“He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to EDIFICATION, and EXHORTATION, and COMFORT” (1 Corinthians 14:3 KJV).
There is entirely too much ignorance concerning prophesy. Most think of it either exclusively or primarily to be about foretelling, when in fact, it speaks of much more than that. The word “prophesieth” means “to foretell events, divine, speak under inspiration” (Strong’s, G4395). No doubt, the foretelling component of its purpose leads to edification, exhortation, and comfort, but so does divining things and speaking inspirationally. To get at the divine purpose of something and then to reveal that something with inspiration and unction is therefore also a component of true prophesy.
The most common usage of the word prophesy in the Hebrew Scriptures is (Strong’s H5012): to “speak (or sing) by inspiration (in prediction or simple discourse).” The verb form of prophesy—according to Skip Moen (and I agree)—is derived from a root meaning “bubble up, pour forth, flow.” This accords well with the metaphorical usage of water for God’s Spirit, and the experience of those who have prophesied while filled with the Holy Spirit. Because a prophet speaks for God, his message, of necessity, proclaims those things in and out of time, things present and things future. That which has unction has eternal verities and therefore speaks for all time at all times. Now concerning the specific address to men for their edification, exhortation, and comfort.
Edification (G3619): “Architecture, structure, confirmation.” Though these are the words used to define edification, they are not to be taken literally, but figuratively. Strong did indeed write that, and went to various roots to explain that, but for the sake of brevity, I did not cite every root and/or nuance. Sufficient to say, the architecture of our life, the strength of our structure, and the confirmation of our person is the point of this definition. A true prophet affirms and confirms the person and the entity (the church), and by so doing, strengthens the entire building to which we are all fitted.
Exhortation (G3874): “To call near, invite, imploration, solace:—comfort, consolation, exhortation, entreaty.” Exhortation, according to the Cambridge English Dictionary (online) is “to strongly encourage or try to persuade someone to do something.” Combining the two definitions, we see both persuasion (of the coercive and gentle types) and consolation being administered. A true prophet will strongly and gently correct wrong, yes, but will also invite people to draw near to God and His comfort.
Comfort (G3889): “To relate near, encourage, consolation:—comfort.” God is defined in Scripture as “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3 NAS), and indeed, there is no real solace without Him. Even in judgment, He remembers mercy. God never ceases to be who He claims to be by pronouncement: “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7 NAS). A true prophet, though perhaps commissioned to deliver a hard word, nonetheless, must also leave room for forgiveness, mercy, and comfort—for God surely does!
Finally, the overarching purpose of prophesy is to substantiate the fact that God is both real and present. And especially when corporate prophesy is made (Remember, He promised to be where two or more are gathered in His name). “If all prophesy, and an unbeliever or ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).