1 John 4.1-6 (a)


Geordie Barham was my school captain.
Back in 1986 when I did my HSC Geordie Barham was voted in as school captain.
Geordie was a Christian
- our year at Epping Boy's High School had a number of Christians
- and although he never led the school with great distinction,
he did no shame to it either.

But when we left school, after about 12 months or so,
I got word that Geordie had joined a new church.
This church was becoming rather active on university campuses,
and was very radical in the way it treated its members.
Geordie, who was a drummer, sold his drum kit,
left home, donated the money to the church
and went to live with other church members.
He disowned his parents
and spent all his free time working for the church.

It is now known that the church Geordie got involved in was a cult
- it's called the Sydney Church of Christ
(not related to the CoC denomination).
Years after he joined, Geordie began to work for the cult
and became the leader of the university group at Queensland Uni (I think).
It was in that position that he was approached by a film crew from a current affairs program,
where he featured quite prominently in a story about this dangerous new cult.

Alas, Geordie was not the only Christian from my school to join up with the Sydney Church of Christ.
Another Christian ended up joining the cult from the year below me
- a great Christian bloke who ended up disowning his parents
and selling all he had as well.

Now what drives people - Christians - into cults and weird teaching?
Why is it that false teaching is so pervasive in our society?
How do we counter it?
How do we protect ourselves from it?

A few things to note first before we get into the passage.

I've found that the only way to approach this passage is to preach two sermons.
The one you're hearing today is the first one, so the next time I'm up I'll be preaching from the same passage but a different sermon.
The reasons are simple.
Some of you might appreciate 60 minute sermons but I doubt it.
What you'll be getting today is long enough!
The other problem is that the topic of the second sermon will be about Assurance,
which is an important area to examine
and which features quite prominently in this passage,
but cannot be examined properly today.

Let me read you the passage again. 1 John 3.24 - 4.6:

Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
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 recognise 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.
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 recognise the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Let me just let you know how we're going to approach this today.

The first point I'll be dealing with is the subject of prophecy.
What I'll be doing here is examining what the Old and New Testaments teach us about prophets and prophecy,
as well as the link between the Spirit and Prophecy.

The second point I'll be dealing with is the subject of false prophecy.
What I'll be doing here is looking at what it is,
where it comes from,
and how to deal with it.

The third point I'll be looking at is the role of the Holy Spirit in speaking about Jesus.

Let's move on to the first point - The Spirit of Prophecy.

1. The Spirit of Prophecy

Prophets were men (mainly men) who were sent by God to speak his word to his people.
In the Old Testament, these prophets came about during the reigns of the Kings of Israel and Judah,
and continued into the exile and beyond.
However, by the time of Christ, prophets had generally ceased to operate.

The message of these prophets was spoken directly to the nations of Israel and Judah.
Even when prophets spoke God's word against other nations, they were still directed for the Jews to hear.
There were two main subject areas that these prophets spoke about
- judgement for sin,
and the future glory awaiting God's faithful people.
So in this sense their prophecies were revelatory and predictive.
Revelatory meaning that God is revealing the truth of a current situation
- usually the sin of Israel or Judah.
Predictive meaning that God was giving the prophet a vision of the future
- but a future that was mainly focused upon something called "the Day of the Lord",
when God will bring all things together,
judge the world for its sins,
and begin creation anew with his faithful people.

So that is what Old Testament prophets did.
How does that understanding fit in with the New Testament?

Well firstly let me simply deal with the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.
When the prophets saw a future "Day of the Lord",
they were given a picture of judgement and destruction,
as well as the future glory of God's faithful people.
I can't go into the specifics, but basically this "Day of the Lord" is fulfilled by the work of Christ.
In fact, this "Day of the Lord" that the Old Testament prophets spoke about can be broken into two days.
The first day is when Christ was crucified and when he rose again.
The second day is the day when Christ will return in the future
- a day that is yet to come.

So Old Testament prophecy is ultimately fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
So how does New Testament prophecy fit into this?
It has been said that all the information given to us in the New Testament about prophets and prophecy was enough for people at the time to understand,
but not enough for us to understand fully.
Yes, there were New Testament prophets,
but for some reason God didn't give us a great deal of information about what it means to be a prophet.
Now this means we need to be careful about this whole issue,
because if God didn't give us enough information about something,
it's probably because we don't really need to know it!

So what can we glean from the New Testament about prophets and prophecy?

The first is that the church was built on a foundation which included prophets.
Turn with me quickly to the Book of Ephesians.
Paul has some very important words for us to look at.
In Ephesians 2.19-20, Paul says

Consequently you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

Paul also gives some more information about Prophets in Ephesians 4.11-13.

It was he (Christ) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

So the first thing we see about prophets is that they are, alongside the Apostles, the foundation of the Church.
Christ himself is the building's cornerstone
- without him the entire structure would collapse
- but the Apostles and prophets built the foundation for the church.

The second thing we see is that Prophets are lumped together with Apostles, Evangelists and Teaching Pastors.
The idea here is that Christ sent these people to the church to ensure that the church grows in maturity and knowledge.
In fact, in the verses immediately following Ephesians 4.11-13 there is a section about no longer being swept away by false and strange teaching.
So the Prophet,
like the Apostle, the Evangelist and the teaching Pastor,
is sent by God to the church to strengthen it.

Another verse that helps us is 2 Peter 1.21

Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

True prophecy is true therefore because the prophet is guided and directed by the Holy Spirit.
This is important because what we see here is the Spiritual aspect of prophets -
they are specially used by the Holy Spirit to speak from God.
Prophets cannot speak without the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
There is an unbreakable link between the work of the prophet and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Another verse to look at: Revelation 19.10:

At this I fell at his feet (an angel) to worship him. But he said to me "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God. For the Testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophecy.

It's that last sentence that we need to focus on
- The Testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophecy.
What is it that the Holy Spirit is doing with the Prophet?
The prophet speaks about Christ.
When the Holy Spirit inspires a prophet to speak he speaks about Christ.

Now at this point the work of a prophet seems to be getting a bit confused.
Most people think of prophets as strange people who have weird and wonderful visions,
who speak in riddles and come up with bizarre ideas and guidances from God.
A bit like Nostradamus.

One last verse to look at: Hebrews 1.1-2

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through who he made the universe.

Now the prophets that are mentioned here are the Old Testament sort
- you can tell because the writer says "in the past".
However he doesn't go on then to talk about New Testament prophets
- instead he speaks about Christ.
In these last days God speaks to us by his Son.
This verse goes well with the Revelation verse
- the Testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophecy.

So let me summarise what we know so far about Prophets in the New Testament.

1) Alongside the Apostles, they are the foundation of the Christian church.
2) They were sent by God to build up and strengthen the church, along with Apostles, Evangelists and Teaching Pastors.
3) When Prophets speak, they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit.
4) When Prophets speak, they speak about Christ.

That's pretty much what we know about prophets.
What we don't know is how to work out how to become one,
how to work out if you're not one,
or whether or not the gift of prophecy was limited only to the first century church.
None of these questions can be fully answered based on our reading of scripture.
And if we believe that the Bible is sufficient for the man or woman of God to be thoroughly equipped for living the Christian life,
then we have to assume that we don't need to know this information.

Now I know this section was fairly heavy, so let's move on to 1 John now.

2. The spirit of deception

The problem that John sees in the church at the time was not a lack of prophecy, but an overwhelming amount of bad prophecy occurring.
Let me read to you verses 1-3:

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 recognise 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.

We've already discussed the fact that prophets are subject to the work of the Holy Spirit.
But what happens if the prophet is not speaking the truth?
What happens if the prophet is teaching lies about God?
How can the Holy Spirit do that?
Simple - he doesn't.
The prophet is not a prophet from God
- he is a false prophet.
And that means that the spirit that carries him along and tells him what to say is not the Spirit of Christ,
but the spirit of antichrist.

We dealt with the issue of the antichrist in a previous sermon
- but let me just summarise it quickly.
The antichrist is any figure throughout history that is trying to destroy the church.
The antichrist can work outside the church to do this in the form of kings or governments that persecute and execute believers.
The antichrist can also work inside the church to introduce false teaching that divides the church,
destroys faith and promotes unbelief.
It is this sort of antichrist that John is referring to here.
The antichrist exists to destroy the church,
so any prophet that turns up speaking untruth about God or Christ has to therefore be inspired by the spirit of the antichrist.

But what John does here is give us information on how to work out whether a prophet is false or true.
He says "Every Spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God." And then, to make the point obvious, he says "But every Spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God."
Now this refers to the specific problems at the time.
The false teachers that John was speaking against were saying that Jesus did not have a physical body
- he was divine spirit being that had come from the heavens,
but did not lower himself by having a physical body.
John spoke against this, and these verses help us to understand what these false prophets were saying.
So, John says,
if anyone says Jesus didn't have a physical body,
he is a false prophet and the spirit that guides him is the spirit of the antichrist.

John gave this test to his readers as a way of testing whether or not a false prophet was in their midst - but it was directed specifically at the problem at hand. For us 2000 years later, we need a bit more than what John has written here. By this I mean that there are plenty of false prophets around who would say that Jesus came in the flesh, but wasn't God. The fact that they pass John's specific test here doesn't make them true prophets.

What we need to understand is that false prophets have a wrong understanding of who Christ is and what he has done.
If the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus,
then any prophet who gets Jesus wrong is from the antichrist.

In preparation for this sermon I found a great website on the internet
- and I downloaded a book from it.
The book's title is called "I was a flaky preacher",
and is written by a former charismatic preacher.
Listen to the opening paragraph of his book:

Although this word is slang, it is used extensively throughout Christian circles to describe Christians, preachers, and zealous leaders who do not remain established in solid doctrine. In many cases, flakes are talented preachers who simply have ventured beyond common biblical conduct.
In our Christian culture, this includes eccentric preachers who do wild, enthusiastic things which appear spiritual to the undiscerning — but under closer examination, we discover that they trespass biblical standards.
Flakey preachers are filled with prophetic babbling, empty headed foolishness, and deep spiritual speculation.
A flakey preacher is someone who cannot back up his beliefs and actions with solid biblical teaching. He gets his ideas from somewhere out there in the spirit realm: "The Spirit of the Lord just showed me…" A flakey preacher is also someone who lacks scriptural substance.
Flakes are often people whose doctrines contain only a sliver of truth while covered over with an abundance of fluff.

The author of this book has learned from bitter experience that he was a flaky preacher.
More than that, he recognises that he was actively leading people away from the truth,
even though he thought he was leading them to God.
Fortunately he reassessed his ministry
and, over a period of time, moved away from falsehood
and embraced the rule of scripture.

When John opens this chapter he instructs us to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God."
Testing does not mean trying out.
It doesn't mean that we go with the particular teaching for a while to work it out.
It means that we have to rigorously examine and investigate the particular prophet and prophecy to make sure that it is true.
Some Christians think that doing such a thing is harsh and judgmental.
However, God commands us,
through the words of John here,
to be wise and level headed.

The author of "I was a flaky preacher" has pointed out that too many Christians have not tested the spirits correctly.
He has come up with three tests that weak Christians use to defend their adherence to false teaching.
Here they are:

1. "But look at the changed lives"

By this test, anything that changes people's lives must be good.
No matter how strange the teaching, if people's lives are changed for the better then it must be from God.
That sort of logic is nonsense.
There are plenty of happy Buddhists and Atheists out there.
Christianity is not the only religion or philosophy that offers the benefits of a changed life.

And of course,
if the false teaching or prophecy is truly from the antichrist,
then it has to be seductive in order to work properly
- otherwise no one would listen to it.
In all the books I've seen from false or flaky teaching within the church,
their main argument for the truth of their belief is constantly described in stories and anecdotes of people who have had their lives changed.
Let's not be led astray here
- false teaching and false prophecy is seductive.
People's lives will be changed by it,
but that doesn't make it true
- in fact, it is simply evidence that it is false.

2. "But they love Jesus"

This test focuses both upon the false teacher or prophet and those who follow him.
People see that they are sincere in their love for Jesus.
And of course, if they're sincere in their love for Jesus then that means that their teaching must be okay.

But that sort of thinking is incorrect as well.
Anyone can be emotionally and passionately committed and be truly sincere, and still be wrong.
I think most false teachers and prophets are quite sincere in what they believe.
But that doesn't make them right.

3. "But look at the crowds"

This test focuses upon success as a measure of truth.
Lots of Christians are flocking to hear this teacher or prophet, doesn't that indicate a movement of God's Spirit in people's hearts?
No it doesn't.
Outward success is not a measure of truth.
False teachers and prophets can become quite popular and attract large crowds of fawning people
- but that doesn't mean what they are doing is correct.
Remember - false teaching and prophecy is seductive, it is bound to be popular.
God would not have given us this warning if false prophecy was not seductive.

What we need to do instead is focus upon what the preacher or prophet says about Christ.
We need to determine whether or not they are from God,
and whether they speak the truth.
And that is my third point:

3. The Spirit of Truth

Now over the years I have seen my fair share of Television evangelists.
One of my jobs while at uni was at a service station and I had to get up a 4.30 am for some shifts.
Sometimes during breakfast I would turn on the TV at 5.00am and see some very dodgy Christian preachers.

What struck me about these preachers was that they were dynamic.
They had no notes, they walked around the stage and everyone's eyes were on them.
One preacher I saw walked into the crowd and preached as he walked through the church.
Now I've even visited a church that had preachers like this,
and they are very effective communicators.
But I didn't like them
- not because they weren't sincere (they were),
not because they were passionate about their message (they were),
but because of what they were saying.

Last year I turned on Compass - the religious affairs show on ABC TV.
They were doing a special about Billy Graham.
You know what?
never heard Billy Graham preach before until that night.
And I was shocked.
He was preaching the same way as all these TV evangelists that I had seen.
He was bouncing around the stage.
He was a brilliant communicator.
Everyone's eyes were on him.
He spoke brilliantly.
And I was shocked.
Surely, I thought, Billy Graham would be different to all these weird preachers I had seen on TV.

But then I stopped to listen to what he was saying,
and that was where the difference lay.
Billy Graham was preaching the gospel.
He was telling people about Jesus
- Jesus as God,
as sin sacrifice,
Jesus' resurrection,
the forgiveness we can have if we trust in him and commit ourselves to serving him.
All those things were missing from the TV evangelists I saw
- they weren't preaching the gospel,
they were preaching success and victory.
The same style of preaching,
but a totally different message.

A prophet speaks from the Holy Spirit,
and the Spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Christ.
these verses from 1 John we see something quite important that the Holy Spirit does.
Verse 2 says that the Holy Spirit acknowledges that Jesus has come in the flesh.
Verse 6 says that the Holy Spirit lives in those who acknowledge the words of the Apostles,
which is the basis of our understanding of Christ.

I don't know if there are prophets today.
I don't know if I'm a prophet or not.
But that doesn't really matter.
What matters is that the truth of Christ is proclaimed.
Now whether the truth about Christ is proclaimed by a prophet, an evangelist, a teaching pastor or an ordinary Christian surely makes no difference
- so long as the message of Christ is proclaimed.
Leave it up to God to determine the specifics of who is who.

One of the major roles of the Holy Spirit is to bring people into the knowledge of Christ.
I've heard a fairly good description of the Holy Spirit as being the light that shines on Jesus so people can see Jesus more fully.
When a prophet speaks as the Spirit carries him he will speak about Christ.
He will speak the truth about who Christ is
and what he has done.

There is also a link here between the work of the Apostles and the work of prophets and the work of the Spirit.
The Apostles were Jesus' first followers.
They were set apart by him and the Spirit worked through them all powerfully to preach the gospel and grow the church.
The teachings of the Apostles form the basis of the church.
In the Nicene Creed we say "We believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic church."
What are the teachings of the Apostles?
We have it in the New Testament.
And what does the New Testament focus on?

The Apostles focused on Christ.
The New Testament focuses on Christ.
The Spirit, who spoke the truth to the Apostles who wrote the New Testament, speaks about Christ.
The Spirit, who spoke to the prophets and writers of the Old Testament, speaks about Christ.
Prophets speak about Christ.

Well I've given you a great deal of information today.
How should we apply it?
To tell you the truth I think I probably could have preached 4 sermons from this passage.
So what we've been looking at is quite important,
but very rich and complex.

The first thing to realise is that we shouldn't have to worry about prophets.
I personally don't think we need prophets any more.
Remember that the church's foundation is that of the apostles and prophets in the first century - which is an indication that the foundation has already been built.

The second thing to realise is that what we should be worried about is the teaching about Christ.
Far too many churches these days obscure or ignore the gospel of Christ as being their prime focus.
We need to ensure that our own church is not sidetracked from the truth,
and we need to rebuke our teachers and preachers if they ignore Christ.

The third thing to realise is that the spirit of antichrist is very active in our churches today.
We need to be very wary of any new teaching or fad that comes along.
We need to ensure that its teaching is solidly Biblical.
We need to ensure that its focus is upon the message of Christ.
And we need to be both brave and loving if we discover that the spirit behind it is false
- brave in confronting it,
loving in the way we deal with Christians who are caught up in it.

The fourth thing we need to realise is that we can overcome the evil one if the word of God lives in us.
This is John's message to young men in 1 John Chapter 2.
Reading the Bible and praying for God to teach us from it is one of the most important things we can do
- it will help us to resist the work of the devil in our lives.
The less of the Bible we know,
the more Satan can influence us and lead us astray.


What is a prophet?
A prophet is a man (usually a man) who is sent by God to speak to his people.
Alongside the Apostles, they are the foundation of the Christian church.
They were sent by God to build up and strengthen the church.
When Prophets speak, they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit,
1and they speak about Christ.

When you pick up a phone and talk to someone, do you ever consider how wonderful that phone is?
Or do you simply take it for granted?
If you're like me you have no appreciation of how phones work.
1The phone isn't important
- what's important is the person you're speaking to,
and what you're talking about.

A prophet is like a phone.
The prophet doesn't want you to spend all your time analyzing him and finding out how he works.
The prophet wants you to listen to the words he is saying to you from God
- it's the message that is important, not the messenger.
And what is that message?
It's the message of Christ - the gospel.
God speaks to us today through his Son.
There are no more mysteries,
no more special knowledge to be revealed.
All has been given to us in the person of Christ.

Let's pray.

Thank you Father that you speak to us. Thank you that through your Apostles and Prophets you created the foundation of the early church, with Christ Jesus as its cornerstone. Thank you for your Holy Spirit, who lives in us and comforts us, and teaches us through your Word, the Bible. And thank you most of all for your son, who died on the cross for our sins and was raised again so that we may have new birth. May we never forget the great love you have shown to us. Amen.

From the Kerygmatic Department

© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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