In a day when men value the weight of public opinion, the voice of the majority, the pressure of influence, etc., it is very refreshing to turn to the Word of God and find someone like the apostle John who, under the superintendence of the Spirit of God, is clearly advising caution as to what we receive as true, and giving guidance as to how we may test what we hear. Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 11. 13-14 of false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ, of Satan transformed into an angel of light, of his ministers transformed as ministers of righteousness. The second letter to Timothy is punctuated with warnings against those who resist the truth. Peter reminds his readers of “false teachers among you”, 2 Pet. 2. 1. Jude tells of ungodly men who crept in unawares.
Raising the Alarm. As a true teacher John warns of dangers, and guides to safety. In chapter 2, after speaking of the love of God, v. 5, he proceeds to admonish the young men, “Love not”, v. 15. In 3. 24, he makes reference to the Spirit of God, after which he warns, “Beloved, believe not every spirit”. Whilst he would have them express the love of God and enjoy the Spirit of God within, he rightly presents the balance of truth to preserve them. With uninstructed believers the supernatural holds immense sway. To identify always the supernatural with the divine is a mistake. A comparison of the Epistles referred to above will confirm this. Falsehood takes many forms, some more subtle than others, and we must remember that doctrinal error leads to moral error. Here, fundamental error is in question, namely error which relates to the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. We emphasize before we proceed that the Holy Spirit is not an influence; He teaches, He guides, He brings to remembrance, He speaks, He shows, He hears, He glorifies Christ, He receives, He helps, He indwells, He intercedes, He bears witness, He can be grieved, He can be quenched, John 14. 26; 16. 13, 14; Rom. 8; 1 Cor. 6. 19; Eph. 4. 30; 1 Thess. 5. 19, etc., to mention but some of His activities. His attributes may also be considered as He is one in essence with the Father and the Son although distinct in personality, but space forbids considering this important subject. In contrast, the spirits spoken of here by John are identified as men who are teaching. Doctrinal discernment is in view; hence we must apply the test as the apostle explains.
The Test of False Teachers. From the passage, this would seem to be two-fold, relating (i) to the content of their teaching, vv. 1, 2, and (ii) to the character of their audience, vv. 5, 6. Articulation may be correct, persuasive, intelligent, stimulating, and so on, but what is to be assessed is substance. In this case, that substance must be to the glory of the Lord Jesus. At that time, many were denying the truth of the incarnation, as many do today. The true believer utterly rejects such insidious falsehood, irrespective of what hue such denial assumes. Confession not profession is needed. Nothing short of a full acknowledgement of His absolute Deity, “Jesus Christ is come”, and of His perfect humanity “in the flesh” will suffice.
Touch my blest Saviour first,
Take Him from God’s esteem,
Prove Jesus bears one spot or stain,
Then tell me I'm unclean.
One can fully acquiesce with John, and with the Spirit of God, as they jealously guard the glory of His Person. He is the solid Rock on which all false teaching will eventually crumble. We may distinguish concerning His Person (where we have scriptural support), but we must never divide. He possesses two whole and perfect natures, but one glorious Person permeates the same, untainted and untaintable by sin. All teaching must then be judged as it relates to Him.
Notice the character of the audience. The Lord Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice”, John 10. 27. Those who give ear to these false teachers are described as “of the world”, 1 John 4. 5. Speaker and hearer come from the same source; they are “not of God”, v. 6.
The Traits of False Teachers.
The Traits of False Teachers.
They confess “not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh”, v.3. They are linked to that man of lawlessness who is to be revealed, while the mystery of lawlessness is already working. This is that spirit of antichrist, opposing and at the same time imitating Christ in an attempt to dethrone Him. In this they expose their true nature; they partake of the character of the one whom they serve, Ezek. 28. 12-15; Isa. 14. 12-15; Gen. 3. 4-5. Another feature is that they speak of the world. This is their sphere and the scope of their horizon, since they are “of the world”. Is it any wonder that the apostle warns against such men? The very mention of them makes us recoil as we think of their audacity, albeit veiled, with a view to surreptitious advancement. One day their folly shall be manifest, their mask removed, their activities thwarted, and they shall be made verily aware that “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father”, Phil. 2. 11.
The Triumph over False Teachers. All who are truly born again have overcome such men by the very fact that they have taken sides with the Father in relation to His Son. Hence “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world”, 1 John 4. 4. The contents of their teaching have no appeal to those who are born of God. As safe in Christ, the weakest child stands in all God’s favour! By the aid of the indwelling Spirit of God, they are made conscious of a power in their possession to discern “the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error”, v. 6. Note the emphatic pronouns, v. 4: “Ye” – hearers; v. 5: “They” – false teachers; v. 6: “We” – true apostles. Adherence to apostolic doctrine is a proof of reality!
Making the Appeal. "Beloved, let us love one another”, v. 7. The second section is approached in the same way.
Whether warning or wooing, the writer never forgets the fact that those to whom he is writing are the objects of divine love. God is love; He loves and He demonstrates that love in a variety of ways, but John is saying more than that. He says, “God is love”: it is His very nature. Not only does it find its origin in Him, but it was manifested in Christ toward us so as to supply life, v. 9, and to satisfy God in respect of our sins, v. 10. It is perfected in us as His nature is revealed, v. 12.
Giving the Assurance. At least four clear statements are given, so that we may know the strength of our relationship with the Father. We know that He dwells in us and we in Him because of affection for His people, v. 12, because of the possession of the Holy Spirit, v. 13, because of our confession of His Son, v. 15, and finally because of our location in His love. A galaxy of truth surrounds these blessed anchors, but we leave it to the reader to develop it. Let us remember that they all rest on the Forerunner and that He has entered in for us, even Jesus, made an High Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec, Heb. 6. 20. Shall we not then have boldness in the day of judgment, realizing that as He is (i.e., beyond the judgment) so are we in Him; judgment has no more claim upon us. Thus does tranquility prevail, and fear is cast out. In this way the apostle directs our minds constantly to the Source of every blessing, so that we may say in truth by experience, “To God be the glory”.
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