The Gifts of the Spirit- Intro and Prophecy



Today we are beginning a sermon series on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost the church received a special filling of the Holy Spirit, which inaugurated a new age in the life of God’s people. Part of the receiving of the Holy Spirit, was that members of the church were given certain abilities for the sake of serving. They build up the church in love, and they honour Jesus.

When Paul talks about the spiritual gifts in our reading from Romans (and in other places as well- like 1 Cor 12-14; Eph. 4:11-16) he uses the image of the body. Different parts of the body have different abilities. The eyes see. The ears hear, and so on. When each part of the body is serving the whole, the body is healthy and functions properly. … It is a good image to use for the church since the church is also called the body of Christ. The church, empowered by the Spirit, continued the work of Christ on earth. It is a “differentiated unity”. There are different abilities all used for the unity and mission of the whole. … Likewise, when we are all free to use our gifts in the community, then we become a much more healthy community. And a healthy church is much more able to bless those outside their church community.

In 1 Corinthians 14:1, Paul says, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts…”. What are these spiritual gifts we are supposed to desire? There are many different kinds of spiritual gifts and it doesn’t seem like Paul had a set list of gifts. He gives different lists in different places (Romans 12:6–8; 1 Corinthians 12:8–10; 1 Corinthians 12:28–30; Ephesians 4:11) So, what he seems to be doing by giving these lists is he is giving us examples of the kinds of gifts the Spirit gives God’s people. In our reading from Romans he talks about prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, and mercy. But other lists include things like wisdom, healing, discernment of spirits, speaking in tongues, administration, visions, evangelism. Some people would include interpretation of dreams and artistic gifts. … We probably don’t have to limit the Gifts of the Spirit. There are probably others that aren’t named, but it is good to have a few examples to consider.

When we say that these are “gifts” we mean that you don’t get to say which ones you get. It is the free choice of the Holy Spirit to distribute these gifts to the church. … It may be that we have to actively receive these gifts through prayer, expectation, and desire… but, the Holy Spirit is free to distribute these gifts and doesn’t owe them to us.

It is probably also true that we can develop the gift we have been given. If we have been given the gift of administration, we can develop that gift so we can do it even better. … It might also be the case that we have natural talents that the Holy Spirit then supernaturally enhances.

It is also possible that we are given an ability for a certain period of time (or even for a moment) because the church was in need of that gift, but then we no longer need it to serve the church, so it leaves us. So, you can speak prophetically in a particular moment when it is needed, but it might leave you if it is no longer needed or if a prophet arrives. … For the person with the gift of prophecy it seems like it is a more regular (even life-long) occurrence. …. Really, it’s not about the individual though. It is a gift for the benefit of the community- for the body of Christ and the mission of the church.

We have been talking generally about the Spiritual Gifts and now I would like us to consider one gift in particular, Prophecy. It is a good one to start with because prophecy is mentioned in all of the main lists of the gifts (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:10; Eph. 4:11).

In the book of Acts St. Peter quotes from the prophet Joel describing what happened at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples of Jesus-

“I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).
Prophecy in the Old Testament seems to have been the ministry of an exclusive few. In the New Testament it is now possible for all the disciples of Jesus to prophesy, though there still seems to be certain people who exercise this gift with regularity so that it defines their ministry. They are called “prophets”. The Bible often says that these people act or speak “full of the Holy Spirit”. There was a time when there were travelling prophets, and prophets that seemed to stay put in the churches. As the early church started to have more of a structure, the leaders (bishops/priests, or deacons), were often considered to have the gift of prophecy.

Prophecy is a bit tricky to define because it can look like a lot of different things. Generally, prophecy is some kind of proclamation inspired by the Holy Spirit which expresses the mind of God. It reveals truth. … This might take the form of an oracular utterance or action, which might be poetic, obscure, or unclear (think of Peter with the sheet full of animals). A prophet might receive a supernatural revelation through dreams, visions, supernatural voices, maybe even through angelic visitors.

The content of the message might be about something in the future, like predicting a famine, or that someone is going to be arrested if they go to a certain city. That’s not a necessary part though, mainly the prophet is communicating something from God. God wants you or the church to know something and God uses the prophet to communicate that message. It might be that God wants you know that you are loved, or forgiven. It might be that God is giving direction to the church. It might be fairly simple message, but there is something about the weight of the words that make this message different. The purpose is to encourage, instruct, and comfort the church.

Some say a sermon can actually be prophetic if the preacher is interpreting the Bible passage with the help of the Holy Spirit. In that moment God’s Word is being communicated to the church. It is God’s mind- God’s heart- being expressed to God’s people.

This is obviously something we want to be careful with. We don’t want to believe everything someone says just because they say they are a prophet. But we don’t want to reject a true message from God either. The New Testament is constantly warning us about false prophets. And we are told to constantly test what they say. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians we read, “not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything…” (1 Thessalonians 5:19–21). How do we know if someone is a prophet? … Traditionally the church has said that a true prophet won’t contradict the Apostolic teaching. Prophets call people to be more faithful to Scripture, interpreted correctly. We should also take Jesus’ advice and look at the fruit of their lives. Do they build up the church, or do they cause destruction wherever they go?... A document from the first century called “the Didache” says that a true prophet will exhibit “the behavior of the Lord”. Another early Document called the “Shepherd of Hermas” says that a prophet is “meek, gentle, lowly-minded, refrains from all wickedness and evil desire of the world, and makes [themselves] poorer than all…” (Hermas, Mandate 11:8). Those are a few helpful hints from the Early Church who thought about this a lot.

How might you know if you have the prophetic gift? The first thing to do is pray and ask God … But these might be some hints- Do you ever have a burning desire to speak to the church, or to certain members of the church about thoughts or images that don’t easily leave you? Do you feel that message burning away inside you? Do you want to encourage, love, and comfort the church with God’s truth? Then you might have the gift of prophecy. If you want to learn to use this gift start with prayer. Ask God to show you how to do this. Then find a small group of friends you can trust and tell them that you are going to make mistakes, but that you would like to try this out with them. We seem to learn when we push ourselves into uncomfortable situations. … It may be that you are being trusted with words we desperately need to hear. AMEN

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