The Gift of Prophecy
Sunday, May 14, 2006 -
THE PERSON AND WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (continued) - The Gift of Prophecy - We will be studying both the nature of the gift of prophecy (specifically, how does this gift differ from prophecy in the rest of Scripture?) and, next week, the purpose of this gift in the church today.
1) PROPHECY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT - The important point of distinction here is the prophet in the Old Testament clearly saw himself as the very mouthpiece of God. Prophets were called "sent ones", "God's messengers," etc. these prophets didn't speak their own words. True prophets always spoke with divine authority - “The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.....”
False prophets, on the other hand, spoke "visions from their own minds" - Jeremiah 23:16 - “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.’”
This stands in sharp contrast to genuine prophets who fully understood their words were not their own - Deuteronomy 18:18 - “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”
See also Numbers 22:38 - “Balaam said to Balak, "Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak."
2) PROPHECIES IN THE FIRST PERSON SINGULAR - With the above understanding of prophecy in the Old Testament, it is not surprising that prophecies are frequently given in the first person singular - "I, the Lord, say unto you", etc. Truly, these were the very words of God. And the proof and test of this was those words had to be 100% accurate - 1 Samuel 9:6 - “But he said to him, "Behold, there is a man of God in this city, and he is a man who is held in honor; all that he says comes true. So now let us go there. Perhaps he can tell us the way we should go."
This leads to another very important point about prophets in the Old Testament. To question the prophet was to question God Himself. There is to be no picking and choosing what the true prophet had spoken. He was to be fully obeyed or God would judge. No one was ever commanded to sift or discern or judge the words of Isaiah or Jeremiah. These were the spokespersons for God Almighty.
3) OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETS REPLACED BY NEW TESTAMENT APOSTLES - Apostles continued the practise of speaking the very words of God - 1 Thessalonians 2:13 - “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”
See also 1 Thessalonians 4:8 - “Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”
Notice also 1 Corinthians 14:37-38 - “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.  If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.”
Paul separates his authority from anyone exercising the gift of prophecy in the church. Paul places those who prophesied under his apostolic authority. Paul distinguishes his words from theirs. His are of greater weight.
4) IN THE NEW TESTAMENT THE GIFT OF PROPHECY IS NOT TO BE BLINDLY OBEYED - Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 14:29-30 - “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.  If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent.” There is to be a constant judging or sifting of what is said. And that word sifting implies a mixture of divine and human (as with the exercise of all the gifts). The church mustn’t automatically receive everything said in any prophetic utterance. It must line up with the higher revelation of God's Word.
5) UNLIKE THE WORDS OF THE GENUINE PROPHET IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, IN THE NEW TESTAMENT ALL PROPHECY IS PROPHECY "IN PART" - The important passage here is 1 Corinthians 13:9 - "....we prophecy in part". This applies to all prophetic utterances given in the church today. The gift of prophecy is important, beneficial and should be sought after - 1 Corinthians 14:1 - “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”
Nothing we are saying in this study belittles the gift or diminishes Paul’s exhortation for the church to desire (actually the very same word translated ‘covet’ in the New Testament) the gifts of the Spirit and prophecy in particular. Yet it is still also true that all prophecy is partial. It is a mixture of divine and human. Those exercising the gift of prophecy don't utter the very words of God in a direct sense. It would be best if their words were not phrased so as to convey the idea that they are functioning as God's actual mouthpieces. Phrases like "Thus says the Lord...", and"Yea, my people...", while dramatic in effect, are inappropriate for revealing the nature of what the genuine New Testament gift of prophecy is all about.
A simple working definition of the New Testament gift of prophecy might be: "A spontaneous revelation by the Spirit of God to the mind of a person, which is then, by a conscious act of the will, relayed to the church at large in the speaker's own words."