Read: 1 John 4:1-21
Consider: Much like today, false teaching existed in the early church. Almost 2,000 years later the same errors are circulated by unscrupulous or deluded teachers, who seek to convince others that what they teach is the truth. Errors of the kind that concern Jesus, tend to centre around his humanity and deity, the reality of the resurrection, etc. In 1 John 4 the matter of Jesus’ incarnation is the false teaching dealt with by John.
There were those in the church who found it hard to believe that Jesus could be fully divine and also fully human. This resulted in an error that took many forms:
– it taught Jesus gave up his deity while he was on earth (he was fully human);
– prior to his crucifixion Jesus divine nature returned to God and it was the human being Jesus who was crucified;
– while on earth Jesus was fully divine, but only appeared to be human (almost like a ghost/spectre).
From the outset of his letter John was clear about Jesus identity. In 1 John 1:1-3 he says: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
While the false teachers spoke theoretically about Jesus, John was able to speak from experience. He had been in the company of Jesus day-by-day throughout his ministry, had been present at the crucifixion, had seen the risen Jesus and been taught by him before he ascended to heaven. That is why he could use words like ‘heard’, ‘seen’ and ‘touched’.
Returning to 1 John 4 we see that this chapter opens with the words: 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 (4:1). When John speaks of spirits this can be confusing as we might think about evil spirits and demons. Listen to how Eugene Peterson in The Message renders this verse: My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.
We are to carefully weigh up what we are taught (and what we teach). If what we are taught (or teach) denies Jesus’ humanity or his divinity, we can be sure it is wrong. We must bring everything back to be tested against the Bible and what it says about Jesus. Only then can we be sure that we don’t fall into error.
Pray: Father, protect us from false teaching that moves away from the authority of Scripture into man’s understanding and knowledge. May we base what we believe firmly on what you have said to us in the Bible. Amen