Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.
1 Thes. 5:19-22 NLT
The gift of prophecy defined (1 Cor. 12:10, 14:1-5):
The word of prophecy is spontaneous, Spirit-inspired, intelligible speech, orally-delivered to the church gathered intended for the building up of the people of God [Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 595].
In other words, the gift of prophecy is not planned, we cannot make the Holy Spirit give us a word. Properly, the word is not self-generated, but insight and instruction from the heart of God for the people of God. Biblically, the word of prophecy is shared by an individual for the whole Body of Christ in a language that everyone can understand. A word of prophecy, even if given to just one individual, should be submitted to the whole congregation for discernment (1 Cor. 14:29). Last, a word of prophecy, even if corrective, will encourage the people of God being seasoned with grace and hope.
Prophecy can be both foretelling, insights into the plans of God; and forthtelling, God’s word for our present circumstances. Prophecy is an important gift for the Apostle Paul encouraged us to “earnestly desire” the gift of prophecy (1 Cor 14: 1) and prophecy has the ability to “strengthen, encourage, and comfort” the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 14: 3). New Testament prophecy is not inspired like scripture, but insights from the Lord for personal guidance and corporate direction.
The word of prophecy is hope: knowledge that God is aware of our need and actively working to meet that heart-cry. The gift of prophecy points the Church to Christ, calls for obedience to his commands bringing healing and restoration. The gift of prophecy reminds believers of their call to holiness, their dependence on God’s grace, and the faithfulness of God’s promise. Corporately, the prophetic gift calls forth repentance, restoration, and renewal in the Body of Christ. The prophetic gift builds up the Church in her call to be God’s witness to the world (1 Cor. 12:31, 14:1, 39; Heb. 2:3-4).
The purpose for the gift of prophecy: First, the word brings encouragement and direction to the church. Second, prophecy brings comfort that God cares and knows the needs of his children. Third, God can warn us if we are straying from the truth or living lives inconsistent with the life of Christ. Fourth, prophecy confirms direction already received from the Holy Spirit. Prophetic words are not to be directive or used in a manipulative fashion. The word should line-up with what God has been consistently saying to us, individually, and to the church corporately. Last, the prophetic is not to replace or contradict the Bible, the Word of God. We need to be mindful that a prophetic word is not inerrant or infallible, it needs to be constantly weighed.
Evaluating a word of prophecy involves three elements: revelation, interpretation, and application. Revelation: Is a prophetic word genuinely from the Holy Spirit having a sense of eternity? Interpretation: What does the word mean to us? The correct interpretation is important as the revelation. Application: What do we do with this word? (Acts 11:27-30, 21: 7-15).
Now, how do we handle personal prophecy? First, we receive God’s word with joy. Second, we pray for the correct interpretation. Third, we ask God for the right application. Fourth, submit to leadership of the church for confirmation. Since, the gift of prophecy needs to be discerned or weighed its best not to use the expression, “Thus saith the Lord” as an introduction to the delivery of a word (1 Thes. 5:19-22; 1 Cor. 14: 29; 1 John 4:1-3).
Should you introduce your prophetic message by saying, “Thus says the Lord”? The Old Testament prophets frequently did. The New Testament counterpart is, “The Holy Spirit says” (Acts 21:11). When the prophets used this phrase, they were claiming to speak the precise words of God, not their interpretations or applications of the revelation they had received. “Thus says the Lord” allowed no debate. It meant, “This is exactly what God has said. The matter is settled.” The prophets who used the phrase were not usually speaking words of personal prophecy. They had been given divine authority to speak God’s works over nations.
They had proven character and track records. Most were persecuted, and some became martyrs. In my opinion, we should be quick to copy their passion for God, and slower to use their vocabulary.
When we say “Thus says the Lord” to someone, we have left the person no room to disagree. He or she may feel controlled or manipulated because it is intuitively obvious, even if they can’t express it, that we don’t have the same authority as the prophets who spoke over nations. I am not saying that it is always wrong to use “Thus says the Lord,” just that most of us using it do not have the authority to use it. Even the prophets I know who have the most authority rarely use the phrase.
On the other hand, I know good prophets who disagree with me on this issue. They use the phrase constantly when they prophesy. And I’m not going to let their style of prophesying cause me to lose the blessing of their friendship or ministry.
Jack Deere, The Beginner’s Guide to The Gift of Prophecy (Regal, 2011).