This is the third article in my series on the ‘equipping ministries’ of Ephesians 4. If you would like to catch up, the first and second articles are a quick read.
Biblical prophecy at its most basic level fulfills two purposes. The first is to proclaim the Testimony of Jesus Christ, and the second is to edify, exhort, and comfort the Church (Revelation 19:10; 1 Corinthians 14:3).
There are a multitude of varieties to the prophetic gift, and prophecy is very important to the foundation, building up, sustaining, and influence of the Church. Nevertheless, in spite of the many facets to prophetic ministry, the heart of all true and legitimate prophecy is the proclamation and exaltation of the glory and works of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is sharing with us His heart, His thoughts, and His testimony. For this reason, the prophetic unction reveals to the city, the congregation, or the individual what is most pertinent for our edification. In light of this, the gift of prophecy is of great significance to the body of Christ, so much that the apostle Paul desired that ‘all would prophesy’ (1 Corinthians 14:5 & 12).
So if we are all called to prophesy, then are we all called to be prophets?
The simple answer is no. In our study through the five-fold ministry we have learned that the five ministry gifts are given to individuals to equip, prepare, and release all believers into works of ministry unto unity of faith and the knowledge of Christ. One function in the ministry of the prophet then, is to create a foundational context for the Church to be watchful in spirit, that is, to seek God for words of edification, exhortation, and comfort. Because there is a supernatural dimension to the prophetic, it takes the cooperation of the five-fold ministry to prepare the church for this ministry in a manner that is healthy and mature. Within this context, then, we will have congregations with varying degrees of prophetic gifts and calling, but the goal is that all would prophesy.
Prophecy can vary anywhere between strait forward and simple, to mysteriously complex.
One beautiful example of prophecy in the Church that is both powerful and simple is to share a Scripture with somebody as the Holy Spirit leads. For this reason, we must be students of the Word. If we have an inventory of Scripture in our minds, this gives the Holy Spirit something to pull up at the right moment and we will have something powerful, true, living, and active to speak into the life of another person. Simple prophecy can really be this simple, and it is powerful and effective. As an example, when I first became a believer a young woman shared with me a verse from the book of James. She believed it was a specific word from the Lord for me at that moment, and she was very correct. Her timely obedience to share that verse with me set my life on a completely different course, and over a decade later I still pray that verse over my life. James 4:7 has been an anchor for me throughout my life in Christ.
Generally, most of the Church prophesies in simple ways. Timely scriptures, impressions, and spiritual insights are examples of simple prophecy. These are usually not foretelling in nature, rather they serve to affirm, confirm, and give courage to what is already evident and known to be true. Simple prophecy is not simple because it is less important, in fact, I could make an argument that simple prophecy is one of the most necessary gifts that the Holy Spirit manifests in the Church.
There are some in the Church, however, who are called to develop greater complexity of gifting in the prophetic. I consider myself to be such a person. I do not consider myself a prophet, to be very clear, but I have had seasons in my life when the Lord has given me a greater measure of the prophetic anointing to accomplish a specific purpose. I have written elsewhere on my blog about these experiences, but in brief they have included foretelling messages, visions, dreams, and a few experiences that I can’t fully explain. When we prophesy from encounters like these, it must be preceded with much prayer, biblical study, and accountability. The message must be tested and judged according to the Scriptures and confirmed to be true before we put any confidence in them.
At yet another level is the prophet. The ministry of the prophet goes beyond a specific prophetic ministry assignment. The calling upon the prophet is a life-long mandate to demonstrate to the body of Christ what it means to carry the burden of the Lord and to stand in His counsel. As believers, we are all called to be watchful in the spirit and incline our ear toward heaven. However, this discipline does not come naturally to most people. It is the gift on the prophet’s life to make the spiritual disciplines of ‘ministering to the Lord’, and ‘standing in His counsel’ as natural as possible. The most important aspects of the prophet’s ministry are relational in nature, because they walk faithfully through the uncomfortable waters of the supernatural experience to create a path for the Church to follow.
The Lord longs to send us on a great journey called, “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness.” When we supernaturally experience the majesty of Christ in our prayer time, or in our worship, it produces transformation and we don’t want to go back to a boring brand of Christianity. The prophet helps us translate these spiritual experiences into real, tangible lifestyles that emanate the mercy, justice, and kindness of God. The prophetic, which begins in the supernatural, always translates into action in the natural realm. Prophecy should always provoke us to living a life of righteousness and faith.
For example, the prophet Isaiah’s ministry began with an incredible supernatural encounter with the holiness of God (Isaiah 6). Throughout his ministry, Isaiah called people to repentance, mercy, justice, and sincerity, but the predominant message throughout his life was “Behold the Servant of the Lord.” Even before Jesus lived among us, the prophet’s message declared Jesus’ testimony. We see this in the New Testament as well. Throughout the book of Revelation, John writes about many prophetic signs and gives much instruction. The most important aspect of the prophecy though, is not the individual prophecies, but the message that abides within the prophecy. John continually appeals to the revealing of Jesus Christ. As Christ is revealed, we see His mercies, His justice, His holiness, His faithfulness, His beauty… and the list goes on. More important to us now, is that because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at pentecost (Acts 2), we know that the whole church is called to experience the supernatural ministry of the Holy Sprit. In the Old Testament, the prophet served as a witness, but in the New Testament the prophet is both a witness and a tour guide.
In light of these things, we see that prophet helps us understand God’s heart for intimacy with His people. The Holy Spirit loves to fascinate us with the glory and beauty of God. He wants to blow our mind and fill us with His presence. We desire to stand in awe of God, not because of a doctrinal stance, but because we actually stood in awe at the real presence of God and can’t go back. The prophet helps direct the Church through this journey, because we need someone with maturity and experience to go before us. The prophet encourages when prayer times become dry or when we struggle with intercession. They help us press on toward the bigger picture and the greater revelation. This is vital to the building up of the Church because we are all called into a life of fascination with God, and there is a particular anointing and authority on the life of the prophet to help the saints walk out this calling in tangible ways.
There are many types of prophets. Throughout the Old and New Testaments we see that very few prophetic ministries are alike. The Lord used both men and women in this ministry, and for many different purposes. Each congregation will have a slightly different assignment from the Lord, but we are all called to have our eyes fixed on Him.
In light of this, the prophet’s ministry is established second to the apostle’s ministry for the purpose of building unity in the midst of the Church within the context of different ministry assignments and callings. Whether in our own congregation, or the whole body of Christ in a city or region, there will be many gifts and callings that are represented. The prophet must see the bigger picture and contend for unity in the Church, as this will set a greater precedent for honoring each other’s labor in Christ. For this reason the maturity of the prophetic office is much needed in our day.
Blessings and grace to you through Christ Jesus!
-J. S. Marek
*Click here for teaching notes on the guidelines for prophecy in the Church.