We can be confused by the use of the word “prophecy” – presuming it simply means a prediction of future events. But its’ primary meaning is to speak about the word of God, of God’s view of human behaviour: most of Jeremiah’s messages to the people had been like that. His Lamentations over the fall of Jerusalem, which we started reading today, were all about the present situation those still in the land were in. He starts, “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! …. she took no thought of her future; therefore her fall is terrible; she has no comforter.” [v.1,9] Our world takes “no thought” as to its future! What kind of afflictions await it because of this!
Our thoughts about the word “prophecy” were prompted by Paul’s words in todays’ 14th chapter of 1st Corinthians. Verse 5 is puzzling, we need to see the context of the point Paul is making: “Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater …” Paul does not mean that such are forth-telling future events! He means – to tell the truth about God’s ways and will.
Look down at v.24, 25! Paul states ” if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship Godand declare that God is really among you.” Those points makes the meaning of the word clear.
There was no Bible available among that first generation of Gentile believers, so gifts of the spirit were given. But they had to be properly used – and Paul is writing here – seeking to correct their misuse. He declares – the gift of “prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.” [v.22] It is clear from Acts ch. 2 and the events on the day of Pentecost, that “tongues” were actual languages and were a sign and encouragement to unbelievers to learn about “the mighty works of God.” [v.11] They listened and received the message – a contrast to the experience of Jeremiah.
Our final thought today is the point Paul makes near the end of his chapter, so many churches today are ignoring v.34-35 where Paul states, “women should keep silent in the churches … it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” The chapter ends with Paul’s request to the Corinthians that “all things should be done decently and in order.” That is just as much the need today – but only those who carefully and prayerfully read God’s word will achieve this.