Does prophecy still edify the church today? Does it still serve a purpose?
The simple answer to both questions is yes. However, we need to be clear about what is meant by “prophecy.” There are those who presume to tell individuals what will happen to them, or even what will happen in the world beyond what is revealed in Scripture. This is mere presumption and cannot be accepted as a work of God.
In Scripture, the Biblical prophets did tell of future events. This was a special grace given to them to validate that their words were authorized by God. (Deut. 18:22) Even in this case, the Scripture was superior to the word of a prophet. (Deut. 13:1-3) This need for verification is now passed for the simple reason that Scripture has been completed and cannot be added to. (Deut. 12:32; Prov. 30:6; Col. 1:25; Rev. 22:18) Scripture now validates itself. (See 2 Pet. 1:20 with 2 Tim. 3:16, 17.)
Three-Fold Effect of Prophecy
1 Corinthians 14:3 reads, “the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.”
Here we have a three-fold effect of New Testament prophecy that is fully applicable today. Each element is important for the needs of God’s people.
Prophecy is distinct from teaching. Teaching is the communication of information in a structured and orderly way so that the hearer learns the subject. Prophecy certainly contains an element of good teaching but goes beyond the explanation to include relevant application. Let us briefly examine each of the three effects of prophecy to see how these work out in practice and how important prophecy is today.
First Effect: Upbuilding
The process of “upbuilding” is mentioned in Ephesians 4:12,13. This is a very interesting passage showing the far-reaching effects of this important ministry. It is important to notice first that the effect is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” It is in the secondary effects, “work of ministry,” that it strengthens the whole body.
In the Old Testament, the priests were given primary responsibility for ministry. In the New Testament, the emphasis is on the individual work of every saint building up the faith of each other. This feature of the body is emphasized by the apostle in his description of the body in 1 Corinthians, particularly in chapter 12.
But, in Ephesians, there is a particular emphasis which is much needed today. The work of ministry is to have as its objective the maturing of the saint to be like Christ (v 13). This is necessary to withstand the deception that is prevalent in the world and even among believers today (v 14). The danger from “human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes,” is very great today. (See also Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Cor. 11:14, 15; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; etc.)
Second Effect: Encouragement
In the present day, there is much confusion and failure, so we have a desperate need for encouragement. The Lord warns in Matthew 24:12, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” Although this is specifically being said of the tribulation period, we can feel this effect today. So, the next effect of prophecy mentioned is “encouragement.” There are many passages emphasizing the importance of encouragement. (See Rom. 15:4,5; Col. 2:1-3; 1 Thess. 4:16-18; Heb. 6:17-18; etc.) In 1 Corinthians 14:31, prophecy is again specifically mentioned as providing encouragement.
Third Effect: Consolation
The third effect mentioned is consolation. Encouragement has in view the difficulty being faced. Consolation has in view the difficult borne. This is described in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.
In this passage, it is important to see that the difficulties we face and the corresponding comfort we receive enables us to comfort and encourage others. This depends on personal experience which is never pleasant at the time but increases our appreciation of the grace by which God sustains us.
It is a sad fact that we often forget the sustaining grace of God that we experience day by day. Difficulties are often needed to remind us that His grace sustains us every moment. The Lord pointed to the sustaining grace of God even evidenced in creation (Matt. 6:26) to remind His disciples of this fact.
There is a great need today for pastors, teachers, prophets, and evangelists. For it is just as true today as it was for Israel that “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hos. 4:6)
 I rather like the way the Darby translation put this: “unprincipled cunning with a view to systematized error.” Systematized error is much more prevalent than we realize and is very dangerous. See 2 Corinthians 11:14, 15 in particular.