As I mentioned in my post “To equip the saints for the work of ministry,” for the next several posts I’m going to consider the work of the gifted individuals listed by Paul in Ephesians 4:11 in equipping Jesus’ followers for doing the hard work of serving others. Remember, in Ephesians 4:12, Paul wrote that this is one of the reasons that Jesus gave these spiritual gifted people. I’ve already written about some ways that apostles can equip the saints for the work of ministry.
So, in this post, I’m going to consider the second gifted group in the list: How do prophets equip believers for the work of serving others?
As with apostles (and any other follower of Jesus Christ), prophets can equip and build up the church in many different ways. But, what characteristic about prophets being prophets (i.e., their spiritual gifting) helps them equip believers for serving others?
While several people are identified as prophets in the New Testament, the authors do not define exactly what the term “prophet” means or specifically what “prophets” do. Paul probably tells us the most about prophets in 1 Corinthians 14, especially 1 Corinthians 14:26-32. In those passages we learn that 1) prophets can prepare something ahead of time to share with the church (i.e., “each one has…”), 2) prophecy has something to do with revelation, 3) revelation from God can be impromptu, 4) the Spirit does not force the prophets to speak and at times it’s even good for the prophets NOT to speak (even if the Spirit has revealed something to the prophet), 5) prophets should expect what they say to be judged and considered by others (i.e., they should not think of themselves as always hearing God correctly).
The main aspect of being a prophet that I take from this is that the prophet hears what God is revealing – either directly or through others and either over a period of time or instantaneously.
The prophet, then, can equip the saints to serve others by helping them learn to hear from God and then to trust and to respond to what he’s telling them. Certainly, this would help other prophets, especially less mature prophets or new believers. However, at the same time, it would be beneficial to those who do not have the spiritual gift of prophecy as well, since all can hear from God and all can prophesy.
In that passage above in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul specifically points out that all have the ability to hear revelations from God and to prophesy, even those who do not have the spiritual gift of prophecy:
For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. (1 Corinthians 14:31 ESV)
In the same way, prophets especially should recognize that everything is not necessarily a revelation from God. Thus, they should welcome the discernment of others toward their own prophecies, and can teach others how to be discerning and how to respond graciously to the discernment of others.
As a prophet, have you ever equipped the saints to hear from God and to respond correctly to discernment? Has a prophet ever equipped you in these ways?