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Desire Prophecy: Pursuing what builds the church


Pastor Lathrop reminds us that we should pursue the gifts of the Spirit—especially that we might prophesy—in order to build up the church.


The subject of spiritual gifts is an on-going controversies in the contemporary church. Sincere, Bible-believing Christians are divided over this very important issue. Some in the church maintain that certain gifts of the Spirit, such as tongues and prophecy, are not for today. Others, mostly those that would call themselves Pentecostals and charismatics, maintain that all of the gifts exists, but in some cases they only emphasize speaking in tongues. Paul, who wrote the most extensively about spiritual gifts in the New Testament, would not endorse either of these views. In 1 Corinthians 14:1-12 the apostle Paul offers some counsel that serves as a corrective to both of these positions. Participants on both sides of the debate would do well to read and heed Paul’s words in this passage. In this text Paul commends the gift of prophecy to the Corinthian believers. In the remainder of this article we will examine the passage giving particular attention to the gift of prophecy in order to learn what Paul thinks are the most important issues concerning spiritual gifts. In considering Paul’s words we will note the character of the gifts of tongues and prophecy and the historical context to which Paul addressed himself in 1 Corinthians.

Of all of the spiritual gifts, Paul mentions prophecy in his letters more than any other gift.

There is no question that the gift of prophecy existed in the New Testament church. References to prophets and prophecy are found in a number of places in Paul’s writings and in the book of Acts. Gordon Fee says that of all of the spiritual gifts, Paul mentions prophecy in his letters more than any other gift.1 But what was this gift? Drawing on the biblical record in 1 Corinthians 14, Fee defines prophecy as, “spontaneous, Spirit-inspired, intelligible messages, orally delivered in the gathered assembly, intended for the edification or encouragement of the people.”2

The Corinthian believers were no strangers to spiritual gifts. In 1 Corinthians 1:7 Paul says that they, “do not lack any spiritual gift.” They were charismatic and they knew what prophecy was. This is evident not only from the mention of the gift in chapters twelve and thirteen and the instructions regarding its use in chapter fourteen but also from the instructions that he gives concerning women prophesying in chapter eleven. Since the church seemingly had a wealth of spiritual gifts, why does Paul single prophecy out and give the teaching that we find in 14:1-12?

One possible reason for Paul’s instruction was that the Corinthians’ understanding of the gift of prophecy may have been colored by the pagan exercise of prophecy, most notably at Delphi.3 New Testament scholar Craig S. Keener, however, does not see cultural background as being especially important in reference to this issue.4 So, the idea that Paul wrote as he did to counteract pagan ideas regarding prophecy is not entirely certain.

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2006

About the Author: John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written for a number of publications and is the author of four books Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers Then and Now (Xulon Press, 2008), The Power and Practice of the Church: God, Discipleship, and Ministry (J. Timothy King, 2010), Answer the Prayer of Jesus: A Call for Biblical Unity (Wipf & Stock, 2011) and Dreams & Visions: Divine Interventions in Human Experience (J. Timothy King, 2012). He also served as co-editor of the book Creative Ways to Build Christian Community (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Amazon Author page. Facebook

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