Wednesday, February 22, 2012

1 Corinthians 14 : What about the Gift of Prophecy ?

TEXT : 1 Corinthians  14
TITLE:   What about  the  Gift of Prophecy ?
Date :  The Lord's Day  12/02/2012

AW Tozer was considered
by many
 to be a modern day prophet
Last week  we  looked at 1 Corinthians 14  from  a “descriptive perspective“. We  took note of what the apostle Paul had  described  and emphasized in 1 Corinthians 14. We noted that tongues and prophecies were  functioning gifts  in the apostolic church. In  the Corinthian church  tongue speaking was  apparently the most popular  gift, and this was not unrelated to the Greek love affair with   the mystery religions . We also noted that the apostle  Paul  did not encourage the speaking of tongues in public worship. He says it repeatedly , and sums up his view in  14:9  and 18. He prefers clarity  and  intelligibility. At the heart of Paul’s argument is that the church must be edified; she must be  built up through the use of spiritual gifts. He  thus curbs the exaggerated attention which the Corinthian church gave  to  tongue speaking.   
This  was  not true for the gift of prophecy (14: 1,5,31,39). On the contrary, Paul encouraged  it. He said that  prophecy  is a  useful gift for the  “upbuilding , encouragement and consolation“ of the church. (14:3)

But what exactly is prophecy?
This is an important  question,  for there is much confusion concerning it. Paul does not give us a  working definition in this passage. He only tells us what it achieves : it builds up,  it encourages and it  comforts (14:3).   But what is the gift prophecy?


1.   Whatever this gift is  , it cannot be on the same level  as  that  word  of the  prophets and apostles who  are called  “the foundation of the church” (Eph 2:20). That type of prophecy  is unquestionable  and unique in its authority. The word of  the  Old Testament prophets  is  “something more sure“. Peter calls it the “prophetic word”  (2 Pet 1:19)   It is as  good as  God's word[1]. Therefore, to disbelieve or disobey a prophet's words was to disbelieve or disobey God [2].  In the New Testament  were the  "apostles" ,  the New Testament counterpart to the Old Testament prophets.[3] It is the apostles, not the prophets, who have authority  to speak  the words of New Testament Scripture. 
2. Whatever this gift means, it  cannot bear the same authority and degree of revelation, because there is essentially  no need for  further revelation. Jesus is  God’s final revelation. (Heb 13 : 1 –3).   The apostolic writings and the gospels  are God’s final Word  for these last days. There can be no prophecies that would  add to our present  knowledge   in addition to Scripture . That would bring us into serious conflict with  Hebrews 1:1-3  and the principle  of  the sufficiency  of Scripture. No greater revelation than Christ has  given us  of heavenly realities  can follow  right now.  We must  wait for the second  coming of Christ  to take us to heaven.  So, with  Christ, the words of the prophets were  sealed.
3. Internal evidence  (i.e. within Chapter 14 ) helps us to see  that prophecy mentioned  here is not the same  kind  :  When Paul  says for instance  , "Let two or three prophets speak, and  the others should  weigh carefully  what is said" (1 Cor. 14:29), he suggests that they should listen carefully and sift the  prophecy . The word  for “weighing carefully” is the Greek word  “diakrino”  (dia – through ; krino – to judge)  - hence to consider thoroughly and carefully . We cannot imagine that an Old Testament prophet such as Isaiah would have said, "Listen to what I say, and weigh what is said—and  sort the good from the bad…!  No ! He speaks – “Thus says the Lord…” , and he is not inviting any further dialogue !  But here Paul commands that  this is how  it should be done in the church , suggesting that  this  type  of   prophecy did not have the authority of God’s word.  In 1 Cor 14:30-31  Paul allows one prophet to interrupt another one: "If a revelation is made to  another sitting there , let  the first be silent.  For you can all prophesy one by one,  so that  all may learn an all be encouraged  …".   If prophets had been speaking God's very words, equal in value to Scripture, it is hard to imagine that Paul would say they should be interrupted and not allowed to finish their message. But that is what Paul commands here. There is something about this prophecy that must be weighed and tested.  This also appears to be the implication of Paul’s statement to the Thessalonians  (2 Thess  5:20,21)  where he says:   “…Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil“. Paul plainly  recommends that   such prophecies should be tested. They should not be automatically assumed to be God’s  words.   He challenges  the  Corinthians in  14:36 :  “Did the word of God originate  with you ? Or are you the only people it has reached ?"   Then in verses 37 and 38 he claims authority greater than any prophet at Corinth: "If any one thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord."  It is plain then that Paul ascribes greater and unquestionable authority  to his own words!
    So we come to the conclusion that  the spiritual gift of prophecy in the  church had less authority than scripture prophecy or apostolic teaching.


Nothing directly in our text  helps us  to understand the nature of prophecy . Therefore we will have to look a little “wider“. 
Why did Jesus choose the new term "apostle" to designate those who had the authority to write Scripture? It was probably because the Greek word prophetes ("prophet") at the time of the New Testament had a very broad range of meanings. It generally did not have the sense of "one who speaks God's very words",  but rather of "one who speaks on the basis of some external influence" (often a spiritual influence of some kind. Note :prophecy is not peculiar to the Christian faith ; ‘Fortune telling’  belongs to the same category). Titus 1:12 uses the word in this sense, where Paul quotes a secular  concerning the Cretes:  "Even one of their own prophets has said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons" .  This has nothing to do with “Christian prophecy”.
The soldiers who mock Jesus also seem to use the word "prophesy" in this way, when they blindfold Jesus and cruelly demand, "Prophesy! Who hit  you?" (Luke 22:64). They don't mean, "Speak words of absolute divine authority," but, "Tell us  who hit you!”  (compare John 4:19 also).

So , if  this type  of prophecy  has nothing to do  with the writing of authoritative Scripture , then what is it?
Paul indicates that God could bring something spontaneously to mind,  so that the person prophesying would report it in his or her own words. Paul calls this a "revelation"( Gr. apokalupsis) : "If a revelation is made to  another sitting there  , let  the first be silent.  For you can all prophesy one by one ,  so that  all may learn an all be encouraged  …"  (1 Cor. 14:30-31) Here Paul is here simply referring to something that God may suddenly bring to mind, or something that God may impress on someone's heart or thoughts, in such a way that the person has a sense that it is from God.
Notice the effect upon the congregation :  1 Cor14:24 ,25 [24] But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, [25] the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
Wayne Grudem  writes :  “ I have heard a report of this happening in a clearly non-charismatic Baptist church in America: A missionary speaker paused in the middle of his message and said something like this: "I didn't plan to say this but it seems the Lord is indicating that someone in this church has just walked out on his wife and family. If that is so, let me tell you that God wants you to return to them and learn to follow God's pattern for family life." The missionary did not know it, but in the unlit balcony sat a man who had entered the church moments before for the first time in his life. The description fit him exactly, and he made himself known, acknowledged his sin, and began to seek after God.

In this way, prophecy serves as a "sign" for believers (1 Cor. 14:22) - it is a clear demonstration that God is definitely at work in their midst, a "sign" of Gods hand of blessing on the congregation. And since it will work for the conversion of unbelievers as well, Paul encourages this gift to be used when "unbelievers or outsiders enter" (1 Cor. 14:23-25).

Many of us have experienced or heard of similar events.
For example, an unplanned but urgent request may have been given to pray for  someone. Then much later those who prayed discovered that just at that time people had been in a car  accident or at a point of intense spiritual conflict, and had needed those prayers. Paul would call the sense or intuition of those things a "revelation" and the report to the assembled church of that prompting from God would be called a "prophecy."
(A similar thing happened to us when our son Martin nearly drowned  - The Lord showed  a lady here in the congregation that this was to happen  – and she prayed- though we did not know  - and thankfully Martin was spared !)  

 D.A. Carson says  [4] : One begins to suspect that prophecy may occur more often than is recognized in non-charismatic circles , and less often than is recognized in charismatic churches…. What preacher has not had the experience , after detailed preparation for public ministry , of being interrupted in the full flow of his delivery with a new thought , fresh and powerful , interrupting him… until he makes room for it and incorporates it into his message –only to find after the service that the insertion was the very bit that seemed to touch the most people, and meet their needs … The same is true for healings  - these also happen in non charismatic  churches in response to the gift of faith.

I wonder whether you know  that our own  Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834 – 1892) was subject to a most remarkable  and striking  prophecy[5]?   He was still a child  when his grandfather brought  to the church a  former missionary by the name of Richard Knill for special meetings. Knill had spent many years in India and in Russia and was at that time serving in England. He became much taken with  young Charles , quickly recognizing his unusual mental ability and his rare clarity of speech. For instance , Charles read the Scriptures every day  , and  reporting of this experience , Knill said:”I have old ministers and  young ones read well , but never did I hear a little by read so correctly before .”  When it was time to leave the family stood around , and Richard Knill took young Charles on his knee and made the pronouncement : “This child will one day preach the gospel , and will preach it to great multitudes , and I am persuaded he will preach in the chapel of Rowland Hill” . Rowland Hill’s chapel (Surrey Chapel) was one of the largest in England at that time, and  in later years Charles did preach there.

Spurgeon himself testifies:  “He spoke very solemnly , and called upon all to witness what he said. Then he gave me a six pence as a reward if I would learn the  hymn : ‘God moves in mysterious ways , His wonders to perform.” I was made to promise , that when I preached  in Rowland Hill’s chapel , that hymn should be sung. … would it ever be an idle dream? Years flew by. After I had begun for some little time to preach in London, Dr Alexander Fletcher was engaged to deliver the annual sermon to the children in Surrey Chapel  , but as he was taken ill , I was asked in a hurry to preach to the children in his stead . ‘ Yes’, I replied , ‘ I will’ , if you will allow the children to sing ‘ God moves in mysterious ways , His wonders to perform.’ I have made a promise long ago that that hymn should be sung when I preached there.
And so it was . I preached in Rowland Hills chapel , and the hymn was sung. My emotions on that occasion I cannot describe , for the word of the Lord’s servant was fulfilled.”
1.   Prophecy is telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind." (Wayne Grudem ).“ It  denotes something like our preaching , but it is not identical with it. It is not the delivery of a carefully prepared sermon , but the uttering of words directly inspired by God“ [8]
2.  Prophecy must be weighed i.e. it does not have to  be accepted as binding or “ as the word of the Lord” . Often , it appears as if we simply have to wait in order to see whether something is really of God . Therefore we must not be overly eager  to call something from the Lord – wait until it happens – and then give praise to God!
3.  If a prophecy  conflicts or contradicts with Scripture , it should be immediately discarded. Under no circumstance can this prophecy overrule the word of God.
4.   The purpose of prophecy is for strengthening ,  encouragement and comfort  see 14:3 i.e. edification . This may  certainly include rebuke, since that also leads ultimately to our comfort.
5.  True Prophecy is something outside of ourselves. Therefore, the issue is one of the sovereignty of the Spirit of God.  God  sovereignly can use  anyone, or choose to gift  certain ones  for the purpose of strengthening and encouraging the church in this way.
6.  We must guard ourselves from  manipulating  the Spirit for our own ends. In fact we may be assured that the Spirit who is sovereign , cannot be manipulated . At the same time we may expect Him to work in unusual ways. We cannot say that the Spirit  cannot do something.   
7.   The claims of the charismatic movement  concerning the  normative  occurrences of tongues ,  prophecies etc.   are  exaggerated.
8.   The use of tongues and prophecies  cannot enjoy prominence above  the  proclamation of the word of God.

[1] (see Num. 22:38; Deut. 18:18-20; Jer. 1:9; Ezek. 2:7; etc.).
[2](Deut. 18:19; 1 Sam. 8:7; 1 Kings 20:36; etc.)
[3] (see 1 Cor. 2:13; 2 Cor. 13:3; Gal. 1:8-9, 11-12; 1 Thess. 2:13; 4:8, 15; 2 Pet. 3:2
[4][4] D.A. Carson :  Showing the Spirit p. 168  
[5][5] A. Dalimore : Spurgeon p 10 ;  Spurgeon’s Auto Biography : The early years : p.27
[6] Don Whitney: Article : Silence and Solitude
[7]  M.L.Jones : The Puritans  : Howell Harris and revival . p.282
[8]  Leon Morris : Commentary  on 1 Cor ( IVP) p.190

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