The topic of this post is the purpose of prophesy! I’m going to dip my toe into visions and dreams by the end too, hopefully, and while I am specifically talking about prophesy I think many comments are applicable to the whole array of spiritual gifts. Yes, the one’s we all have at least one of 🙂
Through this post I want to be more thoughtful about the purposes of prophesy and what the Bible has to say about it. While it’s not a big part of my life, it’s not defined very well for us in our Churches/fellowships today and I would say it’s a big stumbling block for many who haven’t studied it thoroughly enough (includin’ me) once they actually come across it in real life.
In the first part I defined prophesy as hearing and then speaking God’s word, by examining the roles of Aaron and Moses. If you’re interested, you can find the first part here!
Paul gives a very thorough run-down of prophesy and tongues in 1 Corinthians 14, so I’ve picked out the applicable verses. However, it’s still good to keep in mind that the whole chapter is a comparison between the two that emphasizes the differences.
On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 14:3
It’s emphasized over and over that the one who prophesies builds up the Church in the next few verses. I think it’s fair to say that that’s a really big purpose, and is meant here more as a tool to guide people to the truth. Why are Old Testament prophets always told to prophesy against Israel? Because it speaks to people to redirect them and rebuild what they have lost, so at least they know they are doing wrong.
Visions can also be the word of God. It’s hard to find a book where God doesn’t do this, and it’s clearly still a valid form of his word. Prophesies seem to be what God is saying, while visions seem to be what God is doing, which can still lead to truths that build up the Church. Vision and Prophesy definitely go together in a lot of verses, but are always mentioned separately (bible search tool came in handy), and seem to have an order of rank.
What if I had a vision that something would happen and it came true? If that’s considered prophesy, what does it mean and how does it build up the Church? Visions often require interpretation and can be deceitful.
Prophesy builds up the Church. The confusing part is coming up.
Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is [a sign] not for unbelievers but for believers. 14:22
Tongues are a sign for unbelievers because it allows a foreigner to speak the language perfectly in it’s original dialect (mentioned in 14:21). That’s a pretty clear sign something odd is going on. What about the prophesy bit?
Look at the Old Testament Prophets. All their prophesies were signs to the Israelites of what was going to happen in the future, and what God was going to do. Whether they listened or not the people listened was another topic, but it was for the sake of the people. It’s the same thing here, prophesy builds up believers.
If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 14:23
This verse seems to contradict what Paul just said but the reason that a tongue is a sign for unbelievers is because it has an interpretation. In this scenario there is nothing to hear and no one to interpret, so no one profits and no one comes to faith. Tongues technically have no meaning when there is no translation.
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 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. 14:24-25
Paul claims that prophesy is clearly for non-believers too in this passage. He describes a scene where everyone is proclaiming the word of God and the truth is actually distributed. Prophesy also delivers the word of God to unbelievers.
If someone uses prophesy to build themselves up, they are not inherently in the wrong, but are not using their gift for what it was designed for. It may definitely be unbiblical, but it’s only on the arguing grounds of being wrong. I think it can definitely lead to important growth as long as it’s also being used for how God designed it.
Any gift is wasted if you don’t use it to it’s full potential, and with a gift that can provide so much to such different groups of people it would be a shame not to. Prophesy ain’t for your own sake, it’s for those around you.
Michael “If only I stayed up to 3:30AM for School” Ru