What is prophecy?

What is prophecy? June 3, 2009

For the remainder of the sermon I preached on spiritual gifts, I focused on this gift of prophecy. We will be several days in sharing an edited version of a transcript of this section.

How do I define prophecy?

I believe that prophecy is an impression that God may have something to say specifically to specific people at a specific time. It can be a word for an individual. It can be a word to a group of people, for a church, maybe even for a whole country. But it’s a word from God that’s for the here and now. What is the purpose of this?

Well, he who prophesies, the Bible says, speaks to men and women for their upbuilding . . .” (1 Corinthians 14:3); this means edification or strengthening. We need that sometimes, don’t we? Being built up. The Bible does say, incidentally, that tongues builds us up if we do it ourselves on our own, but for us as a body to be built up, we need prophesy. Prophesy builds us up. It encourages us. The verse carries on—“and encouragement and consolation.”

These two words—encouragement and consolation—are actually quite rich words. They are difficult words to translate properly, and they have a broader sense than the English words that are used there. The word “encourage.” really means there is to comfort, to appeal, to exhort, to earnestly request or entreat somebody, to offer assistance or help or counsel. The word actually is paraklesin. You can hear the link to the word paraklete, which Jesus uses when he speaks about the comforter, the helper, the counselor that’s coming—the Holy Spirit. So, there’s a strengthening that happens. That second word, “consolation,” actually means to “speak direct to.” It means “to lift up, to give hope to.” There’s a sense of correction there, perhaps, and that’s why the word “consolation” is there, where there’s sorrow, bringing hope and trust. Where there’s weakness, bringing strength. It’s very positive, very warm, very upbuilding. People have said, and rightly so, I think, prophets go around building people’s hopes up. The prophetic in the New Testament does not bring condemnation.

There is a positive, warm bias to New Testament prophecy, because God is favorably disposed to the Christian because of Christ.

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