WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XLI) 03/16/22

4:6 But we are God’s children; that is why only those who have walked and talked with God will listen to us. Others won’t. That is another way to know whether a message is really from God, for if it is, the world won’t listen to it.

Dr. Haupt’s statement “the church turned away from all error” was in reference to the church of his day. Looking at what the Lord Jesus from heaven told John to write in his letters to these churches, [1] we learn how well they listened to the Apostle John’s words in this epistle. So, the question we might ask is, “Should Christians today still practice the ‘testing’ of the spirits to see if they are holy or unholy?” Some would say, “Absolutely Yes!” Perhaps more than ever before in this 21st century. The main point of John’s testing was that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God who came to earth to be clothed in a human body so that He could die and be raised from the dead as a human and offer all the benefits to us, humans. The question today might be from a different angle: “Do you believe that God’s Son, Jesus the Anointed One, is the only way to salvation, and obeying His teachings is the only way to heaven?” Try it; you might be surprised by the answers you get.

Ernst Hermann von Dryander (1843-1922) proposes that we contemplate the tremendous contrasts which the Apostle John places before us; the Spirit of God, on the one hand, the spirit of antichrist on the other – the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Many between these are brought face to face with the alternatives: this or that – one or the other – the Anointed One or antichrist. But, first, we must decide on which side do we stand? Whether it leads the innermost resolved of our spirit – to God or the world? To what place does our compass needlepoint in directing our thoughts, wishes, and ideals – heavenwards or earthwards?

It means, says Dryander, first we must prove the spirits with care and earnestness in order to see whether we really desire to belong to our Lord Who came in the flesh to save us! And for those who do so, this confession is not a mere matter of the lips, not a catechism learned by repetition, no inherited orthodoxy. These do not necessarily touch the heart, strengthen the will, or alter the manner of life; they can all go hand in hand with an evil spirit. To confess means to abide in Him, see Him, and know Him in spirit. Confessing Him means dedicating our whole being to Him – body, soul, and spirit. It means a purer life together with a steadfast belief in the articles of our faith, and therefore a real spiritual relationship with Him. Nothing is more damaging to Gospel teaching and disquieting to our Lord than mere observance of Church law, which is only a matter of the head but not of the heart, and therefore of no value for living a sanctified life.

So, prove yourself, whether you are “of God.” Pray for the “Spirit of truth,” that you may be enlightened. Do not fear painful humiliation if you are forced to accuse yourself of being a true Christian. Instead, turn to Him if you find that the attractions of the world are trying to seduce you. We are God’s property. We know God hears us, even if others won’t listen to our testimony. That’s how we know the difference between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Dryander then closes with lyrics from a hymn sung in his day.[2]

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,

And lighten with celestial fire;

Thou the anointing Spirit art,

Who dost Thy sevenfold gifts impart;

Thy blessed unction from above

Is comfort, life, and fire of love. [3]

George Gillanders Findlay (1849-1919) says that the words “hereby,” then “we know,” as the conclusion of the Apostle John’s test of trying the spirits are all reduced and traced to this. Here is found their doctrinal spring and practical stream. The Church’s confession and the faith that carries this confession to victory within the heart and intellect originate from the witness given by Jesus the Anointed One’s disciples, entered for all time in the record of Scripture. We believe in Him, as Jesus said, through their word.[4] The spiritual consciousness of the Church is inseparable from its historical roots in the Final Covenant.

However, the spirits of the present age are boasting and arrogant in their judgments, notes Findlay. They say that what they say has high qualities and is charged with mighty influences gathered from the past, but it is changeable and passing, like the spirits of every age. There are things superior to its verdict, which will not wither under opposing views. The Eternal Spirit spoke in the words of Jesus and His witnesses; the time-spirits, one after another, receive inspiration from the mouth of the one for whom judgment is waiting. The history of human thought is, in effect, a continued “trying of the spirits” as to “whether they are of God.”

That’s why, says Findlay, the Gnosticism of the Apostle John’s Day, attempted to weigh the Gospel, the Anointed One, and the Apostolic doctrine on its critical scales. Every subsequent encounter between the Spirit of the Anointed One and Antichrist has had the same issue. Our Lord’s incarnation is the test of every creed and system. God’s Word is the rock on which “Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on,”[5] and yet, the house built on the foundation of the rock did not fall.[6] [7]

William Macdonald Sinclair (1856-1917) says it is most important to notice that this examination of truth and error is taught to all alike, not merely on an ordained and materially separate class.[8] Sinclair also addresses what we have seen other commentators remark about a curious old reading mentioned by Socrates, the historian, namely, “every spirit that destroys (or, dissolves) Jesus the Anointed One.” It is, however, evidently, a marginal note, written against the Gnostics, which crept into the text. It is clear that this sixth verse presupposes an evangelistic presentation of the Anointed One before any suggestion that He was not God in human flesh could be made.[9]

The Apostle John feels the serious duty, in condemnation of Cerinthus and other opponents, to assert the genuine truth and divine authority of the apostolic Gospel. There could be no spiritual pride in this; it was a conscientious obligation. God spoke through them, and their loyalty, but repudiations or compromise were forbidden.[10] When heretics said, “The Anointed One ought to have said this or that,” the Apostles had only to reply, “But He didn’t say that.” The criterion here is much the same as in verses two and three, but regarded from different points of view: paying no attention to false innovators, or faithful obedience to the Jesus the Anointed One of history.[11]

Charles Gore (1853-1932) says that those of us today who try to be intelligent persons, do not find intellectual decisions that easy. We like to see good on all sides and in all opinions. But the Apostle John is intensely persuaded that there is a mortal struggle going on between good and evil, between truth and falsehood, between the Anointed One and the devil. That’s why he seeks to go to the root principle of every claim and determine whether it is, at the root and so in its ultimate issues, for the Anointed One or against Him. It cannot be both. And he sees the root principle of Christian truth in the real incarnation of God in Jesus. And with an unfaltering decision, he proclaims and applies this test. And here, in these first six verses, he proclaims this doctrinal test as if it stood alone and there were no others. But then immediately the note changes. He shows the reason for this zeal for the theological truth. It is because it is the ground, the only adequate ground, of the conviction that God is Love and Love is the only true energy of the believer’s life.[12]

Arno C. Gäbelein (1861-1945) notes that the test as to the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error is stated in verse six: “We belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception.” The test is the Apostle John’s doctrine. This Epistle contains a significant revelation of the Anointed One’s doctrine. They contain the “many things” which the Lord spoke of when on earth, and which would be revealed when the Holy Spirit came. He has come and has made known the blessed things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him, [13] but which are now revealed by His Spirit, the Spirit of truth. The spirit of error denies these doctrines.[14] It’s not so much that the world doesn’t want to listen to our message of blessings and eternal life, they just don’t like what they must agree to and do to become eligible for those blessings and eternal life.

Archibald T. Robertson (1863-1934) says that in sharp contrast with the false prophets and the world. We are in tune with the Infinite God. That’s why the one who knows God keeps on getting acquainted with God, growing in his knowledge of God. Another thing, says Robertson, one reason the world has no interest in what we preach is because some sermons are dull and not inspiring. There is a touch of mysticism here, to be sure, but the heart of Christianity is mysticism (spiritual contact with God in the Anointed One by the Holy Spirit). John had felt the cold, indifferent, and hostile stare of worldly listeners as he preached Jesus.[15] On way to make sermons more interesting and inspiring is to interpret the Scriptures to help explain our message instead of using our message to interpret the Scriptures. It’s called “Expository Preaching.”


[1] Revelation 2:1-3:22

[2] Dryander, Ernst Hermann von: Addresses on the First Epistle of John, op. cit., Address XI, Logos

[3] Come, Holy Ghost, our Souls Inspire by Rabanus Maurus (776-856 AD), trans. John Cosin (1594-1672 AD)

[4] John 17:20

[5] Matthew 21:44

[6] Ibid. 7:25

[7] Findlay, George G., An Exposition of the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., Chap. XIX, p. 326

[8] Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:15; 11:13; 12:10; Ephesians 5:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:21

[9] Cf. 1 John 2:18

[10] Cf. John 18:37

[11] Sinclair, William M., A New Testament for English Readers, Ed. Charles J. Ellicott, op. cit., Vol. III, pp. 487-488

[12] Gore, Charles: The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., §7.1, p. 170

[13] 1 Corinthians 2:9-10

[14] Gäbelein, Arno C., The Annotated Bible, op. cit., p. 154

[15] Robertson, Archibald T., Word Pictures of the New Testament, op. cit., p. 1961

About drbob76

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