The Gift of Prophecy
I believe that prophecy is a neglected gift in today’s Church. Think about it. How many “prophets” do you know in your church? I’m not talking about people in your church who get up in front of other people and talk about spiritual things. I mean how many people in your church have the “spiritual gift” of prophecy? When they speak, you know you are hearing from God. You know God’s Spirit is communicating to your spirit through the prophet’s spirit. You know God is revealing deep insights about Himself and bringing glory to His Name and His Name only. When you and others in your church judge the words of the prophet, you know it’s from God. How many prophets do you know in your church? How many should you know?
When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, he mentioned the number of prophets who should prophesy in one church meeting: “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.” (1 Corinthians 14:29) What this means is that there were at least two or three prophets in the church, probably more since Paul put a limit on how many should speak during the same meeting. Paul also pointed out that if a prophet was prophesying and God revealed something to another prophet, the first prophet should be silent and hear what God revealed – “But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.” (1 Corinthians 14:30) Paul told the other prophets who weren’t prophesying to “judge” (diakrinetosan – “separate throughout, discriminate, discern, decide”) the prophecies spoken to see if they were from God and how to use them for the edification of the church.
You might wonder how this would work since prophecy is speaking words God gives a prophet to speak. The beauty of true prophetic utterance is that God will guide the spirits of the prophets – “And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” (1 Corinthians 14:32-33) If a prophet is speaking the words God gives them to speak and God gives a prophecy to another prophet in the meeting, the first prophet will know to be silent because God will communicate with him through his spirit. God is not the author of confusion but of peace. A wise prophet will listen to the words of another prophet and will know whether the prophecy is from God. If it is, then they will be silent and acknowledge the wisdom that comes from God. If the prophecy is not from God, the wise prophet will know it and speak forth those words God gives him to reveal the false prophecy. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. Prophets who are under the control of the Holy Spirit will be able to control themselves in a meeting with other believers.
Have you ever been in a worship service or church meeting like that? Most church meetings look little like the one Paul described in 1 Corinthians 14. Keep in mind that the Corinthians were carnal and immature and were not using their spiritual gifts properly and were not meeting together for the right reasons. Paul, in describing the correct path for the Corinthians to follow, gives the proper worship model for all churches to follow. That model is the orderly Movement of the Holy Spirit among His people.
What did the people in Corinth understand the words Paul used about prophets and prophecies to mean?
Prophecy (noun) – propheteia – a speaking forth, declaring openly
Prophesy (verb) – propheteuo – to speak forth, declare openly
Prophet – prophetes – one who speaks forth, declares openly
Prophetic – prophetikos – of or relating to speaking forth, declaring openly
Here’s what Paul wrote about the gift of prophecy in the middle of the 1st Century AD.
“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-11
“And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.” 1 Corinthians 12:28
“Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” 1 Corinthians 14:1
Here’s what Paul wrote about the gift of prophecy a few years later.
“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith.” Romans 12:6
I believe that the Spirit-inspired prophecies that led to the writing of the New Testament ended with the Apostle John and the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Here’s what the Apostle John wrote in the last words of the last chapter of the last Book the Holy Spirit inspired.
“For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” Revelation 22:18-19
God is no longer using prophets to write His Word. The Spirit of God brought that to an end with the death of the last Apostle. So, what about people with the gift of prophecy since the completion of the Bible? The history of the post-apostolic Church reveals the ministries of many prophets and teaching-prophets. They did what the Apostle Paul said they would do.
“Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.” 1 Corinthians 14:23-25
2) Edification, exhortation, comfort, profit
“Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification. But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?” 1 Corinthians 14:1-6
3) Teaching, revelation, encouragement
“How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints … Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.” 1 Corinthians 14:26-33, 39-40
4) Exhortation and doctrine
“Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.” 1 Timothy 4:13-15
5) Explaining mysteries and knowledge, revealing what was hidden
“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge …” 1 Corinthians 13:2
6) Equipping believers for their service to God
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:11-16
Important Questions To Answer
Based on what you’ve seen so far, how would answer these questions?
1) What is the purpose of prophets in a local church?
2) Do you have prophets in your church?
3) If not, why not?
4) If you do have prophets in your church, do you know how to test them to make sure they’re from God?
5) If you do have true prophets in your church, are you listening to them?
6) What will happen to churches if they don’t have true prophets or won’t listen to them?
In the next part of our study, we’ll hear from the Chief Prophet of the Church about what church prophets should be doing to ensure the spiritual power and longevity of local churches.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”