Post Series on 1 John 4:1-6:
- Testing the Spirits in a World of Twitter (1 John 4:1)
- Confessing This Jesus-Christ-Come-In-Flesh Jesus (1 John 4:2-3)
- On The Discernment of the Saints (1 John 4:4-6)
Once upon a time, there was little confusion as to what a person ought to believe about something. You could always count on either the king or the priest or the prophet to go out of his way to ensure that you knew what to believe on all the important issues. Certainly, other people had differing opinions, but their voices rarely carried that far into the public square. (And if they did, those voices were generally not allowed to continue for all that much longer.)
Of course, these kings, priests, and prophets might not necessarily have pinned down the truth concerning a matter, but that was beside the point. They alone had the power to speak, and therefore they alone had the ability to influence their respective listeners.
But then democracy happened. Common people began to speak out their respective opinions, and they were aided by new technologies that allowed their voice to carry increasingly far at an increasingly quick pace: the printing press, the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, the television, the computer, and then the internet. Suddenly, we live in a world where anyone at all can weigh in on any matter, in any place, at any time, simply by tweeting from their cell phone.
We live in world with an abundance of spirits, pushing us to think and act and believe in so many different directions. Because of this, John’s plea becomes infinitely more relevant today:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
Even in John’s day there were many false prophets in the world, even though none of them had the ability to setup a blog on the internet. John has a very specific distortion of the truth that he wishes to warn his beloved about, and he will get to that topic in 1 John 4:2-3; however, we who live in 21st century America desperately need this verse alone.
Why? Because we rarely even try to test the spirits!
Certainly, we will not cross some intellectual lines–liberals reject what they hear from conservatives, and vice versa; people who adhere to any religion whatsoever (including atheism) tend to become offended when their religion is treated with contempt in public; etc.
Nevertheless, we don’t even think about the messages conveyed in the commercials we find so funny. We don’t recognize that our favorite sitcoms derive profound proselytizing power by portraying a particular worldview in regard to family, faith, sex, power, and money as absolutely normal. We are numb to how deeply we are shaped by the songs we sing along with on the radio.
Every message, no matter its medium, arises from one of two sources: the Spirit of Truth or the spirit of error (1 John 4:6). But before we can discern the source of a particular message, we must first heed John enough to recognize how many spirits (and their respective prophets) actually seek to influence us toward one of those two directions.
The first step in testing the spirits is learning to recognize the spirits that inundate us every day of our lives.