As I write this, we’re involved in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone is dealing with the question of who to believe and who not to believe. It’s a problem in the secular world because the only standard seems to be that people will believe those spokesmen who reinforce their own beliefs. Of course, anything “the other side” says is obviously false or exaggerated. We hear an authority speak, and if we don’t like what they have to say, we bring up old quotes to prove that they aren’t always right, unless they agree with you. I don’t deal with politics in general, anymore, because the message of the gospel is far more important than any political issue, but I think it’s fair to say that most people would agree with this statement: “If you agree with me, you must be right, and if you disagree with me, you need to listen to me so that you can change your mind and become right.” All kidding aside, that seems to be the way of the world. John dealt with the question of authority as we begin chapter four, and the question is simple: what do people say about Jesus? That’s how you can tell what teaching should be looked at for further study and which teachings can be thrown out without going any farther
1. Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. 2.. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: 3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
The way to test if a spirit, a teaching, a prophecy, or any other message purporting to come from God boils down to the question of Jesus. If someone believes and teaches that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, then they are to be given an audience. On the other hand, if someone teaches that Jesus was a spirit, or that He didn’t really come in the body of a man, but just looked like that, then nothing they say should be examined. Those people are opposed to the idea of Incarnation. Those people are opposed to the truth that Jesus was God the Son who came to earth, born as a baby, to bring us into a relationship with God. Is is possible for someone to say that Jesus came in the flesh and still be wrong? Of course it is. If you need proof, think about some of the things that I’ve taught. There are probably men and women much wiser than me who could tell you how I was wrong in one teaching or another. I never ask you to believe what I teach because I believe that Jesus came in the flesh, that Jesus was God the Son who became a man. I ask you to examine my teaching and all other teaching by God’s word.
At the same time, the false prophets, the false teachers, deny that Jesus came in the flesh. They deny that God the Son came down to earth as a man. If they miss that basic truth of the Christian faith, how can you trust anything else they may teach. Is it possible that they may teach something true. Why give them the time of day? Why give them attention? Why send them your money? Anyone who denies that Jesus came in the flesh; anyone who denies that Jesus was God the Son sent to earth in the flesh to pay the penalty for our sins on the cross doesn’t have the understanding to live and teach truth, even if they say a few good things.
4. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. 5. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. 6. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
John was with Jesus when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and the Sadducees. How did this one man stand up against the political and religious weight of those groups? He was God the Son. Because of that strength, He stood up to people who seemed to be righteous in the eyes of the people, but were living and teaching contrary to God’s plan. John saw that happen. John stood up to the Roman authorities who sought to keep the gospel from spreading. How did he do that? The Holy Spirit lived in him. John put it this way: “greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” We can stand up to those who would seek to keep us from sharing the gospel; we can stand up to false teachers whose goal seems to be to build their personal prestige and bank accounts because the Holy Spirit living in us is stronger than anything they can throw at us. Those who reject the truth of Jesus, especially that He came in the flesh have one measuring stick for all things: what does the world think? How will the world perceive what we’re doing? Those who follow Christ should have one measuring stick also: what does God want? We seek to follow God and do what He wants. We know that God hears us. Those who don’t know God refuse to listen to those of us who are seeking to follow Him. We can know who’s following truth and who’s guided by a spirit of error based on their response to us when we live in tune with God. If that sounds like an arrogant statement, and it does to me, realize that John was unimpeachable as a witness to Jesus. He had walked with Him. Did he misunderstand Jesus? Yes. Lots of times, but still, he understood what it meant to follow Christ. I can’t remember the author or the story, but the author said “don’t quate what’s happening now to this book.” Someone responded, as a joke if I understand correctly, “Oh what do you know about that?” Sadly, as John taught, and as others taught based on John’s teaching, false prophets refused to listen to his teaching, as if he didn’t know anything about Jesus. They might spin their wacky theories about Jesus not coming in the flesh, which was part of the gnostic approach, but John had seen Him, touched Him, and lived with Him for three years. John knew the humanity of Jesus and anyone rejecting that was living in the spirit of error.
7. Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 9. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
And John, knowing Jesus and His teachings, brought the discussion back to love – God’s love. When Jesus taught the disciples how people would know who was following Him, He taught about how much they loved each other. In today’s world, we’ve split up into our own denominations and groups. While we could make a case for the good reasons denominations have formed, the truth is, we don’t love each other the way we should. Apparently, the church at Ephesus had that same problem and John needed to remind them again. We should love each other as Christians. True love comes from God. The only way you can love people with the love that God has for them is when God gives you that love for them. It’s a love that thinks of the needs of others before self. It’s a love that’s willing to give up the temporary pleasures of this world to allow people to experience the amazing love God had for them. If you can’t love others like this, you can’t know God. God is the manifestation of true love in this world. How did He show His love? He sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might experience an amazing relationship with Him. When Jesus came to earth, He gave up everything to live and eventually die among mankind. God has never loved us back, He took the initiative in showing us His love. We need to love others first. We need to love others sacrificially. When Jesus came, He was the propitiation for our sins – He paid the penalty for our sins and it is because Jesus paid this penalty that we can find favor with God. I have no doubt that John had the parable of the good Samaritan in mind as he wrote this. He could have said it explicitly: Since God has shown you this amazing love, love that you didn’t deserve, then you need to love others the same way God loves you.
I normally include next week’s Bible readings here, but, as the video explains, I’ve fallen behind. When I get my readings back on track, I’ll start including them again.