Prophecy means predicting the future, right? Wrong. Well, not wrong, but not usually. People around me inquiring about the nature of prophecy, and if it means predicting the future, has become more common at church recently. The modern usage of prophecy is as “a prediction.” But that is not what Paul refers to when he lists prophecy among the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Cor 12:10.

Prophets of God in the Old Testament were not, of themselves, predicting the future. Rather, they passed on only what God specifically revealed to them. The prophets were messengers conveying a message. Most often this was to call God’s people out for sin. Less often, God revealed what was to come and the prophets spoke it or wrote it down.

Paul writes about prophecy extensively in 1 Corinthians 14. That part of his letter is a debate about the usefulness of speaking in different languages or speaking prophecy while in church. As a part of that debate, in 1 Cor. 14:3, Paul defines prophecy, “But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.” He never mentions anything about predicting the future.

To prophesy is speaking to people for their…

Later in the chapter, he enhances the explanation. 1 Cor. 14:19: “I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others.” Prophecy instructs. Paul explains the results of prophesying, verses 24-25, “But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

Prophecy is convicting and a convincing explanation of the gospel. That is why Paul starts chapter 14 with this, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.” The way of love includes speaking God’s truth to people for their strength, encouragement, and comfort. So, have you been eagerly wanting God to speak through you? Pray for that passion and be that kind of gift to the people around you.

John Riley

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