“Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership” (1 Timothy 4:14).
A genuine “prophet” is someone who possesses the ability to provide God’s direction as prompted by the Holy Spirit. We might also define a legitimate prophet as a person who conveys divinely-initiated information concerning a specific situation or future event. This is a valid spiritual office as evidenced by the many prophets who appear within the Old Testament Scriptures and those who are mentioned in the pages of the New Testament as well.
One commentary expands on these definitions with the following insight: “The ability to prophesy may involve predicting future events, but its main purpose is to communicate God’s message to people, providing insight, warning, correction, and encouragement.” (1) Therefore we might best associate the function of a prophetic gift in a contemporary setting with those who are directed by the Holy Spirit to bring a fresh application of Biblical truth to a particular circumstance or situation.
Here in 1 Timothy 4:14, we can associate the phrase “by prophecy” with an intermediate form of God’s direction. In other words, God conveyed His gift to Timothy by way of a prophetic message. The term “laying on of hands” further expressed a means of identification. The following explanation is useful in helping us grasp the meaning behind this idea: “Here it was the outward act and ceremony symbolizing the fact that Timothy was now to be identified with the elders in the common work of the ministry of the Word. He became one of them and one with them.” (2)
So much like citizens of Old Testament Israel laid their hands upon a sacrificial animal as a way to identify with that offering, these elders recognized Timothy and his God-ordained ministerial gift in a similar manner. Another commentary offers a Biblically sound approach to this passage that will help us avoid potential misinterpretations…
“[by prophecy]… simply means that a prophet in a local church at one time stood up and announced that the Spirit of God had imparted some gift to Timothy. The prophet did not confer the gift, but announced it. This was accompanied by the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Again we would emphasize that the presbyters, or elders, did not have the power to bestow the gift on Timothy. Rather, by laying their hands on him, they signified public recognition of what the Holy Spirit had already done.” (3)
(1) Life Application Study Bible [14:1] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. [1 cor 14-I]
(2) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [1 Timothy 4:14] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(3) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, pg.2094