In his instructions to the Thessalonian church, Paul exhorts the believers to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–22, NKJV). The command to not despise prophecies comes in between the calls to not quench the Spirit and to test all things. In following these instructions, we can strike a perfect balance in discerning the messages we hear.
To despise something is to reject, disregard, or treat it as if it has no value. Believers are called to test all things, including prophecies (1 Thessalonians 5:21), but we do not despise true prophecies. The NIV reads, “do not treat prophecies with contempt.”
Prophecies are messages from God. They do not necessarily foretell the future or impart brand-new truth, although they can do both. At its root, prophecy has to do with “forth-telling” or proclaiming God’s Word. Ephesians 4:11–13 states that God gave prophets to the church to help believers grow in the faith. Believers are not to despise prophecies because God’s Word was given to us for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). We are not to despise prophecies from a person whose message accurately teaches God’s Word.
The believers at Thessalonica often depended on prophets to proclaim God’s Word and to reveal God’s will for the church. They lived in apostolic times before the New Testament was completed. However, there were many wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15), false prophets who sought to lead people astray. False prophets followed the god of their bellies and sought to mislead believers, proclaiming corrupt messages that did not agree with Scripture (see Philippians 3:18–19). This is why Paul warns believers to test all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21) but to not despise genuine prophecies. To despise prophecy would be to quench the Spirit (verse 19).
True prophets are led by God’s Spirit and proclaim messages that align with Scripture. Believers are not to despise these prophecies. A true prophet proclaims God’s message; he does not promote himself or his interpretation: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20–21). True prophets faithfully proclaim God’s Word.
In exercising discernment concerning the messages we hear, we must not quench the Holy Spirit or despise true prophecies. Believers can never lose the Holy Spirit, but we can quench His work (1 Thessalonians 5:19). The Spirit is quenched when we dampen the effect of the His influence in our lives. One of the ways He influences us is through prophesying or the preaching of the Word; therefore, Paul says, do not despise prophecies. Believers cannot know and uphold true prophecy when they quench the Holy Spirit.
Believers must test prophecies against God’s Word and make sure the person proclaiming the message is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. If a message is truly from the Lord, we must heed it and not despise it. We must cling to what is good and abstain from every form of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21–22). In doing so, we will grow in our faith.