Thursday, 7 May 2020
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1
John again uses the word “Beloved” to introduce an exhortation that he earnestly wants his reader to pay heed to. There is a danger which will arise if his words are not heeded, and so to avoid that, he draws us close to himself with this word. His next words begin to convey this thought, but they are words which have seemed to fall on deaf ears throughout the church age, “do not believe every spirit.”
When he says, “do not believe every spirit,” the ISV gives the proper sense of the words by translating it as “stop believing every spirit.” The verb is a present participle. In other words, he was countering a person or persons who were at that time presenting false messages to his audience. But this still applies to us today – “Stop believing every spirit…” However, to do so requires discernment. After one has discernment, he must then apply that discernment. This is seen in the words, “but test the spirits.”
One can have no discernment and be unable to test the spirits. One can have discernment, but then fail to test the spirits. John calls for both. But discernment cannot come without knowledge, and knowledge in this matter cannot come without reading and remembering what is contained within the Bible. This is because the Bible is from God. Therefore, it will reveal what is not of God. As John then says, “whether they are of God.”
If “the spirits” call for some type of action or belief which is contrary to what is outlined in Scripture, they are false. The list of such things is almost endless because people have failed to simply “test the spirits” by making a rational and reasonable comparison to what the word of God states. That which is of God will be in accord with His word. That which is not of God will be at variance with it. The standard is the word of God. That which is opposed to the standard comes from that which is false. This is why John then says, “because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Here we see the antithesis of verse 3:24, which spoke of the Holy Spirit. John brings in false prophets who then convey a false spirit. As he often does, he uses the antithetical method to strike real contrasts to help us understand the truth. Just as light and darkness are opposing forces, so the Holy Spirit is opposed to the spirit of falsehood.
In the Old Testament, false prophets presented a message which was in opposition to that of the true prophets. With the introduction of the New Covenant, these false prophets present a message which is in opposition to that of the true apostles. John’s referring to such false teachers is not unique. Both Paul and Peter speak of them as well –
“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.” 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.” 2 Peter 2:1-3
The apostles are in agreement on this, there is the spirit of truth, and there is the spirit of error. There are true teachers, and there are false teachers. There is revealed light, and there is the darkness of deception. And, as noted above, there is only one way to be able to truly discern between the two. That is by knowing Scripture, and then making a reasonable comparison between what is presented there, and what is then presented by a teacher (or false teacher) of the word.
Finally, and as is obvious, Vincent’s Word Studies notes that the words “have gone out” are in the perfect tense, indicating “that the influence of their going out on their false mission is in operation at the present.”
Life application: Unfortunately, it is in our nature to want to believe the sensational or exciting. Because of this, it is incredibly easy to get drawn into deceit and lies. This is especially true when we don’t know our doctrine well.
Christians give a great deal of their money and effort to people who don’t say anything of value from the Bible. Instead, they manipulate choice verses and give promises of blessing while filling their own coffers.
If you are ever tempted to send someone money because you can “reap a harvest,” then you have been deceived. If you believe you can be healed by someone over the telephone after “sowing a seed,” then you have been deceived. If you believe someone has accurately picked the date of the second coming of Christ, then you’ve been deceived. These things should be obvious, but it is much nicer to believe a lie, filled with hope, than it is to believe the truth which delays that hope – even if it is in God’s good timing to do so.
Remember that “false prophets” are simply “false teachers.” They are instructing in that which is a lie, manipulating the truth for their own benefit. You are responsible for your own doctrine, so never take anyone’s interpretation of the Bible at face value. Rather, go and research it for yourself. This is noteworthy and yet is what is expected in the believer.
Heavenly Father, give us wise and discerning hearts concerning the things relating to You and Your word. Help us not to be drawn in by teachers who have hidden motives that are not in line with the gospel of Jesus. Instead, help us to discern that which is right and that which is wrong, so that our time and resources will be properly dedicated to You. Amen.