personal political and economic views and that you’re not emphasizing your own pet theologies. Watch everything else you say too. If people hear foolishness coming out of your mouth most of the time, how will they know to listen when you actually tell them something that might be from God?

Prophets speak on behalf of God to people, and occasionally, on behalf of individuals or a group of people to God. (See “prophet” in The CEB Bible Dictionary). Most of us probably don’t speak much for God in a formal capacity or come anywhere close to occupying a modern day “office of prophet”. Most Christian traditions don’t even have such a thing—not officially anyway. God, however, still uses people to get his message out, and when you’re the messenger (on whatever level), it’s imperative to take what you’re communicating seriously, verify it, and share it with an appropriate attitude.


comments powered by Disqus