Question: Paul wrote that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor:14:32). Wouldn’t that mean that a prophet can prophesy at will? And if so, wouldn’t that substantiate the belief that those who have received this gift can speak in tongues at will?
Response: No. It is the “spirits of the prophets,” not the Spirit of God, that is subject to the prophets. Thus a prophet could prevent himself from prophesying but could not initiate genuine prophecy. In stating restrictions upon the manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the church, Paul makes this statement to let the Corinthian believers know that the Holy Spirit does not force Himself upon anyone. Only the flesh or the devil, not the Holy Spirit, will cause disorder. No one can say, “But I had to prophesy or speak in tongues, I couldn’t resist the Spirit.” No, each person is able to obey the guidelines Paul sets forth. One of the clearest indications that so much of today’s alleged “exercise of the gifts” is not of God is the disregard for these biblical injunctions, leading to the very fleshly and/or demonic manifestations which Paul sought to prevent.
Paul is not saying that a prophet is able to prophesy any time he so desires. Not even Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel or any of the other prophets could do so. For example, when Jeremiah desired to prophesy to the people he had to wait upon God: “And it came to pass after ten days, that the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah” (Jer:42:7). Clearly, prophecy comes only by the empowerment and direction of God, not by the whim of man as some of today’s enthusiasts would have us believe. Nor can the gift of prophecy be taught and learned in a seminar as John Wimber has led people to believe for years. Peter declared, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pt 1:21). No one can initiate, mandate or activate the moving of the Holy Spirit!
Nor is there any distinction in this regard among the various charismata. Whatever the “gift of the Spirit,” it is given in specific instances to effect God’s purpose at that time; it does not become a power possessed by an individual which he can wield at his discretion. If someone lays hands upon a sick person, prays, and the person is instantly healed (an experience I have had on a few occasions both for myself and others), that was a manifestation of the “gifts of healing” according to God’s will. The person who prayed was the instrument God used at that time, but he does not now possess the gifts of healing so that he can heal anyone whenever he pleases. To imagine that to be the case is one of the basic errors in the charismatic movement. Consider those who imagine they have “a healing ministry” trying mightily on TV or elsewhere to manifest what they imagine is a gift they possess—and falling into error and bringing reproach upon the Lord as a result.
If the great prophets in the Bible had to wait until God in His own time and way and for His own purpose gave them a word, then it is a delusion for anyone today to imagine that he possesses any gift of the Spirit and can exercise it whenever he so desires—and that includes tongues.
To imagine that a “prayer language” can be “practiced” any time one desires is the great error of what is rightly (because of the obsession with that one gift) called by its critics “the tongues movement.” There is no indication that “tongues” are in a category by themselves, but, like all spiritual gifts, if genuine, they can only be a “manifestation of the Spirit” (1 Cor:12:7) operating “as he will” (v 11). Beware, then, of any “tongue” or “prophecy” or other “gift” that is initiated or possessed by the human spirit!
We must thank God for any healing, miracle or tongue that is a genuine manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Very clearly, however, those are in grievous error who promise a “miracle service” at a particular time in a church or on TV and purport to do “miracles,” or give seminars to teach how to do “signs and wonders,” or claim one can speak in tongues whenever one desires to do so. Whatever purports to be the manifestation of a “gift of the Spirit” and is not initiated by Him, but comes by the will of man, is not of God.
We do well to heed God’s warning through Jeremiah: “The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart” (Jer:14:14). Tragically, this indictment stands against all too many of those who claim to manifest the gifts of the Holy Spirit today.