God calls ALL of us to be prophets!
On this Holy Saturday, as we wait patiently for Christ’s resurrection into new life, we turn our focus to our own role in bringing newness of life into the world through our own acts of faithful, prophetic discipleship.
The apostle Paul understood prophecy and the role of prophets in a distinctive way, as the following passage from First Corinthians illustrates.
Pursue love and strive for the spiritual things, and especially that you might prophesy…those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church….What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an
Let all things be done for building up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others evaluate what is said. If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, for God is a God not of disorder but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:1, 3-4, 26-33).
In this passage, the immediate problem Paul is addressing in the church at Corinth involves some members of the community who are “speaking in tongues.”
• There were members of the church who were speaking unintelligible words and phrases when the church came together for its weekly gathering.
• The ones “speaking in tongues” viewed their practice as an elite spiritual discipline that gave them a certain elevated status and importance in the congregation.
• Paul chastises this view, reminding the Corinthians that everything they do and say should serve the common good of the entire community rather than simply edifying individuals.
For Paul, prophecy is intelligible speech that encourages, consoles and builds up other people.
• Prophecy may include speech that affirms and encourages faithful, specific actions that are bearing fruit in the world and building up the community.
• Prophecy may also include a critique of unfaithful behavior, or acknowledging a harmful system or practice that is injuring others; but this kind of prophecy should be offered gently, consoling the offender, with the goal of restoring that person to healthier relationships in the community. Every person may speak prophetically when the congregation meets.
• Paul lays out an orderly process for allowing all people to speak prophetically one by one, without interrupting others in the process.
• For Paul, revelation happens through the Holy Spirit in this kind of mutually respectful conversation; so when a revelation happens, the speaker should stop talking and cede the floor to the person who has received the revelation.
• The entire congregation is invited to speak prophetically in sequence; when a person is not speaking, they should be listening intently and evaluating what is being said by others.
• In Paul’s churches this practice of prophecy followed the conclusion of the meal called the Lord’s Supper; the practice of prophecy is the discipline whereby community members hold one another accountable for living the ways of Jesus Christ in the world.
For Paul, the goal of prophecy is to help every member of the church grow into the full stature of Christ in word and deed, and to become a more faithful follower of Jesus.
Questions for Reflection
• In the context of your own life, can you identify some concrete situations where you are being called to “prophesy” to others in ways that encourage, console or build them up?
• How might this practice also help build up the community of which you are a part?
• What discipline do you and your congregation practice in order to maintain your focus on faithful discipleship in daily life?
Faithful God, just as Christ was raised to new life from the dead on Easter morning, you call us to walk in newness of life in this our mortal life: fill us we pray with all spiritual wisdom and insight, that we might prophesy to one another with gentleness and mercy, so that we might all be confirmed and strengthened in the faithfulness of our actions and the intentionality of our discipleship. Amen