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We need each other
It was always interesting to me that Paul decided to sandwich the love chapter (1 Corinthians 13) in the middle of his biggest appeal for spiritual gifts in the entire bible. Especially considering that the New Testament was not broken into chapter and verse until 1551, it can be assumed that he very much intended on love being the center of that particular writing... but why?
Why go from "there are a variety of gifts, but the same spirit;" and this amazing thought on how the church functions with a lot of people functioning in different gifts, and encouraging us to earnestly desire to higher gifts, to:
love is patient.
love is kind.
it does not envy.
it does not boast.
And then right back into "Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy"?
Because we need each other. In Thessalonians Paul says "Do not despise prophecy, but test everything, and hold fast to what is good" and in 1 Corinthians 14:29-33 he lays out the process of testing a prophecy, and wouldn't you know the whole thing involves other people. How does this sit with you? What do you think about that? How does that line up with the word of God? And sometimes, we are going to get it wrong. You are going to tell me that I am going to have Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast tomorrow and I am going to wake up excited for my cereal and discover that I am out of milk. And in those moments, we need to have grace for each other. We need to have love for one another knowing that we genuinely have each others best interests at heart.
We always say that life transformation happens in the context of relationships, and that spiritual gifts flourish where there is spiritual maturity. But spiritual maturity comes from iron sharpening iron. It comes from community. From learning from each other. In the new testament, with only one exception, every time a prophet speaks the bible puts it in a plural form... the prophets... or they prophesied... etc. Nobody by themselves.
Without love, our spiritual gifts might as well be dead. But when done in love, they are how we bring God to each other, in a real, practical, yet supernatural way. The spiritual gifts have for so long been one of the many deterrents for people, away from the Christian faith because of obvious misuse. But in the context of a healthy community, when a gift is misused it is addressed, not ignored. And though the "prophet" may leave that setting with his pride a little wounded, the skeptic will be leaving feeling a lot better about the Jesus they are trying to find in all of this. That's why Paul says if I prophesy but have not love, I am nothing. Love always comes first. Its not the only thing, but it is the main thing because it is the ultimate representation of Jesus. And when there is love, we can test things like prophesies without an abundance of offense. That is what we call order.
What is Prophecy?
Prophecy is essentially a revelation from God that is publicly proclaimed, for the purpose of edifying the church. It is NOT mind reflection or remembering a past event or something you had read or heard. This is something God brings to your mind for a person, people group or circumstance.
How do I prophesy?
1 Corinthians 14:3-4 says "The one who prophesies speaks to the people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds himself up, but the one who prophesies builds up the church." The word from prophesies is the word prophēteuō and it to speak forth divine inspirations.
I think that is a good gauge, asking yourself questions like "Is this going to inspire this person?" If something comes to your mind for someone, and it obviously is not going to be life for them, it is safe to say that if you speak that over their life you will not be prophesying.
I was in Michigan recently and was talking to a great friend of mine who pastors a great church there. Knowing that this study was coming up for us, I asked him "how do you guys in your church encourage people to prophesy" and I like what he said. He tells his church to each ask this simple question, "God, what is in your heart for _______." We already know that God's plans for us are good, so it feels like a safe question to ask. Remember, it is for the encouragement of the church.
Thus saith the LORD?
The writer of Hebrews starts the chapter by saying "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world." In the old testament, the Prophets had the highest authority of anybody in the church because they were God's covenant messengers. They were the vessel that God used to write the entire old testament. They were the ones that foretold about Jesus. When a prophet spoke, it pretty much settled it. They used language that carried authority, words like "Thus saith the LORD" because they literally often were speaking for God. Because of that, they also were held to the highest standards. If anything that they said did not come to pass, they were held accountable even to death. Deuteronomy 18 says it this way: "The prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, 'How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken? - When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; You need not be afraid of him."
While we certainly believe that God speaks through us today and we want to encourage the use of spiritual gifts in our church, it is important that we understand that the GIFT OF PROPHECY is a gift that was given to the whole church, as a way of edifying our brothers and sisters. We are not covenant messengers who literally speak for God. Though God may bring a word to our mind, we as humans can always get it wrong in our translation and because we are not perfect, we want to avoid using phrases that carry the binding authority of God such as "Thus saith the LORD." See the question "Is prophecy perfect?" for more information on why we believe this is a part of the biblical order of modern day prophecy.
Is prophecy perfect?
1 Corinthians 14:29-33 lays out the order in which prophecy should take place in the church. "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace." If prophecy were "perfect" then there would certainly not be a need for that level of accountability over each spoken word. I like to think of it this way. God is perfect. Our imperfection can not ever change that. Even if God does give me a perfect word for you, it could still get lost in translation from me to you because I am not perfect and you are not perfect. We do our best to be vessels of what God brings to our minds, but we certainly can get it wrong sometimes. This obviously was happening in the bible times as well, because when Paul wrote to the Thessalonians he said "Don't despise prophecy. But test everything. Hold fast to what is good." He is telling us to eat the meat and to spit out the bones but to love to process at any rate. This is one of the main reasons that it is so important as a church to cultivate healthy communities. Because when we do get it wrong, we are going to need the grace to handle that together.
What does the bible say about false prophets?
Jesus says to beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves (Matthew 7:15) - This analogy of sheep paints a picture that the false prophets appear to be a part of the church, a part of the flock, the body of Christ, but they have no fruit. 1 John 4 says "do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God." Jesus is certainly our greatest gauge on whether or not a prophecy is true or false, but remember, when operating in the gift of prophecy amongst brothers and sisters that we love and trust, we do not judge the prophets like they did in the old testament, we judge the prophecy. Jesus is not talking about people who give a word that after it is tested is found to be not from God. If it were that easy to be a false prophet, Paul would not have have said that everyone should desire the gifts of the spirit ESPECIALLY that you should prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:1). Prophecy is for edification. The false prophets that Jesus and John are referring to are about leaders who had crept into the church proclaiming a different gospel than the gospel of Jesus. It says in Timothy that they would even prey on weak women, and would merely tell people what they wanted to hear. Of course, we definitely need to be careful with who is speaking over our lives, and sometimes we may encounter false prophets. But we need to not be fast to throw away a word before we test it and run it through the channels, because we may be cutting ourselves short from something amazing that the Holy Spirit is trying to do in our lives. We do not want to quench the spirit. At the same time, if it goes against Jesus, or it goes against the bible, RUN.