Summary: Test the Spirits!

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Spiritual Scrutiny

1st John 4:1 – 6

Jeff Hughes

I. Introduction

a. False teaching is a fatal disease that has spread to become an epidemic in the church. It can choke the life out of those seeking God, and can cripple believers by disillusionment and discouragement.

b. A main purpose of John writing this epistle was to combat this disease, which was spreading in the church. This is illustrated in the text of First John, chapter 4, verses 1 – 6, which is the subject of our study tonight.

c. Follow along with me starting in verse 1.

d. 1 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. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. 4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. 6 We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

e. Now, we are going to look at three main thoughts John put forth in this text. First, we’ll see the command to test the spirits. Next, the cognizance as to what is false, and last confidence in right teaching.

f. Tonight, we will look at all three of these in depth as we explore this text.


III. Illustration

a. A young American engineer was sent to Ireland by his company to work in a new electronics plant. It was a two-year assignment that he had accepted because it would enable him to earn enough to marry his long-time girlfriend. She had a job near her home in Tennessee, and their plan was to pool their resources and put a down payment on a house when he returned. They corresponded often, but as the lonely weeks went by, she began expressing doubts that he was being true to her, exposed as he was to lovely Irish lasses. The young engineer wrote back, declaring with some passion that he was paying absolutely no attention to the local girls. “I admit,” he wrote, “that sometimes I’m tempted. But I fight it. I’m keeping myself for you.” In the next mail, the engineer received a package. It contained a note from his girl and a harmonica. “I’m sending this to you,” she wrote, “so you can learn to play it and have something to take your mind off those girls.” The engineer replied, “Thanks for the harmonica. I’m practicing on it every night and thinking of you.” At the end of his two-year stint, the engineer was transferred back to company headquarters. He took the first plane to Tennessee to be reunited with his girl. Her whole family was with her, but as he rushed forward to embrace her, she held up a restraining hand and said sternly, “Just hold on there a minute, Billy Bob. Before any serious kissin’ and huggin’ gets started here, let me hear you play that harmonica!”

b. The young woman was skeptical as to whether her boyfriend was true to her or not. She scrutinized his actions overseas. If he couldn’t play a tune on that harmonica, his relationship was in great peril. In that same line of thinking, we as Christians need to be skeptical about the teachings we take in. We need to scrutinize everything we hear in the light of scripture.

c. So, how is your harmonica playing? Do you listen to any and all teachers of the word, taking in all that they say at face value? Think about your spiritual consumption. At the end of this study, we will know how and why we should guard what we take in as Christians.

IV. Study

a. The Command – 4:1

i. 1 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.

ii. For starters, we see that John is addressing believers. He uses a term of endearment, calling them beloved. He is giving them loving advice, as their former pastor and father in the faith. He tells them not to believe, or put their trust in every spirit. You might be a little confused here, as to what John means when he says spirit. This is not to say that the early church had supernatural beings appearing on a regular basis. While the early church certainly did see more of this type of activity than we do today, this is not the definition John was going for. The spirit John is talking about here is the essential nature of a person or group. A translation in our vernacular would be “don’t believe everything you hear.”

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