HE GIFT OF PROPHECY is classified as a gift of inspiration (along with the gifts of tongues and the interpretation of tongues) because the inspiration of the Spirit is required for its function. Prophecy seems to be especially significant, since Paul mentions it 22 times in 1 Corinthians 11–14.
The gift of prophecy is not . . .
• Foretelling the future. Foretelling future events can be an aspect of any prophecy, but it is never the primary meaning or purpose of it. Prophecy is more about forth-telling than it is foretelling.
• Preaching. Some people believe whenever an individual preaches a sermon, he or she is implementing the gift of prophecy. While prophesying may resemble preaching in some aspects, it is entirely different. In preaching, the Spirit engages the natural mind; in prophecy, the Spirit’s mind is operating through a person’s natural speech. A preacher expounds the written Word of God, but the one prophesying spontaneously and supernaturally speaks inspired words from the Holy Spirit.
• Rebuking. The individual implementing the gift of prophecy will make statements that lift up and encourage the body of Christ. Correction comes from preaching the Word and from direct confrontation by authorized spiritual leaders.
Prophecy: Speaking for God
The gift of prophecy is a supernatural and spontaneous utterance in a known tongue—speaking one’s own language in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the original Greek, to prophesy means to “speak for another.” Consequently, to prophesy is to speak for God!
Like the other gifts of the Spirit, it is a divine intervention at a particular moment to meet a pressing need of God’s people. The person declaring a prophecy is caught up in the Spirit and, in his own language, speaks a message to the church directly from the heart of God.
Much like the gift of tongues and the gift of interpretation, the believer experiences a strong, almost uncontrollable urge to declare the words of God. Almost uncontrollable is appropriate because the individual does not lose control, for “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32). One can and should control when and how the message of prophecy is given.
The gift of prophecy should not be confused with the office of the prophet, listed as one of the fivefold ministry gifts in Ephesians 4:11. Only the names are similar. The office of the prophet is a gift from Jesus to His church, while the gift of prophecy is given by the Holy Spirit to an individual. In Acts 21:8-10, we clearly see the difference: four virgin daughters of Philip the evangelist who “did prophesy” (gift) are contrasted with a “certain prophet, named Agabus” (office).
God calls certain individuals in the body of Christ to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. However, any Spirit-filled believer can be used to speak a prophetic word. In the Old Testament, the prophet Joel predicted the connection of this gift with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost: “I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (2:28 NKJV). In Acts 19:6, when Paul laid hands on twelve men in Ephesus, they were baptized with the Holy Spirit. At that moment, “they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (NKJV).
Why We Need This Gift
In 1 Corinthians 14:3, we find three purposes for the gift of prophecy: “He who prophesies speaks edification and exhor- tation and comfort to men” (NKJV).
1. Prophecy edifies (“builds up”). Jesus is building the Church through the salvation of sinners, and the Holy Spirit is building up the Church through manifestations of His power. The gift of prophecy strengthens men and women who are weary from spiritual warfare, and replaces doubt with faith and hope.
2. Prophecy is a source of exhortation (“encouragement”). In the original Greek, to exhort signifies “to call near.” When a church or individuals within a church are straying from God or in need of revival, God will use this gift to call His people back to Him. Men and women will hear and know the grace and compassion of a God who longs to fellowship with His people. Like the Prodigal Son, they will know they can come running to the Father.
3. Prophecy provides comfort to the congregation. If certain members are being persecuted, or the church is going through a trial, God will speak words of consolation and support.
As with the gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues, prophecies should be given responsibly and in harmony with the Word of God. First Corinthians 14:29- 33 gives explicit guidelines for the gift of prophecy:
• No more than three people should give out a prophecy in a church service. If this rule is violated, a spiritual leader—preferably the pastor—should step in. The leader should explain to the church why he is stopping the speaker, taking the opportunity to train his people. After the service, he must meet with the violator privately and lovingly correct him or her.
• It is the responsibility of the church in general, and the church leadership in particular, to judge the prophecies. If anything is spoken contrary to Scripture, a church leader should stop the message or address the issue immediately with the congregation. They should be told to disregard what they heard, and the pastor should meet with the erring member in private to deal with the matter.
The Power of Prophecy
On January 26, Tim Hill (director of Church of God World Missions) was the guest speaker for our 15-year church anniversary. At the conclusion of his message in the second service, he prophesied to our church: “This is the Amos 9:13 season—the season when the plowman overtakes the reaper. As soon as you sow it, you’re reaping it. And as soon as you can reap it, the ground is so rich and so fertile, it’s time to sow again. That is your 2014!”
Our leaders, members, and I believed the spoken word and knew God was going to accelerate His work. By the end of February, we had received 15 new members into our church and had nearly broken our tithe record!
We have too many members of Pentecostal churches believing the gifts are only for a chosen few. Any Spirit-filled believer can be a channel through which these special graces flow to minister to God’s people. We need to heed Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 14:39: “Desire earnestly to prophesy” (NKJV). The gift of prophecy should be the most common gift operating in the church!
If you are not operating in the gifts of the Spirit, ask the Holy Spirit to flow through you. Tell Him you are a candidate—a vessel He can use. Ask Him to replace any fear with faith, and start living with the expectation that God is going to use you. Soon, you will know the power and joy of flowing in the gifts of the Spirit.
Chris Sustar is lead pastor of High Praises Church of God in Anderson, South Carolina, which he and his wife, Leah, planted 15 years ago. He has a master’s degree in leadership and is presently writing a book on the Holy Spirit. firstname.lastname@example.org