Let’s take a look at serving gifts that speak. The serving gifts themselves break down into two categories:
- Serving gifts that speak – prophecy, word of knowledge, word of wisdom
- Serving gifts that act, or do something – the gifts of mercy, faith, help, leadership, and giving.
At this point we’re talking about the spiritual gift or spiritual manifestation of prophecy.
1 Corinthians 12:10 says, “to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.”
As we deal with prophecy, I want to establish something – in Paul’s mind, prophesying – the spiritual manifestation of prophecy – was vital to the health of the church. We see this over and over again as he emphasizes it in his writings.
What exactly is prophecy?
What is this dynamic going on that brings all this building to the body and is absolutely vital to its health? The root word means simply this – “to speak before.” When most of us think of prophecy, we think of speaking before as in speaking beforehand or speaking before something happens and telling you the future as though looking in a crystal ball, but that’s not the essence of what it means. Essentially, all it means to speak before is to speak in front of – like when a preacher speaks before his congregation.
Old Testament Prophets
To stand in front of a group of people and to make a proclamation. To speak the truth of God. The function of the office of prophet back in the Old Testament and New Testament was to be the voice of God in the world. Prophets in the Old Testament had this wonderful habit of coming to towns and coming to their people and saying, “the word of the Lord came to me saying such and such. You are a land that is unclean – you need to do this – you need to move that direction – we need to go in this particular way – we need to move away from that” – and on and on.
Then at the end they had this terrible habit of saying, “Thus saith the Lord” – it’s hard to argue with “Thus saith the Lord.” We see through Biblical history that when this was taking place, and people were acting according to that, there was health in the land.
Lack of proclamation
When the prophets began to slip, either because of fear of what people think or ignorance, or maybe their own spiritual poverty, people would begin to drift. They would become aimless and drifting into sin, losing their bearings and not knowing which way they were going, consumed by the things of the world. It happened repeatedly. The lack of proclamation always had an impact on the people.
In Ezekiel we have a great example of the downward slope people get on when the prophets no longer listen to, and as a result, speak for, God. Ezekiel 22:28-29 says “Her prophets whitewash these deeds for them by false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says, when the Lord has not spoken. The people of the land practice extorting and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice.’”
The process goes something like this: the prophets start lying – they are not speaking for God or telling the truth anymore. Then the priests do violence to the law – they don’t tell the difference between right and wrong anymore. When that happens, the people become cynical. And it started when the prophets stopped speaking for God.
What I’m trying to do is establish the vital nature of prophesy. As I said, we mainly associate prophecy with foretelling the future. There is an element of that which is consistent throughout scripture – an ability to see something that is going to happen. Isaiah foretold the coming of Christ. There are also New Testament examples - in Acts, Agabus foretold a coming famine.
Does God still speak that way today?
Here’s another form of prophecy. Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” What does that mean? Simply this: within the body of Christ there were individuals who received a word from the Lord concerning Timothy – “Timothy, you have been set apart by God to function in a particular way and that is something we believe is directly from God.” That’s prophecy. Is that at work in the church today? I believe absolutely, without a doubt, yes.
I believe there’s a way in which that same dynamic operates today. I believe God speaks to his people, through people, for direction. How should we go? What decisions do we make? What do we need to move away from? What do we need to move towards? It’s for direction and decisions.
I’m sure I speak for you as well as for me when I say that I’m desperate for His direction in my life. Sometimes He speaks through me to you, and sometimes He speaks through you to me.