St. Paul considered prophecy the spiritual gift that we should all seek after because it has the effect of building up, encouraging and consoling others (cf. 1 Cor 14:1-3). Just because a person delivers a prophetic word does not necessarily mean it is authentic and from God. St. Paul taught that all prophetic words are ultimately partial (1 Cor 13:9) and require the discernment of the person receiving them (1 Thes 5:21). It is therefore a dual responsibility of discerning the authenticity of any prophetic word given. On the one hand it is the responsibility of the person delivering the words to do their best to hear from God and share what they are receiving. On the other hand, it is the responsibility of the one receiving a word to listen and discern with the Holy Spirit which of what they said is actually from God. The one receiving discerns the authenticity of the word in the context of his own lived relationship with God.
Essentially, there are five questions that one can ask to help determine the divine source of a prophetic word.
- Is the word consistent with what is contained in Sacred Scripture or in Sacred Tradition?
- Does the word authentically build people up in love?
- Does the word give glory to Jesus Christ instead of glorifying the person giving it?
- Is the word given in the right context and timing in such a way to respect good order?
- Is the one giving the word bearing good fruit in his or her life?
(See Healy and Clark, Spiritual Gifts Handbook,188-196)