Robert E. Surgenor
4:1, PROBING & PROVING. "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world."
After John lifts us up to heaven, reminding us that we shall be like Him at the rapture, he all of a sudden plunges us back down to earth and presents reality. He brings before us evidences of sonship. First, that righteousness is an evidence of sonship, 3:4-24. The child of God does not habitually sin. Secondly, he proceeds to tell us that love is an evidence of sonship, 3:11-24. Jerome relates that when John was too old and feeble to preach, when carried into the assembly meeting on a chair, upon entering he did not cease to repeat, "Little children, love one another. It is the Lords command, and it is enough." Thirdly, he exposes the fact that spiritual discernment is an evidence of sonship, 4:1-6. We are not to believe every spirit, but try the spirits to see whether they are of God or not. The responsibility and right to judge teachers and to test doctrine belongs to all the children of God. It is interesting that the very assembly that John was associated with at this time was the assembly that was commended by the Lord in His letters to the seven churches. Notice the opening of His letter. "Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, Who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for My names sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted" (Rev. 2:1-3). However another element that John wrote heavily about was gone -- LOVE!
It is interesting, that prior to his exhortation to us regarding false teaching, he exposes the first false teacher of the human race - CAIN! In Cain we find a person that propagated, through his actions, that one could approach unto God apart from faith (Heb. 11:4). It has been suggested that he was not accepted because his offering was brought in the wrong attitude. That may form a part of the problem. However, it seems to me that Abel, exercising faith, believed the teaching of his parents that a blood sacrifice was needed for acceptance, for God had slain an animal for them in order to cover them with coats of skin. Cain rejected that teaching, and by his actions simply proclaimed that blood was not necessary for acceptance before God. Does this not all sound familiar in todays man-made religious systems? The sacrifice of Christ is set aside and good works are introduced for the means of acceptance. John also warns the Christians, that because of their confession, that only the blood of Christ can secure salvation, that hatred from the world will result. "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you" (3:13).
The saints had previously been warned of false prophets and teachers. Our Lord was the first to alert His own. "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheeps clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:15,16). Their fruits being the fruit of their lips - their teachings. Paul also warned the Ephesian elders. "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears" (Acts 20:29-31).
Finally, Peter exclaims, "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you (2 Pet. 2:1-3). Paul warns the saints of the very assembly that John was in, telling the source of the false teachers teaching. "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats" (1 Tim. 4:1-3). The doctrines are not necessarily ABOUT demons. The thought is that the doctrines COME FROM demons. One is reminded of Rome with its many teachings and dogmas that are contrary to Holy Scripture. They originate from the demon world.
Some in Johns day were being carried away by gnostic teaching. Some of the gnostics taught that Jesus was just a mere mortal man and that at His baptism, the Son of God entered His body and took up residence until Jesus went to the garden to pray prior to His death. While in the garden, the Son of God vacated the body of the Man Jesus and went back to heaven, to let Jesus die as a mere man on the cross. Other gnostics taught that Jesus was some sort of a phantom and not a real man. How wicked, how deceitful! In our assemblies we are not plagued with such vile teaching, however, let us beware, for there are multitudes of subtle and strange voices floating about today. Yesterday I received a letter from a so-called Evangelical Society with an article titled, "Rediscovering the Lords Supper." The writer taught that the role of the woman in the church was to be in silence at the Lords Supper. He then went on to state, quote, "he (Paul) is referring to a role of woman at the Lords Supper, not to other meetings where woman are free to speak and teach," unquote. An alarm rang within. I had immediately tried the spirit with the Word of God and found it to be false. The word "try" (4:1) is used for the testing of metals. The word "believe not" is actually, "stop believing." Yes some in Johns day were already being carried away with gnostic teaching. Let us, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (1 Thes. 5:21).
I have seen the sad results of saints allowing themselves to be bombarded with radio preaching. Succumbing to their subtle teachings, one assembly was split in half as a result of being beguiled by radio sermons. Some were deceived into thinking that women had a perfect right to speak in assembly Bible readings and that the head covering was only designed for the city of Corinth and not necessary for today. The assembly that they once held dear - they left. One famous evangelical preacher advocates that women should leave their prison, (the home) get a bit of style to their dress and paint their face to look more attractive (?) and get out there and make a Christian impression on the world. I would say it sounded more like making a Jezebel impression. Let us beware of such teaching. Better yet, let us avoid even exposing ourselves to it. Some amongst us are beginning to toy with the idea that the Church will go through the tribulation. Others are stating privately that the children of the Christians that are left behind at the rapture will have a second chance. Let us beware! Satan is out to ruin the only thing in this world that is standing for God scripturally and in Christian simplicity and sincerity, namely, the assemblies of Gods people gathered to His name. John guarantees us the ability to test all teaching. Notice the end of chapter three, "by the Spirit that dwelleth in us." How wonderful, how precious, to have such a Person indwelling us, thus enabling us to rightly discern all teaching and to rightly divide the Word of truth!
Be careful also in the books that you select to read and even the so-called new Bible translations. There are also multitudes of so-called, Study Bibles out there today, and personally, I couldnt be bothered with them. Far better to get alone with God and your Bible and some good helps from esteemed writers among the brethren and prayerfully devote a good portion of your time to humble study of His Word, looking to the Holy Spirit to unveil the precious truths of God to your soul. Then, having bought the truth, sell it not (Prov. 23:23). Hold it securely! It will cost you time! It will cost you effort! But in the end, it will make you a strong and intelligent Christian, fully able to try (put to the acid test) the spirits, whether they are of God or not. It was said of the Bereans, "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11). May the Lord help us to be Bereans in that respect.