IX. TO PROPHESY IN FUNCTION
BEING HIGHER THAN TO BE A KING
OR TO BE A PRIEST
To prophesy in function is higher than being a king or a priest. In both the Old and New Testaments, only three kinds of ministries were ordained by God—the ministries of the prophets, the priests, and the kings. In Genesis 20:7 Abraham was called a prophet. At that time among God’s people, there were no kings and no official priests. Abel, Noah, and even Abraham functioned as priests by offering sacrifices (Gen. 4:4; 8:20; 12:7, 8), but the office of the priest was not ordained until Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt to Mount Sinai (Exo. 19:6). The office of the king was not ordained until Saul’s time (1 Sam. 8). In the Old Testament, God first recognized the function of the prophet, then the function of the priest, and later the function of the king.
In the New Testament, all of the believers are regenerated to be priests and kings (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6). We are regenerated into a royal family, and as the King’s children, we also are kings. As believers we all are born priests and kings, but to be a prophet depends upon our seeking. First Corinthians 14:1 says, "Pursue love, and desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy." If you do not desire earnestly and seek to prophesy, you cannot be a prophet. All those who desire to prophesy are like the Nazarites in the Old Testament (Num. 6:1-21), who voluntarily separated themselves unto the Lord for the priestly service.
Among the three functions of the prophet, the priest, and the king, the function of the prophet is the highest. The reason for this is that all three of these functions depend upon God’s word. The kings in the Old Testament time could not receive God’s word directly. The priests could receive God’s word, but not directly. They received God’s word indirectly through the breastplate with the Urim and the Thummim (Exo. 28:30). But the prophets, even in the Old Testament time, received God’s word directly. For this reason, the prophets could reprove, instruct, and teach the kings (2 Sam. 12:1-14), and they could also teach the priests (Hag. 2:10-19; Mal. 1:6—2:9). Because they can receive and secure the word of God directly, the prophets have the highest function.
In the Old Testament, Jeremiah and Zechariah were priests (Jer. 1:1; Neh. 12:1, 16) who eventually became prophets. As prophets, they received God’s word directly. One day as Jeremiah spoke with his mother, God used him to speak His word (Jer. 15:10-11). At first, there was a conversation between two parties, Jeremiah and his mother. Eventually, a third party, Jehovah, came into the conversation. The third party, Jehovah, used the mouth of the first party, Jeremiah, to speak His word. This shows that the word of God came to the prophet Jeremiah directly.
We all were born to be priests and kings, but we should not forget that another function, the function of the prophet, is waiting for us. In order to participate in this function, we must seek it. We did not receive this function by birth; therefore, to be a prophet is not our birthright. We must gain this function by our seeking. In 1 Corinthians 14:1, the word desire is a strong word. We must have a desire to speak for God. Of the three functions of the prophet, the priest, and the king, the most useful function for the building up of the church is that of the prophet. As priests, we certainly can build up the church. But 1 Corinthians 14 tells us that the most useful function for building up the church as the Body of Christ is prophesying (vv. 3-5).
According to the New Testament, there are three kinds of prophets: the prophets mentioned in Ephesians 2 and 4, the prophets mentioned in Acts 21, and the prophets mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14. Ephesians 2:20 says, "Being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets." Ephesians 4:11-12 says, "And He Himself gave some as apostles and some as prophets and some as evangelists and some as shepherds and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints unto the work of the ministry, unto the building up of the Body of Christ." The prophets mentioned in these verses are those particularly ordained by God. The second kind of prophet is one who can predict, like Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:8-9). The third kind of prophet is one who speaks for God and speaks forth God in the meetings of the church for the church’s building up (1 Cor. 14:3-5).
The first kind of prophet has been ordained by God. Not all of the believers are this first kind of prophet. In speaking of this first kind of prophet, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:29, "Are all prophets?" Not all of the believers are prophets particularly ordained by God. However, all of the believers can be the third kind of prophet (1 Cor. 14:1, 5, 31). First Corinthians 14:31 says, "You can all prophesy one by one." Chapter twelve indicates that not all believers are prophets, but chapter fourteen indicates that all believers can be prophets. This apparent contradiction is solved by the realization that there are different kinds of prophets.
Prophesying is not mainly to predict. Wuest, in his New Testament translation, renders the word prophesies as "imparts divine revelations to others" (1 Cor. 14:4b). To prophesy is to impart divine revelations to others. This function is higher than the function of a king or a priest. A prophet can receive and can secure the word of God directly and then speak this word for the building up of the church as the organic Body of Christ.
(The Practice of the Church Life according to the God-ordained Way, Chapter 4, by Witness Lee)