THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PROPHESYING IN THE BIBLE
Now we come to the highest point of the work of the New Testament priests of the gospel—prophesying for the building up of the church. According to the Bible, this point is very high and very important. For two thousand years, the church of the Lord on the earth has nearly forsaken this matter. According to the meaning in the original language, to prophesy is to speak for God and to speak forth God’s word. Therefore, in the Bible those who speak for God are called prophets. These are not the same as those known commonly as seers or foretellers. A foreteller mainly refers to one who has foresight and is able to make predictions. However, this is not the original meaning of the word prophet in the Bible. Prophet refers to one who speaks for God and speaks forth God. Of course, what the prophets speak may contain predictions, but most of what they speak are not predictions; rather, they simply speak God’s word to God’s people. Among the sixty-six chapters of Isaiah in the Old Testament, there are elements of prediction, but this book is not mainly predictions. Most of its contents are the prophet’s speaking for God to meet the needs of God’s people. As the New Testament priests of the gospel, we first work on sinners to save them back to God that they may be regenerated, and then we nourish and care for them that they may grow in life. Eventually we perfect them through teaching that they may also preach the gospel, nourish others, and teach others. At this stage, they have the experience of life and the edification in truth, and they are those who are in constant fellowship with the Lord and who always receive revelation from the Lord. Spontaneously, when the situation demands, they will be able to speak for the Lord. This is the meaning of prophesying.
PROPHESYING TO BUILD UP THE CHURCH BEING THE CONSUMMATION OF THE MINISTRY OF THE PRIESTS OF THE GOSPEL
In the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 14 is a chapter that especially speaks concerning prophesying. Because prophesying is the excelling gift, this chapter of forty verses begins with this word: “Pursue love, and desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” (v. 1). Verse 12 says, “Since you are zealous of spirits, seek that you may excel for the building up of the church.” The word excel in Greek denotes to become full, to abound, to overflow, hence to excel. According to the context of this verse, the word here does not denote to abound or to increase, but to excel and be extraordinary. The apostle Paul clearly indicates here that speaking in tongues is inferior to prophesying. Speaking in tongues edifies the speaker himself, whereas prophesying builds up the church (vv. 4-5). We should pursue the Lord to such an extent that we can prophesy, speaking for the Lord, speaking forth the Lord, and speaking the Lord into others, that we may minister Christ for the building up of the church. Therefore, prophesying excels and is the high peak of one’s spiritual pursuit.
It is not easy for us to attain to this excelling gift. Nevertheless, Paul says, “For you can all prophesy one by one that all may learn and all may be encouraged” (v. 31). In verse 3 he also says, “But he who prophesies speaks building up and encouragement and consolation to men.” Moreover, in verse 24 he says that prophesying causes people to be examined and convicted. These verses all describe how our prophesying is to speak forth God and His heart’s desire toward man that others may be edified and the church, as the organic Body of Christ, may be built up. By this it is obvious that prophesying excels. Even though it is somewhat difficult, we may all attain to it, but for two thousand years the matter of prophesying has been ignored by the church because of the difficulty in practicing it. As a result, today in Christianity we cannot see the meeting as described in 1 Corinthians 14.
PROPHESYING TO BUILD UP THE CHURCH BEING THE GOAL OF THE MINISTRY OF THE PRIESTS OF THE GOSPEL
First Corinthians 14 shows us what a proper meeting of the church is. When the whole church is gathered together, each one can speak something; one speaks a hymn, another speaks a teaching, and still another speaks a revelation. Hence, this is mutual speaking with everyone speaking. According to our practice, this is not easy to work out, but it can be done. In Christianity it is easy to have a meeting with one man speaking and all the rest listening, but this is not according to God’s heart’s desire. In order that every believer may prophesy, we should set up meetings with about fifty attendants each in a number of places so that all the brothers and sisters may have equal opportunity to speak for the Lord and everyone can also receive some training. Again I say, the way the Bible shows us is that each one of us should go to preach the gospel that others may be regenerated, made alive, and then be nourished, taught, and perfected to know the truth and to have the experience of life. Gradually they also will be able to testify and prophesy for the Lord, ministering Christ to others that the church may be built up organically.
Thus, we see that prophesying to build up the church is the consummation, as well as the goal, of the ministry of the New Testament priests of the gospel. If only we had the willingness to practice, I believe we all could do it. Each time when we meet, we practice to speak with everyone speaking, and the more we speak, the more we are able to speak. The word is rich among us and even in each of us, but it has been buried in the past. By this word I am digging it out again. I wish that we would earnestly pursue toward this goal. I truly regard this matter highly, just as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 14. Therefore, I also encourage us all to earnestly desire prophesying and even that we all can prophesy. In this way the function of every member can be manifested, and the riches of the Body of Christ can be released from every member. Eventually, the Body of Christ will be built up for the accomplishment of God’s New Testament economy.
(The Ministry of the New Testament Priests of the Gospel, Chapter 4, by Witness Lee)