Speaking Prophetically? Read the Warning Label!

by Rick Campanelli

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…. but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Cor. 13.1-4

"I'm no prophet," we might say to ourselves when we read these famous verses. But if a prophet is one who believes he is called to speak a truth God has shown him to others, then if we scan the web -- or maybe listen to ourselves -- we'll see that speaking prophetically isn't all that uncommon these days. In these fraught times many feel compelled to speak what they understand to be God's truth to a hurting world. We speak it more and more in posts, blast emails and social media to wider audiences, often to people we've never met.

Powerful, isn't it! But have we read the warning label?

We read at the end of 1 Cor. 12 that Paul told the Corinthian church they should earnestly desire the "higher" gifts including prophecy, teaching and even performing miracles, so they could be used for building up the body of Christ. But he advises them that there is "a more excellent way," and 1 Cor. 13 starts out with an explicit warning: as precious as these gifts are, if we are not using them in love, we will completely waste them.

It doesn't matter whether we sincerely believe our message is right, prophetic, discerning or wise, or if we are willing to give up everything, even our lives, to make our point (1 Cor. 13.3). It doesn't matter if our passion is to purify the church or redeem the world. Paul warns that if I do not have love for those to whom I am speaking, it is all just wasted and worthless. I am just "a noisy gong" and "I am nothing." Whatever I hoped to accomplish – whether repentance, redemption or righteousness -- "I gain nothing."

The Lord gave us these gifts, as he gave Himself, out of love for us "while we were dead in our sins," Eph. 2.5. So if we try to use them without love – even in a righteous cause -- we waste the gifts and defame the Gift-giver.

This isn't to say the message we have isn’t right, the need tremendous, or the injustice grave. It really may be that we have a calling and moral responsibility to speak or act on these matters. But without love we will be like an ambulance driver with siren blaring who runs over the injured patient. If that is how we are helping, better not to go at all. Too bad: the patient may really have needed our help and, with love, we may have been just the one who could have provided it.

These days, before speaking, wouldn’t we all be better off if we re-read Paul’s warning label? Do I really love whomever I am speaking to? If not, best to ask the Giver of all good gifts to forgive me, and to give me that love.