WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson VI) 01/24/22

4:1a Dearly loved friends, don’t always believe everything you hear simply because someone says it is a message from God: test it first to see if it actually is, for there are many false teachers all around.

Our blessed Lord foretold that there would be false prophets everywhere. They would deceive many, and that is why the Apostle Paul informed the elders of the Church of Ephesus about people who would come out and distort the truth to draw away disciples after them, even from their congregation.[1] And to Timothy, he wrote saying that the Spirit speaks expressly that some will depart from the faith in the latter times, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils.[2] [3] So, if our Christian prophets from over 2000 years ago were already warning God’s people, why should we be surprised to see what’s happening in our world and the Church today?

Charles Ellicott (1819-1904) believes that the Apostle John’s mention of belief in chapter 3, verse 23, may have reminded him of the danger of intellectual, as well as of moral error. The reference to God’s Spirit in 3:24 gave him a form to clothe the discussion of truth and falsehood in its human manifestations. Where one quality, or opinion, demonstrates itself in different individuals, John identifies it and calls it a “spirit” or “spirits.” By that, he means those tendencies towards good and evil (here especially concerning thought and opinion), which some consider is coming from the superior power of God, and others, and the inferior energy of the devil. John does not enter into whether these influences are personal or not.[4] 

William B. Pope (1822-1903) also agrees that the “spirits” and the “false prophets” are one. They are the “antichrists” in chapter two. Still, the predominant reference to the Holy Spirit in this section gives occasion for using these two terms: “spirits” as professing to be His vessels, and “false prophets” as in proclaiming to be anointed by Him. As teachers, they cannot be considered genuine until tested. We should not mistake the Apostle Paul’s gift of “discerning spirits” with these “spirits.”[5] Instead, it is the universal duty mandatory for every Christian to examine the doctrine of the Son of God. Many people professing to be inspired changed course. But not, as in chapter two, from the congregation. They did not walk out with their lying spirit from the Church. Instead, they walked into the Church with their habit of worldly lying.[6]

British lecturer William Basil Jones of Nayland (1822-1897) points out three dangers that arose from different quarters to assail the Church’s faith in the Apostle John’s Day. The first springs from the dislike towards anything approaching an exact and definite theological system. It is the majority advocates of what is called “public opinion.” It includes those who aspire to be leaders of that majority mandate. Such persons profess the utmost respect for what they believe to be Christianity but repudiate any religion that comes before them as a movement or denomination. 

The next peril, says Jones, comes from people of a different brand. They are a nobler sort than the others, persons of strong religious convictions and professing a rigid orthodoxy of a certain kind. They accept the fundamental doctrines of Christianity and other ideologies that are not fundamental, whether true or false. But their creed is out of focus and perspective, for they lay but little stress upon the weightier matters of revealed religion. At the same time, the objects of present or recent controversy assume an exaggerated importance in their eyes.

Then Jones notes the third proceeds from persons who profess a perfectly correct belief. While they are not spiritual or principally practical, they have trouble accepting the Incarnation, which regards the Savior as a God/Man. Yet creeds and dogmas have their proper function, so far as they give faith a definite object on which to fasten. But an Anointed One who has not come in the flesh would be no Anointed One at all.[7]

All this may sound somewhat academic to you, but under the polished language of Jones, it is a simple message: some people feel they are part of the Christian religion but only in mind. They don’t want the Bible warning them what not to do and have a strong belief in the separation of Church and State. Then some go through all the rites and rituals of their religion, but their hearts are not in it because they are so wedded to the world that they can’t bring themselves to fully commit the God’s Word, Will, and Spirit. And the last group has hang-ups about certain scriptures and doctrines that elevate the sovereignty of God. “This is our Father’s world,” they may sing, “but I’m here to run it for Him.” Heavenly revelations don’t work here on earth; human logic guided by the Spirit is all we need to handle our problems.

Fergus Ferguson (1824-1897), controversial minister of Blackfriars Street (Montrose Street) Evangelical Union (or Independent) Church, Glasgow, Scotland, lists a thought-provoking collection of false prophets identified here by the Apostle John: Scientific false prophet – antichrist in the schools; Secular false prophet – antichrist in the nations; Literary false prophets – antichrist in books; Religious false prophets in the Church; and Social false prophets in businesses. Of the false religious prophets, Ferguson says, have infested the political system; of a week, blind, hero-worship – the worship of intellectual ability and unfathomable cunning; and of nominal Protestantism which has a reputation for being alive while it is dead. Moreover, their ritual forms are no better than that of the Vatican.[8] While this sounds very critical of the Church of England and Church of Rome in Ferguson’s time, it nevertheless is in practice today but given a less censured rebuke. But beware, the mainline Methodist and Presbyterian churches are not far behind. The question might be, if or when will the Pentecostals and Charismatic groups join the crowd?

William Lincoln (1825-1888) asks us to observe the last workings of the divine life. “And he that keeps His commandments dwells in Him, and He in them; and as a result of this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit, He has given us.” This mention of the Holy Spirit leads the Apostle John to say, “Beloved, believe not every spirit; but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” But if a person asks, “Oh! but how may I be sure that I have the Holy Spirit?” John cautions us, bear in mind there are two spirits in the world. We have the Holy Spirit; we will live like the Anointed One lived, as long as the Spirit leads us.

Says Lincoln, we must not forget that it is being impressed upon believers right now, thank God, that the Holy Spirit is in the church. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is in the believer. But this passage shows us that there is another spirit in the world. Besides the Holy Spirit, the two go counter to one another. There is the spirit of the antichrist and the Spirit of the Anointed One. And how do we tell one from the other? Every Spirit that confesses that Jesus the Anointed One came in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus the Anointed One has come in the flesh is not of God.[9]

William Alexander (1824-1911) says we can conclude that when the Apostle John speaks of the Word of Life, he refers to something higher than preaching. He views the manifestation of Life who took His place in humanity and is personally the Word and the Life.[10] If we paraphrase John’s preface, it can read, “That which in all its collective influence was from the beginning as understood by Moses, Solomon, and Micah.[11] We first and above all heard in divinely human utterances and have also seen with our eyes. Something we gazed upon with the full and entranced sight that delights in the object contemplated[12] and which these hands handled reverentially at His bidding.[13] I speak all this concerning the Word who is also the Life.”[14]

Daniel Steele (1824-1914) promotes the concept that one element of our testing consists of exercising our powers of discernment in discriminating between the influences brought to burden us. The devil wears many different masks. He conquers by deceit. That is why we must cultivate the ability to detect the actor behind the mask. This ability is one element of Christian perfection. Still, another aspect is that solid spiritual food is for mature people, who can recognize the difference between right and wrong through training.[15] [16]

Mr. Morgan Dix (1827-1908), in speaking about how we know the spirit of truth, and the enthusiasm of error, says that “time” is attitude. The Germans call it Zeit Geist,[17] the character of the age in which we live. What is that energy? It is the world about us, this age of ours, speaking inarticulately to the soul of man. The world lies all around, a varied, splendid scene; vast, rich, fair, full of wealth and beauty. It is like an adorable body without a soul until it can express itself. But it voices itself in the trends of the times and thus talks to our hearts.

Its mediums are manifold and diverse; among them are art and literature; the voices vary greatly, according to race, age, and environment. It is an age of marvels. Here are scholars studying and speculating; inventors planning and contriving; politicians doing their best as architects of their fortunes. Poets, painters, mechanics, and artisans; are grand cities, growing more splendid yearly. Here we have luxury, comfort, delights of all sorts, music, world’s shows, balls, dances, entertainments, with titles, dress, gala, and glory to the full. What is all this? Mere chaos of activities till the Zeit Geist speaks. It gives what is needed, expression and interpretation; as the musician would say, it interprets the world’s psalm of life.[18] For instance, we often refer to the “Roaring Twenties” and the “Free Love Sixties.”


[1] Acts of the Apostles 20:30

[2] 1 Timothy 4:1

[3] Stock, John: Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 316-317

[4] Ellicott, Charles: A Bible Commentary for English Readers, op. cit., loc. cit.

[5] 1 Corinthians 12:10

[6] Pope, William B.: Popular Commentary, op. cit., p. 314

[7] Jones, William Basil: Biblical Illustrator, Joseph Exell Ed., op. cit., loc. cit.

[8] Ferguson, Fergus: Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., loc. cit.

[9] Lincoln, William: Lectures on 1 John, op. cit., p. 109

[10] The phrase probably means the Logos, the Personal “Word who is at once both the Word and the Life.”

[11] See Genesis 1:1; Proverbs 8:23; Micah 5:2

[12] Cf. John 6:36, 40. The word is applied by the angel to the disciples gazing on the Ascension, Acts of the Apostles 1:11. The Transfiguration may be here referred to. Such an incident as that in John 7:37 attests a vivid delighted remembrance of the Savior’s very attitude.

[13] Luke 24:39; John 20:27

[14] Alexander, William: The Expositor’s Bible, op. cit., p. 82

[15] Hebrews 5:14

[16] Steele, Daniel: Half-Hours, op. cit., p. 95

[17] Zeit Geist means “spirit of the time.”

[18] Dix, Morgan: Biblical Illustrator, Joseph Excell, Ed., op. cit., loc. cit.

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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