The Early Church
When you think of what you might find in an early church service, what comes to mind?
Chances are that you will probably think of it as similar to the way we do church today. They’d get together in community, sing some songs, listen to a message, and possibly grab another coffee on the way out. This is actually all true to a certain degree (except for maybe the coffee thing), but altogether, their services were much more supernatural. We can see this in 1 Corinthians 14, which is the best look at an early church service that we get in the Bible:
Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying. But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching? (1 Corinthians 14:1-6)
Paul then focuses his attention on tongues for a bit, but for the sake of this post, let’s fastforward to verse 21:
In the Law it is written, “BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,” says the Lord.
So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe. Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. (1 Corinthians 14:21-33)
So then what can we gather from these verses? Well, here’s a few things we’ve seen that belonged in the early church services:
- An interpretation of tongues
- Psalms (which would probably involve singing)
- More speakers than just the pastor
- Outsiders visiting
And so we see here in this passage that the early church was quite supernatural. I mean, obviously humans aren’t the ones making up tongues or their interpretation—that’s all done by the Spirit. And revelation tends to be something that God has revealed to us about Himself, which is really just hearing God’s voice and so that has somewhat of a ground in the supernatural realm. And since we believe God to have pieced together the Bible for us, that should give both teaching and singing the Psalms somewhat of a supernatural grounding.
But out of all of these things, I actually want to turn the focus onto prophecy. Of course I would love to tackle all of these spiritual gifts, but for the time being, Paul has mentioned that we should especially desire earnestly the gift of prophecy and so it seems appropriate to focus our attention on this. But I think that if we are going to address this topic, we should first understand better what prophecy is NOT. Our culture seems to have a bit of a twisted view on this whole thing due to all different kinds of dimensions prophecy has suffered throughout the years.
Misunderstandings of Prophecy
First off, prophecy tends to be thought of as futuristic. Now this is true to a certain extent. Obviously, we have tons of prophetic Biblical books that references the future. All throughout the Old Testament, for example, prophets are telling Israel to make changes or suffer some specific consequences. You should note, however, that this is all done out of love. It’s not so much doom and gloom as it is hope for restoration. God is slow to anger and tries time and time again to persuade his people to change out of love all throughout the prophetic books, but, this is not all that prophecy is. In fact, this doesn’t even appear to be an aspect of the type of prophecy Paul is describing in 1 Corinthians 14.
We also tend to think of prophecy as a bunch of weird visions. In all honesty, prophecy is also this (and it is also something I am quite zealous for), but it is not entirely visions. While it can be connected to the kind of prophecy Paul is addressing in the above passage, it does not have to be.
Outside of these aspects we also tend to think of prophecy as being false. This is partially due to some of the false prophecy you’ve already experienced in your own life. I mean seriously, the only mentions of prophecy that ever make headlines are the ones that end up being false. On top of that, God only knows how many church signs we have to drive by that state that God is coming back again this year (Jesus wasn’t sure when it was going to happen, but apparently your local pastor does).
And if you’re like me, you kind of grew up under a cessationist understanding of Scripture that claims that signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Spirit came to an end with the apostles. The main verse people use to claim this position is found in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10.
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
Now I don’t know about you, but from what I see in the world today, the perfect has hardly yet come. On top of that, our main passage (1 Corinthians 14) is about how everyone (not just apostles) should exercise prophecy and comes only a few paragraphs after the verses found in chapter 13.
We’ve also bought into the belief that any supernatural things that happen today are satan and his demons trying to fool us. Now, it is true that satan is rather uncreative and tries to mimic God in order to confuse us. For example, take a look at Acts 16:16-18:
It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment.
Is anyone else confused? Perhaps this demon was intentionally trying to annoy Paul because it knew that if he cast him out, the fortune-teller would no longer be able to tell fortunes and the people who made money off of her would be furious. This happened to be the case as we can see in verses 19-24:
But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.”
The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
My point in bringing this up, is that we do need to be aware of demons. They do try to confuse us and bring destruction to our lives. But it takes someone with really, REALLY, good discernment to see a demon behind someone crying out, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.”
“He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters. “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.
Then What is Prophecy?
We’ve taken a pretty good look at what prophecy is, is not, and kind of is, but now let’s get down to business. What is this kind of prophecy that Paul is identifying in 1 Corinthians 14? Well, we can actually learn quite a bit about it through that chapter alone!
- Edifying (v3)
- Edifying to the whole church (v4)
- Exhortation (v3)
- Consolation (v3)
- Prophecy is greater than tongues that have no interpretation (at least when it comes to service)(v5)
- Brings conviction (v24)
- Calls someone to account (v24)
- Reaches the ungifted or unbeliever (v24)
- Discloses the secrets of the heart (v25)
- Brings people to worship God (v25)
- It proves prophecy is from God (v25)
- Brings unbelievers to Christ! (v24-25)
- Prophecy must be judged (v29)
- Everyone can prophesy (v31)
- Prophecy can be learned (v31)
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)
Then Saul sent messengers to take David, but when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, with Samuel standing and presiding over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul; and they also prophesied. When it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. So Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied.
Then he himself went to Ramah and came as far as the large well that is in Secu; and he asked and said, “Where are Samuel and David?” And someone said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” He proceeded there to Naioth in Ramah; and the Spirit of God came upon him also, so that he went along prophesying continually until he came to Naioth in Ramah. He also stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Therefore they say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
So, let’s just revisit that, shall we? The Holy Spirit hit Saul and he got naked and prophesied. And now this Holy Spirit lives inside of us forever?
Wow… we have some pretty good suppression skills.
You also may want to note that these prophets Saul ran into came from schools that Samuel started for prophecy. In other words, these prophets were learning. This is summed up pretty well in Easton’s Bible Dictionary:
But while the prophetic gift was thus exercised from the beginning, the prophetical order as such began with Samuel. Colleges, “schools of the prophets”, were instituted for the training of prophets, who were constituted, a distinct order (1 Sam. 19:18–24; 2 Kings 2:3, 15; 4:38), which continued to the close of the Old Testament. Such “schools” were established at Ramah, Bethel, Gilgal, Gibeah, and Jericho. The “sons” or “disciples” of the prophets were young men (2 Kings 5:22; 9:1, 4) who lived together at these different “schools” (4:38–41). These young men were taught not only the rudiments of secular knowledge, but they were brought up to exercise the office of prophet, “to preach pure morality and the heart-felt worship of Jehovah, and to act along and co-ordinately with the priesthood and monarchy in guiding the state aright and checking all attempts at illegality and tyranny.” 
How Do I Prophesy?
So then how do we learn to prophesy? And perhaps more importantly, what exactly is it that we need to learn? Well, it’s really just learning everything you ever wanted in your Christian life: to hear God’s voice.
Isn’t that what we all want? To know God’s will and desire for our life? To be used for His love and righteousness? Great, that’s what prophecy is for.
And it’s not just for you—it’s also for others (hence why Paul addressed it in the early church). It is meant to edify others. Paul was actually expecting God to give every person a word that they could share with someone else (if not everyone else). These words can be very specific.
Just the other day, for example, I was about to get prayed for by a man that I’m always excited to be prayed for by, because God tells him stuff he doesn’t know about me. In this particular situation, he prayed that God wouldn’t be just a checklist to me. Well, it ends up that I had just written out a checklist for my spiritual life two days earlier.
And not once, but twice I have had totally different people pray that I would learn how to cry again. This is actually something I just can’t seem to do (though I’m getting better) and so it hit me rather specifically.
All of these people who prayed for me I knew on different levels, so if that makes it harder for you to believe that they got this from the Spirit, here’s another story. We had author Don Nori come to Spring Arbor University about half a year ago and my band was leading worship for him. When it was over he prayed for me and said something that really hit me. See, most of my life I’ve been known for my music and even though I’ve pressed in a lot into teaching and preaching, few people have acknowledged it. It’s actually difficult for me to deal with at times.
But Don spoke right to my heart on this. He knew nothing about me and yet God spoke to me on this situation through him. He told me that “right now my instrument is my weapon, but in the future my mouth would be my weapon.” Later on that night I wrote this down: “I’ve been wondering as of late if I could be a good teacher or pastor and if God even wanted me to do that or if that was just something I thought I wanted to do. But I feel very confident now.”
That’s the amazing gift of prophecy! It’s edifying! Even when it’s convicting it’s loving and edifying! It’s God and God is love and he offers it abundantly and freely.
One of the craziest prophetic words I ever heard came from a chapel speaker who visited Spring Arbor University. He shared a story with us about one student he had. She was trying to learn how to hear the voice of God and on the way home one day, she did. He told her to go into a 7/11 and to a handstand over by the pop machines. She didn’t want to, but eventually she gave in. She went over, did the hand stand and then nothing happened. In embarrassment she decided to leave, but the clerk asked her why she had just did what she did. At expense of sounding crazy, she said that she thought God had told her to. The clerk then revealed that he had just prayed, “God, if you’re real then send someone in here to do a handstand over by the pop machines.” If that hadn’t happened, he would have committed suicide that day.
It’s love. It’s restoration. It’s mercy. It’s grace. It’s God.
And it’s for you.
If you want to learn how to prophesy, then listen. It seems to me that God is always speaking and if we stop and listen, we just might hear His still small voice. After all, Elijah came to find that God wasn’t in a strong wind, an earthquake, or a fire, but rather in the sound of a gentle blowing (1 Kings 19:9-13).
It’s quiet and you might even doubt it. My professor gave me a great analogy the other day as to what the voice of God is like: it’s like a dragonfly landing on your shoulder. It’s so light that you’ll hardly even notice it, even though you may sense it there.
You know what that means right? You have to take a chance. If you hear a word, go with it. If the person you’re praying for informs you that you’re wrong, it doesn’t make you a false prophet—it makes you a learning prophet. There is a difference.
Give God the chance to do something and He will. Pray and ask Him to teach you.
Also, pay attention to quick and clear images that pass through your mind’s eye. They may seem absurd, but they may be God giving you something to go off of.
Or maybe it’ll just be an impression to go with or a word.
Today for example, after I finished giving this message, I had a girl come up to me. I had had everyone practice prophesying over each other and the word she got was to come talk to me. I wasn’t entirely sure what to pray for her, but I gave it my best shot. Soon I was asking her questions.
“Are you artistic at all?”
“I write!” she said as her face lit up.
And so I prayed for her writing abilities, especially in regards to fiction. But the I realized that she may not be much of a fiction writer. And so I asked:
“Do you even write fiction?”
“Yes!” she said as her face lit up again.
These were just small impressions as to what to go with. I was doubtful, but in an effort to learn better myself, I went with it.
I could give many, many more stories my friends have shared with me and stories I have seen in my own life, but I hope that for now I’ve given you something to go off of. I know I’ve spent a lot of time in here as to identifying what exactly prophecy is, but I feel that it is essential to understand it in our culture as we tend to identify it wrongly most of the time. Now that you (hopefully) have a better idea, ask God to help you out. Ask him to give you chances. And if you’re looking for some more books to read to learn more, check out Jim Goll’s, The Seer, or his book The Dream Language. This books are more about visionary prophecy, but if you’re interested in prophecy at all, I think you’ll really enjoy them.
And finally, if you’re having a hard time soaking all of this in, ask God to help you understand. Supernatural happenings are not discussed in our churches very often anymore and so I understand it can be take awhile to really grab a hold of this whole deal, so just pray for understanding.
And for absolutely no reason whatsoever, here’s my PowerPoint from this morning if you want it:
The Gift of Prophecy PowerPoint
M.G. Easton, Easton’s Bible Dictionary (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897).