1 Corinthians 14:1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 2 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. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.
1 Corinthians 14:1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.
We started last Sunday morning to think about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the ways in which God equips Christians to serve him in the church and in the world. We finished with these words from the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14. Eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit. The Good News Translation says, “Set your hearts on spiritual gifts.” The Voice translation says, “Passionately seek the gifts of the spirit.”
Christians aren’t just allowed to want God to give us gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are all encouraged to long for the Holy Spirit to work in our lives and to give us spiritual gifts. We should all eagerly desire, set our hearts, passionately seek God to use us in his service and to equip us with whichever of the gifts of the Holy Spirit he chooses at any time. So we are going to carry on thinking about the different gifts that the Holy Spirit gives. Today we will think about the spiritual gift which Paul clearly thinks is the most important
1 Corinthians 14:1 eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.
Paul goes on in verse 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy.
So what is this spiritual gift of prophecy? Why is it so important? What does it mean in the Bible and how should we be experiencing prophecy in the church today?
We find the words prophet, prophecy and prophesying 384 times in the Old Testament. The prophets were God’s messengers and God’s spokesmen. God would give the prophet some kind of revelation, a message or a dream or a vision, and the prophet would deliver that message, sometimes just to individuals like kings or leaders or at other times to God’s people as a nation. The authority and the authenticity of all those messages and prophecies rested upon their divine origin. The prophets would often say, “thus says the LORD”, “this is the word of the Lord. God spoke to the prophet and then the prophet spoke to the people. It was the Holy Spirit of God who inspired the prophets so that they received direct revelations from God which they then passed on. If you count up the mentions of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament then prophecy was the by far most frequent activity of the Holy Spirit. The ways in which prophets received God’s message varied. So did their subject matter and the ways that they delivered God’s messages. But the prophet was always essentially God’s spokesman in the world.
Before the birth of the Church at Pentecost the Holy Spirit only came upon special individuals for specific purposes or occasions. But even Moses said in Numbers 11:29, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them!”. Through the prophet Joel, God promised that in the Latter Days the Holy Spirit will come and rest upon all God’s people, in particular inspiring the spiritual gift of prophecy. “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” (Joel 2:28). Jews in the time of Jesus were eagerly looking forward to that day when God would pour out his Spirit.
And this is what happened on the day of Pentecost. While they were gathered together, the Holy Spirit descended on the first Christians and enabled them to praise God in all kinds of languages they had never learned. People in Jerusalem recognised those languages and asked what was happening, and the apostle Peter explained it like this.
Acts 2 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 ‘ “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
Peter’s sermon explained that God was fulfilling his promises and had poured out his Holy Spirit on all believers. By quoting Joel, Peter was saying specifically that the same Holy Spirit who had inspired the prophets in the Old Testament was now at work inspiring all believers. Now Christians will receive messages from God, see visions and dream dreams. Let’s look and see this morning some examples of how this promise was fulfilled in the Book of Acts. Time after time the first Christians received prophecies and specific revelations from God, giving guidance, assurance, solutions to problems and predictions about personal and national events.
Saul of Tarsus had a vision of the Risen Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road which called him to become Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. That vision left Paul blind. God had a specific plan to bless Paul and that began with a prophetic instructions to a man called Ananias.
Acts 9 10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered.
11 The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’
The Holy Spirit revealed to Ananias what God wanted him to do. Next, when people who weren’t Jews first began to become Christians, God healed the divisions between Jewish and Gentile Christians through a meeting between the apostle Peter and a Roman soldier called Cornelius. And a number of prophecies were very important in that vital process. First God spoke to Cornelius.
Acts 10: 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, ‘Cornelius!’
4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. ‘What is it, Lord?’ he asked.
The angel answered, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.’
God gave Cornelius clear instructions about what to do. Then God needed to deal with Peter’s Jewish prejudice against non-Jews, who Jews considered to be “unclean”. God spoke to Peter through a vision which was repeated three times.
Acts 10 9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’
14 ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’
15 The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’
These visions was the start. But then Peter had to be persuaded do something very unexpected and to go along with the Gentile men that Cornelius had sent to fetch him.
Acts 10 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.’
Dreams, visions, prophetic messages – all the work of God the Holy Spirit.
Acts 13 1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
“The Holy Spirit said.” Through the prophets at Antioch, God gave the church a strong message to send Barnabas and Saul off on their missionary journeys. The Holy Spirit continued to guide Paul through prophecies, dreams and visions.
Acts 16 6 Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Sometimes the prophetic message was very personal to just one person.
Acts 18 9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’ 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
In Acts 22 Paul said this to the Elders of the Church at Ephesus.
Acts 22 22 ‘And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.
The Holy Spirit had given Paul a number of revelations about the trials he would have to go through. Paul had many other experiences of revelations from the Holy Spirit. In 2 Corinthians 12 he talks about “visions and revelations from the Lord” and even “surpassingly great revelations”. He goes on to write about a different kind of experience.
2 Corinthians 12:7 …. “I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
Again God spoke directly to Paul and gave him a message through the gift of prophecy. But the Holy Spirit also spoke to many other Christians apart from Paul. One named Agabus is mentioned twice in Acts.
Acts 11 27 During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)
Through Agabus, God gave a message to the whole church about world events. On a different occasion the message was more personal.
In Acts 21 8 Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. 9 He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.
10 After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, ‘The Holy Spirit says, “In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.” ’
There is a clear example of prophecy where Holy Spirit had revealed to Agabus what was going to happen to Paul and he delivered that message to the church.
It is important to note that not all prophecy is foretelling the future. Much more often it is “forth-telling” a message God has given, as we saw from other examples in Acts.
1 Corinthians 14 3 … the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4 … the one who prophesies edifies the church.
The spiritual gift of prophecy strengthens and encourages and comforts those who hear God’s messages. And the church is built up by these messages from God.
Let me share an example of a time when I believe God spoke to me and gave me a message for the church. I once had a dream which in some sense foretold future events. When we arrived in our second church, that church had very few children in it. Early on, I had a very vivid dream of a Sunday service in which the church was different in two ways. Firstly the pews were laid out in a different arrangement. And secondly, the church was full of children singing and dancing and waving banners and running up and down the aisles. But in my dream, some of the old ladies of the church were scolding the children and making them sit down. At that moment I woke up. I shared my dream with the church and we agreed that the meaning was clear. God would not bring children into the church until we were ALL ready to welcome them and embrace the chaos which children always bring.
A few years later I was looking out on a morning service. In between, we happened to have rearranged the pews into the same pattern as I had seen in my dream, although not because of the dream. And I saw so many children singing and dancing and waving banners and running up and down, just as I had seen in the dream – but when it actually happened all the old ladies were joining in with the worship and rejoicing with the children! I still believe that dream was a message from God which strengthened and guided and built up the church.
Last week we heard about other spiritual gifts which are closely linked to prophecy. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul spoke about different manifestations of the Spirit,
1 Corinthians 12 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,
Older translations used the phrases words of wisdom and words of knowledge. These are particular forms of prophecy where God gives supernatural knowledge to a Christian, not as a message to deliver but often to help with a pastoral situation. We can see an example in Acts 5 where the Holy Spirit told the apostle Peter that Ananias and Sapphira were lying to the church. The first occasion I experienced that kind of gift in my ministry came one day when it seemed to me that God was telling me to go straight away and visit a member of my church who was sick. God sent me there at just the right time so that I arrived to pray with her and her sister for five minutes just before she died. There are other experiences I could share which were much more dramatic but I will save those for another time.
1 Corinthians 14:1 eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.
Verse 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy.
Paul thinks that the spiritual gift of prophecy is the most important. The Holy Spirit gives revelations to Christians through different means. Some Christians actually hear God speaking to them, but more often God speaks by giving dreams, or visions, or pictures, or a flash of inspiration or intuition. Sometimes Christians just have a sense or a feeling of what God is saying. There are two things we need to do if we want to grow in spiritual gifts like prophecy.
Firstly, we need to make space in our busy lives for God to speak to us. We need to devote ourselves to prayer and to listening to God. When the prophet Samuel first began to hear God speaking to him he learned to pray, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Then the second thing we need to do is to share with other Christians what we think God is saying to us. Share with a prayer partner, or in a Home Group or in a prayer meeting. Share with your minister what you believe God is saying. With practice we can begin to recognise God’s voice better and to sort out from among the jumble of our own thoughts and ideas what God is actually saying to us and to the church.
Not every Christian will be recognised as a prophet who has a ministry regularly delivering God’s messages. But I believe that the Holy Spirit can speak to every Christian. Because we have all received the same Holy Spirit who inspired the prophets in the Old Testament and then in the Early Church. God can speak to any of us and the Holy Spirit can give to each of us any spiritual gifts he chooses. We just need to be open to God.
1 Thessalonians 5:19 commands “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt.”
Eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially to prophesy. “Set your hearts on spiritual gifts. “Passionately seek the gifts of the Spirit, especially to prophesy.