What image comes to mind when you hear the word "prophet"? Perhaps it’s an old man with a long white beard pointing his bony finger, warning of impending doom. Or you may think of Morpheus who is driven into virtual reality following the “prophecy” of the chosen one in the Sci-Fi movie The Matrix.
Prophets were a regular part of God’s redemptive history, as recorded in the Bible. In the Old Testament, they were used by God to warn of judgment, to communicate God’s heart for people, to instill hope, and to foretell of coming events. Most importantly, God spoke through prophets to point to the coming of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.
In the New Testament, we see the nature and purpose of prophecy changing. No longer is the act of prophesying limited to a few, select individuals. With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, all believers may now prophesy! Peter indicates that the words of the Old Testament prophet Joel are now being fulfilled:
And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
In an effort to care for the church in Corinth, a local body that had many internal struggles, the apostle Paul instructs them on some of the most important elements of a spiritually healthy church. One of those topics is spiritual gifts, specifically prophecy. Paul says, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1). He goes on to state the primary purpose of prophecy in the New Testament, “the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.”
There are several things that should become clear from this text. (1 Corinthians 12-14 fill this out more completely.) First, God continues to speak through his people today. Secondly, spiritual gifts are a vital part of any local church. Thirdly, we should not be passive in our pursuit of spiritual gifts any more than we should be passive in any other area of our sanctification.
How do you and I pursue this spiritual gift? First, we begin by asking God to speak through us. Just as Paul encourages, we pursue this gift. Secondly, we must be crystal clear in our understanding that the Bible is our ultimate authority. All prophecy is evaluated in light of God’s Word. The Canon is closed, and, therefore, there is no “new revelation”; no one is adding to the Scriptures. When it comes to prophesying, the Holy Spirit draws from the Word of God and brings a particular scripture to mind at a particular time. Thus, one the best ways to grow in prophesying is to read, study and meditate on the scriptures. Let there be a deep well of scripture in us all.
It takes faith to prophesy. We must be willing to step out of our comfort zone in obedience to God’s Word and for the sake of the church. Humility is another essential element because we recognize that we are not infallible in our utterances, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). We must be willing to have someone else evaluate what we believe may be a prophetic word from God. All of this is worth it if we grasp the amazing truth that the Holy Spirit speaks through believers like you and me so that the local body will be strengthened and that those who have ears to hear will “declare that God is really among you”!
Think about these truths as you get ready for church this Sunday.
All Because of Grace,
P.S. For further study, consider the following resources:
Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist by Sam Storms
The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts by Max Turner
Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? by Wayne Grudem
Systematic Theology (Chapters 52, 53) by Wayne Grudem