Focal Passage: I John 4:1-6
The old Verizon phone commercial asked people the question, “Can you hear me?” The question that John wants his readers to ask is, “Should we hear you?” John wanted to prepare his readers to be able to discern between those who taught the truth and those who did not. They needed to have their spiritual antennas up to make sure they were hearing the truth.
One of the grave dangers is to believe everything that you hear. John encourages his readers not to do this. The word “spirit” could refer to teachers who espoused a teaching they claimed they had received from a spirit. He challenged them to remember that just because someone claims to be spiritual does not mean they are. Just because someone has a Bible does not make them a preacher. The key is what they have to say. John admonished his readers to search the Scriptures to see if their teaching agrees with the Bible. The reason for this is because there were so many false prophets among them. His readers had experienced this themselves when some left their fellowship (I John 2:19).
John does not simply ask his readers to do something, but he gives them the tools for doing what he has told them. Verse 2 is a guide to determine if the message is genuine. This tool is the teachers’ belief about Jesus. First, they must confess belief in the deity and humanity of Jesus. When John used the words “Jesus Christ has come,” he was referring to Jesus as the Messiah. He exhorts them to determine if the teacher believes that Jesus Christ is the Messiah or simply a good teacher or prophet. Secondly, do they believe that Jesus came to earth in the flesh? This doctrine is essential because there were false teachings being spread that Jesus only appeared to have a body. John says you must affirm that He came in the flesh. He then describes those who cannot confess that Jesus is the Messiah and that He came in the flesh. He says that if you reject Jesus, then you do not have a relationship with God. This rejection is a warning that you are in the presence of one who is being influenced by the spirit of the antichrist.
John provides good news to his readers as they face these false teachers. Victory is assured for the readers because of the work of God through Jesus Christ. The victory resides within believers by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The verb “conquered” refers to past action (Christ’s death on the cross) which has continuing effect. We must always remember that the Holy Spirit in us is greater than the opposition!
Oftentimes, people are more comfortable with what they know than something different. This is why false teachers can lead people astray because their words are from the world and appeal to the world, so the world will follow them. John says in verse 6 that believers know when they hear spiritual truth, and they will listen. Yet, most believers have encountered those who do not know God, and they refuse to listen. We must be faithful by continuing to share the life changing message to the world.
John wrote two other Epistles (II John and III John) which go into greater detail and mention examples of what he has described here in the fourth chapter of I John. II John appears to be dealing with a situation in a church where false teachers were being welcomed in the homes of believers, and John said that must end immediately. John writes in III John to encourage Gaius to examine the life Diotrephes, a potential false teacher, and not imitate it.
— Styers is pastor of First Baptist Church, Grand Junction.