1 John 4


‘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. 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. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.’ 1 John 4:1-3

Denying The Incarnation

In 1 John 1:5-6 John describes what our relationship with God should be like. In 1 John 2:3-4, he describes what our relationship with Jesus should be like.

He also described what our relationship with the world should be like in 1 John 2:15. In 1 John 3:4-5, he describes the relationship we shouldn’t have with sin and he spoke about what our relationship with our brethren should be like.

Now all this is worth bearing in mind as begin to look at this chapter where we will see that John is going to tell us about a very real danger that was around back in their day and is still very present in today’s society. He’s going to talk about false prophets.

John teaches us three things concerning false prophets, Jeremiah 29:8 / Matthew 24:4-5 / Matthew 24:11. He is going to warn us not to believe every spirit but test them first. Then he is going to tell us why we should test them and then finally he is going to share with us how we test the spirits.

Now, what does John mean when he says, ‘don’t believe every spirit’? Well, it’s obvious that he’s saying that there are spirits around which don’t come from God.

I believe he is warning his readers and us to be careful, in other words, don’t believe everything we hear, or everyone who claims that they are from God.

The problem with listening to every spirit is that it leads to confusion, 1 Corinthians 14:33, and so, because of that confusion we would be easily misled by those who are teaching errors. That’s why we shouldn’t just believe everything which is being taught and that goes for every teacher who teaches from God’s Word.

The word test is the Greek word ‘dokimazo’ which means to try or prove, it’s the idea of examining closely what is being said. The early Christians may have well used the gift of discerning spirits, to find out if these people were false or not, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 / 1 Corinthians 14:29 / 1 Thessalonians 5:21 / Revelation 2:2.

However, because the miraculous gifts have ceased, 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, we need to use God’s Word. In other words, test the words to see if they are genuine or not, don’t just accept what some teacher or preacher is saying, examine what is being taught, Acts 17:11.

We need to have that same testing spirit that they possessed when anyone preaches or teaches or even talks to us about God, Revelation 2:2.

And why is this so important? Because ‘many false prophets have gone into the world’. And John isn’t the only one in the Bible who has warned us about this. Jesus warns us, Matthew 7:15, Peter warns us, 2 Peter 2:1-3, and Paul warns us, 2 Corinthians 11:13-15.

Let me say it again, we must examine, prove, and scrutinize anyone who would teach us. Even though some teachers might consider it rebellious, even though some might not like the possible controversy it can cause.

Whether someone teaches in our classes, on pulpits, radio, in newspapers, or even on the street corners, we must ‘test the spirits!’

How do we test the spirits? Do we try and work it out for ourselves and rely on our own understanding? Absolutely not! John says if anyone denies the claim that Jesus Christ actually came in the flesh has a false spirit.

Now we need to remember that John is dealing with the problem of Gnosticism. The Gnostics denied the very fact that Jesus Christ actually came in the flesh.

Now the Gnostics were going around, confusing Christians and leading many of them away from the truth because they claimed inspiration, 2 John 7. John says that anyone who would teach falsehood is not led by the Spirit of God but are being led by the spirit of the antichrist.

Another test John asks us to apply when testing the spirits is this, do they listen to the apostles of Christ? This is how we know the difference between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

We have in our possession today the complete revelation from God in the form of the book we call the Bible and all Christians need to do is read their Bibles to find out what that truth is which God has revealed to all of mankind, 2 Timothy 3:16.

We can always find out what kind of a person we are listening to by the way they view Scripture. If anyone doesn’t agree with that, then they are not worth listening to. Because those people who truly know God listen to what He has to say in His word and live their lives by His word.

Those people who truly know God listen to the apostle’s teachings. And those who are not of God will reject their teachings. In other words, when someone is preaching or teaching from God’s word, does their teaching agree with what the apostles teach?

Because we cannot disagree with the apostle’s teachings and agree with Jesus’ teachings. If a person rejects the teachings of the apostles, they reject the teachings of Christ Himself, John 13:20.

If the apostle’s teachings were important to the early church then their teachings should be important to us, Acts 2:42 / 1 Corinthians 14:37.

So if we claim to be true Christians, we need to listen and agree with what the apostles have to say through God’s Word. And when we have high regard for the Bible this test can easily be applied today to virtually every issue which comes up.

Mark Twain once said, ‘The difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.’

If someone’s or something’s doctrine contradicts what God has already revealed, they are to be rejected, Galatians 1:6-9. Not all things are always what they seem to be sometimes, 2 Corinthians 11:13-15. We need to be aware of what is being said and who is saying it.

‘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. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 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.’ 1 John 4:4-6

After speaking about testing the spirits, John goes on to give us some comforting words. He says Christians are of God, these are the people who believed and obeyed the fundamental teaching that Christ had come in the flesh as the Messiah, 1 John 5:4.

These are the people who were born of God through their obedience to the Gospel of Jesus’ death for our sins and resurrection for our hope, John 3:3-5 / 1 Peter 1:23 / 1 John 2:29 / 1 John 3:1 / 1 John 3:9 / 1 John 5:4 / 1 John 5:19.

And it’s because they have listened to and obeyed the words of God, they can overcome the false prophets. And how did they do that?

They did it because the One who is in them is greater than the one who is in the world, Ephesians 3:16-17 / 2 Timothy 1:7 / 2 Timothy 3:24.

And who is He that is in the world? People who have been baptised into Christ, possess the Holy Spirit living within them, John 12:31 / Acts 2:38 / Ephesians 2:1-2 / 1 John 2:13-14 / 1 John 5:4-5.

We shouldn’t be surprised to see the world following after the false prophets because false prophets are a lot like politicians, they speak to the people in the words the people want to hear just to get their vote.

And so, false prophets are of the world and speak in a way as to appeal to the world, Matthew 7:21-23 / John 8:44 / John 15:19 / 2 Timothy 4:1-4.

When we seek truth, we will find it, Acts 18:9-10, but those who don’t seek truth will never find it, all they find is a spirit of falsehood, Isaiah 8:20 / 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12.

God’s Love And Ours

‘Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 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. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.’ 1 John 4:7-12

We have already seen where John declared that love is evidence of ‘remaining in the light’ and ‘having fellowship with God,’ in 1 John 2:10. He makes a similar declaration concerning love in 1 John 1:5-7.

He says that love is the evidence that we belong to God in 1 John 3:10 and 1 John 3:14. John gives us the definition of love in 1 John 3:16, and he told us about the value of love in 1 John 3:18-19.

John in these verses tells us that brotherly love is evidence of sonship, Matthew 22:37-40 / Mark 12:29-30 / John 13:34-35 / John 15:9-23 / Galatians 5:6 / 1 Thessalonians 4:9 / 1 John 3:9-18 / 1 John 4:20.

The word love here is the Greek word ‘agape’ which means ‘active goodwill.’ That’s the love with legs attached. He says we should love one another, why? For love comes from God. Every action that God takes is motivated by love.

We must bear in mind that God hates sin and He cannot simply overlook people’s sin because God is also light, 1 John 1:5-6. Those who love, show that they are ‘born of God’ and ‘know God’, however, if we don’t show that love as God does, then we haven’t yet come to truly know God.

In other words, our love for each other is defined by God’s love towards us all. God clearly showed His love for mankind by sending His one and only Son. He sent His Son not because we loved him but because He loved us, John 3:16 / Romans 5:8 / Titus 3:4-5 / 1 John 4:19.

He sent His Son for two reasons, first, He sent His Son so that we may live through Him, John 10:10 / John 14:6 / 1 John 5:10-11, and secondly, as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, Romans 3:25 / Hebrews 2:17 / Hebrews 10:5-10 / 1 John 2:2. In short, the Hebrew writer tells us that Jesus Christ was born so that He could die.

Jesus came so that He could be an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Jesus died not just to provide forgiveness, but also to provide new life.

And so, if this is the kind of love God has toward us, that ‘active goodwill’ love which was shown unconditionally, then this is the kind of love we should have toward one another!

Because ‘God is love’ we are to love each other as He loves us as His children. Not only that, but our love also goes beyond each other, our love is to be active towards those who don’t like us, Luke 6:35.

The way we show our love for each other and the way we show love towards those who don’t like us is evidence of our love for God and His love for us.

John goes on to tell us that this love is also evidence of fellowship with God. He says that no one has ever seen God at any time, John 1:18. Now if we have never seen God how do we know that we have fellowship with God?

If we obey and live by His commandments, we have the assurance that God will not only be with us but indeed live in us, John 14:21-23. John’s point is that no one has ever seen the divine nature of God, John 1:18 / 1 Timothy 6:16.

We can only see the attributes of God as they are manifested through Jesus, John 14:9, and His loving actions toward man. Therefore, through obedient love, we see God, John 13:34-35 / 1 John 3:6.

If Christians love one another, then God lives in them, 1 John 2:28. Our loving of one another, and loving God through the keeping of His commandments, completes God’s love that was revealed through Jesus in order to redeem us,1 John 2:5 / 1 John 4:16-17.

‘This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world, we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.’ 1 John 4:13-18

Notice John uses the word ‘we’ again, he’s referring to the apostles. The giving of the Holy Spirit here to the apostles was the evidence that they were from God, Mark 16:17-20 / Galatians 3:5 / Hebrews 2:3-4 / 1 John 3:24.

He’s saying that the apostles have testified that the Father sent the Son to be our Saviour, John 14:20 / 1 John 1:1-2. It was the apostles who were the special witnesses to the Son of God and His resurrection, John 1:14 / John 15:26-27 / Luke 24:48 / Acts 1:8 / 1 John 1:1-2.

Notice that John mentions acknowledging Jesus is the Son of God, Matthew 10:32-33 / John 12:42 / Acts 2:36-37 / Romans 10:9. That’s why we always take this confession from people before they are baptised, and so, we must be willing to confess Jesus as the Son of God because it’s through that action of confession that we come to know and believe the love God has for us.

Before we are baptised we should understand two basics principles of the Gospel, God is love and after our baptism, God will live in us if we continue to keep His commandments, John 17:25-26 / Acts 2:38 / 1 John 3:24 / 1 John 4:8.

Our love for one another not only shows the world that we belong to God, and it not only shows the world that we have God living in us, our love for one another also provides assurance.

John says that when love is perfected, we can have confidence. In other words, as we grow and become more complete and mature in brotherly love, we will be able to have confidence in the Day of Judgment.

And where does that confidence come from? Does it come from our self-righteousness? Does it come because of all the good deeds we’ve ever done?

Our confidence isn’t a self-arrogance kind of confidence, John says, the confidence will come from knowing that as His children we were like him in this world because if we love each other as we should, fear is driven away, 1 John 4:18 / 1 John 2:5.

The prospects of torment would naturally produce fear in anyone but the more we grow in God’s love, the more we lose the fear, Romans 2:6-7 / 2 Corinthians 5:10.

We all know that obedience is an essential element in the life of a person that is right with God but please don’t miss understand me, I’m not saying that we can earn eternal life with God.

When you think about life itself, it is a gift from start to finish. We need to remember that our relationship with God is not based on our legal status but based on a relationship. It’s based on a faith relationship, in other words, if we have no faith, we have no relationship.

So, what does that mean for those who claim to be His?

It means that our lives need to reflect our commitment to Jesus Christ. It means we need to reflect on all that He means and all that He stands for and so when we come to the Judgment claiming to be His, our response to righteousness will be an identifying marker.

But if we deny Christ here, He will deny us there. It won’t help anybody to deny Him here and then go to the Judgment and say, ‘Lord, Lord’, Matthew 7:21-23. If we fear the Day of Judgment coming that could be a sign that we need to grow in love, 1 John 2:28 / 1 John 3:21.

Those who lovingly obey God don’t fear Him as an angry God who seeks to punish, 1 John 4:12 / 1 John 3:19-21, those who lovingly obey God, respect Him but don’t fear Him because He is a gracious God, and love casts out all, Romans 8:37-39.

‘We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.’ 1 John 4:19-21

In a sense, God made growing in love easy for us because He loved us first, Romans 5:8. We didn’t love Him first, oh no, He loved us first and showed it through the sending of His Son, who gave up His own life at Calvary, John 3:16 / John 13:34 / John 15:12-13 / 2 Corinthians 4:15 / Ephesians 2:4-9 / Ephesians 5:2.

John once again reminds us that brotherly love is essential to loving God. Because He had mercy on us, we have mercy toward others, James 2:13. The nature of the hearts that are fit for the eternal dwelling is merciful because of love.

We can’t have it both ways, if people claim to love God but hate their brothers or sisters in Christ, then John says they are liars. They are liars, like those who claim to have fellowship with God while they walk in darkness, 1 John 1:6.

They are liars, like those who claim to not have sinned, 1 John 1:10. They are liars, like those who claim to know Jesus while not keeping His commandments, 1 John 2:4. John says that they are all liars.

John is simply saying for us to love the One whom we cannot see, that is, God, this requires that we first be able to love those who we can see, John 13:34-35. For us to love God, we first need to develop our love for each other, Matthew 22:35-40.

Let me try and summarise what John has taught us about loving each other. He says that we should never even think about neglecting this essential command from God. Why?

Because loving each other is evidence of sonship. Loving each other is defined by God’s love for us. Loving each other is evidence to each other and to the world that we are in fellowship with God. Loving each other doesn’t give us arrogance but assurance and confidence for the Day of Judgement.

And finally but most importantly loving each other is a command from Jesus Himself which needs to be obeyed, John 15:12. Loving each other is essential to loving God, Matthew 22:37-40 / Mark 12:29-31 / Luke 10:27 / John 13:34-35 / John 15:13.

Go To 1 John 5


"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."