Throughout scripture, we witness God speaking to people through prophets, dreams, nature, and even animals. Most of us have not experienced any of these forms of communication directly. Instead, we rightly rely on God’s word as the primary means by which we hear His voice today.
But is scripture the only way that God speaks today, or can God speak to you through someone else?
God speaks to us through the wisdom and instruction of teachers, pastors, and sometimes prophets. However, nobody who speaks God’s wisdom will ever contradict the words of Scripture.
How God Speaks
Though it is still possible for God to use any and all of the methods describe above to speak to us, He prefers primarily to speak to us through the Bible, while using others to help us understand and apply His word.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful 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
The simple explanation for the change in how God chooses to speak to us is that God’s written word was not yet complete during the time of the Bible, so God relied on special messengers to speak to His people.
In the Old Testament, God spoke primarily through prophets. If we read carefully, we see that when God spoke directly through them, it was obvious that He was doing so. God wants us to know when words are coming directly from Him.
The writers of scripture took great care to highlight when words came directly from God instead of from men. The phrase “The word of the Lord came to [name of prophet]” appears 92 times in the Old Testament.
In the New Testament, God spoke primarily through Jesus (who is God incarnate) but as the church spread, He still equipped prophets through the Holy Spirit:
- Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people… But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke. – Acts 6:8, 10
- We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. – Acts 21:3-4
Even those who spoke in the power of the Spirit and taught with authority were careful to note when they were speaking from their own perspective:
- To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. – 1 Corinthians 7:12
- Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. – 1 Corinthians 7:25
Paul is careful to explain that these particular pieces of instruction do not come from divine revelation, but from applied wisdom. This doesn’t mean that we should dismiss them as lacking authority. In fact, applied wisdom is perhaps the most common way that God speaks to us through others today.
Wisdom through Others
Listen to advice and accept discipline,
and at the end you will be counted among the wise.Proverbs 19:20
The Lord encourages us to seek the counsel of others and to listen to the advice and instructions that come from wisdom and sound judgment. By engaging with other believers, we all benefit from the accumulated wisdom and experience of the body:
- And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24-25
- Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. – Proverbs 15:22
Even the Bible—God’s revelation to us—is illuminated by the help of others.
Philip and the Ethiopian
In Acts 8, the apostle Philip encountered an Ethiopian official who was reading a portion of scripture. When Philip asked the man if he understood, the man said that he couldn’t unless someone explained it to him (vs 30-31).
From there, Philip proceeded to inform the man of how Isaiah’s words were fulfilled in Jesus, leading the Ethiopian to believe (vs 34-37).
In the same way, when we are out of our depth of knowledge, insight, or experience, we also benefit from seeking out others who can explain and help us apply the truths of scripture.
If you’ve read our previous overview of Spiritual gifts, then you are familiar with how God uses each of us in different ways.
We’ve already examined the gift of prophecy in greater detail, and will not repeat that examination here. But we will spend time exploring a very vital group of people who are equipped with speaking gifts:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.Ephesians 4:11-13
Every gift described in this passage involves some manner of speaking to others. The primary distinction between them is (usually) in the speaker’s audience.
- Apostles: Literally “sent ones,” this refers first to Jesus’ original twelve disciples, but also describes the gift bestowed upon missionaries to carry the gospel to people of different cultures.
- Prophets: As discussed elsewhere, prophets speak for God, usually in a direct and applied manner. God uses prophets today to help believers apply scripture to a particular situation. A Spirit-equipped prophet will never replace or contradict scripture.
- Evangelists: Literally, “bearers of good news,” evangelists are gifted with speaking the gospel to people who do not yet know Jesus.
- Pastors and Teachers: These are the people who primarily speak to other believers so that we may grow in knowledge and wisdom and be prepared to serve according to our own gifts.
The preacher that expounds on scripture every Sunday morning, the small group leader who facilitates your Bible study group, and even the writer behind the words on your screen are all people that are called by God to share His truth and His wisdom in some way.
So not only can God speak to you through someone else, but He has shown us that He does so every day. If God stopped equipping people to speak, the church would fail to grow and would be short-lived:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?Romans 10:14