Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Covet to Prophesy"

In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul encourages the saints at Corinth to prioritize the gift of prophecy above the gift of tongues: "desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue . . . no man understandeth him . . . But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification" (I Cor. 12:1-3). The gift of prophecy, in this context, is that described by John in the book of Revelation, where he explains that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Rev. 19:10). God's messengers have always taught that this gift is one we should all be seeking for, and Moses exclaimed, "would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!" (Num. 11:29).

Paul reiterates this impassioned exhortation of Moses, desiring that every saint in Corinth would testify of Christ: "I would that ye all . . . prophesied" (I Cor. 14:5). Then, having invited the saints to testify of Christ, Paul reminds them that the ultimate purpose of seeking for the spirit of prophecy is to warn and prepare their neighbors: "For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" (I Cor. 14:8). I love this metaphor, the notion that our testimonies ought to sound like a trumpet, and it's one that appears throughout the scriptures. Alma cries, "O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!" (Alma 29:1). The Lord commanded Oliver Cowdery that "at all times and in all places, he shall open his mouth and declare my gospel as with the voice of a trump, both day and night. And I will give him strength such as is not known among men" (D&C 24:12; see also 33:2, 36:1, and Isaiah 58:1). Having commanded Oliver Cowdrey to testify with the force of a trumpet, the Lord promises him strength "to go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded" (1 Ne. 3:7). That command and its accompanying promise still applies to missionaries today (D&C 42:6), and David O. McKay reminded us that every member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a missionary.

I love Paul's comparison precisely because there is NOTHING uncertain about the sound of a trumpet, and there should be nothing uncertain about our testimonies as we trumpet them to others. The Jews of Corinth, who Paul preached to, would have been familiar with the commandments given to ancient Israel in Numbers. There God instructs the people that "if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the Lord your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies" (Num. 10:9). Blowing a trumpet in ancient Israel was a call to arms against the enemies of God, and Paul's call to prophesy similarly asks us to raise the voice of warning. When Israel blew their trumpets God promised to give them "strength unto the battle" (Ps. 18:39), and that promise still applies today. If we will open our mouths to testify with a certain sound, God will use our trumpet-like voices to bless those around us by "warn[ing] them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger" (Alma 48:15). Our testimonies of Christ, our clarion calls of hope in the Atonement, may be the means by which someone else receives "strength unto the battle," but only if we--like Paul--"covet to prophesy" (1 Cor. 14:39).