What is prophecy for? Is the gift of prophecy an evangelistic tool? Are there national prophets speaking to a nation? Is it to convict people of sin? Are there prophets like in the OT prophesying God’s judgement on the nations? Now we are under grace has that changed the function of prophecy and the prophet?
Firstly, I believe that if we confuse the purpose of the gift we will devalue it. It’s a bit like being given a trowel for digging but instead we use it to hammer nails!
A NT Prophet’s role?
“For the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ?” Ephesians 4 11
A true prophet equips, in other words he gives the saints tools and even gifts to enable them to fulfill their calling to ministry:
1 Tim 5: “Do not neglect the gift that is in you that was given by prophecy with the laying on of hands”
In other words, the prophecy or prophet edifies or builds up and strengthens the body of Christ by words.
What is prophecy for?
Therefore, the gift of prophesy is to build up the church. It is not for self-edification unlike tongues. Therefore a prophet should should bring profit! Prophecy should enable everyone to learn because it brings relevant and encouraging information.
“He who prophesies edifies the church” 1 Cor 14:4
“But the manifestation of the spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” Rom 12
“For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged” 1 Cor 14 v 31
This is what Moses longed for when he said in Num 11:29: “would God that all the LORD’S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!”
Prophecy therefore, is not just the domain of pastors or leaders but is for every member of the church! This is a major change from the OT and is what Peter declared on the day of Pentecost as a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy.
So, to further emphasize the point: prophecy is for edification, exhortation and comfort. (EEC)
“ But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men”
What about Agabus and other NT prophets?
Not much is recorded of NT prophets in action, except a mention in Acts that there were prophets at Antioch. Also, it talks of Judas and Silas being prophets and that they exhorted and confirmed the brethren with many words. This obviously wasn’t teaching because when it mentions teachers in Antioch it mentions prophets .
Agabus is acknowledged by the scriptures as a NT prophet. Both records of his prophetic words are warnings. The first, a warning of global famine enabled the church to prepare in a practical way. The second, recorded in Acts 21, warned Paul of what awaited him at Jerusalem. So, how does that fit into EEC? EEC is not a rule it’s a statement of what comes out of a prophets mouth: in other words positive stuff, words from God that could be directional and correctional but always expressing the love and grace of God. That’s how you test the prophecy and the prophet!
I believe both prophetic words fit in with NT style prophetic words. The prophetic warning of Agabus didn’t dissuade Paul – it actually confirmed what Paul already knew and interesting enough Agabus word wasn’t 100% accurate because the Jews didn’t bind Paul and hand him to the Romans!
So, here is an important distinction between OT and NT prophets. Under law prophets were not allowed to get it wrong, under grace we can! Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 we know in part and we prophesy in part and as we quoted earlier – all may learn. Of course this doesn’t mean that accuracy doesn’t matter – of course we should want to bring God’s word responsibly and accurately as we can. However it takes the pressure off, because its the responsibility of all those listening to exercise discernment and grace.
Therefore, John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus was the greatest and first of New Covenant prophets. He came to reveal the heart of the Father.
Rev 19:10 “worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy“
Is Prophecy for the unbeliever?
Prophecy is not primarily an evangelistic tool. A prophet may have words of knowledge (Jesus at the well of Samaria) that bring conviction to the sinner, but scripture says that the gift of prophecy is for believers:
“Prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe”. 1 Cor 14
In the same scripture it talks about conviction coming to an unbeliever when he comes in to the meeting while they are prophesying but that meeting is not evangelistic. In other words God is not restricted to speak to whom and through whom he wishes!
I conclude therefore, we need prophecy and all kinds of prophets in the church today especially those who can build up, exhort, comfort, inspire and challenge and even warn the church. Are you one of them?
Paul said in 1 Cor 14:39 “Wherefore, brethren, covet (lust) to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.”
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