22 July 2018 Testing the Spirits Martin Baker
We continue today our series on John’s first letter.
It was probably written in Ephesus, and written to this early Christian community formed around the teachings of one of the apostles.
The community was in some degree of turmoil. Some of its leaders had been influenced by teachings that said that Jesus was not really human. He really just appeared that way but it was inconceivable that God’s Word could be fully present in flesh and blood.
John insists that this is a false teaching, led by false prophets and that these leaders were anti-Christs.
He said that this word was so real in Jesus; you could hear it, see it and touch it.
And that faith in Jesus brought us into a full relationship with God and with each other. And he used this special word for this new communion, this new fellowship he used the word Koinonia.
John says that Jesus’ suffering and execution were a consequence of human wrong doing. Driven by fear and hatred. All very real things. All things that speak of death. And that we are all involved in this.
So John is saying, be assured that your relationship with Jesus is all about something real, his resurrection transforms our life as light transforms darkness. And he uses this word paraclette. Again saying that Jesus is close to us, always for us, knows us fully and loves us completely.
So this morning John recognises that there are many influences in our lives, many spirits which can lead us in the wrong directions making the wrong decisions.
And he says that the real test for our faith, and whether we are being guided by the Spirit of God, is whether our words and actions are based, are centred, on the reality of Jesus in our lives.
1 John 4:1-6
Testing the Spirits
4 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. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus[a] is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world. 4 Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Let us pray….
So, over the last couple of weeks we’ve been looking at this 1 letter of John.
He has accused the former leaders of this little church of being false teachers, false prophets, even antichrists.
And the heresy sits around people’s view of who Jesus was.
Was he human? God incarnate? Facing all that we face? Was Jesus as God’s word fully part of our lives? Or as the false teachers said, it only looked that way. Jesus was more a spiritual being. Always in control, objective, serenely going about the God’s business but really not facing betrayal pain execution in the way we might face those things.
So where do you sit on the scale?
Fully human or not human at all – a spiritual being.
And it might seem like an ancient concern for that early Christian community. It might seem so distant from our faith our sense of mission and purpose today.
Okay, a little test. Because I don’t think John’s concern are that far removed from some of our current challenges.
Jesus as spiritual being or Jesus as fully human.
Please don’t accuse me of being a Grinch. But I want to read you some lines and you tell me where you sit with them.
‘Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head; the stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay’
Okay, where does everyone sit with this? Does that sound real? Bright sky, stars looking down? Jesus as spiritual being or human baby?
‘The cattle are lowing the baby awakes, but little lord Jesus no crying he makes…’
So how many equate not crying with Jesus as God’s son?
‘It came upon a midnight clear, the glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth, to touch their harps of gold..’
Is that what it would have looked like?
‘Silent Night holy night all is calm all is bright, round yon virgin mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild.’
Okay. So what are the good things being said here?
‘Good Christian folk rejoice… with heart and song and voice, ox and ass before him bow and he is in the manger now..’
‘Cradled in a stall was he with sleepy clouds and asses and the very beasts could see that he all men surpasses. ‘
We three kings of orient are…..
We don’t get many Christmas carols written that suggest it was wet outside and no one could see the stars. That Jesus cried a lot, had a rash, or had teething problems.
Do you see the Docetism heresy coming through here?
Somehow we associate Jesus as Son of God, with a baby who does not cry, with a sky that is clear, with oxen and asses who appreciate who he is. And then we have three wise men or kings, when the Bible tells us nothing about how many there were and actually tells us that they were magi the Persian name of Zoroastrian priests who worship a God called Ashura Mazda.
I personally think that Persian priests coming to pay homage to the Messiah is much more interesting than 3 kings who turn up from nowhere and later came to be named as Balthazar Casper and Melchior.
John is making the point again and again, that for our faith to be real it has to be embodied in the reality of who Jesus was and is.
There is something lovely about gathering to sing old favourite Christmas carols, something important, how do we also make sure that people know of this Jesus is with us, for us, knows what’s it like to face what we face. Against all convention ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. Against every view of how power should be used, washed his disciple’s feet. Against everyone’s understanding of victory. Suffered, was executed because of his sacrificial love and goodness ?
John is speaking to us when he says
4 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. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus[a] is not from God.
Maybe at Christmas we need to think more of the terms of the verse in W B Yeats famous poem
The darkness drops again but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
He was affirming a faith in the kind of Jesus people could still believe in even after they had endured the horror of world war one.
So even though we have all these either spirits whispering in our ears, sentimentalism, gentle child of gentle mother, or consumerism, Jesus want you to be rich, just use and consume and throw away, spirits that move us away from believing in Jesus fully part of our lives and challenges. These spirits of deception, John would have been worried about us.
4 Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are of the world, therefore what they say is of the world, and the world listens to them.
John has emphasized the need for his readers to abide in Jesus. To abide in Jesus means to rest in, count on, and act from the reality of Jesus' presence, redeeming and transforming work, and His passionate love.
There are two points in John’s letter today that are special challenges.
First, there are many spirits that I encounter daily that are not of Christ, not just a few. Secondly, it is not hard to be deceived. If I am not paying attention I can take in ideas and attitudes that really are not Christian and begin acting on them. John wants his readers to take these warnings seriously.
Just doing a quick survey of the news feeds I receive. Every week there is a news story about Auckland property prices. Every day there is a headline about the things Donald Trump may have said or done. Every day we are told about the misadventures of a tv personality.
And here we are in this world God so loves, beauty, tragedy, hope and despair. For John is was so important that we come together, that we read and hear and touch God’s word, not just for the encouragement of our own faith, but to reset, to re calibrate our thinking, vision, direction. To ask ourselves what spirits are we listening to?
The way John says to avoid being deceived is amazingly simple. John takes us back to Jesus. Any spirit that confesses that "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God
So the three things for today. I would encourage you to think and pray about these things over this week.
First - Discernment. What spirits are we listening to? How are we responding to the messages we hear through the various media we listen to and watch? Are they messages that lead us to be more compassionate, kind, loving, forgiving - or are they messages that encourage fear or insecurity or encourage materialism and a belief that what we own or consume is a sign of our success and achievement?
Second - Faith. John encourages us all to ground our faith in the reality of Jesus. In what ways might we ‘spiritualise’ Jesus – seeing him as an ‘other worldly’ figure, distancing our faith in him from the daily challenges, needs and hopes of our lives?
And – third. Action. John uses the word Koinonia to describe the new community formed by those drawn to the light of God’s Word in Jesus. What could you or I do to enhance our life together as followers of Christ?
John says to that ancient community and to us. We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.
So let’s celebrate that light and life and be encouraged by the assurances of Jesus who knows what its like is with us and always for us. AMEN
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.