What are the common characteristics of prophets?

Understanding the motivations of a prophet

5 min

Following are some traits commonly observed in those who have the motivational spiritual gift of prophecy. These traits can be used to benefit others, or they can be misused and thereby cause discord in the Body of Christ.

When a believer walks according to the Spirit (see Galatians 5:25), his unique perspective (in this case, prophecy) is demonstrated through traits that reflect the character of Christ. However, when a believer walks in “the flesh,” making choices that are determined by his sinful nature, his unique perspective is demonstrated through undesirable, ungodly traits. (See Galatians 5:16–17.)

Read these examples thoughtfully and prayerfully, and ask God to help you discern if your motivational gift is prophecy. If it is, be encouraged as you learn about the special virtue and wisdom that God has given you with this gift. Be warned of the temptation to misapply these Godly traits by failing to walk in the grace God gives you to use them righteously. (See Hebrews 12:15.)

Need to Express Themselves

Prophets need to express their thoughts and ideas verbally, especially when matters of right and wrong are involved. In the written account of the Gospels, Peter (who clearly had the gift of prophecy) spoke more often than any other disciple. He also became the spokesman for the early Church. (See Acts 2:14, 3:12, 4:8, 11:4.)

Misuse of this trait: Exposes without restoring
A prophet’s primary concern about stopping the spread of evil tends to motivate him to expose a sinner rather than restore him. However, the Bible instructs us as follows: “If any man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). The prophet believes that exposure of sin is the first step of restoration and he should work to complete the process.

Quick Impressions of People

Prophets tend to make quick judgments about what they see and hear. They also tend to express their views before others speak. In the Gospels, Peter spoke first more than any other disciple did. (See Matthew 14:28; 15:15; 16:16, 22; 17:4; 19:27; John 6:68, 13:6.)

Misuse of this trait: Jumps to conclusions
Prophets tend to draw conclusions from a few known facts. Once a hasty conclusion has been made, prophets tend to look for confirming evidence. This action can result in their taking words and actions of the accused out of context in order to prove their points.

Alertness to Dishonesty

Prophets have an amazing ability to sense when someone or something is not what it appears to be. They react strongly to any form of deception or dishonesty. Peter may have sensed deception in Ananias and Sapphira, because he was prompted to question them about it. His condemnation resulted in their deaths. (See Acts 5:3–10.)

Misuse of this trait: Reacts harshly to sinners
When a prophet sees sin, he tends to denounce it so strongly that it can appear to others as “overkill.” After exposing the sin, the prophet tends to expect immediate repentance regardless of whether his rebuke was given in love or was even fully accurate. His motive in magnifying sin is to promote repentance.

Desire for Justice

Prophets tend to cut off those who sin so that justice will be done, others will be warned, and evil will not spread. Peter desired to cut off his offenders, and he asked Jesus how often he would have to forgive them. (See Matthew 18:21.)

Misuse of this trait: Being unforgiving and ending relationships with those who fail
It is difficult for a prophet separate the sin from the sinner. Therefore, he tends to reject them both with equal vigor. Those who hear his harshness interpret his denunciations as angry tirades and proud reactions. Peter’s epistles provide a balance of truth and love.

Open About Personal Faults

Prophets are as open about their own failures as they want others to be about theirs. When Christ appeared to the disciples, Peter fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).

Misuse of this trait: Condemn themselves
The harsh judgments that prophets have for others, they also have for themselves. They tend to be extremely self-critical and feel worthless when they fail. After Peter denied Jesus, the heavenly messenger who proclaimed the Lord’s resurrection knew Peter’s need for extra reassurance of God’s love and said, “Go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there you shall see him, as he said unto you” (Mark 16:7).

Wholehearted Involvement

Once prophets are committed to a cause, they are wholeheartedly involved in it. Within the context of their commitment, they are quick to respond to situations and opportunities. When Peter recognized Jesus walking on the water, he asked Jesus to bid him to come. (See Matthew 14:28.)

Misuse of this trait: Being impetuous
Because of his tendency to make quick decisions, a prophet can be impulsive and can vacillate between extremes. At first Peter refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet; then he asked Jesus to wash his whole body! (See John 13:6–10.)

Loyalty to Truth vs. People

Prophets are loyal to truth even if it means cutting off relationships. When Jesus asked the disciples if they were also going to leave Him, Peter replied that he would stay because Christ had the words of eternal life. (See John 6:67–69.)

Misuse of this trait: Inappropriately speaking out
Whenever prophets see or hear something that is wrong, they feel responsible to speak out against it. It usually does not occur to them to ask, Whose responsibility is this? Do I have all the facts? Would it be best for me to take action at this time? Their primary focus is on the sin that needs to be dealt with—not on whether or not it is their responsibility to deal with it.

Willingness to Suffer for Right

Prophets are eager to embrace suffering when it comes as a result of standing for the truth or doing what is right. When he was beaten for obeying God rather than men, Peter rejoiced that he was counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus. (See Acts 5:29–42.)

Misuse of this trait: Lack tactfulness in rebuke
Prophets tend to be painfully direct when correcting others, regardless of who they are. This bluntness can cause the prophet embarrassment, as when Peter rebuked Jesus. (See Mark 8:31–33.)

Persuasive in Defining Truth

Prophets have a special ability to be articulate in defining what is right and what is wrong. Great conviction was brought to thousands on the Day of Pentecost when Peter pointed out, “Ye have taken [Jesus], and by wicked hands have crucified and slain [Him]” (Acts 2:23).

Misuse of this trait: Dwell on the negative
Prophets tend to divide everything into two classes: right or wrong. Once they label a person or activity as evil or wrong, that judgment tends to be fixed in their minds, and they often feel compelled to persuade others to agree with them.

Are You a Prophet?

Do you recognize any of these positive characteristics or their misapplication as ones that you have demonstrated? Do the motivations of a prophet guide your decisions and actions? If so, rejoice, because God has given you a unique responsibility in the Body of Christ!

If these characteristics, and their misuses, do not reflect your motivations, we encourage you to read and study similar information about each of the other six spiritual motivational gifts (serving, teaching, exhorting, giving, organizing, and mercy). Ask the Lord to reveal your spiritual gift to you. God will show you how He has gifted you. Be diligent!

As each of us identifies his or her motivational gift, he or she will be better equipped to achieve maximum fruitfulness with minimum weariness. As we exercise our gifts, we experience personal fulfillment and a deep sense of joy.

Russell Kelfer, in his excellent book titled Discovering Your Spiritual Gift, gives us an excellent word picture related to the motivational spiritual gifts assigned by God: “This isn’t a gift for you to put on the mantle like a trophy to admire. It is like a certain kind of glove that you put on that allows your hands to do the work of the ministry they were called to do. It is like a certain kind of spiritual shoes you wear to take you where you need to go” (Kelfer, page 10). Let’s put on those custom-designed gloves and shoes and get to work!

Explore more about this topic in Understanding Spiritual Gifts

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