The Gift Of Prophecy
Derek Prince
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The Nine Gifts Of The Holy Spirit (Volume 2) Series
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The Gift Of Prophecy

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Part 4 of 6: The Nine Gifts Of The Holy Spirit (Volume 2)

By Derek Prince

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Be encouraged and inspired with this Bible-based sermon by Derek Prince.

Be encouraged and inspired with this Bible-based sermon by Derek Prince.

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In our studies of these nine gifts of the Holy Spirit we are now dealing with the group that are called the vocal gifts, that is, the three gifts that must necessarily operate through human vocal organs. These gifts are tongues, interpretations and prophecy. In our previous studies we’ve dealt with tongues and interpretation and in this study we’re going to deal with prophecy. We have already defined prophecy but we will repeat the definition as “the ability given by the Holy Spirit to speak words in a language understood by the believer but the words are inspired and given by the Holy Spirit.” Prophecy is not inspired preaching. It is supernatural. It does not proceed from human reasoning or learning or education or seminary training. Like all the other gifts, it’s on a supernatural level. It’s only made possible by the supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit.

Believers are all through the New Testament exhorted to seek spiritual gifts. It’s a strange idea that’s prevalent among some believers and even Bible teachers that spiritual gifts are not important and should not be sought after. Some speak as though they are to be discounted. That certainly is not in line with the teaching of the New Testament. We’ll look at just two passages here, the last verse of 1 Corinthians 12, verse 31. Paul says and he’s listed quite a number of different gifts in that chapter:

“But covet earnestly the best gifts...”

“Covet earnestly” suggests a very strong, positive desire towards receiving the gifts. You might say, “What are the best gifts?” I don’t believe that anywhere Paul lists them in order of importance. But, on the other hand, in verse 28, when he’s speaking about the ministries set in the church, he does seem to give a definite order of importance. In the previous list where he’s listed the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit (in verses 8–10), he ends up with “kinds of tongues and interpretation of tongues.” You will hear some people tell you that tongues is the last of the gifts and therefore, the least. That’s not accurate, because interpretation is put after tongues. But even the reasoning is not scriptural, because if you look at 1 Corinthians 13:13 it says:

“Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

There it’s listed with charity last, but then it’s said that charity is the greatest. So, the argument that the thing that’s listed last must be the least is completely overthrown by that example there where the one that’s listed last is specifically stated to be the greatest.

Then people say, “Love is the best gift,” but that’s incorrect because love is not a gift. Love is a way, love is fruit, but love is not a gift. You will never find anywhere in the New Testament that love is called a gift. Paul says, “Covet earnestly the best gifts.” The King James Version says, “Yet show I unto you a more excellent way.” I believe a more correct translation would be, “And I will show unto you a yet more excellent way.” The more excellent way, we all agreed, was love. I think the word “more excellent” means one that takes you further.

But, if you understand it that way, then coveting the best gifts is a condition for being shown the more excellent way. “Covet earnestly the best gifts, and I will show unto you a more excellent way.” It is necessary to keep emphasizing that there is no opposition between love and the gifts. That would be a ridiculous idea. On the contrary, the gifts are the way in which love is made effective and is given expression.

Particularly is this true of the gift that Paul speaks about in a few moments, prophecy. Because, he says prophecy edifies the church. So, if you love the church you’ll want to edify the church. In order to edify the church, you will desire the gift that specifically does that, which is prophecy. So, we find in the 14th chapter and the 1st verse Paul saying:

“Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. You’ll notice again, there’s no opposition between charity and gifts, it’s not ‘Follow after charity or desire spiritual gifts.’ There’s not a choice you have to make, what shall I do? But, they go hand in hand. Follow after charity and desire spiritual gifts. At the end of the 12th chapter Paul said ‘Desire spiritual gifts and I’ll show you the more excellent way of charity.’ So, they’re far from being opposed to one another; they’re intimately related and you cannot really separate one from the other.”

Now, if you ask, “Which is the best gift?” I would say it’s the one that best fulfills God’s purpose. And, God’s purpose is not always the same. In one situation it’s one thing and in another situation it’s another. Therefore, I would say, which gift you consider to be the best is relative to the situation and the need.

But, if we had to pick out any one gift as said to be preeminent over the others, apparently it would be prophecy. This is the only gift that I know we are specifically told to covet and to seek after. Any believer that is uninterested in prophecy, not concerned about it, not seeking after it, is really ignoring an exhortation given in Scripture. The Scripture says we should “covet to prophesy.”

Then Paul goes on into the explanation of the various vocal gifts and how they’re used. The one that we’re going to deal with, as I’ve said, is prophecy. Or, if you like to put it another way, prophesying, the gift of prophesying. In verses 3–4 Paul lays down the basic purposes and functions of this gift. These words are very important. A failure to understand these words has led many people to a wrong understanding of prophecy and even to a misuse of the gift. Paul says in verse 3:

“He that prophesieth speaketh unto men ...”

In this he is contrasting what he said just previously about speaking in an unknown tongue: The one who speaks in an unknown tongue is speaking not to men but to God. But, he that prophesieth speaketh unto men. The King James says “to edification, and exhortation, and comfort,” but the word “to” is put in. In actual fact, the Greek says, “He speaks edification and exhortation and comfort.”

Then, the contrast is taken a little further in the 4th verse.

“He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.”

What then are the primary purposes of prophecy? They are to speak to men. What men in particular? The church, that is the assembled company of believers. Again, the word church is used in this sense. What does a person who prophesies speak to the church? He speaks edification, exhortation and comfort. These indicate the general tenor and nature of true prophesying in the church in the New Testament. We have to understand that Paul is speaking to New Testament believers in a church. There are various points in which New Testament prophesying in the church differs from the Old Testament ministry of the prophet as I pointed out in another study, when I dealt with the ministry of a prophet. Some things that are true of the Old Testament prophet do not apply to the gift of prophesying in the New Testament church. We’ll see this, I think, more clearly in a moment.

Let’s just try to make more clear the three primary purposes of prophesying as stated there in verse 3. The first one, to edify. That’s rather an Old English and ecclesiastical sounding kind of word, but we’re familiar with what an edifice it, it’s a building. And to edify just means “to build up.” I think you can add these other thoughts: to strengthen, to make more effective as a Christian and as a member of the body of Christ and in whatever particular ministry you have. If prophesying comes to you, it should make you more effective, better able to serve the Lord.

The second word that’s used is exhortation and I’ve given various different words that might be included in that: to exhort, to stimulate, to encourage, to admonish. Even to stir up. To admonish can include severe warning and even rebuke. But, it does not include condemnation.

And then, the word to comfort, I think, in modern English is “to cheer up.”

Two things that are ruled out are condemnation and confusion. It is most important to see that God is never the author of confusion nor does the Holy Spirit ever minister condemnation to the people of God.

In the course of years I have heard not a few instances of a person claiming to prophesy in which the total effect could be summed up in these two words, confusion and condemnation. I do not believe that that is a genuine manifestation of the Holy Spirit. A lot of what is called “prophecy” and “prophesying” amongst some Charismatic believers today is not the real thing. It does not serve these primary purposes outlined here to edify, to exhort and to comfort.

You see, two of the greatest weapons—and the most frequently used by Satan against God’s people— are condemnation and discouragement. Prophesying doesn’t serve the devil’s purpose; it undoes the devil’s purpose. If prophesying condemns and discourages, it is doing the devil’s work. I heard Billy Graham in a sermon one day quote somebody else if I remember rightly, and he said this other person had said that “God never uses a discouraged man.” I can well accept that, because a discouraged man is not a man who is under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not discourage believers. Oh how important it is for us to understand that! If ever anything comes into your life, an influence, a suggestion, a message that has the effect of discouraging you, do not attribute it to the Holy Spirit. It didn’t come from Him.

Some people, unfortunately—and some of them claim to be able to prophesy—feel that the more they can whip people and beat them down and leave them feeling useless and worthless and condemned, the more spiritual they are. The absolute opposite is the truth. As a preacher at one time, I’m happy to say it was years ago, if I could leave everybody feeling how terrible they were and how awful God was at the same time I thought I’d done a tremendous job of preaching. Then the Holy Spirit got a hold of me and showed me I was a total failure; that that was not the object of preaching and it’s not the object of ministering and it isn’t what the Holy Spirit does. If you want to know who makes people feel guilty the answer is the devil. God doesn’t do that.

It says in 2 Corinthians 5 that:

“God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing unto them their trespasses; and he hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.”

He has not committed to us the word of condemnation. It is not spiritual to go around making everybody feeling how sinful they are. It doesn’t do them any good. What you’ve got to do, go around and make them feel as though God wants to help them, that He loves them, that He’s on their side. God isn’t against anybody. He’s not against the Russians, He’s not against the Chinese, He’s not against the Communists. God is for the human race, this is the message of the gospel. It’s good news as I said before.

But, so many, many times people feel that they are being spiritual either if they’re condemning others or if they condemn themselves. A lot of Christians believe it’s humble to feel condemned and go around telling people how bad you are. I say, if you’re a new creation in Jesus Christ and you’re God’s handiwork, every time you criticize yourself you’re criticizing God’s handiwork. You’re not glorifying God, you’re glorifying the devil. This is a very, very important principle to understand. It applies particularly to prophecy.

Romans 8:1 says:

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them [who] are in Christ Jesus.”

Oh, if believers could live in that place of “no condemnation,” the church would be an army that the devil could not overcome. I think the greatest single weapon that the devil has against believers is the sense of condemnation and unworthiness and failure and discouragement. One of the great instruments that God has placed at the disposal of the believer to overcome these things is the gift of prophecy. Therefore, it is a tragedy to see prophecy misused to do the very thing that it’s supposed to counteract.

If you’ll look in John 14, 15, 16—it’s not really necessary to turn there, I’ve given the references in the outline—you’ll find once in each of these three chapters Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Comforter. Bear that in mind. In His relation to the people of God, He’s Comforter. It’s the same word that’s translated “exhort” or “exhortation” there in 1 Corinthians 14. His business is to encourage, to stir up, to stimulate, to cheer up, to help, to counsel. Not to discourage, not to confuse, not to condemn. In the Swahili language they translate comforter ?Si-dee-zee?, which means “the helper.” The word in Greek is parakletos, which means “one called in alongside you.” And it’s most literally translated in English “advocate,” which is from a Latin word that means exactly the same, “one called in.” You call in an advocate or an attorney not to condemn you—you’d be very foolish to pay him for that—but to plead your cause. Well, the Holy Spirit is called in and sent by God to your help, to help you plead your cause. To justify you, not to condemn you.

What would be the use of getting an attorney on your side in court who set out to prove how guilty you were? You wouldn’t feel that he was doing his job. The Holy Spirit is the best attorney, He comes from the very best place, He’s sent by our best Friend, Jesus, and He comes to plead our cause. So, don’t accept condemnation, discouragement. Anything that causes you to be fearful and unworthy is not the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Prophecy can give a word in season to him that is weary. Let’s look at two very beautiful Scriptures that relate to prophecy. Proverbs 15:23:

“A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: [that’s a wonderful statement] and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!”

Now, in Isaiah 50 we have a prophetic picture of Jesus, one of the most beautiful given in the Old Testament. But, in his human ministry in verse 4 this is what he says prophetically, of course, through Isaiah:

“The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary...”

To me, that’s a good mark of learning: being able to speak a word in season to him that is weary. A lot of people I know who are educated are not learned. They certainly can’t do that. In fact, most educated people tend to be somewhat discouraging, I find. They look down on you, tend to criticize you and make you feel inferior. They’re so knowledgeable about everything that they know just how bad it is and it’s going to get worse.

Well, the Holy Spirit isn’t like that. Through Jesus He gave this precious ability to speak a word in season to him that is weary. Then, notice the rest of the verse:

“... he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.”

This brings out another vitally important fact—that you cannot speak if you haven’t heard. If God doesn’t waken your ear to hear, you’re not going to have anything to minister or speak to others. One of the great secrets of the ministry of Jesus revealed in this verse was that morning by morning He had communion with His Father. Before He went out and met the multitudes He was with His Father. He heard the voice of God speaking to Him giving Him words of comfort and encouragement that He could speak to others.

You’ll find this principle is also stated in Proverbs 21:28. You’ve probably noticed that I love the book of Proverbs. It says so much in so few words. Proverbs 21:28:

“A false witness shall perish: but the man that heareth speaketh constantly.”

You see, to say anything that’s worth anything you’ve got to hear before you speak. The word constantly could be translated “almost with eternal significance.” The word means “eternity,” it means “victory.” It’s a fascinating word; we can’t go into it. But, if you’re going to have something good to say you’ve got to hear before you speak. Your ear has got to be wakened before you can speak a word in season.

None of the prophets ever ministered before he had received. You’ll find both Ezekiel and other prophets were told by God to “eat the word” that He gave them and then to give it forth. This is true. Ministering in the Spirit doesn’t come, as people say, off the top of your head. You have to take it into you spirit and minister it out of your spirit. The person who’s never received anything into his spirit has never anything to minister out of his spirit. This is the order.

Now, I give you another Scripture of which I’m very fond of in 2 Corinthians 4:12 which again is a very short verse. You know, I love to go to the verses that have words of one syllable. Isn’t it amazing how much can be said in words of one syllable! This verse in the King James Version has one word of two syllables and in modern English even that would be one syllable, it’s the word worketh. It would be “works” in modern English.

“So then death worketh in us, but life in you.”

What a tremendous truth there is there. If we are going to minister life to others, we have to let death work in us. There has to be a death within us before we can minister life to others. We’ve got to die to our own self-will, our own ideas, our own determination. We’ve got to open up a channel that the will and the Spirit of God can work through us.

You see, if you look at this epistle of 2 Corinthians you find one of the great themes of this epistle is the word comfort, which is one of the great words connected with the Holy Spirit and with prophecy. Turn back to the beginning of 2 Corinthians for a moment and notice the introduction after verse 2 which is a kind of salutation. Paul begins with this beautiful verse, verse 3.

“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort…”

Notice all comfort has only one origin. Anything that’s comforting, encouraging, uplifting— ultimately if you trace it back to its origin it comes from God. He’s the God of all comfort.

Then Paul goes on to speak about the tremendous tribulations and persecutions and trials which he was experiencing.

“Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”

You notice the word comfort comes four times in that one verse. This is the theme of this epistle.

For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.

And then Paul goes on to say in verse 8:

“We would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life...”

The pressure against us was so tremendous we had no way to measure it, we had not strength to resist it, it pressed us to the very point of extinguishing life. But then he comes out with this beautiful verse 9:

“We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead...”

Until we come to the place where we have the sentence of death in ourselves we don’t have this ability to minister comfort to others. There’s got to be a death within us before we can minister life through us to others.

Then we have the tenth verse which I can’t refrain from reading, it speaks about God. It says:

“Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us...”

You notice you have deliverance in three tenses: past, present and future. He did deliver, he does deliver, he will deliver. That’s a message of comfort. This is the theme really of prophecy. I do believe that the one that will really minister comfort to others must have experienced this death of the selfish, self-pleasing, egotistical—I only can call it ego—in himself. You’ve got to go through something before you can minister comfort to others. But, it’s a blessed privilege to have been through it.

This I understand is the inner working of prophecy in the human spirit. I lay emphasis on this because I’ve seen prophecy so much misused and made so cheap and almost a means to display a human personality rather than minister to the needs of others. I feel strongly it’s important to lay this basis. What is the function of prophecy? It’s not to make you a dictator, it’s not to enable you to go around pointing your finger at people and saying, “Thus saith the Lord ...” It’s to minister comfort to people. It’s to edify, to build up, it’s to make people better equipped and able to serve the Lord and to fulfill their place and function in the body of Christ. Now let’s go on to see some of the other things that are said about prophecy in the New Testament. Let’s turn to Acts 2 and read verses 17–18 which are introduced by the phrase “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.” Then Peter standing up on the Day of Pentecost comes forth with this quotation from Joel.

“And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh...”

Isn’t that good news! You know what I have to be able to tell you tonight? God is doing exactly what He said. He didn’t wait for the permission of the bishops, He didn’t wait for the churches to unite, He didn’t wait for the denominations to agree, He didn’t wait for the theologians to concur. When His time came He went ahead and did it. I’m a witness amongst millions in the world today that God is doing today exactly what He said He would do in the last days. He is pouring out His Spirit upon all flesh. You say, “Can Lutherans receive the baptism?” Well, the question is, “Do Lutherans have flesh?” Can Muslims receive the baptism? Well, do they have flesh? Will the Jews receive the baptism? Well, even Jews have flesh. God said all flesh. Every section of the human race without exception is going to experience this last day visitation of the Holy Spirit.

What is going to happen when the Holy Spirit is poured out? Now, we find out.

“... your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy...”

There’s one thing that’s emphasized particularly and that is what? Prophesying. “They shall prophesy.” What’s going to happen in the last days? God’s people everywhere are going to have restored to them this beautiful spiritual manifestation of prophesying.

Notice the particular emphasis upon the young people. Notice in verse 17 there are four groups mentioned. One is the old men—praise God for that! The other three are all young. Sons, daughters and young men. This we see beginning to happen as we’re going to see it on a far more extensive and dramatic scale than most of us yet realize—in the United States and around the world a sovereign visitation of God upon the young people. They’re not going to get a half gospel, they’re not going to get mere theological platitudes; they’re going to get the real thing.

I’ve noticed one thing about the young people today, they want it the way it is. They’re entitled to get it the way it is. We have an obligation to preach it the way it is and that’s the way that God is giving it, the way it is. They’re not going to stop at some theologian’s line which says, “Thus far and no farther,” they’re going to get into what God has for them. God says He has for them to prophesy, to have visions, to have dreams, to have revelations. It’s happening.

In the year 1957–58, my wife and I were working amongst young people in a college for training teachers in East Africa. I was also a missionary and my primary aim was to bring them the gospel. One day I said to them, “I want to tell you one or two things.” I said, “First of all, I want to thank you for your cooperation. You’re obedient, you’re cooperative. When we say do this you do it, when we say do that you do that. If we say be confirmed you get confirmed. If we say be baptized you get baptized. If we say learn this you learn it. The reason is because you know that your education depends upon us and you want your education. That’s good. But,” I said, “there still remains in the minds of most of you an unanswered question, a big question mark.” When I said that they looked at me wondering what was coming next. When I saw I had their interest I said, “I will tell you what the question is. The question is this: Is the Bible just a white man’s book which has no relevance to Africans or is it a book that Africans can believe?” I said, “Many of your own local elders are telling you that the Bible is a white man’s book and it will never work for Africans. You can’t be expected to do the things the Bible says you should do.” Like, a young man I met afterwards who got the baptism in the Holy Spirit said, “I always used to say before, ‘When I get old and grow a beard I can be a Christian.’ One day the Holy Spirit dealt with me and said, ‘What will happen if you die before you get old and grow a beard?’” He decided that was the time to become a Christian. But, this was the typical teaching in African by the Africans; you can’t live up to the standards of morality of the Bible. That’s impossible. No young man can do that. If you get old maybe it will be all right. I said, “There’s this question in your mind: Is the Bible a book with a message for Africans or isn’t it? Or, did it just come from white men?”

Then I said to them, “I’ll tell you one more thing. I cannot answer that question.” They looked surprised at that, because they thought missionaries could answer all questions. I said, “The only way you’ll find out the answer to that question is if you have a direct personal experience of the supernatural power of God in your life. When you have that, you’ll know it didn’t come from Britain and it didn’t come from America but it came from God.” I didn’t argue with them or say any more to them. I left them and I went away and I had various ways of putting the Word of God before their eyes which I used various different ways. I would teach English out of the Bible or I would give them—various different things we don’t need to get involved in. But, I put the Word of God in front of them in different ways. I went away and I prayed to God and I said, “God, You said, ‘Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. If we sow to the spirit we shall of the spirit reap of life everlasting.’ I have sowed the seed of Your Word to these young people. Now I’m claiming the harvest.” God sent the harvest. He sent it in a very unexpected way.

We had a half term break when most of the students would go home for a long weekend. We had about 6 or 10 students from a distant tribe who couldn’t get home and come back in a weekend. They stayed behind, rather lonely and forlorn, in the college. I said to my wife, “I think we ought to do something about them. Let’s invite them up on Saturday evening for a cup of tea.”

Well, at that time it was not easy for Africans to come and have a kind of social fellowship with white people. They came, and we gave them tea and piled sugar in (which they rarely got and very much enjoyed). When we’d finished drinking the tea I thought, What do we do next? I said, “Maybe we should have a time of prayer.” Of course, sure enough, they all kneeled down and prayed because that’s part of what missionaries do. We knelt down, we started to pray and God did something supernatural. I cannot exactly explain it, but it was as if a clap of thunder hit that place. Just sudden. Every one of those students was praying out loud simultaneously with arms up in the air. They were not praying in tongues as far as I know, I think they were praying in their own language. A few seconds previously they had been as dead as stone spiritually and something moved into that place and hit us all simultaneously.

Why I say this is because about six months after this visitation I had the whole college assembled again and I read them Acts 2:17. I said, “Now, this is something that has happened to you. This is not a theory, it’s not something some missionary is talking about, it’s not something you’ve read in a book by a white man. Every single thing that’s written in that verse has happened to you people. It’s happened to you yourselves, or you’ve seen it happen to one another. It’s no longer remote or theoretical or questionable, it’s right here and now, it’s happened to you. This is God’s witness to the young people of Africa that you’re living in the last days.” And, they accepted it. They could not argue with it.

This is what I believe we should have, we should have the gospel preached with signs following. God bearing testimony to the Word of His grace. Otherwise, as far as I’m concerned, I wouldn’t bother to go outside my own country of residence as a missionary. I’d send literature and stay at home if I didn’t believe God would bear supernatural testimony to the message that He gives. What young people today want is reality and power. God is making it available through the baptism and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are the days we’re living in. I tell you, we better get with it.

I preached at the end of last year in an Episcopal church near Washington, D.C. I didn’t know what kind of reception I would have there. We’d preached previously in a Methodist church in Washington itself. I’d had a deliverance service. If any of you have been in the deliverance services that I have you know they’re a little unconventional. I mean, this was distinctly one of the more unconventional. In a very large Methodist—you could almost call it a cathedral—in Washington, D.C. I observed this Episcopal rector there before the service. I thought, What will be his reaction?

When I was talking to him about the services we were going to hold the following week in his church he said, “I do hope you’re going to have service of exorcism because that’s what we need.” I tell you, we did. I have a letter that this man sent out to his congregation after we preached in that church for a week and in simple language I’m interpreting it. He said to his congregation, “You better get with it, because this is what’s happening.” That’s the truth. It’s happening. You can’t stop it happening, you’ve just got to decide whether you get with it or not. Because, God is moving sovereignly by His Holy Spirit all over the earth exactly as He said He would. Anybody that would try to stop this with a little theology is going to look just as silly as somebody that would try to stop Niagara Falls. It’s the last days, God is doing what He said He would do and, personally, I’m glad He is. I’m on God’s side so far as I know in my heart.

Speaking in tongues often leads into prophecy. It must have done so on the Day of Pentecost. Let’s look at one other example in Acts 19:6 where these people who were disciples at Ephesus had been ministered to by Paul, had been baptized with Christian baptism as is stated in verse 5. In verse 6 it says:

“When Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them [the Greek says ‘came down over them’]; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.”

Very, very frequently speaking with tongues—if you’ll turn loose and not get inhibited—will lead on into prophesying. I’m sure it did on the Day of Pentecost and it did here in Ephesus.

Now let’s notice one other quite important fact about this ministry of gift of prophesying. Turn back to Acts 2 for a moment and look at verses 17–18 again. I want you to notice that the ladies are not omitted. We know already in Acts 1 that amongst those that tarried in the Upper Room were Mary the mother of Jesus and the rest of the women. And, they were all baptized in the Holy Spirit, all spoke in tongues. Everything that’s written in this chapter applied to them. Notice here that the women are included.

“... your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, ... [verse 18:] on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy...”

Prophesying is a ministry that’s open to women just as much as it is to men.

Turn on into Acts 21:9 which is a statement about the daughters of the evangelist Philip.

The same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. He had four unmarried daughters who all prophesied. Anybody that’s familiar with the East will know that it’s extremely improbable that Philip would have four unmarried daughters, all of them older than 15. In most cases, they’d get married when they were 16, 15 or 18. I think this is a pretty definite indication that even the children prophesied. I imagine that some of these girls were probably even below the level of the teens.

This is another thing that my wife and I have seen, that children can receive very beautiful ministry and manifestations of the gifts of prophecy. We’ve seen it many, many times.

Then we look also in 1 Corinthians 11:5 and we find again that this ministry is open to women.

“But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.”

Obviously, though Paul requires a woman to have her head covered, he expects a woman to be prophesying. I believe that part of the process of restoration which is taking place in the church will bring us back to the place where in the official public assembly, the church, women who desire to minister, to pray or to prophesy will have their heads covered. In fact, in many parts of the world they do. There I’ll have to say the Africans are far ahead of the British or the Americans. Very few places that I was in would an African woman ever walk into a service without covering her head with a kind of a veil. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the right thing to do.

Now, let’s look at some other facts about prophecy to conclude this study. “Prophecy” [in quotes] may become a vehicle for other related gifts such as a word of wisdom or a word of knowledge. I’ve pointed out already in connection with the other gifts that they’re somewhat like the colors of the rainbow. Though we can distinguish seven different colors, we cannot say at any specific point one color ends and another begins. They blend into one another. So, prophecy can also blend into another related gift such as a word of knowledge or a word of wisdom. In other words, a word of knowledge may be given through an utterance which is prophesied in which case we have more than one gift operating at the same time. I’ve given you this very simple everyday example about the word coffee. You can pour a black fluid into a cup and say it’s a cup of coffee. And it is just coffee. But, you may say to the person, “Do you take sugar and cream with your coffee?” And, they may say yes and you put in sugar and cream and it’s still called coffee. The black fluid has become a vehicle for two other things, cream and sugar.

In the same way that which we call “prophecy” is sometimes just prophecy, sometimes it’s prophecy containing something else like a word of wisdom or a word of knowledge. Just as we call the coffee with cream and sugar in it coffee so we still call it prophecy but we have to notice another element in it.

Let’s look at some examples where apparently prophesying was used to bring forth a word of wisdom or a word of knowledge as in Acts 13:2. It says:

“As they ministered to the Lord [five prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch], and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.”

We are not told how the Holy Ghost said it, but to me it seems more than probable—in fact, I’m personally convinced—it was given through prophecy. It would appear that the prophecy was not given through Barnabas or Saul because they’re referred to in the third person. One of the other three men had this utterance in prophecy.

But, the utterance is really more than prophecy; it’s a directive word of wisdom revealing the will and plan of God and who is to go forth and so on.

In Acts 20:23 we have the testimony of the apostle Paul about what had been happening as he took a journey on his way up to Jerusalem. He’s speaking to the elders of the church at Ephesus in the port of Miletum and he says in Acts 20:22–23:

“And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.”

In every place along the way where Paul had fellowshipped with believers, the Holy Ghost had been revealing what lay ahead. Now, again, Paul is not specific, but he does use the word “saying that bonds and affliction abide me.” To me, it seems extremely reasonable and probable that these utterances came either by way of a tongue followed by interpretation or by way of prophecy. So that, in city after city as Paul journeyed along on his way to Jerusalem, some brother or sister would come forth with this utterance in prophecy telling him that there lay ahead of him in Jerusalem bonds and afflictions. Of course, that’s a general description, there may be much more detail given than that.

This continued further on his journey. Acts 21:4. When they arrived at the port of Tyre it says:

“Finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.”

“Said to Paul through the Spirit” could be a word of wisdom or it could be prophecy containing a word of wisdom. Whatever exact gift was used, the result was Paul was detained and restrained from going up to Jerusalem. Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, in a certain sense, was rather like going through a series of traffic lights. He came to one place after another and the light was red, stop. He stopped there and waited, the light turned green, he went on to the next place and the light was red. He waited and the light turned green. You’ll find that God, through believers whose names are not given, in congregations about which we know very little, but by these beautiful gifts of the Spirit was actually helping and directing Paul in his ministry.

Then, in verses 9–11 of Acts 21 we have this reference again to Philip’s daughters.

“... four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.”

And then verse 10 and following the prophet Agabus comes down from Jerusalem, takes Paul’s girdle, binds his own hands and feet and says:

“Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind [the hands and feet] the man that owneth this girdle...”

So we see that all through this section of Paul’s life and ministry the Spirit was bearing witness through other believers of what lay ahead. A combination of prophecy with other gifts. Then we see that prophecy and related gifts played a very important part in the ministry of Timothy. Turn to 1 Timothy 1:18. Paul is writing to Timothy who is fulfilling a God-given ministry in the city of Ephesus. Paul says:

“This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare...”

In various different places, apparently, in the past—possibly in his home assembly which was at Lystra, I think—prophecies had been given forth in relation to Timothy that he was to enter into and fulfill a certain ministry, warning him that he would meet opposition and difficulty and telling him that he would have to go ahead. Now, when he entered into the ministry and encountered these difficulties he was strengthened by the remembrance of the prophecies that had gone before him. This is one of the workings of prophecy—that we get a revelation of the will of God, we step into the will of God, the going gets very hard, the opposition becomes tough. We think, Maybe I’m in the wrong place or Maybe I won’t get through. Then we remember, “No, I have that word of prophecy. It told me I was going to go this way and it told me what I would meet.”

I met a rather good example of this. I have a book that I wrote called Laying On of Hands, and in it I happen to refer to this situation about the laying on of hands for a gift. I point out this fact: that people sometimes get prophecies that show them the way their life will take and encourage them and strengthen them. In moments of difficulty they should be reminded of these prophecies. I met a pastor in New Zealand two or three years after the book was first printed and he said, “I want to tell you that your book came into my hands and did exactly that for me. When I was in the United States at Bible school, prophecies were given out that I would have a particular ministry and fulfill a certain job. I got here to New Zealand and things became sticky and I became rather discouraged and nothing was happening. I got your book Laying On of Hands and I read this passage about prophecies that have gone before in Timothy and how he was stirred up to do the task. When I read that in the book, I remembered the prophecies that had gone before on me in the United States and I saw that I wasn’t fulfilling my ministry and it stirred me up to do it.” Since then, in the last three years or so, God has wonderfully blessed that man as he took a step forward in faith and he’s entered fully into that ministry which was prophesied over him.

So, you see that the prophesying was not just an irrelevant sort of frill but it was an important part in his finding and fulfilling his ministry.

Then in 1 Timothy 4:14 Paul goes back to something of the same theme. He says to Timothy:

“Neglect not the gift in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.”

The word gift there is charisma and as I’ve pointed out, this has many different meanings. It may mean a spiritual gift, it may mean a ministry. Personally, my own opinion is that it’s probably an apostolic ministry that’s referred to because it was scriptural for the apostle to be sent forth from the congregation with the laying on of the hands of the elders. And, at this point of problems and oppositions and difficulty Paul was reminding Timothy, “Don’t forget: you were set apart to this ministry by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the elders. Don’t get discouraged; don’t give up.”

If you read between the lines of this epistle to Timothy you’ll see that Paul is continually stirring Timothy up. Don’t neglect the gift that is in you, don’t give way to fear. Go on, God called you to it, God’s revealed His will, go through and fulfill the will of God. That’s one of the themes of the epistles to Timothy.

Let’s notice a few other related facts about prophecy as we close this study. Going back to 1 Corinthians 14 and taking a number of verses that follow one another in succession. First Corinthians 14:22–24, Paul says:

“Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.”

We’ve already dealt in a previous study with tongues as a sign to unbelievers. We can’t go back over that now; but notice the statement of Paul that “prophesying serveth not for them that believe not [not for unbelievers], but for [believers].” Prophesying is essentially given in the New Testament to minister to believers. This is different from Old Testament prophecy. Many times the prophet in the Old Testament was sent with a message to unbelievers, even to Gentile nations like the prophet Jeremiah. But, within the New Testament, within the church, the ministry of prophesying is directed to believers. That’s why it’s limited to edification, exhortation and comfort—because God does not discourage and beat down believers. He doesn’t pour forth warnings of judgment against the believers. It’s the unbelievers. We have to see these related facts about prophecy and get them in a right perspective.

However, Paul goes on to say in verse 24 if you should be having a meeting and all are prophesying:

“... and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face, he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.”

The picture is a group of believers ministering to each other in prophecy. By chance, there comes in an unbeliever and some of the prophetic utterances or revelation touches that unbeliever and causes him to realize that God knows more about him than he understood and brings him to conviction and an acknowledgment that God is in the midst. But that’s not normal, that’s exceptional. Normally, prophecy is given to minister to believers.

Turning on to 1 Corinthians 14:29–30:

“Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the others [other prophets] judge [or discern].”

I’ll point out in a moment that all prophecy must be subjected to judgment. Verse 30:

“If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.”

Or, in more simple English, “shut up.” There’s a time to speak and there’s a time to stop speaking. We notice this so very clearly with those African students that I mentioned earlier. In our Sunday evening services we would have some introductory singing and then we’d have testimonies. When the Spirit of God was really moving I had to keep the testimonies down. They lined up to testify. They didn’t testify about things that happened two years ago, it was things that happened that week. I would preach the Word to them as thoroughly and as carefully as I could, for about an hour and then we would kind of open the meeting up for worship and anything that God wanted to do. We’d start to praise the Lord and maybe there would come an utterance in a tongue or a prophecy. Then one of these students would put his hand up and say, “Please, sir, the Lord has just told me something.” I would say, “Well, if the Lord has told you, don’t keep it to yourself, come up and tell us all.” I’d call him out to the front and then say to the rest, “The Bible says if anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. You be quiet and let’s listen.” We had some real fascinating things happen that way.

One of the strangest things was a young man who’d been a real rebel—he’d been so troublesome that even the African teachers wanted me to dismiss him. That’s the ultimate in being troublesome. But, the Lord got hold of him and he got converted. About one week after he was converted, he was sitting in the meeting and said, “Please, sir.” I said, “Yes, what is it?” This is true, my wife will remember this. He said, “The Lord has just told me that there’s a verse in the Bible about traffic on the roads today.” I said, “Yes, you’ll find it in Nahum, I think it’s in the second chapter, about the chariots jostling one another in the streets.” Well, when he found that, he almost fell off the seat with delight. But, think how the Lord moved. The Lord didn’t tell him where the verse was, the Lord told him there was a verse and he had to ask me where the verse was. We had things like that happen quite frequently with those African students. I have never been in a situation where I’ve seen so realistically what it means: if anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. This is the mingling ministry of the members of the body one to another.

It is not right to give over a whole meeting to any one manifestation whether it’s tongues and interpretations or prophesying or whatever it is. God has got a diet that’s balanced. He doesn’t serve just one course on the table for His children, He’s got plenty of variety. We should never let ourselves be tied down just to the one type of manifestation. You’ll find sometimes when people first speak in tongues all they want to do is speak in tongues. All they want to do is prophesy or whatever it may be. You have to discipline them and say, “Don’t get stuck in a rut,” there’s many different ways that God can move and speak and bless. Let’s be open to what He wants to do.

Looking then in 1 Corinthians 14:31 Paul says:

“Ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.”

To me this is perfectly clear. It’s within the revealed will of God for all believers to prophesy. If we do not do it, it’s not because it isn’t God’s will. It’s just because we haven’t moved into the will of God. I’m not saying that to bring reproach or condemnation on anybody, but as far as I understand it, it is within the will of God stated in His Word for all believers to prophesy. “Ye may all prophesy,” not all at once, because that would be confusion. “One by one”—and notice, “that all may learn.” Some people don’t realize you have to learn to operate spiritual gifts. You don’t start perfect. Few people ever begin by prophesying perfectly. And so, Paul says in Romans 12:6 if any man prophesy: “according to the proportion of his faith.” Do as much as you’ve got faith for and stop there. If you begin to operate you’ll move on and grow and mature. But if you never begin, you’ll never mature. Some people won’t do a thing unless they can do it perfectly and the result is they probably never do it at all.

Notice one other very important fact. First Corinthians 14:32:

“The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”

A prophet does not lose control of himself. He’s always under control. He’s always accountable for what he says and does. He cannot put the blame on God and say “God made me do it; I couldn’t help it.” I’ve heard that weak and foolish excuse given so many times for foolish things. It is not scriptural. You are accountable for what you do when you’re ministering in the Spirit. God doesn’t overrule your will; He doesn’t force you; He doesn’t coerce you. You’re responsible to know how to yield to the Holy Spirit.

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