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In earlier posts, we built a foundation for learning about and living our spiritual gifts. We now start looking at some of these gifts more closely.

We begin with the gifts of prophesying, teaching, and encouraging.

I have grouped these three as examples of those gifts that are predominantly verbal. This is one of the two general categories in 1 Peter 4:10-11 that we discussed in “7 Characteristics of Spiritual Gifts.” 

I say “predominantly verbal,” recognizing that such gifts are not exclusively verbal as they might be accompanied with actions that enhance the gifting. 

Let’s begin by examining what we mean by prophesying.


Often, prophesying is viewed as foretelling or predicting the future. This can be true as we see in Micah 5:2, which identified the specific location of the birth of the promised Messiah 700 years before that event. 

However, prophesying is much more than prediction. It is not only foretelling but also forth-telling. Prophets not only predict, they also warn, guide, and interpret from God’s point of view.

In the context of the New Testament, prophecy might be defined as “telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind” (New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 707).

There is true and false prophesying. 

I remember a situation where a man got up in front of a group and began by saying, “This is what God is saying to you …”  

Immediately, I went into skeptic mode and wondered: “Who is this guy?”

How do I know it is God speaking, not just this guy ‘blowing smoke’—or worse?  This experience led me to write, “Is That You God?

Discerning false from true prophecy is not a new concern. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22:  

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;

do not treat prophecies with contempt.

Test everything.

Hold on to the good.

Avoid every kind of evil.

Prophecy needs to be tested to determine whether it is of God or not (e.g., Deuteronomy 18:14-22; 1 Corinthians 14:29; 2 Peter 2:1-3). Prophecy is not to be accepted passively. It needs to be tested (dokimaz┼Ź), which means critical examination to determine whether it is genuine or not.

True prophesying is empowered by the Spirit of God only. 


What is teaching? 

Perhaps one of the best illustrations of teaching is in Nehemiah 8. A contingent of Israelites has returned from Babylonian captivity to find Jerusalem in ruins. They have a heart for God and gather to listen to Ezra and others read Scripture publically.

Here is Nehemiah 8:8:

They read from the Book of the Law of God, 

making it clear and 

giving the meaning 

so that the people could understand what was being read.

There are four parts to this text, which provide insight into the gift and function of teaching. 

First, “they read from the Book of the Law of God.” Here, “read” translates the Hebrew word qara, which describes intentionally encountering the Law of God. In Genesis 18:2, the same word is used for the action of Abraham “hurrying from the entrance of his tent to meet” the three men (Genesis 18:1-15). Thus teaching involves the activity of encountering Holy Scripture with intent, eagerness, and expectancy

Second, “making it clear”—parash, involves making Scripture distinct or clearly seen. 

As an illustration, imagine a skilled surgeon teaching students. He describes the body of the patient, then carefully opens the body cavity so the students can see distinctly and clearly the inner workings of the body. 

Third, the teacher “gives the meaning”—sekel. The surgeon continues by explaining the significance of what the students see.

Fourth, “so that the people could understand what was being read.” The desired result is that the students grasp or discern what the text of Scripture means and how it impacts their lives.

The function and goal of teaching are that others will understand what God is saying and how to live.


The Greek word translated “encouraging” is parakale┼Ź, which means “ to call out beside.” It is also rendered exhort, urge, appeal to, entreat, comfort, and plead.

Picture a coach “calling out beside” a training athlete. At one point, the coach encourages the athlete, correcting then pleading, and later comforting or consoling. Throughout, the goal is to get the athlete to practice what he or she knows and perform better.

The gift of encouraging calls others to realize their true potential, living what they have learned and know is right and good.

Summing up

These three giftings are primarily verbal. Working together:

  • prophesying predicts, warns, guides, and interprets a particular situation from God’s point of view;
  • teaching leads people to understand what God is saying and how to live; and
  • encouraging calls those people to live out what they know God wants for them. 

Click here to let me know your comments and questions. 

In the next post, we will focus on a few non-verbal gifts.

FORWARD TO the next post in this series

BACK TO Some new horizons for understanding spiritual gifts

Image credit: John B. MacDonald © 2022

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