Question: Can a prophet prophesy at will? |

TBC Staff

Question: Paul wrote that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Corinthians:14:32). Wouldn’t that mean that a prophet can prophesy at will? If so, wouldn’t that substantiate the belief that those who have received this gift can speak in tongues at will?

Response: It is “the spirit 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, Paul makes this statement to let the Corinthian believers know that the Holy Spirit does not force Himself upon anyone. It is the flesh or the devil, not the Holy Spirit, that will cause disorder. No one can say, “But I had to prophesy. I couldn’t resist the Spirit!” Each person is able to obey Paul’s guidelines. One of the clearest indications that much of today’s alleged “exercise of the gifts” is not of God is the disregard for these biblical injunctions, leading to the fleshly, even demonic, manifestations that Paul sought to prevent.

Paul is not saying that a prophet can prophesy any time he so desires. Not Jeremiah, Ezekiel, nor any of the other prophets could do so! 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” (Jeremiah:42:7). Clearly, prophecy comes only by the empowerment and direction of God, and not by the whim of man, as some enthusiasts would have us believe. Nor can the gift of prophecy be taught and learned in a seminar, as John Wimber 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 Peter: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 that he can wield at his discretion. If someone lays hands upon a sick person, prays, and the person is instantly healed, 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 during some so-called revivals) to manifest what they imagine is a gift they possess—and ultimately 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 think that a “prayer language” can be “practiced” any time one wants 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, can only be a “manifestation of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians:12:7) operating “as he will” (v. 11). Beware, then, of a “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 that one can speak in tongues whenever one desires. 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” (Jeremiah:14:14). This indictment stands against many who claim to manifest gifts of the Holy Spirit today.