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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: What Rules Does the New Testament Give for Prophesying at a Worship Service?

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What Rules Does the New Testament Give for Prophesying at a Worship Service?

The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Question 11

The Apostle Paul set down rules regarding prophesying at a worship service. Furthermore, he made it clear that these were rules set down by God. He stated it this way.

Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37 NRSV).

The rules include the following.

Self-Control Must Be Exercised in Prophesying

The first rule states that the prophet must exercise self-control. Those who give prophetic utterances are not to act with an uncontrolled frenzy.

This is consistent with what Paul emphasized about true Christian character when he wrote to the Galatians.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things (Galatians 5:22,23 NRSV).

Notice that the fruit of the Spirit includes self-control. When the Spirit of God is working through one who prophesies, they will exercise self-restraint.

Therefore, the Holy Spirit will not lead anyone who prophesies to become in some uncontrollable state.

Indeed, a genuine prophet led by the Spirit of God will not lose self-control. Paul said.

For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. And the prophets’ spirits are under the control of the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints (1 Corinthians 14:31–33 HCSB).

This passage suggests that ecstatic frenzy is a sign of either a false prophecy, or that the prophetic message is a result of the imagination of the person giving the prophecy.

There Are Limited Numbers Who Can Speak

The second rule states that prophecies should be limited to two or three per meeting. Paul wrote the following.

Let two or three prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said (1 Corinthians 14:29 NLT).

There were not unlimited numbers that could speak a prophetic message.

They Are to Be Judged by Others

A third rule says the prophecies are to be judged by others in the assembly. This was the job of the leaders. Thus, the New Testament does not encourage believers to blindly follow anyone who claims to prophesy in the name of the Lord. A genuine prophet will have no problem with their words being judged. On the other hand, the false prophet would not want their words evaluated by the people of God who are led by the Spirit of God.

Prophecies Must Be Consistent with past Revelation

Most important, the prophecies must be consistent with what God has already revealed. Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, he should recognize that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, he will be ignored (1 Corinthians 14:37,38 HCSB).

God does not disagree with Himself. If a prophet brings forth a message that contradicts what the Scripture says, then we can be assured that the prophecy is not from God.

Indeed, God cannot lie or give some contradictory message. Paul wrote.

This truth gives them the confidence of eternal life, which God promised them before the world began— and he cannot lie (Titus 1:2 NLT).

The prophet of God, if he is speaking from God, will always tell the truth since he represents the God of truth.

These Were the New Testament Rules

These are the rules that we find that the New Testament sets down for exercising the gift of prophecy. Any prophesying that was to take place had to conform to these rules. For those who believe the prophetic gift is still being exercised in the church these same rules apply.

Is the Gift Still Given?

However there remains the question as to whether this gift remains in the church today. In fact, many Bible-believers assume that it was withdrawn at the end of the first century A.D. If this is the case, then the rules would no longer apply since God is not giving speaking to His church in this manner.

Summary – Question 11
What Rules Does the New Testament Give for Prophesying at a Worship Service?

In the early days of the Christian church, when a person spoke words of prophecy in a gathering of believers it always was to be done within certain guidelines. The Bible gives the following rules regarding prophetic utterances.

For one thing, the Bible says that the prophet will be in control of his or her senses. They will not be in an uncontrolled state when giving the Word of the Lord. In fact, if one speaks in an out of control manner this is evidence that their message is not coming from the Lord.

Prophetic messages were also limited to two or three per meeting. In other words, this particular manner of speaking forth God’s truth could not go on endlessly.

The prophecies which were uttered were to be judged by the leaders of the church. This means that someone supposedly speaking in the name of the Lord was not to be blindly followed. Instead, the mature believers were to evaluate the message.

Furthermore, any prophetic message that was given had to have been in conformity with what God has already revealed in Scripture. God would never contradict Himself. Thus, a true prophet of God would only speak truth.

All of these criteria have to be met for the prophetic Word to conform to the rules of the New Testament. These rules were given to be obeyed. They were not merely suggestions!

Consequently, those who believe this gift still exists must exercise this gift according to these stated rules.

However, this is an issue which there is much controversy. Indeed, many Bible-believers think that this gift was only temporary and was withdrawn by the Lord once its goal was accomplished. If this is the case, then this sort of practice should not be exercised in the church today.

Were the New Testament Prophetic Messages Given without Error? ← Prior Section
Is the Gift of Prophecy Still Available for the Church? Next Section →
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