Sermon on 1 John 4:1-11
Text: Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
In order for there to be a group, there has to be something that the people have in common. It might be a common ancestor, which is why there is the family reunion. There might be some common political or environmental issue that brings people together. People who have a common love and enthusiasm for a team will join together at stadiums to root for them. We belong to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The word “synod” means “walking together.” We are united. This morning, as we study God’s Word, we are going to look at two things that unite us as a congregation and as a synod. Borrowing an opening lone from a familiar hymn, we sat BLEST BE THE TIES THAT BIND. 1. The Truth Of God Unites Those Who Confess It and 2. The Love Of God Binds Those Who Show It.
John begins this section of his epistle with the warning, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (Verse 1) There are many people who are out in the world today, as they were in John’s day, who profess to having the truths of God to share with others. Some have gathered a large following. Some are very charismatic, who can hold you in the palm of their hand when they speak. Others come to you in a very scholarly fashion, talking about what this word means or that word means. Some claim to be able to do signs and miracles, usually healing people who have been stricken with various diseases and maladies. John here tells us, “Do not believe every spirit . . . because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” How can we tell who is a false prophet and who is speaking the truth. We are told to “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” But, what are we to use in this testing? Outward, earthly testing won’t get the job done. Some of those with the largest followings are false prophets.
God, through John, gives a litmus test that we can use to see if they are from him or not. In verses 2&3, he tells us, “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” While you cannot always tell from their outward actions, you can tell from how they confess who Jesus Christ was and is. For example, when people look at the outward signs of the Mormon church, you see a group that has a beautiful choir, that is very family oriented, and that can help you with your study of your ancestors. They have a huge following, with many beautiful buildings throughout the world. They look great from the outside, but when you compare their teachings with what God’s Word says about Jesus, you see that they teach that Jesus was just one of many gods and that, if you do enough good and follow the rules, you can earn your spot in heaven. They downplay the person of Jesus Christ and why he came into the world. You can look at the Jehovah’s Witnesses with their zeal for going door to door and the clean cut appearance of the people and be impressed. However, when you see that they do not believe that Jesus Christ was true God and that he did all that was necessary for our salvation, you realize that they are false prophets.
This can even be seen within the realm of Christendom today. Some preachers that are out there can preach and teach and talk about Jesus Christ, and you feel like they just have to be what is right. Then, however, they will tell you that you have to make your decision for Christ or dedicate your life to the Lord today, and they lose everything, because now you are doing something to be saved. YOU have to make your choice. They have changed what God’s Word says and they are, false prophets.
Such people, John tells us have the “spirit of antichrist.” (Verse 3) The word “antichrist” has the idea that they are placing themselves in opposition to Christ and what he teaches in his Word. This isn’t some sort of world leader, per se, who opposes God’s people physically and will lead his forces in armed conflict with them. This is one who stands opposed to what Jesus has done for us and what he proclaims in his Word.
There can be no true unity without a common truth. We find this truth in God’s Word. That is one of the reasons that we are united. We have a common faith based on God’s Word. How wonderful it is to know that there are others who believe the same thing I do. I am not alone in this. There are others who have had the Holy Spirit create a faith in their hearts which believes all that God says about Jesus Christ. We enjoy this unity, because of the truth of God’s Word.
With this unity comes a certain amount of vigilance, as well. When John used the word “test” in verse 1, it has the idea that we continue to test and see if it passes. In other words, we don’t believe things just because that is what the pastor or teacher told us. We want to constantly compare what they say with God’s Word. For this reason, you can see the need to be well-informed as to what God’s Word says. If we find that they are no longer teaching what God’s Word says, there can be no unity. We will want to be with those who teach correctly. That is part of the beautiful unity or fellowship that we enjoy. One of the things that binds us together with fellow Christians in our congregation and even synod is a common confession of faith which is founded upon the Word of God. This is one tie that binds us together.
Another of these ties is spoken of in the second half of our text. In verse seven we read, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.” As fellow Christians, we have love for one another. What exactly is meant by love? John defines it for us in verse 10, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” John points to God’s love for us. It certainly wasn’t that we loved him first. We are, by nature, the enemies of God. We have sinned against our God with our loveless acts towards others. We have sinned against God when we spoke or thought the worst about someone else, rather than taking their words or actions in the kindest possible way. God would have had every right to condemn us eternally for these, as well as, all our other sins. But, God chose to love us. That is what the word “love” here means. It has the idea of choosing to love. It means loving those who are unlovable. John points to the love of God when he wrote that he “sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Since we could not save ourselves, God sent His Son into the world to save us. He was sent to be a sacrifice. He was put to death, so that we might have life. He rose from the dead so that we might live forever. That is love, John tells us. It is a self-sacrificing, choosing to love even those who don’t deserve it. We love others as God has loved us.
That is what John is talking about when he wrote in verse 11, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” What he is saying is, ‘Look at how God has loved you. Look at how many of your faults and sins he has forgiven. Now, in response to that, go and love those around you.’ Or another way that we could look at his words is this: ‘Don’t just say that you love God. Prove it. Show it in the way that you treat and love those around you.’ You really cannot have it both ways. John writes in verse 8, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Since God’s very nature is love, his children will reflect that nature. Where there is no resemblance, there is no relationship.
This is not to say that we will always love perfectly. We know that we won’t because we are sinful human beings. We won’t always be as quick as we should be with forgiveness or a helping hand or a kind word. For these times and all the others, we continue to come to God and ask for his forgiveness and also the strength to do it right the next time. We don’t give up trying. The important thing is that, in response to all that God has done for us, we want to continue to love those around us. We don’t just want to be recipients of God’s love. We will share that love with others. Otherwise we are like the Dead Sea in Palestine. Its waters are useless for drinking and irrigation, because water only flows into it. There are no places where the water flows out. In the same way Christian love needs to keep moving or it, too, will stagnate in our hearts. The love that God has for us is our motivation for loving those around us.
Some have said that they don’t want to come to a church or become members of a church because of all the hypocrites that are there. In other words, they see people who are sinners. I always tell people that the church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners. But, can you imagine how wonderful it would be and could be, if we experienced the type of unity that God has in mind for his church here and now? How can that happen? It happens when we are gathered together to hear God’s Word and grow in the faith. Then our common faith is strengthened and we encourage each other. This unity also happens when we love each other with a Christ-like love. When the church is place where we go and we feel the care and concern of other Christians, then people will want to be there more and more. When we show that we care outside of the church and that we care for those who aren’t always nice or pleasant to us, that unity will grow. We cannot cause the unity in the church. God has already done that when he brought us to faith. But, we can disrupt it with our words or actions. Today, we thank God for the unity that we enjoy with other fellow members of our congregation and synod. May he help us to look for ways to strengthen those blessed ties that bind us together. Amen.
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