christian living

Prophecy: Building up the Church

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In my previous post, we looked at how prophets and prophecy are defined in the Old Testament and the role of prophets. They were Covenant Enforcement Officers who were always pointing the people back to the Covenant and the Law. They called the people to repentance and urged them to turn back to God.
Enter Jesus Christ!

Introducing the Christ

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,  2  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

-Hebrews 1:1-2 (ESV)  

God has spoken to us in these last days by His Son. It is interesting how that is contrasted with how God spoke to His people in times past. Whereas the primary way to hear from God was through His prophets, the writer of Hebrews says that the primary way God speaks to us now is through Jesus Christ. He is the one the Law and the Prophets are about.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him,We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

-John 1:45 (ESV)  

He is the means by which man is brought back into relationship with God. He is the Prophet who accomplishes perfectly what God promised Moses in Deuteronomy 18:18.

But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.  19  Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out,  20  that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus,  21  whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.  22  Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.  23  And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’  24  And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.  25  You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’  26  God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

-Acts 3:18-26 (ESV)  

The gift of prophecy

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  2  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

-1 Corinthians 13:1-2  

By far the most comprehensive discussion on prophecy is 1 Corinthians 12-14. The goal here seems to be to teach us how people with different gifts from the same Spirit should use their gifts for the edification and building up of the church instead for personal glory. The rule here being"What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up" - 1 Corinthians 14:26 .  

Here are some points from 1 Corinthians 12-14.

  1. Prophecy is a gift from God to His church
  2. Like the other gifts given by God it is for the building up of the church. Not for personal glory and recognition.
  3. The response to prophecy is the worship of God ('But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.' - 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 )
  4. It should be weighed ('Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said' - 1 Corinthians 14:29)
  5. When done within the church it should be in an orderly fashion ('If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. (33) For God is not a God of confusion but of peace' - 1 Corinthians 14:30-33)

Even though the primary way we hear from God is no longer through the prophets, as seen from Hebrews, their role is still vital to the church because they help in the building up of the church whilst we await the coming of the Lord. What is striking here to me is that prophecy now works within the framework of the church and in the book of Acts we see some examples of prophecy at work.

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.  28  And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).  29  So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.  30  And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

-Act 11:27-30  

Agabus is a prophet who appears in the book of Acts. In this first instance, he warns of a coming famine and the Apostles are able to send relief to the christians in Judea.

While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  11  And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”  12  When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.  13  Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”  14  And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”

-Act 21:10-14  

In the next instance he appears, he warns of Paul's capture when he goes to Jerusalem. Paul decides to go in spite of the warning and ends up being captured. In each instance we see the prophet giving his prophecy and the church leadership weighing what is said and making a decision. They act positively to the famine warning by sending relief, and even though the rest of the church begs Paul to stay he still goes because he was convinced of the path laid out for him.

The prophet uses his gift to edify and build up the church. The prophet ultimately calls people to worship God as they convict people of their sin by disclosing the secrets of their heart. The prophet points to Jesus since He is the ultimate way in which God speaks to us and as seen in the book of Acts and instructed in 1 Corinthians 14, prophecies are to be weighed by the church. Since God has poured His Spirit out unto all believers, the Holy Spirit guides the church in this weighing of prophecy and we can be confident that a Spirit-led church will make the right decision and take the right action.

In the final post of this series, I will be looking at how to make sense of prophets and prophecy as we see them today.