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4 Differences Between Being Prophetic and Just Being a Jerk

Prophetic voices of our time need to be willing to look at their own tribes and faith traditions in the mirror and speak to the prevailing idols and collective blindspots.

The apostle Paul put it this way.

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)

Likewise, the apostle Peter says, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17).

So another indicator that someone isn’t being prophetic but rather just being a jerk is if they are always talking about the sins of “those people.” The people who look nothing like them. The people whose struggles are completely different than themselves, their family, and their community.

Calling out the sins of “those people” costs you nothing. The people in your tribe applaud you, and “those people” aren’t listening anyway. Looking the people you love in the face and calling out their sin is what takes real courage.

Prophetic rebuke best takes place in the context of relationship.

3. Prophetic People Are Grieved and Burdened. Jerks Feel Superior.

Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets deliver some pretty scathing rebukes. And they often used vivid and even literarily creative imagery to do so.

To cite one example, here’s what Ezekiel once said to his own people, the nation of Israel.

And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord God. But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his. You took some of your garments and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore. The like has never been, nor ever shall be. (Ezekiel 16:14-15)

We’d be hard pressed to find a more vivid censure in our own public discourse. Yet these words were directed by God himself.

Nevertheless, Ezekiel took no joy in delivering them. None of the prophets did. They were often grieved and sorrowful individuals. In fact, none of them ever applied for the job of prophet. They were often reluctant participants in their own ministries. Plagued by a sense of inadequacy, God dragged most of them into it kicking and screaming.

Someone who has been “gifted” with a prophetic voice feels the weight of it. They aren’t speaking hard truths because they feel like they’re so much better than everyone else. They have just been given an inescapable sense of duty by God to do so.

It’s difficult to detect the disingenuous humility of another person, but it will always reveal itself eventually. And what a person shows you in a momentary pulling back of the curtain can tell you a lot about whether they really are a prophet, or just a jerk.

4. Prophetic People Always Point to Grace and Redemption. Jerks Just Like Judgment.

It’s a common misconception about the bible that the Old Testament is all about law and judgment while the New Testament is all about grace and forgiveness. Both Testaments are about all four of those concepts.