We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. – 1 John 4:6 ESV
1 John 4:1-6
This passage is filled with warnings about those who would deceive with false messages regarding Jesus and, ultimately, the Word of God. If they don’t confess and believe in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God sent to take on human flesh and become the Savior of the world, their message is to be rejected. But John also puts a lot of the responsibility on those who hear. In other words, the ones who receive the message are just as responsible as those who give it. There is a need for us to listen attentively, warily and wisely. And that is where the Holy Spirit comes in. Jesus Himself once said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (Matthew 11:15 NLT). John records Jesus using this phrase again in the book of Revelation when Jesus spoke to the churches, one of them being the church in Ephesus. “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches” (Revelation 2:7 NLT). In the Greek, there is only one word that John uses and it is the word, akouō. But this word means far more than just to hear. It conveys the idea of hearing and comprehension. It means “to understand, perceive the sense of what is said.” So we are to listen carefully to what we hear being taught, whether it comes from a pulpit or podcast, the TV, a book, a magazine, or the lips of a close friend.
As John is prone to do, he has once again set up a striking contrast between one thing and another. He provides us with no grey area. For him, it is a matter of truth or falsehood, black or white, fact or fiction. The messenger is either from God or from this world. The listeners are either children of God or children of the devil (1 John 3:10). The message is either the Spirit of truth or the spirit of error. There’s the Word of God and everything else. The problem is that we live in an environment where everything is becoming increasingly grey and indistinct. It is becoming more and more difficult to know what is truth. Everything is relative. Tolerance is the law of the land. Anything goes. Everything is to be accepted. And if we are not careful, even as believers we can find ourselves buying into the lies. We are being bombarded with messages that sound so compelling. And many of them are coming from those who claim to be speaking on behalf of God. But anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand. We must filter out the rhetoric and rationalizations and listen to what the more sinister, hidden agenda behind the message might be. We must probe behind the surface of what is being said and discover the heart of what is being taught. We must ask whether what is being conveyed is in keeping with God’s Word. We must question whether their message is from God or from men. It may be appealing, well-worded, highly convincing, logical, and rational, but if it contradicts the Word of God, it is to be rejected. The problem is that much of what is being taught today doesn’t come across as heresy. It comes couched in terms that speak of God’s love, compassion, grace and mercy. It encourages us to be accepting, tolerant, and forgiving. It paints God as a cosmic force who exists to help men and women become all that they can be. He is portrayed as a life couch who wants to help each and every individual reach their full potential. He wants to give them heaven on earth, but based on their terms, not His. He is imagined as a God who wants everyone healthy, wealthy, happy, whole, and free to live their life according to their own standards. Sin gets redefined or eliminated altogether. Salvation becomes nothing more than a form of self-actualization. Holiness gets replaced with happiness. Jesus gets reduced to little more than a role model worth emulating, but not a Savior worth accepting.
What is amazing is the ease with which many children of God accept the messages of this world. Paul knew this day was coming and he warned his young protege, Timothy, about it. “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT). I believe Paul was referring to those who claim to be believers in Jesus Christ. They would go from listening to sound and wholesome teaching to chasing after myths. They would be driven by their desires and seek out those who would tell them what they wanted to hear. And there will never be a shortage of those willing to tell us what we want to hear. They will gladly redefine sin, re-imagine God, reinvent the gospel, reduce the role of Jesus, remove the threat of hell, reject guilt, and revise the teachings of the Bible to fit our more modern, 21st-Century mindset. Their message is appealing. They use spiritual language. They quote Scripture. They talk of God. They speak of Jesus. They promise happiness and wholeness. They write best-selling books. They fill large auditoriums. They appear on national TV. They attract large crowds. And they teach a spirit of error. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand! “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them” (1 John 4:5 ESV). Jude gives us an even more dire description of these false teachers. “…they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness” (Jude 1:12-13 NLT). Appearances can be deceiving. So can words. Listen carefully and discerningly.