Someone wrote me: What does the Bible say about prophetic gifts (Bill Johnson style)?
Below is my basic teaching on prophetic gifts and discerning prophecy. Just to summarize, I need to say that prophets are real, that they hear God's voice and speaks to God's people. However, it is easy to dismiss all prophets because some false prophets get all the publicity. We need to listen to Scripture (I Thess. 5:19-20) , "Do not quench the Spirit" in other words, let the prophets speak, "but discern all spirits", determine what spirit the prophet is speaking with-- the Holy One or a false one.
What is Prophecy?
There are these people out there and they are obnoxious. They get in your face, and say things you aren’t comfortable with and often they claim to be speaking for God. Those who want to say something positive would typically say, “Oh, he’s a prophet” (inevitably, the prophet is a “he”). But just because a person has a “hard message” does that make them a prophet?
Not necessarily. A “prophet” in Scripture is specifically someone who has a message directly from God through God’s Spirit. This isn’t just a message from the Bible or a rewriting of a Bible text. It is something one hears from God directly. Not everyone hears God’s voice in the church, nor does everyone who hears God’s voice necessarily have to speak his messages to others. But a prophet receives a message from God and then he or she must go and speak it to the ones God commanded them to tell. Prophecies could be in dreams, visions, voices or just listening to a silent voice. But it is clear, and it is clearly from God.
Do We Need Prophecies?
The Bible says we do. God often spoke to prophets in the past, and Moses exclaimed, “I wish that all of God’s people would be prophets!” (Numbers 11:29). All of Jesus’ followers receive God’s spirit and all of them have something from God’s spirit to share with others (I Corinthians 12:3-4). Some people are led by the Spirit to serve, others to give, others to teach. Prophecy is one of those “gifts” that some have received from the Spirit.
While prophecies are uncomfortable for many, Paul says that prophecy is essential. He calls it the most essential work of the Spirit for the community of believers. Why? Prophecy, more than any other service to the church, can point out the weaknesses and the issues the Lord wants a particular congregation to work on. The Lord can speak both encouragement and rebuke clearly and immediately without confusion or as many interpretation problems.
How should we respond to a prophet?
If a prophet has a message to give to a church, they should be allowed to do so. This may not be comfortable for many, but Scripture tells us clearly not to “quench the Spirit or despise prophetic utterances.” (I Thessalonians 5:19-20). Prophecy may be a hard pill to swallow, but it is necessary from the Spirit. Such a prophecy should be shared at an appropriate time determined by the leader of the worship time, so any prophet should ask for an opportunity to speak and not be upset if they are asked to wait. Only two or three prophecies per service so that others may share what they have from the Lord as well (I Corinthians 14:29-33). The prophet should speak the exact words of the prophecy and allow the people to test and interpret the prophecy. “No prophecy is of private interpretation” says the Scripture, so the prophet should not interpret the prophecy themselves before they give it to the congregation (I Peter 1:20).
Testing the spirits
After a prophecy has been given, then the spirit of the prophet must be tested. There are many spirits, and not all are the Holy Spirit come from God. We must test every word we receive from a spirit.
We can know if a message is not from the Spirit of God if:
• It encourages people to sin
• It encourages people away from the God of Jesus (Deuteronomy 13)
• It slanders someone with an evil act that is not already publicly known. (Matthew 18:15)
• It serves the personal interests of the prophet.
• It is a message to the whole people of God, but only one group of God’s people has received it. (I Corinthians 14:36)
Another indication that a prophet is sent from God is if they speak a prophecy about a future event, and the prophecy does not come true as stated. If a prophet is inaccurate about the future, then Scripture says “You need not fear that one.” This means that they are not a true prophet from God (Deuteronomy 18:22)
However, a prophecy is more likely true if:
a. The prophet is humble before the Lord and God’s people, and shares with love and gentleness. (Galatians 5:22-23)
b. The message the prophet shares is accurate with the Bible. It does not have to be accurate with popular theology, but it must be accurate with the message of Jesus in the New Testament. (John 14:26)
c. The message leads people to godly repentance, drawing them closer to a relationship with the Lord.
How should we respond to Prophecy?
If a prophecy and the prophet has been tested and has passed, then the word of the Lord is to “fear that prophet”. We must do as the prophecy says. We do not need to tell other people to obey the prophecy, unless they were given it personally. But we need to do it, for it is the word of the Lord for us. If we do not listen to the prophet who spoke truly, the Lord will judge us for not listening to Him. (Deuteronomy 18:18-19; Ezekiel 3:19)