By MIKE PATRICK
As a high school student, my understanding of prophecy focused on predicting or foretelling the future. Not long after that Hal Lindsey’s book, Late, Great Planet Earth became a best seller and a movie. A few years later, as a college student, I began hearing that prophecy dealt more with forth-telling or what we might call preaching. If what a minister preaches proves true, then at times it might foretell the future.
Years later, I found a familiar passage that spoke about prophecy but added a whole different twist to the subject. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about spiritual gifts. Speaking in tongues had caused problems in the church and Paul addressed the issue. While speaking in tongues edified the person, prophecy edified the whole church; therefore, Paul preferred prophecy. In that statement, he describes prophecy with some unusual words. In 1 Corinthians 14:3, he says,
But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.
Paul uses three words to describe the purpose of prophesying: strengthening, encouraging, comforting.
The Greek text provides expanded perception. When he says prophecy should strengthen people, he means that it should build up, confirm, enlighten, or even restore people. Edify was the activity; edifice, the result.
When he states that prophecy should encourage people, he means that it calls others along your side, summons or invites them. It was the word used as a designation of the Holy Spirit (Paraclete). This exhorting, in one way, calls out to offer companionship or help.
When he concludes that prophecy should comfort people, he means that it should console or cheer up.
So there is a sense of pastoral care in prophecy because it aims to strengthen people by building them up, to encourage by motivating a companion, and to comfort others by consoling. These aims could address issues such as depression, sluggishness, and sadness.
To speak prophetically is to speak profitably. For the persecuted in apocalyptic times, predicting the future provided hope. For the abused of social injustices, prophetic preaching brings relief by declaring what is right and just. For the Christian who struggles with life’s journey, prophesying can edify, encourage, and comfort.
Perhaps a third view of prophecy, rather than limiting it to fore-telling or forth-telling,