By Rayola Kelley
The other day I was talking to a friend, and she asked me about firebrands when it comes to our Christian faith. I guess for me I have my own definition of what a firebrand is. To me Elijah and John the Baptist were examples of firebrands. They were both prophets from God. John had a type of calling as Elijah, but never did a miracle. It is clear that one had incredible power to confirm his calling and the other had a heaven-sent message (Matthew 11:7-15). When you consider what qualifications made them stand apart, I would have to point to two words, “fire,” and “brand.”
Clearly, to put a brand on something living and moving requires fire or intense heat. If you watch enough cowboy movies you know different brands were put on cattle to show ownership and identification. Those who ignored the brand were considered to be cattle rustlers, and in some cases hung for their deviant ways.
Today, we have various brands in our stores that identify certain products to companies. These products could be registered or patented to maintain their uniqueness. In fact, there have been various court cases because someone tried to “rustle” a product to use for personal gain.
However, when it comes to one particular firebrand, you can’t rustle it, use it for self-promotion, counterfeit it, or try to take ownership of it through deviant ways. The firebrand I speak of is God’s firebrand.
Those who are truly servants of God possess this brand, but they often prove to be in a small minority. In fact, they are so distinct that they appear to be numbered among a very few in their generation. Granted, there are some who have tried to counterfeit their callings and walk, but have met with grave consequences.
This friend of mine asked me if I had ever known a firebrand. I had to admit I have only really met a couple of them in my spiritual journey that has taken me to more than a few churches, allowed me to brush shoulders with well-known religious figures, and witnessed some incredible events. However, the firebrands I knew never really came from the religious elite, stood out in notable events, nor were they always found among church-goers who would even recognize them as being so.
When you study firebrands, they are for the most part loners. In the cattle world there is only one brand for each cattle ranch. Granted, Moses had Aaron, Elijah had Elisha for a short season, Elisha had the greedy, Gehazi, and Jeremiah had the scribe Baruch to write down his words, but firebrands are loners who spend most of their time on the backside of some wilderness. No one can share in their call, walk, or relationship with God. Perhaps it has to do with their life with God. How can you hear from God when you are in the midst of religious and worldly activities? How can you hear from God if you do not separate yourself to seek Him in order to find out what He would have you do and say? Did Jesus not tell us to go to the closet when seeking God in prayer? (Exodus 4:14; 2 Kings 2; 5:25-27; Jeremiah 32:12; 45; Matthew 6:6).
This brings us to the first qualification: that of being prepared in obscurity. It seems firebrands walk out of nowhere to turn the present spiritual environment upside down. Due to the fact they are human beings, many realize they have a history and lineage, but they are not hitting the scene because of a lineage that leads them back to a great religious move or calling, but because they are led there by the call of God upon their life.
It is in the wilderness that firebrands learn a very important lesson, and that is to wait upon the Lord. If He does not call, the firebrand must occupy while waiting until he hears the call. Moses served as a shepherd in the wilderness for forty years (Exodus 3-4). He never moved from his lowly occupation until he was called by the Lord to do so. It is clear that the firebrand must not move without first being impressed, then they must quickly follow where they are being led, for failing to do so will make them a vulnerable target who might, out of fear and doubt, miss the opportunity, or not finish the course, like the unnamed prophet in 1 Kings 13, who was complicit in completing his mission.
The firebrand is often prepared in obscurity because they alone will become the focus of delivering God’s message. There will not be many voices present to cause confusion, just one voice like John the Baptist crying out from the wilderness, or like Moses in the court of Pharaoh, and Elijah who asked the people of Israel on Mount Carmel how long would they halt between two opinions. They needed to choose God or Baal (Exodus 5:1-3; 1 Kings 18:21; Matthew 3:1-3).
This brings us to another important aspect of the firebrand—his or her message will be clear. The problem with clear messages is that people will deem the messenger as being rude, crude, uneducated, and someone who needs to be ignored, silenced, or ushered out to the nearest curb to be discarded as rubbish. The reason for this is because firebrands usually do not appear until the people’s hearts have waxed gross, their ears dull, and their eyes closed to the truth of God (Matthew 13:11-16).
Think about what such a spiritual environment described in Matthew 13 looks like. A heart waxed gross is an indifferent heart, neither hot or cold, and unable to be stirred up with nominal religious presentations. What about dull ears? They represent those who only want their ears tickled by what they consider to be the good and positive side of a matter. Regardless of whether they are wallowing in deception or not, they want to feel good about everything. And, what about the eyes? They are void of any real spiritual enlightenment and understanding, causing the person to grope in spiritual darkness, ever thinking it is light. However, a real firebrand will challenge realities, stir up the dust of normalcy into a whirlwind, shake religious, stagnant foundations, and cause the sheep to separate from wolves, pigpens, and goats.
The firebrand’s message will never be popular because it will often call for repentance. It will never placate the sinner, leave the wicked mocking righteousness, or the evil deluded about the judgment to come. Part of the firebrand’s gift is the ability to wield the Word of God like a sword to cut through the spiritual darkness of their day. They will cast aside the vain philosophies of the world, cut through the ridiculous religious rules of man’s doctrines, and stand up to the bullies and tyrants of their age. In the end, the demons tremble and flee, the religious conspire against them, the wannabes try to imitate them, and their generation usually rejects them.
This rejection will often turn into persecution from the self-righteous religious people of the day. Jesus mentioned this very truth in Matthew 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings and ye would not!”
Many times the firebrand becomes the sacrifice for their generation. Consider Jesus’ disciples; James killed by the sword, Peter crucified upside down, and Thomas killed by a lance to name a few. We must not forget that John the Baptist and Paul both lost their head over their faith and Stephen was stoned. There are many stories of consecrated servants of God whose lives and blood has been, and is, being poured upon the earth as a sacrifice, but a person who is a firebrand knows that such sacrifice is likely since they will wake the sinner, expose the hypocrisy of the religious, challenge the wicked, expose the evil, and at times call fire down on idols.
The great firebrand that appeared when spiritual darkness was hitting its height was Jesus Christ. He spent 30 years in obscurity being prepared to walk as a firebrand among the people for 3½ years that brought separation and conflict and ended in sacrifice. In these present times, people get sentimentally caught up with Jesus’ birth in a manger and His ordeal of the cross on the road to Calvary where He became the Passover Lamb, but they steer away from the fact He was a firebrand.
Let’s face it, He tore up the religious turf by taking an ax to it with truth. He took away the cloak that covered sin, and exposed the hypocrisy of the religious leadership of His day. He took a whip to the unholy mixture that had rendered the house of prayer into a den of thieves. Although many followed Him due to His miracles, He ended up with only twelve disciples and one would betray Him. The question is why? It is because He would not tolerate the profane mixture, the religious hypocrisy, and He said hard things that embarrassed, confounded, and insulted those around Him, causing many of His initial disciples to follow Him no more (Matthew 3:10; 23; John 2:13-19; 6:53-71; 15:22).
People are people. As in the days of Elijah, they stand between two opinions because they are fickle, and ever waiting to see which side will actually serve them best. Like Moses’ day, if the price becomes a bit too high for them to pay, they will easily complain instead of call upon the Lord and wait for His glorious deliverance. And like Demas, many will go back to the world because Jesus is not worth it for them to leave the old behind to truly follow Him away from the glitter of the world, down the path of faith, into a life of total consecration that will end in some type of sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2; 2 Timothy 4:10).
This brings us to what is the fire and the brand that sets these people apart. Many may doubt such an individual exists, and due to our modern, sophisticated Christianity, some possess the attitude that Ahab had towards the firebrand, Elijah, when he asked in 1 Kings 18:17, “Art thou he that troubleth Israel”? Firebrands will stir up trouble; however, God does not change and it is clear that He often calls out His firebrands before there is some type of judgment to warn, prepare, and contend for true faith. Like Isaiah, their lips have been purged, and as the prophets of old, the message burns in their soul; like John the Baptist they have been prepared to be a voice in the great spiritual wilderness, and like Jesus they have zeal that will turn into indignation when they see religious abuses and exploitations in the name of God (Isaiah 6:5-7).
What is the fire and the brand that sets these people apart? We know the fire is the Holy Spirit who touches lips with the message of salvation and serves as our seal or brand. He is a gift from Jesus to the saved and a promise of the Father to those who become bold witnesses. He is the fire of passion within that burns the message into our very soul, and He is the power who enables us to walk out our lives as a living testimony of the great work God has done on the cross through His Son (Matthew 3:11-12; Luke 24:45-49; John 20:21-22; Acts 1:4-8; 11:15-17; Ephesians 1:13).
Do we need firebrands today? Yes, but will they truly be welcomed, embraced, and listened to by the religious people of the day? The answer is clear: No, they will not. To confirm this, all you have to do is consider the two witnesses in Revelation 11. This brings us back to how many really want to be firebrands. Granted, we have those who see themselves as firebrands but are only a “flash in the pan” revealing that it is nothing but fleshly zeal, and there are those who want to be firebrands, but who will not pay the price.
The other fact is we are NOT all called to be lone firebrands, but we need to be aware as believers that we must discern the firebrands of our times and be ready to receive and respond to the message according to the conviction that is laid upon us by the Holy Spirit. We also must keep in mind that we do possess the fire that can set our souls and the Gospel aflame at any time within us. The question is—have we availed ourselves to be used by God in whatever capacity He reveals to us, or leads us into?