What do you think of when you hear the word prophet? Perhaps a wizened old seer living hermit-like in a remote place. Perhaps a gold-toothed charlatan with a white suit and flash car. Perhaps a harmless eccentric stockpiling food and waiting for the end of days.
Or perhaps someone just like us. The remarkable truth in this gem of a passage is that the indwelling Spirit – given to all believers – allows us intimate access to the mind and heart of God. For some that means the capacity to speak in angelic languages (‘tongues’); for others to perceive what God is up to, and to share that with the community. This is the gift of prophecy.
The word prophet in the Old Testament literally means ‘mouth’ – a prophet heard from God, and was gifted to speak God’s words to the community. Before Christ, this venerable role was only genuinely given to a few godly individuals – many of whose words were captured in the pages of the Old Testament. However, once the Spirit is poured out, St Paul is now able to write that he would like ‘every one of us’ to prophesy (v5). The capacity to know the wisdom of God is now available to all, through the power of the Spirit. As Paul says earlier in this book: ‘We have the mind of Christ.’ (2:16)
And Paul particularly commends the spiritual gift of prophecy because it enables people to hear God’s word clearly, and to connect it directly to them. It is for our ‘strengthening, encouraging and comfort’ (v3). Even those who do not share our faith may hear something that causes them to ‘fall down and worship God, exclaiming “God is really among you!”’ (v25)
In my experience people overcomplicate prophecy. We tend to assume it is predictive, and difficult to fathom. But prophecy is really the capacity to make God’s word or will relevant to a particular person or people at a particular moment. If you’ve ever read the bible or heard someone speak and thought that it was/they were speaking directly to you, that is prophecy. What you heard or read spoke directly to you in that moment. Put another way, it was what God wanted you to hear that day.
This is why prophecy is so valuable – we don’t just know the mind of God in a general sense, we know what it means for us right now. It’s the difference between saying ‘God loves everyone’ and ‘God loves me’. Or between ‘we should remember to pray for all people’ and ‘we need to pray for this person facing this issue right now!’
Some people have this gift to an unusual degree and might perhaps call themselves prophets. But the amazing thing about spiritual gifts is that they are also situational. We can all sense God saying something – either to us, or for others. In that sense, we can all prophesy.
Why not ask God to reveal something precious to you today? And if what you receive is for you, give thanks! If it’s for someone else – pass it on! It’s all for our strengthening, encouragement and comfort.