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The Gift of Prophecy

Acts 2:14-16

But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: [15] For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. [16] But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;

Whenever I hear the word prophecy I think of Nostradomus, or Elijah or John the Baptist, don't you? In Romans 12, Paul lists this gift first in the list. I don't know if that means it is more important or not, but it is first. What is the gift of prophecy? Is it the ability to peer into the future, or does it have another function?

Paul teaches that it is a preferred gift in 1 Cor. 14:1 KJV "Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy;" yet we know it is not a perfect gift. Let's exploit that imperfection for a few moments to see what prophecy is not.

  • Prophecy is not complete
1 Cor. 13:9 KJV For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

Even those with the gift of prophecy are limited by their human capabilities. This side of glory, even the prophet lacks complete knowledge. Carrie Breck, beautifully captured the essence of our future knowledge in the Hymn, "Face to Face with Christ, My Savior." Listen to the words of the first two verses:

Face to face with Christ, my Savior, Face to face, what will it be, When with rapture I behold Him, Jesus Christ who died for me. Only faintly now I see Him, with the darkened veil between, But a blessed day is coming, When His glory shall be seen.

It is that "darkened veil" that keeps even the most gifted prophet from attaining complete knowledge. But the day will come when we will understand. The fourth verse says:

"Face to face--oh blissful moment! Face to face to see and know; Face to face with my Redeemer, Jesus Christ who loves me so."

One day we will "see and know," until then, we rely upon our prophets to give us glimpses into glory.

  • Without love, prophecy is nothing
1 Cor. 13:2 KJV And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

Paul takes the point to an extreme in this passage, he said even if the prophet could understand all mysteries, had all knowledge and all faith, his effort was meaningless without love. Occasionally, someone takes exception to one of my sermons. When they do, I always ask them two questions. 1). Was what I said Biblical? And, 2). Did I preaching it with love? If they answer yes to those two questions, I tell them that their problem is not with me, it is with God. I know if what I preach isn't Biblical, it has no depth and if I don't preach it with love, it has no breadth. Preachers must marry truth and love to reach their listeners.

Though the purpose of 1 Cor. 13:12 was to explain the primacy of love, it also gives us a good definition of prophecy. We've looked at what Prophecy is not, let's now turn our attention to way Prophecy is. Prophecy involves understanding mysteries, knowledge and faith.

  • Paul liked the word "mysteries," he did not use it to explain a type of literature, or an enigma or to describe a state of "bafflement," to him, it was the secret knowledge of the initiated.
For years, magicians would not disclose the secrets of their tricks, it was almost sacred with them. In college, I had a close friend who was a magician. He would answer almost any personal question I asked him, but he would never tell me how he did his tricks. Recently, one of the networks began revealing the secrets behind the tricks. I kinds wish I wouldn't have seen the show. It was more fun when I didn't know.

It's not that prophets tell things they shouldn't, it is that they know inside stuff. They are not uninformed neophytes, they are among the initiated.

  • In its common usage, knowledge is the accumulation and understanding of information. Biblical knowledge is different, it is the understanding that comes with intimacy.
When the Bible said that Adam knew Eve, it did not mean he had understanding of information about her--after all, he was a man and she was a woman. Do we ever really understand one another. Biblical knowledge has the connotation of intimacy.

Susan doesn't have to say a word to me to let me know she is upset or happy, because of our relationship, I know.

The prophet has an understanding that grows out of intimacy with God. He intuitively knows things about God and godliness because of the nature of his relationship with God.

For years, philosophers have said faith is irrational. Many sceptics have rejected religion because they could not see the unseen world. Faith brings is special knowledge; a supra rational understanding of events. Faith is the conviction of unseen realities.

To sum it up, the gift of prophecy enables the minister to "bring the word of the Lord" to the church. Whether it is predictive in nature is not the issue--the issue is that it is "God's word."

That's what Peter did in our text. Combining his insider perspective with his intimate knowledge and his conviction of unseen realities, he declared that the strange happenings at the days of Pentecost was a part of God's plan for the church. He said, "This is that." He looked at the present realities and associated it with a past prediction and brought the "word of the Lord" to the people.

Those with the gift of prophecy value truth over feelings. They would rather a person in danger know the truth, than to protect their feelings. Their perspective is different than those with the gift of mercy, but their gifts are complimentary. Where prophecy wounds, mercy heals. Where prophecy cuts, mercy bandages. Together, they work to keep the church right in theology, but without destroying those who struggle with walking uprightly.

I've always thought that a word of prophecy would be a harsh word, but it isn't necessarily "stepping on people's toes." Paul taught in I Cor 14 that prophecy is edifying and encouraging. 1 Cor. 14:4 KJV He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. 1 Cor. 14:31 NLT In this way, all who prophesy will have a turn to speak, one after the other, so that everyone will learn and be encouraged.

In the Pastoral Epistles he hints that spoken prophecies can be extending blessings to the hearers. 1 Tim. 4:14 NLT Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecies spoken to you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you.

Has God gifted you will an ability to understand His word and His will for His church? If so, use your insider perspective, intimate knowledge and your conviction of unseen realities to bring "the word of the Lord" to the church

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