Summary: An explanation prophecy and tongues from a charismatic Evangelical perspective.
We’re spending some time looking at the gifts, and so far we’ve been emphasising the need to focus on the giver of the gifts and on being the gift by serving, rather than getting too anxious about discovering what your gift is. It’s been fairly safe so far, don’t you think? So this morning why don’t we spice things up a little bit and talk about some specific gifts and often controversial gifts - tongues and prophecy.
Remember the reason Paul is writing to the Corinthians about the gifts is because they were abusing the gifts, and especially tongues. They thought tongues was a sign of true spirituality and the church meetings were chaos because people were competing with each other in tongues speaking. Paul’s goal was to remedy this situation, but giving some guidelines for the right use of the gifts and bringing attention back to the purpose of the gifts.
So what are tongues and prophecy, and how should we use them today?
What comes to your mind when you hear the word ’prophecy’. You might think of the Old Testament prophets with their messages of hellfire and brimstone judgment. Or else maybe the book of Revelation and the end times. In fact, New Testament prophecy that Paul is speaking about is different to these. Prophecy is sometimes associated with telling the future, and it can involve this, but more often than not it doesn’t.
Prophecy is one of the promises of the Spirit’s presence. Acts 2.17-18 says, "In the last day, 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. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy."
Prophecy is simply speaking a word from God under the inspiration of the Spirit, often spontaneously, for people’s ’strengthening, encouragement and comfort.’ It’s about building up the church.
In some circles prophecy carries almost as much authority as the Bible and people are very reticent to question a prophet when they give a prophecy. But the Bible places some very strict limits on prophecy.
First of all, we believe that the Bible is authoritative and so contemporary prophecy is subject to Scripture. That means we have the right and obligation to check what someone says against Scripture and if it’s out of line we have every right to reject it. In regards to teaching, many popular preachers and televangelists claim to get some of their teaching by revelation from God, but if it’s not in Scripture, we should reject it.
But prophecy is usually not doctrinal, it’s a word given for encouragement or sometimes guidance. In those cases we need to be checking more generally the persons character, their grasp on Scripture and the way they deliver it. Are they living and ministering in a biblically consistent way and, above all, in love?
Prophets are also subject to the church. 1Thess 5.20-21 says, "Don’t treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold onto what is good." That’s pretty clear! If someone prophesies something we need to take it seriously, but not as gospel. If it doesn’t pass the sniff test, we don’t have to accept it.