Maturity and Discernment in Exercising Prophetical Gifts
Pr. Thomas Mathew
God has equipped each member of His Church with unique spiritual gifts to help the church grow. Paul while instructing the Corinthian church about the spiritual gifts in I Corinthians chapter 12 and 14 begins with the statement that “I do not want you to be ignorant of the spiritual gifts” (12:1). The Corinthian church was desperately in need of instruction for spiritual gifts. The main cause of today’s retardation in the growth of the church is ignorance, immaturity and lack of discernment in exercising the spiritual gifts. The ultimate aim of all spiritual gifts is to edify each individual, edify the whole church and to bring glory to the name of God. The inappropriate handling of spiritual gifts will result the opposite of it.
In this article I would like to explain prophecy as a spiritual gift and suggest some guidelines for the effective use of prophecy as a spiritual gift for the edification and for the growth of church.
Let us begin with the question “What’s prophecy”? And “What’s the purpose of prophecy in the church”? According to Peter Wagner “the gift of prophecy is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the Body of Christ to receive and communicate an immediate message of God to His people through a divinely anointed utterance”.(Wagner, 2001, 200.) The meaning of the Greek word used for prophecy means to ‘speak forth’ or ‘to speak for another’. Prophecy is not only predicting the future but also is a word for the present. The prophets receive personal inspiration about God’s purpose in a concrete situation. God uses them as His spokesmen to address the church, of its disobedience and exhorts the church to its original purpose. The Bible says that “prophet is a fool”…. (Hosea 9:7) in the sight of others. People may consider the words and actions of a prophet as foolishness. Prophecy is a communication gift as well as a motivational gift.
The purpose of prophecy in the church may be for giving comfort, warning, encouragement, edification as well as message of judgement. It’s the prophet who brings glory to the church. Prophets are the authentic and authoritative messengers of God in Earth. Prophecy can be directed to an individual as well as to whole community, whole nation and even to a generation.
SOME GUIDELINES for EXCERCISING PROPHETICAL GIFT
Paul in I Corinthians 12 says that “you must not be unaware concerning spiritual gifts”. So it’s clear that proper awareness is needed for the healthy use of spiritual gifts. The Corinthian church was not lacking any of the spiritual gifts but there was some kind of confusion in the exercising of those gifts. The Corinthian church was spiritually immature and was acting like infants. This immaturity brought confusion among them. Even today though there are many people who are blessed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, most of them are ignorant about the proper exercising of the gifts. So here I would like to explain some biblical guidelines based on the first epistle to the Corinthians.
The first and foremost purpose of the gift of prophecy is the edification of the church. “Does one's gift help other people”? is important question here? The prophet before delivering the divine message must discern whether the message will edify the church or not. This means we must not think of ourselves but others.The Corinthian church was making the mistake of emphasising their-own personal edification and neglecting the church by over emphasising the gift of tongues. Prophecy on the other hand edifies, exhorts and comforts the church. The word ‘to edify’ means “to build up”, ‘to comfort’ means “comforting the bereaved”. So another purpose of prophecy is to comfort the people in their troubles. In Corinthians 14:32 it says that “the spirit of the prophets are subjected to prophets” therefore a prophet should discern the prophecy and identify whether it is to be conveyed publically in the church or not. Another thing to be noted is that if a prophecy has to edify the church it should be conveyed with the love towards the receiver and should be conveyed in an encouraging manner. Prophecy should not hurt others mentally rather it should bring a change in their spirit. Prophecy is a means of building up Christian character and giving them comfort at the time of trouble and distress.
2. Prophecy is subject to regulation
One of the main proofs of maturity in exercising prophetical gift is that it should be in order. Paul in I Corinthians 14:26 and in 40 says “Let all things be done unto edifying” and “Let all things be done decently and in order”. The Corinthian church was having special problems with disorders in their public meetings. (I Corinthians 11:17-23) The reason is that they were using the spiritual gifts to please themselves and not to help their brethren. They were not edifying but exhibiting. They were impatient and were interrupting the church for they considered their contribution is more important than his brother’s contribution. “Let two or three prophets speak and others pass judgement” (I Corinthians 14:29) is the instruction given by Apostle Paul to Corinthians on the exercising of the gift of prophecy. The utterance of a prophet must be tested in the appropriate way. Prophesy is to be tested to find whether its in tune with the Word of God. Prophecy is controlled by the prophet, for, it is not the irresistible divine compulsion. Ofcourse prophecy is a means of Divine Illumination, but it’s for the prophet to control prophetic inspiration. This arises from the fact that ‘God is not a God of disorder but of peace’. If prophet had no control over their spirits, any prospect of an orderly assembly would vanish. Paul sees the character of God as a guarantee against disorder. Since the nature of God is peace, He will produce peace, not disorder. This is one of the proofs of maturity in exercising prophetical gifts. In I Thessalonians 5: 19-21 Paul says “Quench not the spirit; despise not prophesying. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good”.
3. Prophet must not think that he is Superior
A Prophet must not think the gift of prophecy as superior gift to other gifts of the Holy Spirit. Prophecy must not become a status symbol. Prophet should not exalt in his gift over the other gifts. When prophecy becomes the end in itself the people may glorify the user rather than God the giver of the gifts. When we exalt prophecy over the other gifts, it may seem like want the whole body to be an eye! This imposes guilt and shame on the fellow Christians. They make feet say “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body” (I Corinthians 12:15).
When a prophet projects his gift of prophecy over other gifts, they not only impose guilt trip on others but also fail to recognize that the reason others are different from them is that the Holy Spirit Himself has distributed “to each one individually as He wills” (I Corinthians 12:11). When a person with the gift of prophecy boasts in his gift, he is questioning the wisdom and sovereignty of God at that point. Each person must remember that we are members in one body, ministering to each other.
There is diversity in the Gifts of the Spirit. No member should compare or contrast itself with any other member because each one is different and each one is important. Diversity of gifts does not suggest inferiority; instead it fulfils the will of God in the body. So we must not boast in the gift of prophecy because it’s not superior to any other gifts. All gifts are complementary as the parts of the body are complementary to each other.
4. Gift of prophecy must be exercised out of love:
I Corinthians 13: 1 -3 Paul named five gifts including prophecy. He pointed out that the exercise of these gifts is nothing without love. Prophecy without love is just a lot of noise. It is love that enriches the gift and the minister and the ministered. But prophetic ministry with love enriches the whole church. The motivating factor behind the operation of the gift of prophecy must not be any vested interests like greed, fame, popularity rather it must be motivated by love.
A prophet is the spokesman of God. The purpose of prophecy is to give edification, warning, comfort and encouragement to individuals as well as church. The prophecy must be conveyed in an encouraging manner to edify the receiver. The prophet should not hurt the hearer. The gift of prophecy is not to exhibit but edify. Everything must be done decently and in order. The prophet must not compete with other prophets but must show self-control. Since the giver of all gifts is the Holy Spirit, no gift is superior to others. So the prophet must not boast in his gift. The prophet must exercise his gift out of love not out of greed.