“Despise not prophesyings” (1 Thessalonians 5:20).
Prophecy has a number of meanings in Scripture. It can refer to foretelling some future event, but just as well concern the preaching and teaching of God’s word. It is highly doubtful that Paul had in mind a church continuously trying to predict, forecast and foretell the future or presenting a stream of revelations. Nevertheless, there are times when God does speak to His people through someone, but at all times whatever is spoken must line-up with the written word of God.
The Spirit-revealed word
We find various individuals in the New Testament whom God anointed with a prophetic ministry. “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen” (Acts 13:1) … “And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them” (Acts 15:32). This is an important, and often neglected, part of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the church. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12) … “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). We cannot truly be the church of Christ if we reject and despise any of the ministries of the Holy Spirit.
The spoken word
“Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?” (1 Corinthians 14:6) … “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18). These prophecies are probably not the same as the prophetic utterance of the Old Testament prophets, or the apostle John found in the book of Revelation, instead they were words of encouragement, wisdom and blessing. “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” (1 Timothy 4:14). “That is, preaching; for the apostle is not here speaking of extraordinary gifts. It seems, one means of grace is put for all; and whoever despises any of these, under whatever pretence, will surely (though perhaps gradually and almost insensibly) quench the Spirit” (John Wesley).
The written word
In a very real sense, the entire Bible is a book of prophecy, because it is the revelation of God. “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 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 1:20-21). We understand this to mean that the Spirit of God moved all of the writers of the books of the Bible to take up their pens and write as He dictated.
Despise not the word
To despise any aspect of God’s spoken or written word is the same as denying and rejecting Him. Those who disbelieved and mocked the prophets were guilty of despising God. “How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us? Lo, certainly in vain made he it; the pen of the scribes is in vain. The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the LORD; and what wisdom is in them?” (Jeremiah 8:8-9). The person the Lord uses to prophesy is actually edifying and exhorting the church, “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3), so by rejecting the message the members are hurting themselves and dishonouring God.
Prophecy might not always be in the mouth of some powerful prophet, instead it can be found in the normal teaching and preaching ministry of the church. Whichever way God speaks to us, we must be ready to listen to His voice. We can reject every utterance that does not correspond exactly with God’s written word. Even that which may sound correct must be judged by the plumb line of Scripture. “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge” (1 Corinthians 14:29).