“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” (1 Corinthians 14:1, ESV)
Who doesn’t love a good chase scene? It seems each generation of movie directors ups the previous one with grander and longer and edgier chase scenes than ever before. A good chase scene is ragged and undeterred. There is no quit. Even when you think the hunt is over, it reinvents itself. The pursuit is on.
Paul told us to pursue love, which means to chase down or, taken literally, persecute love. We are to follow love hard, to get after it, to make it a chief aim of life.
According to Paul, one way to pursue love is to desire spiritual gifts, for with them we can love more effectively than before. One great spiritual gift, useful for loving others, is the gift of prophecy, so Paul said we should especially desire it. He said we should earnestly want to prophesy.
But what is the gift of prophecy, and why should we want it? I don’t know many believers who would want to live like the Old Testament prophets, and if I did know them, I’m not sure I would want to. Is Paul saying we must put on our camel skin garments and get out into the wilderness and begin all our sentences with “Thus saith the Lord”? Are we to predict the future, foretelling of events yet to come? Do we get special badges?
He clarified by saying, “The one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who prophesies builds up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:3b, 4b). Now that’s love. To upbuild, encourage, and to console is beautiful.
Upbuilding — The Builder
The word Paul used means to build up another. Builders take raw material, and with the necessary supplies and tools, build something. They might lay a foundation for a home, restore an outdated kitchen, or repair a broken fence. They take things into a better and fuller version. A person with the gift of prophecy can effectively build up the life of another. They know just what to say, and when to say it, to strengthen and fortify another.
People are searching for direction. Often, a mere exhortation at the right time, in the right spirit, by the power of the Spirit, can build a person up into the person God sees they can be. I have enjoyed watching, over the years, many young men receive the life direction they needed through someone else’s gift of prophecy. When the words are spoken, something clicks, the lights go on, and a fresh foundation is laid. Lives are built up through the gift of prophecy.
Encouragement — The Coach
The word Paul used means to spur on another. Coaches take an athlete and work with them, exhorting and encouraging them on to greater things. A good coach knows the right time to speak soft encouragement, the time to offer big praise, and the time to give stern rebuke. The idea of this facet of the gift of prophecy is that a person can be spurred on through the gift. Through a prophecy, believers can receive a little juice to keep running the race, training up toward godliness, or venture out into steps of faith.
People are in need of encouragement. Life is painful and rough. Failures abound, and personal limitations are often either monstrous in our sight, or not seen at all, and both are dangerous. We need tons of words of encouragement to keep running the race, to keep moving. I have never known someone say, “I don’t need any more encouragement. I am completely encouraged and in need of no more.” No, discouragement abounds, and we need those with the gift of prophecy to love others by giving their constant, coach-like encouragements to others.
Consolation — The Physician
The word Paul used means to shore up another. Physicians take a person who is sick or hurt and do what must be done to bring them into fuller health. A doctor will take a broken leg, put it in a cast, and give directions for recovery. A doctor will diagnose an illness and prescribe medication. A doctor will speak the truth to someone who is gravely ill. They will shore up the individual for whatever their health (or lack thereof) brings them.
People are in need of consolation. We don’t need pointless praise or empty comfort, but quite often we need to be shored up with words of support. Someone with a gift of prophecy is enabled by the Spirit to do more than placate, but really and genuinely comfort another. Their words are timely, and they strengthen what remains in a person so they can endure. Their words, like the ancient proverb states, are fitly spoken like apples of gold in settings of silver (Proverbs 25:11).
Earnestly Desire The Gift
The pleasant words of the gift of prophecy are a gift to the body of Christ. “Kind words are like honey-sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24, NLT). Empowered by the Spirit of God, people with this gift are sharp instruments of God’s grace. He has loved humanity through the blood of the Son, and the Son gave the Spirit so that we could tell of his love to humanity.
If you want to build and coach and doctor others in the power of the Spirit, if you want to upbuild and encourage and console others, then desire this gift. Chase down love. Let it be for the care and esteem of others you want to excel in this gift. Don’t lord over anyone, thinking yourself better because you want to speak into their lives. Come alongside them. Care for them. Let your words offer grace, not offense. Get into a relationship with others so that an avenue for this love becomes apparent. Wait for the right opportunity. Then love.
If this is your desire, if it is truly driven by love and not some egomaniacal need for attention and praise from others, then ask God to give you the gift. Plead with him. Earnestly desire it. Paul's personal desire was that everyone in the church would prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:5). Perhaps we should pray and ask for the gift with the belief God feels similarly. Perhaps we should believe he will give this particular gift to those who ask.