What do Christians typically do to demonstrate their faith to the community where they live? And does it work?
It has been my experience what Christians and congregations do is doing good things in a community. They help the schools; they help people in need; they help with a variety of issues found in a community. And while that is a good thing and should be done by people of faith, does doing these things tell people in the community that there must be something different about these people because they are doing these things?
In other words, does it set apart Christians as different from others in the community?
The short answer is, “No.” Why?
It doesn’t set apart Christians or distinguish them as people of faith because there are so many others in the community, groups and individuals, who have no faith basis whatsoever, that are involved in doing good works within the community. There are many people with no faith basis who get involved with helping others in their community. They do this because they have been taught to do good to others.
If there are so many with no faith basis doing the same types of things that Christians are doing in an attempt to distinguish themselves as different from others, then when Christians are doing these things, people will not recognize it as a result of faith in Christ. That is just the reality of the matter. It’s not that Christians should stop doing these things, but there must be something else done to distinguish Christians from others.
What is it?
I believe 1 Corinthians 14:1 & 3 has the answer. Paul writes, “Pursue love and be zealous for spiritual matters, but so that you may prophesy all the more…the one prophesying to people speaks edification and comfort and encouragement.”
Let me first speak to how I have translated verse 1 because there is a difference. Most translations read, “spiritual gifts,” but the word used by Paul is not the word for gifts, but for spiritual things or matters. Certainly spiritual gifts are included in those things, but there is so much more than just them. Paul wants them to be zealous for spiritual matters, to be well-versed in the spiritual realm. And that means being well-versed with what is happening in the spiritual realm and having an insight as to what God is doing. And followers of Jesus, because of having received the Spirit of God becoming adopted sons and daughters of God, have a connection to the spiritual realm.
The prophesying Paul speaks of here is primarily forth-telling, not fore-telling. Paul wants the saints of God to be so immersed in the spiritual that they are able to speak into other people what they are hearing and seeing in the spiritual. This prophesying speaks edification, comfort, and encouragement into the people’s lives through taking what is being received from the spiritual realm through the Holy Spirit and giving it to the person for whom it is meant.
So, how will this set Christians apart? Imagine receiving something from the spiritual realm through the Holy Spirit, because you are sensitive to that realm because you are zealous for spiritual matters, and then speaking it into a person’s life. That is not the norm. That is different. That sets the person doing it apart from others.
Here’s the problem. It takes time and involvement to do this. It takes cultivating a sensitivity that only comes through a continuous zealousness for spiritual matters and things. It takes going deeper and deeper into the spiritual realm and understanding to a deeper level of what God is saying and doing and then speaking that to the person or persons for whom it is meant with the goal of drawing that person closer to God.
But when this is done, there will be a level of amazement in people who receive this message.
I pray that Christians would increasingly prophesy to those within their community because they are truly zealous for spiritual matters.