I believe the gifts of the Spirit are for today. They have been given by God for the advancement of the local church. Paul mentions them in 1 Corinthians 12. However, it’s always important to remember that when Paul writes about Spiritual Gifts here, he does so against the backdrop of bad practice in the Corinthian church. This was a very unhealthy local church with a huge amount of selfishness, division and in-fighting – a church full of competing voices that were clamouring to be heard.
So Paul addresses deep concerns about the way many people were using ‘spiritual gifts’ selfishly, manipulatively, divisively and even in an abusive way. Hence the reason he includes an entire section on ‘Love’ in 1 Corinthians 13. Interestingly, the Greek word for ‘love’ in this passage is ‘AGAPE’ – which means ‘selfless, humble and sacrificial’. This is the basis on which all spiritual gifts should manifest, not least prophecy.
I’ve been in ministry for over 20 years. Too many times, I’ve found myself in meetings where an unhealthy practice of prophecy has been permitted and even encouraged by leaders. When prophecy becomes anything other than for ‘edification, exhortation and encouragement’, it misses the mark. When God’s people are pressured, cajoled, battered, condemned, manipulated or simply made to listen to incoherent nonsense under the guise of ‘prophecy’, this is always an abject failure of local church leadership to protect the local church by understanding the proper use of prophecy. God’s people deserve so much better than that.
The gift of prophecy is not about one person standing up and speaking a ‘thus saith the Lord’ message to everyone. Nor is it about individuals going around other individuals and speaking direction and predictions into their lives. This is actually unhelpful, immature and can even be incredibly damaging to people’s lives. It’s the very thing Paul taught against in 1 Corinthians 12 & 14.
Prophecy is a culture – not an event. It flows from the spring of local church life. It declares potential. It speaks blessing. It articulates encouragement. It bigs up what’s good. Primarily, it champions the cause of the local church. This is the real purpose of prophecy. That’s why Paul spoke into the chaos and disorder of the Corinthian church and said ‘I would prefer you all to prophesy’ (1 Cor 14:5). If it is disconnected from the local church, it becomes dysfunctional, rouge and harmful.
Prophecy doesn’t have to be accompanied by the words ‘The Lord says…’. This is often too pretentious and unreal. Besides, nowhere in the Bible does it say the gift of prophecy must be accompanied by these words. Prophecy that is credible is honest, real and authentic. It’s what’s flowing from YOUR heart. It flows best from a river of deep humility. If it really is from God, then it will be obvious to those who listen. We don’t have to try and do God’s job for him. He’s REALLY good at being God!
When prophecy is done right, it’s a huge help to the local church. When prophecy is practised wrongly and forcefully, it does great damage both to people and to the credibility of this amazing spiritual gift to which Paul attaches huge importance.
At the Junction Church in Loughborough, Leicester & Nottingham, we’re going for health. We’re going for life. We’re going for what builds up the local church. We’re going for the real deal. We want a culture of prophecy rather than an event called ‘prophecy’. It flows – but isn’t forced. It’s powerful – but not overbearing. It always builds up and NEVER runs down. It captures the vibe of the house. This is the gift of prophecy – real, kind, generous, gracious, loving, uplifting, encouraging. This is the culture we want to grow & develop more & more in our church. We dare to declare it. This is who we are.