Paul opens 1 Corinthians 14 with an impassioned appeal: “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (v. 1). In 12:31 he called love “a still more excellent way” in comparison with the other spiritual gifts. Then in chapter 13 he warned us that practicing spiritual gifts without love is being “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (13:1), to be “nothing” (13:2), and to “gain nothing” (13:3). Further, he goes on to tell us that the spiritual gifts have an expiration date. They will last only until “the perfect comes” (13:10), which means the return of Christ.
This is why it's even more significant that he would follow this chapter with such an appeal: “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”
No False Choices
Love is greater and love is to be an essential ingredient in spiritual gifts, but we are not to create a false choice between love and spiritual gifts. Paul is saying, “Choose both!” He's also not telling us to wait until love is perfected before we practice spiritual gifts. “Pursue love,” and as you do that, “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts.”
What is the state of our “desire” for the gifts? A passage like this one makes us consider that.
Yet, he also says to “prophesy.” Of all the gifts, there is something uniquely helpful about prophecy. In your desire for all the gifts, have a special desire for prophecy. Speaking words from God to others has the effect of “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor 14:3). How much we all need that!
Prophecy: Speaking What God has Spontaneously Revealed to You
The book of Acts and 1 Corinthians show us that prophecy is speaking what God has spontaneously revealed to you. Sometimes this type of revelation is a picture, and sometimes it's words. Either way, it comes spontaneously. It's not the result of Bible study or reading a book or deep reflection on a topic. Those are how we develop teachings and certain kinds of encouragements, but this is not the method of receiving a prophecy. Of course, it might be while you are doing these things that God spontaneously gives you a word or picture to communicate to someone else. But a prophecy isn't a teaching.
What about this Sunday?
Our Sunday meetings are a great place for prophecy. The church is gathered, and there is a lot of faith to hear from others. Sunday is not the only time, but it is a strategic time. Pray about a word that God might have you share. Don't use this to preach a mini-sermon! That's not the point! But pray for your brothers and sisters at SGC, and ask the Lord to give you a word if he so desires.
How do I Know?
How can you know if it's a prophecy to speak to the church? Good question! First, is it from God? As much as you can tell, did it come from God and not your own reflection on the church. Second, did it come spontaneously? Again, not from your own mini-sermons that run through your head, but a spontaneous word from God. And third, is it something for the church? That is, it's not for you or an individual you can identify but for the gathered church. If all these three are a “yes” as far as you can tell, trust God and speak it. It's up to the church to evaluate the word at that point: “Let the others weigh what is said” (1 Cor 14:29). Don't force yourself to be both the prophet and the evaluator.
You can't get rid of all the risk with prophecy. But at the same time, this risk is attached to a great reward. You might be used by God in the life of another person. We all need to hear from God, and maybe you are the one he wants to use to do that this Sunday!