Summary: John shows us an easy and effective way to evaluate if a Christian teaching is real or fantasy.
In the late 1980’s I was interviewing at various corporations in the San Francisco Bay Area for a position in one of the fast track executive programs that were being offered to recent college graduates, of which I was one. In many of these corporations I would go through a series of interviews before a decision was made to let me into the program or not, but at a few corporations, I had to pass a series of exams before even being interviewed.
Late one afternoon I arrived the prescribed 30 minutes early at the location given to me by the Human Resource Department to take the third exam in a series of six exams. The receptionist told me the location of the exam, she gave me a map, she even explained where I was to park and what entrance I was to use. I easily found the building, parked and proceeded to the entrance I was told to use, I had about ten minutes to spare at this point before the exam started, that would give me plenty of time to get ready for the exam.
However, when I tried the doors I found they were locked. I tried the doors again. Double checked the address - I was at the right place. I peered through the glass in the door and couldn’t believe my eyes - the building was completely empty, all I could see was a wheelbarrow, a shovel and a broom. I turned around there were several other people milling around the building now, appearing very confused.
I got in my car and drove back to where I started. The receptionist apologized for the mistake, but had no idea were the exam was. So, I asked a security guard at the entrance of the building about the exam….and he pointed out the building where the exam was. I got into my car and found the room the exam was to be given in, with two minutes to spare!
It turns out that the exam was to see if I could get to the exam. About 20 out of 100 people made it to the final destination. One person, the secretary, told me that reality was one thing, but it was just a dead end; I needed to find out what was real and what was fantasy to get where I was going.
We see this same thing in our Christian walk, we need to be able to distinguish between what is real and what, quite frankly, is just imagined. John has been explaining our faith in a very practical way. John has given us ways to examine ourselves and others concerning our faith, and today John gives us another, very practical way to distinguish reality from fantasy in our Christian faith.
Please keep your bibles open to 1 John 4:1-6 as we examine in depth, exactly what John is teaching us here. Remember, having your bibles open, and looking at the Scripture along with the sermon, helps you gain a deeper understanding of the Word of God. If you can bring your own bible, that is even better, for you can underline or circle things that you see as helpful and this will further help you gain a deeper understanding. If you need a bible, talk to me and we’ll help you get one.
Lets take a look at verse 1. John tells us to not believe every spirit, but to test the spirits we encounter. Why? Because there are false prophets that can fool us. So, John is addressing a specific issue here: False teaching. Let us keep in mind, first off that this practical way of dealing with our faith is specifically to help us discern false teaching. John is showing us one way to discern if a teaching is false or real.
Let me just note at this point, that there is a spiritual gift called “distinguishing of spirits”, but that is something completely different than what John is speaking of today. The spiritual gift of distinguishing spirits deals with individual people, whereas the concept that John is speaking of is specifically for evaluating Christian teaching.
Earlier we saw John call false teachers antichrists. John calls the false teachers antichrists because their teaching, in the end, rejects the true Jesus Christ. Their teaching may be about love, it may be about helping people, it may be about good and wonderful things - but because the teaching rejects Jesus Christ, it is antichrist. I cannot claim to teach you about Jesus Christ and at the same time reject Jesus Christ. That’s oxymoronic.
True story. My father, in the early 1950’s was a salesman for the mouthwash Listerine. He did OK. But, there was one man, Laramie, who sold the stuff like crazy. Laramie sold more Listerine than all the other salesmen put together.