The Purpose of Prophecy
But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
—1 Corinthians 14:3
Let’s look in the Bible for scriptural purposes and uses of the gift of prophecy.
First, prophecy is for speaking to men supernaturally: “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men.” It is supernatural utterance.
Second, it is given to edify the Church: “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church” (1 Cor. 14:4).
If one speaks in tongues publicly and interprets it, the Church is edified, because the congregation knows what the speaker has said. If I speak in tongues, it would edify me, but it would not edify others present, because they would not know what was said. But if I interpret, others would be edified. Greek scholars tell us we have a word in our vernacular today that is closer to the original Greek than the word “edify.” “Edify” means “to build up.”
Greek scholars say the word “charge,” as we use it in connection with charging a battery, is a closer translation. “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself.” He builds himself up. He “charges” himself like a battery. Thus, we see the necessity for Spirit-filled believers to pray much in tongues in their private prayer life. It edifies them. It charges them. It builds them up spiritually. Then, when we come together as a body, we are coming together to be edified: “He that prophesieth edifieth the church.”
Thus, prophecy is given to edify the Church; to build it up spiritually; to charge the Church with spiritual power like a battery.
Another scriptural use of the gift of prophecy is to exhort the Church. The Greek word translated “exhort” here means “a calling near.” “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification [to build them up, to charge them spiritually], and exhortation [a calling near], and comfort.” Yet another scriptural use of this gift is to comfort. God wants to comfort us! Many people have the wrong mental image of God. They imagine Him as a policeman just waiting to blow the whistle. Others picture God as an austere judge who is just waiting to “throw the book” at them. The Bible says that God is love (1 John 4:8). If you want to see God, look at Jesus (John 14:9). If you want to know what God is like, see what Jesus is like, because Jesus is God manifested in the flesh.
Jesus said, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). He said, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus also said, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matt. 9:12). Someone may say, “But So-and-so is terribly wicked.” He needs a “physician” all the more. Like one who is sick, if he doesn’t see the Great Physician, he will die. No one would call a doctor to come because someone was well. It is the sick who need help. God wants to comfort people. He wants to call them near. Some people who supposedly speak by prophetic utterance never speak comfort to the Church, however. They never edify or build up the Church—they give only scathing denunciations. That is not the gift of prophecy in operation.
During a seminar I held once in Arizona, I sensed that a fellow sitting near the front had a wrong spirit and he was going to interrupt the service if he could. Sure enough, when I would stop for a second to catch my breath, he would jump to his feet and yell at the top of his voice. Some people think they can convince others they are anointed if they display some kind of physical manifestation. They think if they jump, jerk, yell, or talk in a falsetto voice, people will think they really have spiritual power. “The Holy Ghost made me do that,” they will say. The Holy Spirit doesn’t work that way, because we see in First Corinthians 14:32, “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”