23 April 2022

Apest: Prophets

Bible study by Major Matt Butler

Major Matt Butler highlights those who bring correction and challenge to God’s people.

This Bible study series explores Apest, the fivefold ministry of Ephesians 4 (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, Teachers). For more information, visit theforgottenways.org

Key text

My memory is worse than that of a goldfish.

I don’t even need to walk upstairs to forget where I am going or what I am supposed to be getting. Sometimes, I head out forgetting things I will need that day.

I am grateful to my wife and others who call me back or remind me not to forget what I need.

What things do you forget when leaving the house?

On realising that we have forgotten something, we have two choices: to carry on regardless or to go back and fetch what we need.

In our study passage, Paul reminds us of the gifts of Christ to the Church – apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers (see v11 English Standard Version). This study focuses on prophets.

In The Pulse of Christ, Nathan Brewer writes: ‘Prophetic individuals are uniquely gifted by Jesus to creatively connect to and express the Father’s heart, inspiring faithfulness to God and justice in the world.’

Prophets call us back into relationship with God and focus our response to the world with the heart of God. They are vital to any church community but, like Jesus, are not always welcome.

In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus outlined his mission and then warned: ‘Truly I tell you ... no prophet is accepted in his home town’ (Luke 4:24). This truth was confirmed when his congregation tried to push him over a cliff (see Luke 4:28 and 29).

Why this tension?

Alan Hirsch comments: ‘Prophets ... are particularly attuned to God and his truth for today. and challenge the dominant assumptions we inherit from the culture. They insist that the community obey what God has commanded. They question the status quo.’

The prophets in the Old Testament call God’s people back to him.

Micah reminds us to ‘act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6:8).

Amos brings together themes that recur throughout the words of the prophets, including condemnation of immorality, warning of coming judgement, an appeal to turn back to God in order to obtain mercy and a reminder that God is holy and loving.

Malachi deals with apathy. He emphasises that God wants the best we have to offer, not the least we can get away with. He writes: ‘“Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty’ (Malachi 3:7).

Pause and reflect

  • How do you seek intimacy with God?
  • To what extent do you find yourself drawn to areas of justice?
  • Have you felt left out or misunderstood as a prophet?
  • What is God calling you back to?

Some corps will contain individuals who are more naturally wired to function as prophets – it is the lens through which they see the world. However, maturity sees all five functions being present and expressed across the entire body of the Church.

Our corps and wider denominational culture must ensure that we have all five functions present and active – including the prophetic.

Stock image of someone reading the Bible

Ephesians 4:11-12

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

Read the full chapter

The Salvation Army is a holiness movement that is not only rooted in intimacy with God but also seeks justice for people. They go hand-in-hand.

To be focused on our relationship with God while being disengaged from the world leaves us irrelevant and ineffective. To be focused on doing good without the strong foundation of intimacy with God leaves us looking indistinguishable from any other justice movement.

Prophets ensure that we do not forget the covenantal love of God and the need for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They put us in a place where we can powerfully engage with issues of justice from a biblical foundation.

As we explore new ideas for mission, we need the energy and creativity of those first apostles and a let’s-do-this attitude. Unhindered by logic, we need to step out without fear of the future or captivity to failures of the past.

May we allow the prophetic voice to offer discernment and encouragement, ensuring that our good ideas are God’s ideas. May we allow the prophetic voice to call us into deeper intimacy with God, which will empower us to be greater champions of justice.

Pause and reflect

  • Where do you see prophetic culture within The Salvation Army?
  • How do you maintain a God-centred life?
  • Can you identify any prophets in your corps or among Salvation Army leaders?

As we continue to love God and love others, may we ensure that the voice of the prophets calls us back to the heart of the Father and keeps us all on track.

This Bible study was originally published in Salvationist magazine on 5 March 2022.

Let's pray

Dear God, thank you that you reveal your truths through the prophets of the past and today. May they be attuned to your word and may we be receptive and respond to the thoughts they present to us.


Bible study by

A photo of Matt Butler.

Major Matt Butler

Corps Officer, Bognor Regis, and Apest Lead Enabler, South East Division

Discover the rest of the series

All devotions

Captain Callum McKenna highlights what it means to be ‘sent’ with God’s message.

Bethany Munn asks whether we walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

Major Vikki Burr considers what we can learn from the Shepherd’s Psalm.

Major Ian Mountford encourages us to identify those called and gifted by God to teach.

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