Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world – 1 John 4:1
False teachers are popular with the world because, like the false prophets of the Old Testament, they tell people what they want to hear. John warns that Christians who faithfully teach God’s Word will not win popularity contests in the world. People don’t want to hear their sins denounced; they don’t want to listen to demands that they change their behaviour. A false teacher will be well received by non-Christians.
“Do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God” means that they shouldn’t believe everything we hear just because someone says it is a message from God. There are many ways to test teachers to see if their message is truly from the Lord. One is to check to see if their words match what God says in the Bible. Other tests include their commitment to the body of believers, their lifestyles, and the fruit of their ministries. But the most important test of all, says John, is what they believe about Christ. Do they teach that Jesus is fully man? Our world is filled with voices claiming to speak for God. Give them these tests to see if they are indeed speaking God’s truth.
Most of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry had died by the time John composed this letter. Some of the second-or-third-generation Christians began to have doubts about what they had been taught about Jesus. Some Christians with a Greek background had a hard time believing that Jesus was human as well as divine, because in Platonic thought the spirit was all-important. The body was only a prison from which one desired to escape. Heresies developed from a uniting of this kind of Platonic thought and Christianity.
A particularly widespread false teaching, later called Docetism (from a Greek word meaning “to seem”), held that Jesus was actually a spirit who only appeared to have a body. In reality He cast no shadow and left no footprints; He was God but not man. Another heretical teaching, related to Gnosticism (from a Greek word meaning “knowledge”, held that all physical matter was evil, the spirit was good, and only the intellectually enlightened could enjoy the benefits of religion. Both groups found it hard to believe in a Saviour who was fully human. John answers these false teachers as an eyewitness to Jesus’ life on earth. He saw Jesus, talked with Him, touched Him – He knew that Jesus had been alive before the world began and also that He lived as a man among men and women. In other words, he was both divine and human.
Through the centuries, many heretics have denied that Jesus was both God and man. In John’s day people had trouble believing He was human; today more people have problems seeing Him as God. But Jesus’ divine-human nature is the pivotal issue of Christianity. Before we accept what religious teachers say about any topic, let us listen carefully to what they believe about Jesus. To deny either His divinity or His humanity is to consider Him less than Christ, the Saviour.
DISCERNING FALSE PROPHETS
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spiritof truth and the spirit of falsehood. – 1 John 4:1-6
GOD’S LOVE AND OURS
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent His One and Only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.
This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love because He first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:7-21.Stay Blessed!