My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience.
Here in Brazil, it seems everybody wants to be a prophet. I’ve had people I’ve never met try to proclaim a “prophetic word” over me. In many so-called evangelical groups, being a simple pastor is passé. There is much more glamour in being a “prophet” (and don’t et me started on all the bishops and apostles we have running around).
Why is this? I think part of it is what I call “Old Testament envy.” People read the accounts of Elijah calling down fire and being taken up in a chariot, and think “how cool is that!” To be fair, none of these modern Elijah wannabes have been given a ride in a chariot, but plenty of them drive around in gleaming new automobiles, so…close enough.
In addition to the potential for material gain in a made-up title, I think there is another, more sinister motive. If you call yourself a prophet, it adds a level of authority to your words. It gives you more power over the people. I mean, who would go against the words of a real life, bona fide prophet of God?
If you actually READ the Old Testament, you find that the answer to that question is “pretty much everybody.” In fact, people not listening to him was part of the job description of one prophet.
When we read the Old Testament, everybody wants to the be the prophet that
“…subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens…”
But exactly zero people want to be the guys who
“…were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented…”
But guess which category James is talking about in our verse. If you said “the second group” you are correct. Remember, the context is the persecution faced by Christians at the hands of the rich and powerful of this world. James is telling us to look to the prophets as examples of “suffering and patience.”
So by all means open the Old Testament and read the lives of the prophets. Thrill at the ways they were used to demonstrate God’s power. But pay special attention to how they endured opposition…because that’s how they become especially relevant to us today.
Banner image: We’re not sure how the prophet Isaiah met his end, but tradition holds that he was the one “sawn in half” referred to in Hebrews 11, as depicted by this painting.
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