Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. – 1 Corinthians 14:1-4
In this passage Paul tells us the purpose of prophecy. It is a gift that is to have the following effect on people:
- Prophecy strengthens people.
- Prophecy encourages people.
- Prophecy comforts people.
Paul goes on to say that prophecy is meant to edify the church. In Paul’s time the church was a community of believers not an institution or denomination. So he is still talking about prophecy and its effect on people – except this time he is talking about the community of whole.
To me, the use of word edify is interesting. According Merriam Webster the word edify means:
1 : to instruct and improve especially in moral and religious knowledge : uplift; also : enlighten, inform 2 archaic a : build b : establish
While I liked the modern synonym uplift, I was less certain about the idea of prophecy as moral instruction because, to me, that’s what the Bible does. So I started to wonder if the word edify was being used in its modern sense or the more archaic usage (to build up or establish). In hopes of clarifying this, I looked up 1 Corinthians 14:3-4 in the King James Version.
But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. – 1 Corinthians 14:3-4
Here, in verse 3, ‘edification’ is used instead of strengthen which is a lot closer to the archaic meaning (to build up) than it is to instruction. By my logic, then, it seems likely that when Paul goes on to talk about prophecy edifying the church, he is talking about how prophecy can build up or strengthen the community.
I also liked that this passage talks about desiring spiritual gifts.
Having come out of the New Age, I have had mixed feeling about the gifts of the Spirit.
In the beginning, I was wary of acknowledging spiritual gifts because I was afraid I might be misled as I was when I was working with the occult. With time however I began to trust my own discernment.
I realized that dreams that were of God were immediately (though not always completely) understandable (for me). I felt confident that it was God’s voice that answered my prayers. I knew the presence of the Holy Spirit to be so incredibly complex and loving that it couldn’t possibly be anything short of divine.
But I also worried.
In the New Age people are very accepting and supportive of the supernatural experience of others – which is often not discerning. Additionally, because gifts are often viewed as talents or abilities specific to a given (gifted) individual, ego can become an issue. Along with ego there are other abuses (such as charging people large sums of money for readings).
Having read cards professionally, I know the ego rush that goes along with nailing some bit of information in a way that your client doesn’t expect. God keep me from every doing that again!
But I do desire the gifts of Spirit and love when I have a supernatural experience that is of God. There is a conflict there between what I desire and what I am afraid of but I think that Paul has helped me resolve it.
It isn’t wrong to desire prophecy anymore than it is wrong to desire a closer walk with God. But it is important to remember that any prophetic information we receive about others is not about us. It is about building someone else up.
We don’t have to tell people we have “a word” for them. We don’t have to say that we know what is best. Or even that we believe what we are telling them is of God. But we can speak to them as Spirit leads us without calling any sort of attention to where we feel our information came from. If what we say is true, it is my experience that people will know it.
To me, personal prophecy is much the same. it the truth of what we are told that convicts us.
Dear God. Thank you for speaking to me and giving me dreams and allowing me to experience your love. Please grant me discernment and humility and a pure heart. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
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