Summary: John gave his readers to tests to determine the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. Every generation needs to continue to test the spirits to see if they are from God.
A. How many of you enjoy ANAGRAMS?
1. What is an anagram? It is “a word or phrase formed by reordering the letters of another word or phrase.”
2. Here are a few that I thought you might enjoy.
3. DORMITORY = Dirty Room
4. THE MORSE CODE = Here Come Dots
5. SLOT MACHINES = Cash Lost In’em
6. MOTHER-IN-LAW = Woman Hitler
B. The whole idea of anagrams coincides with the thrust of today’s message that I have titled “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing.
1. False teachers are a lot like ANAGRAMS. They try to present themselves as something they are not.
2. They try to hide the true reality and ramifications of their teaching.
3. The sheep will run from obvious dangers like wolves, so the wolves try to disguise themselves so that they won’t be noticed immediately or at all.
C. In our last sermon from 1 John, we noticed that John had a positive message of assurance for the children of God.
1. He concluded that discussion with the statement, “And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us” (1 Jn. 3:24).
2. That mention of the Holy Spirit prompted John to address the larger subject of spiritual discernment.
3. Yes, God has given us His Spirit, but it is necessary for us to weigh the claims of those who say they are spiritually enlightened.
4. So, John insists that we must “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (4:1).
5. The apostle Paul gave the same warning to the Corinthians, who likewise needed to weigh the authority of the prophetic voices they were hearing (1 Cor. 12:1-3; 14:29).
D. One essential idea that is assumed throughout this section is this: Two spirits are active in this world, the Spirit of truth, and the spirit of falsehood (4:6).
1. There is the Spirit who comes from God, who glorifies and elevates His Son, Jesus Christ, and there is the spirit of antichrist, which is welcomed by the world and sabotages the truth about Jesus.
2. In Matthew 7:15, Jesus warned us, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”
3. 2 Peter 2:1, Peter warns, “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false prophets among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves.”
4. Paul’s parting words to the Ephesian elders included, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:29-30)
5. Because of this reality, John provided two tests so that the Christians to whom he was writing, would be able to discern the truth, and recognize the wolves.
E. We have discussed throughout this series that the church John was trying to minister to was in the grips of a division, a split caused by false teachers.
1. It is important to pause and gain some appreciation for the challenge faced by the early church.
2. Most (if not all) of the early congregations were isolated house churches in cities throughout the Roman empire.
3. In the early years there were no formal creeds to give doctrinal guidance, nor were the Scriptures available as we have them today.
4. No one owned a “New Testament,” and at best the early Christians only had random collections of letters from the apostles and collections of stories about Jesus.
5. Oral communication was essential, and churches relied on emissaries from their leaders, who taught and relayed information.
6. Paul repeatedly sent out Timothy and Silas in this capacity, and John sent out elders as his spokespersons (3 Jn 5).
F. But, problems arose when prophets or teachers arrived claiming an authority that was not rightfully theirs.
1. Paul addressed the problem of unauthorized teachers in his correspondence with the churches of Galatia and Thessalonica.
2. Because some churches received false letters, Paul even decided to sign his correspondence with recognizable markings (Gal. 6:11; Col. 4:8; 2 Thess. 3:17).
3. This phenomenon meant that churches could fall prey to unscrupulous itinerant prophets and teachers, and John’s churches were no exception.
4. Consequently, Christians had to be ready to assess both the message they heard and the spirit that inspired it.
G. So, John gave them two tests.
1. I like the old story told about the young American engineer named Billy who was sent to Ireland by his company to work in a new plant.
2. This two year assignment was desirable because it would enable him to earn enough money to marry his long-time girlfriend, Irene.