Prophesying in proportion to our faith3
In Romans 12:6 Paul says this about the spiritual gift of prophecy: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith.”
Some have argued that the word “faith” (literally, “the faith”) refers to those objective truths embodied in the gospel tradition (as, for example, in Galatians 1:23 and Philippians 1:27). In other words, on this view Paul is referring to the revealed content of Christian truth that is accessible by all believers. Although possible, this would be a rare use of the word “faith.” I think there is a better way of understanding Paul’s language that sheds considerable light on what the gift of prophecy is.
I think Paul is saying that the accuracy of any prophetic utterance will vary in proportion to the intensity of the gift and the faith of the one speaking. In Romans 12:6 Paul seems to be saying that some who prophesy experience deeper faith or trust or confidence that the Holy Spirit has actually revealed something to them. In other words, there will always be greater and lesser degrees of prophetic ability and consequently greater and lesser degrees of prophetic accuracy (which, it seems reasonable to assume, may increase or decrease, depending on the circumstances of the person's life, over time). Thus, the prophet is to speak in proportion to the confidence and assurance he/she has that what is said is truly of God. He is not to speak beyond what God has revealed. He must be careful never to speak on his own authority or from his own resources.
Thus, “if a revelation is made” to someone (1 Cor. 14:30), that person must humbly and carefully assess the degree of assurance or confidence they have that this is truly from God. They should pray, asking that the Spirit provide them with added confirmation. It may even be wise to first process the “word” with others in the body of Christ and invite them to give their insights and analysis as to whether it is consistent with Scripture. Only then, on the assumption that he/she has sufficient “faith” that this purported “revelation” truly came from God and will serve to build up, encourage, and console others (1 Cor. 14:3), should it be spoken.
I realize that for many this is unacceptable. They believe that certainty is required before a word is spoken. They are uncomfortable with the “subjectivity” of the approach I’ve suggested. They virtually demand empirical verification in advance or some sort of scientific precision in knowing without hesitation that God has spoken in precisely the way the prophet claims he has. I would certainly welcome this degree of assurance, if were God were pleased to grant it. And it is comforting to know that we have this sort of rock-solid certainty in the written Word of God, the Scriptures. But as I read Romans 12:6, as well as the instruction about judging, weighing, and analyzing prophetic utterances (1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Thess. 5:19-22), it appears that the spiritual gift of prophecy operates in a different manner. Merely because it is inherently subjective does not make it unfruitful or unbiblical. So let us thank God for this good and edifying gift as we exercise it “in proportion to our faith.”