What is the Gift of Prophecy?

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10 minutes
  1. Words Have Meanings
  2. Are There Prophets Today?
  3. How Prophets Are Called
    1. Spiritual Death Awaits a False Prophet
    2. What are the Traits of a False Prophet?
    3. Does the Gift of Prophecy Still Exist?
  4. How Prophecy is Used Today

The Apostle Paul once said, “Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1, NKJV). Why did he stress the importance of the gift of prophecy? He answers in 1 Corinthians 14:3 when he says, “But he who prophesies speaks edification, exhortation, and comfort to men.” From that verse alone, we see three crucial aspects of prophecy that make it a meaningful gift:

  • Edification
  • Exhortation
  • Comfort

Words Have Meanings

The word “edification” comes from the Greek oikos, meaning “a home,” and demo, meaning “to build.” So it literally means to “build up” and is used figuratively in regards to the spiritual body of the church. To prophesy, then, is to build up or edify the church body.

“Exhortation” comes from the Greek words para, meaning “beside,” and kaleo, meaning “to call.” Put together, it means “calling to one’s side,” offering comfort, encouragement, and aid. The NIV translates exhortation into the word encouraging.

The word “comfort” comes from the Greek para, meaning “near,” and muthos, meaning “speech.” It literally means “speaking closely to anyone.” It has the connotation of offering practical comfort and encouragement to others. So it is an “act” of helping or meeting a need.

All three of these aspects of prophecy—edification, exhortation, and comfort—should be present in those who prophesy. Why? Because the main reason behind prophecy, indeed behind all spiritual gifts, is to build up the church (Ephesians 4:11–16).

Are There Prophets Today?

The word prophecy means to speak forth the mind and counsel of God. It comes from the Greek pro, meaning “forth,” and femi, meaning “to speak.” But what does that entail?

In the Old Testament, many prophets received messages from God. Some of these messages were given directly to the prophet. Others were given through dreams or visions, and still, God used others as an example or lesson for the people to learn something from (see the book of Hosea). 

Whatever the prophets’ purpose, what they had to say typically began with a warning and ended with a promise if the people listened. Unfortunately, more often than not, a prophet’s warnings were not heeded, and the warnings turned into judgments from God.

How Prophets Are Called

The book of Jeremiah is an excellent example of a prophet of God who warned his people of God’s coming judgments if they did not repent and return to God. The book of Revelation speaks forth both warnings of coming judgments and promises of a bright future.

However, one thing is clear about all the prophets of the Old Testament and the New Testament: not one of them was appointed by man to be a prophet. No individual or organization can enable a man or woman to become a true prophet. A church can ordain and install an evangelist or a pastor, but no one can become a prophet in the full meaning of the word unless God gives him a message with orders to pass it on.

So how do we tell if someone is a prophet? Anyone can say they had a message from God or that they are a prophet of God, but how does one tell if they are speaking the truth or just delusional? The only way to confirm whether or not someone is a true prophet of God is if their prophecies come true (Deuteronomy 18:22). But what if their prophecies are far into the future? How do people today know if the prophet is really from God?

Spiritual Death Awaits a False Prophet

The Lord Himself says that if a person calling himself a prophet of God was not from God, they would die (Deuteronomy 18:20). This would more than likely be a spiritual death or eternal separation from God. That should be a deterrent for anyone calling themselves a prophet of God.

Sadly, the word “prophet” is being abused in the church today to the point where everyone thinks they have a message from God, so they call themselves a prophet of God. I don’t know about you, but when someone introduces themselves to me as a prophet, my Spidey senses kick into high gear, mainly because they use “prophet” as a title worn with pride.

What are the Traits of a False Prophet?

  • They will contradict Scripture. The best way to guard yourself against false prophets is to know the Word of God. 2 Timothy 2:15–16 says we must be diligent to “rightly divide” the Word. We are not to listen to idle chatter from people. Too many people love to say, “The Lord revealed to me…” or “The Lord told me…” and gullible people accept what they are saying as fact. This is why we must check everything against the Scriptures.
  • They will deny Jesus’ divinity. Anyone who denies that Jesus is God, downplays His sacrificial death on the cross, or rejects Jesus’ humanity is a false prophet. 1 John 2:22 says, “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son.”
  • They will puff themselves up. They will precede their name with the title “prophet,” thus making themselves seem important. Galatians 6:3 says, “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” And 2 Corinthians 10:17–18 says, “But ‘he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’ For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.”
  • They will avoid controversy. True prophets of old spoke the truth, no matter how harsh and no matter the consequences to their well-being. They would not couch it with half-truths or be “politically correct.” If the Lord has a word of warning, it will be direct and straight to the point. A true prophet of God will not be able to hold God’s message within themselves but will feel compelled to speak it (Jeremiah 20:9), even if it means persecution for themselves.
  • They will emphasize their dreams, visions, and “special revelations” from God. They will concentrate and expound on something that can’t be proven, staying clear of the Bible. They will say flippant things, like televangelist Joyce Meyer said once in one of her broadcasts, “The Bible can’t even find any way to explain this. Not really. That is why you have got to get it by revelation. There are no words to explain what I am telling you. I have got to just trust God that he is putting it into your spirit like he put it into mine.” Meyer puts the onus on the listener, blaming them for not being “spiritual” enough to hear what God has told her.
  • They will “prophesy” only what people want to hear. The real prophets of old pointed out sin and preached repentance, obedience, and confession to God. Real prophets sounded warnings, followed by blessings, if people would repent and return to God. Today’s “prophets” preach prosperity, healing, and promises of blessings from God for no other reason than the famous line we hear all the time, “God wants to give good gifts to His children.” This line is used frequently by people like prosperity teacher Joel Osteen. Scripture is twisted into a lie by leaving out the essential aspects of what has to happen before God gives good gifts to His children. Namely, our repentance and confession. 2 Timothy 4:3 says, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”
  • Their prophecies will not come true. Often they will preface their “prophecies” from God with the line “the Lord has revealed to me…” Benny Hinn does this. A lot. So far, his “prophecies” have yet to come true. To get an idea of some of his “revelations” from God, visit this link. Be very skeptical when someone begins a sentence with “The Lord revealed to me,” “The Lord told me,” or “I have a word of knowledge from the Lord,” especially if what they are saying can’t be backed up with Scripture.

Does the Gift of Prophecy Still Exist?

Jesus confirmed that all Scripture was fulfilled in him (Matthew 5:17–18). With the canon of Scripture complete, we can see throughout history where prophecies came true. Even the book of Revelation gives us an advantage on which signs to look for regarding coming judgments and Christ’s return. So, does the gift of prophecy still exist? Is there still a need for it? Yes! It does exist, but in a much simpler form.

Ephesians 4:12 says there are two reasons for spiritual gifts: to equip us for ministry and to edify the body of Christ. And Ephesians 4:13 tells us how long those gifts will be available:

  • Until we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.
  • Until we are perfected.
  • Until we measure up to the stature of the fullness of Christ.
  • Until we are no longer children who are tossed to and fro with every kind of doctrine.
  • Until we speak the truth in love, growing up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.

The gift of prophecy is still available and needed today, but it is only available as a means to edify, exhort (encourage), and comfort the body of Christ. If the purpose of a prophet in Biblical times was to reveal truths from God, why would we need prophets today when we have the completed revelation of God in the form of the Bible?

How Prophecy is Used Today

The Scriptures contain all of the exhortations to turn to God and the promises He makes to those who do so. All the prophecies regarding future events are also found in the Bible.

Today, those who teach or preach from the Word of God, who seek to edify the church and encourage the lost to repent, using Scripture as their foundation, would qualify as those with the “gift of prophecy.” They are not “prophets” in the sense that they have something new to say that God has not revealed to anyone else. He no longer needs to do this because we have the Bible and the Holy Spirit, who leads us into all truth (John 14:26; John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:10). 

However, God still uses prophets to expound on His warnings written in the Scriptures. He uses them to edify the church (from Scripture) and to encourage and comfort the church through His promises. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:39, “desire earnestly to prophesy” for the plain and simple reason that it is to help the church grow. 

Today, God uses those with the gift of prophecy by showing them, through Scripture, the insights and wisdom that they share with the rest of the body of Christ to build them up and encourage them. And what greater gift could one give back to the church than to build them up in the Lord?

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