Over the past number of posts I have been talking about 1 John 4:1-6 and the need for spiritual discernment. I have pointed out that this is a vital topic in our day because of the multitude of messages that come our way over and over again in this mass media culture in which we live. Many times I believe we are unaware of just how much we are exposed to as we go through life day by day. Without sounding paranoid, if we take seriously what the Bible says about the spiritual powers of darkness that inhabit this world (Ephesians 6:12), we will begin to see that spiritual discernment is something we cannot do without. Fortunately, God has not left us to fend for ourselves. He has given us a test that we can apply when we we are confronted with "truth claims." That test is the person of Jesus the Christ, or the Anointed of God, who has come in the flesh. For anything to be true in the most complete and profound sense is for it to be rightly related to him, because in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). Truth claims that in one way or other deny either his divinity or humanity do not make the grade but fall miserably short of a right understanding of reality. And not only do we have a Christological test but we have the internal witness of the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, who is far greater than the archenemy of God's people who moves about in the world.
In verses 5 and 6 John presents us with a contrast between two groups, the "they" and the "we," or the "false teachers" and the "apostles." Each group has a message that they declare and each group as an audience that listens to what they say. Because the false teachers are from the world, they speak from the world's point of view and the world listens to them. Their message makes sense to the world, it sounds reasonable, it confirms what they thought all along. In many instances, it involves telling people what they want to hear. However, the apostles are in a completely different category and the contrast could not be greater. They are from God. They are from another realm. The kingdom of God has broken into human history in advance of the end. Their message does not make sense to the people of this world. It is too harsh, too demanding, to counter-intuitive. It is not what human beings want to hear. It stirs their consciences and troubles their minds.
But whoever knows God listens to this apostolic testimony. Such people cannot help but listen because they have been given ears to hear what God is saying. Conversely, those who are not from God do not listen to the apostles. They have lots of other teachers that they listen to, lots of experts and philosophers and cultural superstars, but not the apostles. In this regard we should be aware that there is a deliberate move afoot today to separate Jesus and his apostles. Jesus is portrayed as loving and open to human beings in all their diversity. A great moral leader and teacher. A pace-setter who broke with traditional rules and regulations. The apostles, on the other hand, are seen as narrow, bigoted, small-minded men of their times who misinterpreted the simple faith that Jesus tried to impart to them. And to make matters worse, after their time, the early church further distorted and manipulated the Gospel for their own political ends.
We must never allow this to stand or to go unchallenged for the simple reason that nothing could be further from the truth. The apostles were hand-picked by Jesus to communicate his authentic Gospel after his ascension into heaven. Not only that, but they were uniquely endowed with the Holy Spirit who taught them the meaning and implications of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ which they had only begun to grasp before the climatic events of the cross, the open tomb, the ascension and the Pentecostal outpouring. If we are born of God, we will listen to them. At this point, John does not pull his punches and neither should we. Although this might sound terribly arrogant it is not because it is true. There is no salvation outside of Jesus Christ. And he is only known as we respond obediently to the apostolic Gospel by the help of the Holy Spirit.
In many ways, verses 5 and 6 give us a hearing test. We are what we listen and respond to! We are either drawn by the world and its spirits and prophets, or by God and his Holy Spirit and apostles. By nature none of us responds obediently to God. We are lawless rebels who prefer to go our own way and if left to ourselves we will surround ourselves with writers, speakers, musicians, artists, actors, therapists and friends who tell us what we want to hear. But thankfully God is able to change our fallen natures and make us new. And when he does, all of a sudden we become aware of another voice, often a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12) that calls us out of the darkness and into his marvelous light!