“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophesies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:19-21
What is the Bible calling a prophesy? And why does the Church need this kind of warning about it? Whatever is happening in this passage, the Bible says it needs to be tested. But it doesn’t need to be disregarded. It needs to be respected.
If we’re going to talk about prophesy and use the word, we should probably define it first. So let me take an honest stab at it here. Paul’s not talking about new and/or authoritative revelation. And he’s not talking about predicting the future. A New Testament definition is something like this: a divine confirmation of God’s will and God’s Word to encourage the Church. This is the way prophesy is described in every single list of spiritual gifts in the New Testament – by the way, prophesy is the only gift that’s mentioned in every list. Prophesy is a message of encouragement that comes from God, delivered through one of his people. That’s what the Bible is talking about in 1 Corinthians 14:
“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophesy.” ~1 Corinthians 14:1
Why does Scripture want us to eagerly desire the gift of prophesy? What’s so great about prophesy?
“For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort. The one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but the one who prophesies edifies the Church.” ~1 Corinthians 14:2-4
The Holy Spirit gift of prophesy is one of the great blessings of living in these last days. Before Christ, not every man and woman had the gift of the Holy Spirit, not every child of God had the capacity to hear God’s voice and speak truth from God to others. Moses said, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29) Well, now we can. All of us. All Christians have the blessed gift of the indwelling Spirit, so all Christians have the capacity to hear God and share with others what we hear.
The key to understanding the gift is knowing that prophesy is intended by God to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the disciples of Christ. It’s not a divine revelation that is equal in authority to Scripture. It is divine exhortation/encouragement that comes from God to build up the Church. Do we still need that today? As old Joe Malone used to say, “Shades of reason, neighbor! To ask the question is to answer it!” (I think he would say it every Sunday.)
Yes! For a Church of Jesus Christ, prophesy is not optional; it is essential.
What are you hearing right now from God? What are you hearing through his Word or during prayer or in worship? What is God saying to you through an article you’ve read or a conversation you’ve had with a friend or a good book you’ve just finished? Now, how are you going to share that with another follower of Jesus to encourage her or to comfort him or give him strength?
That’s prophesy. You might call it something else. Maybe you’re nervous about the word “prophesy” because of how it’s used in other places. But this is how the Bible uses the word and instructs about the gift. Whatever you call it, the Church can’t live without it.
Oh, yeah, the Stars are playing tonight. Sigh.
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