Holding to Truth

holding to truth in love for the building up of the Body of Christ

How to Practice Prophesying that Builds the Church

As a believer in Christ, have you every wondered how Christ will build His church as He promised in Matthew 16:18? The Apostle Paul gave us a practical answer in 1 Corinthians 14. He does it by our prophesying!

How to practice prophesying that builds the church

In 1 Corinthians 14:4 Paul said,

“He who prophesies builds up the church”

But what does Paul mean by prophesying in 1 Corinthians 14?

If you’re like most people, prophesying probably makes you think of someone foretelling the future. But in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul never mentions foretelling the future.

Instead, he speaks of “building up, encouragement, and consolation” (v. 3) and  “prophesy one by one that all may learn and all may be encouraged” (v. 31).

Let’s consider what this church-building prophesying is that Paul was recommending and how we can practice it today.

The meaning of prophesying in 1 Corinthians 14

Prophesying in the context of 1 Corinthians 14 means “to speak for the Lord and speak forth the Lord, to minister Christ to people” in the meetings of the church (v. 19).

Footnote 3 on 1 Corinthians 14:1 in the Recovery Version says,

Since to prophesy is to speak for the Lord and speak forth the Lord, that is, to minister Christ to people, which is the main element in the church meeting, prophesying requires the divine life to fill it as its content. Love is the most excellent way to experience the divine life and make it the content of the gift of prophecy for the building up of the church. Hence, we must pursue love and desire earnestly this greater gift.”

The kind of prophesying that “ministers Christ to people” is not a miraculous speaking. Neither is it a mere reciting of Bible knowledge. Instead, prophesying is kind of speaking that requires “the divine life to fill it as its content.” It requires that we love the Lord in order to enjoy and experience Him as the divine life in our daily living (John 14:23).

We need to live a prophesying life by loving the Lord

When you really love someone you can’t help but speak concerning them. This should be our daily experience with the Lord.

This was the experience of the God-seeking psalmist in Psalm 45 (a song of love). The psalmist begins:

My heart overflows with a good matter; / I speak what I have composed concerning the King. / My tongue is the pen of a ready writer. You are fairer than the sons of men; / Grace is poured upon Your lips; / Therefore God has blessed You forever (Psa. 45:1-2)

This psalm is a praise to Christ the King and should become our personal experience concerning Him. That is, our love for Christ should cause us to overflow in speaking well concerning Him.

Then the more we love Him, the more we want to speak of Him. When we love the Lord Jesus, we are spontaneously filled with Him and we cannot help but overflow with speaking concerning His preciousness.  This is both the essence and impact of real prophesying.

It is in this way that we make the divine life “the content of the gift of prophecy for the building up of the church.” Filled with the rich content of Christ, we speak Christ forth in church meetings according to what we have seen and enjoyed of Him.

How can we practice prophesying that builds up the church?

First, we need to see the three constituting elements of prophesying:

1. The knowledge of the Word of God—2 Tim. 2:15; 3:15-17.
2. The instant inspiration of the Holy Spirit—2 Cor. 3:6.
3. A vision concerning God’s interest and plan, or economy—Eph 1:17-18; 3:9.

Second, we need to learn and be perfected to speak with these three constituting elements:

1. Get equipped with the knowledge of the Word of God, by getting into God’s word daily–2 Tim. 3:14-17

A living knowledge of God’s word comes from our personal contact with Christ in God’s word  through prayer. In 1 Timothy 4:6 Paul charged his young co-worker Timothy,

If you lay these things before the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, being nourished with the words of the faith and of the good teaching which you have closely followed.

Pray God’s word for nourishment

First, we need to build up a healthy touch with God’s Word each day, not just for mental knowledge but primarily for spiritual nourishment (1 Tim. 4:6). (Like, the way you really know a certain kind of food is not just by studying it, but by eating it.)

Start each new day by having a time with the Lord--calling on His name, praying to Him, and prayerfully reading or pray-reading God’s word.  We need to find a portion of God’s word and eat it (Jer. 15:16). We can “eat our way through the Bible,” feeding on two or three verses at a time.

Study the Bible for deeper understanding

Later in the day, it is also necessary to study the Word with proper study helps. I have found the Recovery Version with the Life-study of the Bible to be an incredible resource for entering into this deeper study.

Read through the Bible sequentially for a broader view

Consecutive Bible reading, a little each day, is also an excellent practice that has been a great benefit to me in getting into the Word. I would encourage you to do the same.

You can spend 10-15 minutes to read the New Testament in the morning and another 10-15 minutes to the Old Testament in the evening. I’ve found that reading for a set time is more effective than trying to read a certain number of chapters or pages which may cause you to rush and lose the taste for your reading. Focus on spending a consistent amount of time with the Lord in the Word each day.

Try to write down your inspiration or enlightenment each day

Then write down something from your enjoyment of the Word each day. I prepared a place on my daily journal where I try to record my daily inspirations from the Word. I like putting it on a Google Sheet because I can access it wherever I am. A notebook could also work for this.

2. Be ready to receive inspiration

We need to collect our inspirations each week, praying much over what the Lord has touched us with. For this purpose, it is very helpful to pick up a practice of musing over the Word so the spiritual life and light from the Word has an opportunity to saturate our soul.

However, when we have the opportunity to prophesy, we should not merely read something we have written. Instead, we should be open to the Lord to receive fresh inspiration from Him.

We can see such a pattern in the speaking of Mary and Elizabeth in Luke 1:39-55. They not only had the knowledge of God’s word but the inward inspiration of the Spirit to speak for Him.

From my experience, when I am saturated with God’s word through fellowship with Him, the Lord will often inspire me to speak words beyond what I had originally prepared to speak. For this, we need to exercise the spirit of faith (2 Cor. 4:13)–to believe and speak with our spirit, fully open to His speaking Spirit within us.

3.  Ask the Lord to show you how what you have received applies to His interest and plan or economy.

Whenever we prophesy, speaking for the Lord, we should have a timely application. Giving an appropriate application depends on our vision of God’s interest and plan. It also requires us to realize the environment in which we’re living, including the condition of the believers,  the church and the world around us.

This was exactly how both the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles spoke forth God’s word to God’s people. They were not just expounding doctrines, they were meeting the timely need of God’s people according to His purpose.

Of course, to prophesy with such a vision requires our growing up into Christ and some exercise of our heart before the Lord in prayer.

Practice to prophesy in your daily life

Don’t consider the practice of prophesying as merely giving a speech, or delivering a sermon. In such a case, Bible knowledge, eloquence and a charismatic personality would be adequate. Also many without such talents would be disqualified.

But remember the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:31,

For you can all prophesy one by one that all may learn and all may be encouraged.

This God-ordained, Holy Spirit-initiated, practice of the early church was not just for the gifted but for all the believers. We’re all members of Christ’s Body so we all need to learn to function within our measure.

So what should we do?  Desire earnestly this greater gift of prophesying (v. 1).

When we see that our prophesying is the way for us to cooperate with Christ to build His church (Matt. 16:18), we will desire earnestly to prophesy and give ourselves to practice it.

Grasp every opportunity to speak for the Lord. Speak to your loved ones, fellow believers, or gospel friends. If there are no people to speak to, practice speaking to God’s creation (Mark 16:15).

Above all, live a prophesying life by loving the Lord and speaking out your love for Him in your daily life. This will make the Lord happy and will fill your Christian life with freshness.

Lord Jesus, we love You. Thank you for showing us how we can cooperate with you to fulfill Your greatest prophecy to build Your church. Grant us the earnest desire and deliberate practice to build up Your church by prophesying. Bring us into a prophesying life that fills us with joy, builds Your church, and satisfies Your hearts desire.

If you enjoyed this post, please take a moment to share what touched you in a comment…or stimulate a conversation with a question.

References and Further Reading:

The post was inspired by my enjoyment of message 14 of the Crystallization-study of Ezekiel (2). You can read the outline of the message here.

For a further appreciation of The Practice of Prophesying according to the pattern in 1 Corinthians 14, I would recommend reading a short book by that title  as well as chapters 4-9 of The Practice of the Church Life according to the God-ordained Way, both by Witness Lee. You can read them for free at ministrybooks.org.

About Tom Smith

Hi. My name is Tom Smith. I'm the writer behind Holding to Truth in Love, and I love the Lord Jesus and His life-giving Word. Please feel free to send me an e-mail through the contact page if you have any questions. I hope you'd take a moment to subscribe to the Holding to Truth blog. Then you'll be sure not to miss a post. Thanks!

4 Replies

  1. Joseph

    Thank you very much Tom. I believe that You speak for the Lord and speak forth the Lord. I have learned a lot more through your prophesying. It is not easy for us to prophesying the Lord Word as you pointed out that we need to live a prophesying life – “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:27

    1. Tom Smith

      Joseph, Glad you were helped by the post, “How to Practice Prophesying that Builds the Church.” It is really crucial to see that prophesying in the New Testament sense is a matter of ministering Christ for the building up of the church, the Body of Christ. This vision constrains us to live a prophesying life by loving the Lord and His living Word. In this way prophesying is not a kind of performance or miraculous display, but the overflow of daily feeding on Christ in His Word. The adequate practice of such a vision does require that the believers see the building up of the church, Christ’s Body, is by the function of every member of the Body not only some specially gifted ones (Eph. 4:15-16; 1 Cor. 14:26, 31). Thanks for your comment.

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