If prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;
The first spiritual gift in this list is prophecy. In 1 Corinthians 12:10 this gift is linked to other sign gifts and was considered both supernatural and revelatory in nature. In Romans (and remember, Romans was written 4 years later than 1 Corinthians) it is connected to serving and speaking gifts.
So, there are, it seems, both revelatory and non-revelatory aspects to prophecy. However, MacArthur accurately notes the following: “Some interpreters believe this was a special revelatory gift that belonged only to the apostles and, like the sign gifts, ceased after those men died,” (Mac. Commentary p. 169).
He comments further, “The gift of prophecy does not pertain to the content but rather to the means of proclamation. In our day it is active enablement to proclaim God’s Word already written in Scripture. Paul gives no distinction to this gift among the other six [listed in this passage], which are clearly ongoing gifts in the church, thus not limiting it to revelation” [that is, the uncovering of new truth].
Prophecy (Propheteia) literally means to speak forth. The term simply means to put forth the Word of God, either by preaching or teaching or exhortation. One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation, (1 Cor. 14:3). Further, Peter says in 1 Peter 4:11: Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God…so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever.”
William Barclay, writing his commentary on Romans, observed the following: “There is the gift of prophecy. It is only rarely that prophecy in the New Testament has to do with foretelling the future; it usually has to do with forthtelling the word of God. The prophet is the man who can announce the Christian message with the authority of one who knows. To announce Christ to others a man must first know Him himself. “What this parish needs,” said Carlyle’s father, “is a man who knows Christ other than at second-hand.”
Barnes adds this: “This word [Prophecy] properly means to predict future events, but it also means to declare the divine will; to interpret the purposes of God; or to make known in any way the truth of God, which is designed to influence people. Its first meaning is to predict or foretell future events; but as those who did this were messengers of God, and as they commonly connected with such predictions, instructions, and exhortations in regard to the sins, and dangers, and duties of people, the word came to denote any who warned, or threatened, or in any way communicated the will of God; and even those who uttered devotional sentiments or praise. The name in the New Testament is commonly connected with teachers; Acts 13:1, “There were in the church at Antioch certain prophets, and teachers, as Barnabas, etc.;” Acts 15:32, “and Judas and Silas, being prophets themselves, etc.;” Acts 21:10, “a certain prophet named Agabus.” In 1 Corinthians 12:28-29, prophets are mentioned as a class of teachers immediately after apostles, “And God hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets; thirdly teachers, etc.” (Barnes Notes on the Bible)
J. Vernon McGee is quoted as teaching this: “Prophecy here does not refer to prediction but to any message from God. Notice that prophecy is to be done in ‘proportion’ (this is a mathematical term) to God’s provision of the faith and the power to match the gift,” (Romans Commentary chapt. 9-16).
The gift of prophecy is to be used as God’s public spokesman, to teach, exhort, counsel, and minister the oracles of God primarily to God’s people. Mac says we are to “instruct, admonish, warn, rebuke, correct, challenge, comfort, and encourage.” (Mac p. 170)
To exercise this gift successfully the man so entrusted must enjoy an intimate relationship with the Lord and His Spirit as well as His Holy Word. Paul’s words carried such weight because he was living what he was preaching. Many times the Lord will let the teacher experience what he is to teach. Hence, his message will be all the more powerful!
John Calvin believed that prophesying was not first foretelling, but rather forth-telling Scripture by way of interpreting Scripture, so that a prophet is an interpreter of God’s will (Calvin’s Commentaries, Romans).
The book of Acts, which documents a time not only of growth but of transition for the church, has prophets functioning in both revelatory and non-revelatory aspects. Agabus, a prophet from Jerusalem and part of a larger prophetic group, predicted a famine which would plague Judea during the reign of Claudius (Acts 11:27-28); in contrast, Judas and Silas were also prophets but gave no predictions or revelations. They rather encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message (Acts 15:32).
Realize as noted in our last study that the church was transitioning away from the sign gifts as the New Testament letters were being written and eventually the Scriptures completed. The Holy Scriptures are God’s complete revelation of Himself to man. No new revelations are needed. In fact there is a stern warning in the book of Revelation against either adding to or taking away from completed Biblical canon.
Since the Greek includes the definite article, as Mac notes, according to the proportion of his faith could refer to the faith, that is, the full gospel message, so that the prophet would be careful to preach in accordance with the gospel revealed through the apostles- the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Mac 171; Jude 3). Or it could be talking about the believer’s own subjective but experiential understanding of what God is saying to us through His Word according to the individual proportion of…faith that God has sovereignly assigned to him for the operation of his gift, (Mac).
“Whether it relates to revelation, prediction, declaration, instruction, encouragement, or anything else, all prophecy was always to proclaim the Word of God and exalt the Son of God, because the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, (Rev. 19:10). Paul’s specific charge to Timothy applies to all proclaimers of God’s Word, including prophets: Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction,” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Next time, by God’s grace, we’ll look at other gifts in the Romans list. Until then, pray over your gift to find the most effective way in which the Lord wants you to exercise it…your servant, mike.