Friday, April 19, 2024

The Vision (4.19.24): Try the spirits: Discernment in the Christian Life


Image: Dogwood, North Garden, Virginia, April 2024.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on 1 John 4:1-6.

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).

The apostle John calls upon his “beloved” fellow believers to exercise the gift of discernment, knowing the difference between false teaching and true.

He begins with a negative exhortation, “believe not every spirit.” The word “believe” here means “trust” or “have confidence in.” The “every spirit” here is a reference to men with bodies and spirits who claim to be Christian teachers. John is concerned about “false prophets” infiltrating the church.

We have a related saying, “Don’t believe everything that you hear.” John is saying, “Don’t necessarily believe everyone that you hear, merely because he claims to speak as an emissary of Christ.” Some will claim to be speaking with divine authority, but they will be teaching things that are false (e.g., Arius, Joseph Smith, Jim Jones, David Koresh, etc.).

This caution could be mishandled. As believers we should generally be open and trusting. It is a very cynical person who believes the worst about everyone they encounter. In the love chapter Paul said a sincere Christan “believeth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). We should not take John’s exhortation as an excuse for cynicism and acting uncharitably. We should generally be trusting, but also cautious.

John adds a positive exhortation, “But try the spirits whether they are of God” (v. 1a). The verb “to try” here is dokimazo. It means to put to the test, to prove, to examine. Would the jeweler ever purchase a diamond without closely examining it to make sure it’s genuine? What do you normally do when you purchase a car? You inspect it and take it on a test drive. You check the brakes, and the handling, even the turn signals and mirror and radio.

John is here saying, Trust (be charitable) but also verify by trying or testing or proving. What is the purpose of the testing? To see, John says, “whether they are of God.”

During Christ’s first advent ministry the disciples could go in person to the incarnate Lord, “for he knew what was in man” (John 2:25). After his ascension, they could turn to the apostles and devote themselves to their teaching (Acts 2:42). Now, those same apostles have left us the Scriptures to be our guide for faith and practice.

Even during the time of the apostle Paul, Luke commended the men of Berea who “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). We too aspire to have a “Berean spirit.”

We read and study the Bible and listen to preaching and teaching from it, so that we might be equipped for spiritual discernment, “trying” all teachers and teaching by the standard of Scripture.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

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