By his own admission we know that Paul had a certain unique desire for the churches he worked with. He desired that when the members of the church gathered together as one body they would all prophesy to each other (1 Corinthians 14:1,5). But what does it mean to prophesy? In order to get the full significance of this we have to understand what Paul meant when he said, “I wish that you all would prophesy.”
Definitively, the word can have a few different meanings. It may refer to prophecy in the sense of foretelling things to come, or it may simply mean to speak the truth of God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, whether by prediction or not.
Much of Christendom is largely split into three camps on this matter, I would say. Our fundamentalist brothers and sisters view prophecy as the sound exposition of scripture, which takes place as the man behind the pulpit preaches the Bible to his audience. Then you have those Christians who are very much into eschatology who will take an even narrower stance on what it means to prophesy by focusing more on the preaching and teaching of “end-times” theology (book of Daniel, Revelation, ect., all tied in with the latest newspaper headlines detailing current world events). And then there are our Charismatic brethren. For them, what it means to prophesy is when someone stands up during the quiet (or not so quiet) moment of a service and delivers a “thus says the Lord” message, direct from God to the body. In my opinion this is by far the most exciting of the three views, though even it gets stale after a while.
I propose that neither of these views really gets to the heart of what Paul had in mind when he expressed his desire for the saints to prophesy to one another when they came together. First of all, though it is true that “to prophesy” simply means to speak the truth of God through the Spirit’s inspiration, the normal evangelical practice associated with this view is often confined solely to the man behind the pulpit. All ministry of this sort is carried on by the preacher, while the rest of God’s people are rendered passive spectators. To be fair, this simply does not mesh with the apostle’s wish that “all” who are present in the meeting would prophesy. So ultimately our traditional practice, though correct in its definition, falls short of the reality.
I suggest a different view on what it means to prophesy. In Revelation 19:10 the angel told John that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” The word testimony hear means to bear witness, to reveal, or to bring to light. Such is the aim, the purpose, and the heart of prophecy. In other words, what it means to prophesy is to reveal Jesus Christ! It is to bring Him to light!
Insert this definition into Paul’s handling of the matter in 1 Corinthians 14 and the picture that emerges is one of breathtaking beauty. “I wish,” says Paul, “that when you gather together as His church, all of you would take turns speaking to one another in such a way that you reveal Jesus Christ!” By this practice all will learn and all will be encouraged and built up. How you do it exactly does not matter. Whether by a song, by a teaching, by sharing a poem, a simple insight, or a prayer, whatever-just speak to one another in such a way that you enlighten the eyes of each other’s hearts to see and apprehend Jesus Christ more clearly. This is the essence of the church meeting. This is the “main event,” so to speak. This is what it is all about.
Paul even goes so far as to say that this simple practice has the power to convince an unbeliever of his sin when he comes into your gathering and sees the revelation of Christ among you. How’s that for evangelism?
Well, I hope what I’m getting at here is clear. If you’ve ever experienced times of fellowship like this then you know what I’m talking about. There is nothing quite like it. I pray the Lord would give us more of this precious experience when we gather together with the community of saints He has placed around us. May we see what it truly means to prophesy, and may we be filled with an eagerness to share Christ with our brothers and sisters when we meet.