The church in Corinth was anything but boring!
And this fledgling group of Christ-followers were learning what it meant to follow Jesus and live a new life in the midst of a culture that was counter to everything they stood for.
The Apostle Paul founded the church at Corinth and he was a guide from a distance helping the church stay on the right course and not be thrown off by the barrage of spiritual and cultural influence that sought to throw them off.
Chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians records Paul's instruction to the church at Corinth regarding spiritual gifts, church order, and the importance of walking in love.
In Chapter 12, Paul clearly establishes that the Holy Spirit has given gifts to all believers in the church and that those gifts are to be used for the common good. These gifts are to be used - not hidden or dismissed. In Chapter 13, Paul emphasizes a spirit of love as being the attitude and motivation for using ones spiritual gifts. Paul then moves into a discussion about prophecy, tongues, and the importance of order in the church gathering.
Probably the most interesting part of this grouping of chapters comes in chapter 14:1 when Paul writes something that causes most readers to raise their eyebrows:
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
What does this mean?
What is 'prophecy'? Why does Paul encourage the church to pursue it above all the other gifts? Does this gift have a place in the church today? If so, what does it look like?
I recently did a teaching on this verse and spent some time grappling with these questions. I wish I could say that I answered this Scripture to the fullest extent, but as with many things in Scripture, I'm still thinking and questioning and trying to understand it more fully. Nevertheless, the following are some thoughts that I have on this Scripture that might prove helpful for navigating and applying it today.
Misconceptions of Prophecy
First, it is important to dispel some misconceptions of prophecy. Often times, when people think of prophecy all they think of is "fortune-telling." For many, prophecy is seen only as a means of predicting or telling the future. However, this is a limited view on the nature of prophecy. Certainly there are times when God could use a prophecy as a means of giving indication of future events, but an even bigger aspect of prophecy is the the concept of "forth-telling."
“Forth-telling” is speaking forth with boldness a message that God wants to communicate. This can be for an individual or a group of people, and it finds its foundation in God’s Word.
With this in mind, it changes the way that prophecy "looks." Prophecy is not the person yelling on the street corner or the person who stands up in a church service and declares "Thus Saith the Lord!" Prophecy can manifest when a pastor preaches a message that he has been preparing, it can manifest in a conversation between two friends. Prophecy does not have to be loud and it does not have to be weird for it to be legitimate.
A few weeks back I was having a conversation with a volunteer youth leader and they were having a rough day. This leader was sharing with me some disappointments in her life and she was discouraged. As we were talking all of the sudden Joshua 1:9 popped into my head. I felt very strongly that I needed to share this verse with the leader. I shared the verse and I told her that I felt that this is what God wanted to remind her. I prayed over her and we went on our way.
This is an example of prophecy in action. It was not weird and it was not forced. In that moment, I was led by God to communicate a truth, grounded in Scripture, for this leader.
Paul is clear in explaining that when a prophecy is given it is given for upbuilding, encouragement, and comfort. Therefore, this must be the filter with which we view prophecy.
Why Pursue This Gift?
I think there are four reasons why Paul would encourage Believers to pursue the gift of prophecy.
1. Prophecy practically shows love
As I mentioned earlier, Paul explains that the purpose of prophecy is upbuilding, encouragement, and comfort. In the chapter before Paul writes this he spends considerable time talking about the importance of love (1 Corinthians 13). The pursuit of prophecy by a believer would result in the demonstration of love for one another.
2. Prophecy stirs up a hunger for God's Word
A desire for the gift of prophecy should be accompanied by a desire to know and understand God's Word. Since prophecy must finds its origin in Scripture, a Christian who desires this gift will have a hunger for understanding God's Word. In Colossians Paul encourages believers to "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Colossians 3:16). Earnestly desiring prophecy would increase this desire for knowing Christ's words.
3. Prophecy creates a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit
Those who would seek the gift of prophecy must have a desire to be sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that prompts Believers to share words that are upbuilding, encouraging, and comforting to individuals and corporately.
4. Prophecy builds up the church
Prophecy plays a role in the life of the church in mission, formation, and encounter. In 1 Corinthians 14:24, Paul shows how prophecy plays a role in non-believers turning to Christ. Prophecy plays a role in maturing Believers as they are taught, comforted, and encouraged with the prophetic words spoken . Finally, prophecy reminds Believers that God is actively working in their lives. Thus, it serves as a constant reminder that they can encounter a living God
With these four ideas in mind, it makes sense that Paul would have desired that the church pursue this gift. There are far more ramifications to prophecy than simply "telling the future."
Is Prophecy for Today?
This is debated in Christian circles. Some teach and believe that 'miraculous' gifts ceased after the first century church. Advocates for this position argue that gifts like tongues, prophecy, and healing were intended to verify the early church and ceased after that.
I hugely respect the argument by those who put this forward. I have wrestled with this extensively, but I simply cannot find any clear evidence that these gifts have ceased. I believe that these gifts are still for today. But they will only manifest if you are open to them. The Holy Spirit will not force anyone to use these gifts.
In all the spiritual gifts, however, they must be practiced with order and with love. Sadly, the misuse of spiritual gifts has turned many off to them.
Perhaps you read this and the gift of prophecy makes a little more sense. Perhaps even hearing Paul's words sparks a desire for this gift in your own life.
I hope so!
Find some time very soon to seek God for the gifts that he has for you. Open your heart and ask God by His Holy Spirit to use you in any way possible for the upbuilding, encouragement, and the comfort of others.
If you do this with a sincere heart, do not be surprised if God delivers on your request, and soon you will be walking with a new sensitivity to how God would use you to forth-tell His truth. And this, my friends, is prophecy in action.