The gift of prophecy is not some arbitrary gift given to the church so that we can sound super-spiritual and have goose-bump experiences. The gift of prophecy is given for a reason, for a purpose.
There is one major practical reason that prophecy is given to the church, which is stated this way by Paul:
On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. (1 Corinthians 14:3)
Prophecy will bear fruit when it is spoken – fruit that will bring edification, encouragement-exhortation, and comfort. It might also challenge, but that challenge, if heeded as God’s word, will still stir these three characteristics in the life of the believer. It can cause a fog to clear, despair turn to hope, deep worry resolve to peace, and much more.
But, while this is a major outcome of Spirit-directed prophecies, there is still yet a greater reason as to why prophecy is still given to the church today. This might sound over simplified, but it breaks down into these 3 points:
- As the very Word of God, Jesus was and is the great prophet of human history.
- The Holy Spirit was sent in His stead to continue the work of Jesus, including His prophetic work.
- The Holy Spirit is given to the church so that they may be all of Christ in the world today, even the prophetic Christ.
In a simplified manner, that is how it plays out. Jesus >> Holy Spirit >> Body of Christ.
Jesus is the proto-type of every ministry within the body of Christ, from prophecy to mercy to teaching to shepherding to giving to healings to whatever ministry might come forth. Though it might sound somewhat cheesy, we really are called to start with Jesus as to the great example of every ministry made possible to God’s people.
And this is the key to making sure His ministry would continue: Jesus promised to send another Parakletos in His name, even the Spirit of God. That was the plan way back when.
I have always loved these words of Jesus:
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)
It was to our advantage that Jesus went back to the Father? Huh?
Yes, for in doing so He could send the Spirit that could now indwell and empower the whole body of Christ, not just a few select individuals. This was the cry of Moses centuries before Christ stepped onto the scene and promised His Spirit:
Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them! (Numbers 11:29)
And, so, when the Spirit was poured out on all flesh – male and female, young and old – this was what the ‘special’ prophets had been longing for and what THE prophet had promised. Peter has a revelation himself at Pentecost that what they were viewing and hearing was a fulfilment of the words of the great prophet, Joel:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18; from Joel 2:28-29)
The very Word-of-God-become-flesh promised to the give the very Spirit of God to His people. What a fantastic idea! For how could the body of Christ actually be Christ without His Spirit? How could we be Christ to one another and a hurting world if we did not have His indwelling and empowering Spirit? Well, we simply could not.
And, if the very Spirit of God was given by Christ to His church, would He expect anything less than for us to continue in all the varying ministries He Himself walked in? I cannot imagine such. The very Spirit of God who empowered the incarnate, fully human Son was also given to empower the current incarnate Christ in His fully human body, if you will. The hundreds of millions that make up Christ’s body today are Christ incarnate today. That’s exactly how He meant it. And Jesus knew that the best way to help us be Him in the world is to give us the same Spirit that empowered Him as a human man.
It truly is a marvellous plan.
So, in a much bigger sense, the gift of prophecy, while it is a blessing to us and we are strengthened by it, is given that we might continue the full work of Christ. And, again, every single ministry gift given has been given so that we might continue in the full work of Christ.
Thus, we find in this one of the main purposes of the Spirit of God being given to His church. It would not just be fine and dandy for Christ to charge us to continue His work without supplying and equipping us with His Spirit. We would have failed pretty miserably (though sometimes we do in the midst of such a provision). So, as the Father sent the Son, the Son now sends the Spirit. Quite a team.
This was to our advantage because, as a human-incarnate man, Jesus was only able to do so much by Himself. He touched many lives, but it was still limited as a human. But He knew that, as the exalted Christ, He could send His Spirit to empower literally billions down through the centuries to finish what He started.
This stirs me even now to complete His work, to catch the prophetic heart of Christ as I gather with the saints, have conversation with friends, and meet with the varying peoples that God brings into contact in my life. To have an ear attuned to what He might say, to speak it forth, and see it come as a kind of two-edge sword into the lives of people. This is a privilege.
But more than that one moment, we start to the get the sense that we are participating in something far larger than our tiny selves. We are walking out the very ministry of the Lord of heaven and earth. And, in doing so, we can be certain that we will see and taste the fruit of edification, encouragement, exhortation and comfort in the midst of prophecy. And that fruit will taste very sweet.
So, let us keep in mind that Christ has and always will desire that His body be a prophetic people. No gender barriers, no age barriers allowed, a true reality of the age of the Spirit. And we can, by the Spirit of God, speak forth the words of God that call people to be drawn in to the bigger purposes of God, the redemptive purposes of the kingdom of God. This stirs me deeply.