I’ve been chewing on this one for several months now. I’d like to invite you to process the verse with me.
At a fundamental level, this is the purpose of prophetic gifts: edification, exhortation and comfort, at least how it works under our New Covenant. (Old Covenant prophets were working from a different foundation, of course.)
When I studied the New Testament Greek in school, I learned that the last item in the series is the important one, the item that the language is emphasizing.
And that’s how we’ve handled prophetic gifts most of the time, particularly when we’re training folks to prophesy: “Keep your prophetic words in the realm of edification, exhortation and especially comfort.” Then we hastily add, “Avoid judgment and avoid prophesying relationships at all times.”
But let’s look at these three purposes of the prophetic gifts a little more closely.
“Comfort” Paul uses the Greek word “paramythia,” and one of its key meanings is what we expect. It describes talk for the purpose of “calming and consoling.” And this is how we often teach it in the prophetic.
The other use of “paramythia,” particularly as used in other Greek writings, also includes the idea of “persuading, or of arousing and stimulating,” though we have to get that from Plato, Socrates and Josephus, as this verse is the ONLY place that the Bible uses the word, so we don’t get much help from looking up how it’s used in other passages. Comforting, persuading, arousing, stimulating. (Since this is on social media, I suppose it needs to be said: this has no sexual connotations whatsoever.)
“Exhortation” comes from the word “paraklēsis,” which is closely related to “paraklete,” the word the New Testament uses for the Holy Spirit himself. We usually translate that word as “Comforter,” though in the prophetic, it’s usually in the context of “a calling near, summons,” or “supplication, entreaty,” or “admonition.” In other words, this is an action word, not a warm & fuzzy word. “Come on, let’s go” would be an example of a paraklēsis word.
“Edification” isn’t a word we use outside of church these days, but we’ve figured out that “oikodomē ” talks about the desire and act of building others up.
All of this thinking is happening in the context (both in my own mind, and if I understand right, in the Corinthian church Paul was writing to) of getting away from using Jeremiah and Ezekiel as our models for prophetic ministry. Nowadays, we think in terms of ’Miah and Zeke’s example on one end of the prophetic spectrum, and Precious Moments merchandise for our example on the other end.
My take-away from all this is along those lines. I’m not disrespecting the Old Covenant prophets, nor the Precious Moments business model, but I don’t believe either is an acceptable foundation or model for New Covenant prophetic ministry. And yet both contain at least a hint of the right elements for us.
My conclusion (at least this week) is that New Covenant people are not in the business of fire and brimstone, and that sort of judgment does not belong in our prophetic expressions. In fact, I tend to get up and walk out on those sort of proclamations (which is pretty much metaphorical in the context of social media: I won’t submit myself to that spirit).
The other end of that spectrum, for which I use Precious Moments as a metaphor, strikes me as less harmful to its audience, though it presents an image of the prophetic that is no better.
Those who define prophecy by either example are deceived and badly shortchanged.
Rather, legitimate prophecy does include elements of comforting folks going through a hard time, but rather than a “There, there!” and a pat on the hand, it also includes (in the vocabulary of 1Corinthians 10:13) “a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” It is not at all without sympathy (or empathy), but it most definitely doesn’t stop with that. And it certainly does not get in the way of personal responsibility.
And while legitimate prophecy completely avoids any vocabulary of God smiting or hating folks for what they’ve done (which was not uncommon under the Old Covenant), the concept of “You can do better,” or “Here’s the truth to replace the lie you’ve believed” is very appropriate, and is a solid example of “edification, exhortation and comfort to men.”
Another way of describing that change of focus when calling people higher is this: “Don’t declare the problem. Anybody can do that. The evening news does a pretty good job. That takes no faith. Declare the solution. Declare the Good News. Declare God’s point of view of “a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)