WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XLIII) 03/18/22

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.

In other words, Schnackenburg wants us to see that when John speaks of the spirit that influences the speaker, if we “know God,” it will be easy to discern between God’s Spirit of truth and the world’s spirit of error. And the best way is to listen to their message and watch their behavior. Although they may claim to have God’s anointing, they are false teachers if their words do not match those of the Scriptures. But when an anointed minister of God preaches and their message is backed by what God’s Word says, and their behavior is what the Scriptures call for, you’ll know God’s Spirit inspires them. You don’t need to try and get hold of, speak with, or get to know the spirit involved to realize whether they are false or genuine. Just match their words with God’s and their conduct with that of the Apostles, and you’ll know.[1]

Donald W. Burdick (1917-1996) says that in these first six verses, the Apostle John points out two tests by which it is possible to distinguish between the false and true prophets. One is the content of their message: Do they confess Jesus as God’s Son come in human flesh? The other test is the character of their members: Who listens to them? The people of God, or the people of the world? After all, some worldly people were teaching heavenly things, and some blessed servants were teaching earthly things. So, believers must have some gauge to measure the difference. This is John’s method of distinguishing “the spirit of truth” from “the spirit of error.[2]

Peter S. Ruckman (1921-2010) has an interesting thought on what the Apostle John says here about false spirits and false prophets. Ruckman says it is not incidental a false prophet shows up in John’s Book of Revelation.[3] Instead, when you put him in a “diabolic trinity,” including a false father, fake son, and unholy spirit, it comes out as “BAAL” – a phony god, (the Father); “BALAK”—a counterfeit god, (the Son); and “BALAAM”—a fictitious god, (the Spirit).[4]

Ruckman goes on to say that there are four spirits which operate in the world, according to the infallible Holy Scriptures: (1) The spirit of BEASTS;[5] (2) The spirit of MAN;[6] (3) The Spirit of the LORD;[7] (4) and the spirit of SATAN.[8]Spiritual discernment” is necessary for “testing the spirits” when they are in a place or have been in an area. The discerning of spirits such as a “message of wisdom” and a “message of knowledge” is “prophetic gifts,” and not “sign gifts” such as working of “miracles;” to another “prophecy;” to another “discerning of spirits;” to another “various kinds of tongues;” to another the “interpretation of tongues.”[9] These are the things by which believers are equipped to try the spirits.[10]

Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) points out that the three “they are of God[11] statements in the present chapter would give a neat progression to the “Spirit belongs to God.”[12] Therefore, the “you are of God[13] because the One who is in us, namely the Spirit, confesses with our spirit, it is so. The fact is, those who know God were the ones who listen to the message of truth preached and verified as being of God.[14] So, in the Apostle John’s mind, those who carry the Good News are a “mouthpiece” for the Spirit of Truth. [15] So don’t concentrate on the “spirit,” but on the “speaker.” You can’t see or hear the spirit, but you can see and hear them. What they say and how they say it gives the best clue for what spirit inspires their words.

John R. W. Stott (1921-2011) says that verses five and six are best when read together. In them, the Apostle John contrasts strikingly the false prophets and the true apostles (they and we) and the different audiences who listen to them, namely the world and whoever knows God. The world recognizes its people and listens to their message, which originates in its circle and reflects it perspectives. This explains their popularity. We, on the other hand, are from God. (This is not the same as “you are from God” in verse four). So, the question is whether it can be spoken of us as the world; namely, we recognize our people and listen to their message, which originates in our circle and reflects its perspectives. This is how we will recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood because we can test the spirits and “get to know,” which is which, by examining both the message they proclaim through their human instruments and the character of the audience listening to them.[16]

John Phillips (1927-2010) supposes that many would listen to the aged apostle John speaking about the Anointed One, the Lord Jesus – the One he had known well and served so long – and then listen to Cerinthus and his phony philosophical views about the Anointed One. The two Anointed Ones were incompatible, so that person would then have to decide – take sides. We must still take sides today. That’s one reason why God allows cults to arise, to weed out those who are not of God. Those who are of God recognize the truth of God. Eventually, those who are not of God wander off into unbelief or some false teaching.[17]

David E. Hiebert (1928-1995) points out that when the Apostle John said, “we are from God,” some understand the intended scope of the emphatic “we” as a reference to the Christian community or to John and his readers. But the context suggests that the intended contrast is between the false teachers of verse 5 and John and his fellow apostles in verse 6a. The reassuring expression, “We are from God,” reflects the consciousness of certainty and authority manifested by the Anointed One’s chosen and commissioned messengers. It also highlights the masterful tone of Apostolic authority, which is so conspicuous in the opening introduction.[18] It underlies the whole Epistle, as it does the entire Final Covenant. It is the “quiet confidence of conscious strength.”[19]

Warren W. Wiersb (1929-1995) says that a ship’s navigator depends on a compass to help him determine his course. But why a compass? Because it allows him to see what direction he’s going in. And why does the compass point north? Because it responds to the magnetic field that is part of the earth’s makeup. The compass is responsive to the nature of the earth. The same is true with Christian love. God’s nature is love. Our compass, the Word of God, always points us to Him. So, the person who knows God and has been born of God will respond to God’s agápe-love-nature. While the believer may know what direction will take them closer to God, it must be a willing, not forced, response. A believer’s love for their fellow believers will be proof that they are going in the proper direction.[20]

Rudolph Alan Culpepper (1930-2015) says that the earlier reference to the Spirit[21] introduces the need to distinguish between the work of two spirits: truth and deception. This epistle extends the dualism of the Apostle John’s worldview by reference to the two spirits, so it is not surprising that these same parallels can be found in the Dead Sea Qumran scrolls[22] and elsewhere. One test to distinguish truth from deception is that of content.[23] John also adds to the required confession the affirmation that Jesus the Anointed One came “in the flesh.”[24] The opponents who went out from the community either denied that the divine Word could become human or diminished the significance of His humanity in their effort to exalt His divinity. This error led to the heresy known as Docetism, the view that Jesus only seemed to be human. In contrast, here, John demands full recognition of Jesus’ humanity. The second test of the spirits is that of response. The children of God respond to the divine Spirit, while the world responds to the spirit of deception. Therefore, it may be that the opponents were actually winning more converts than were the faithful who remained with the elderly Apostle.[25]

Dwight Moody Smith (1931-2016) says that these first six verses are an important theological section. That’s because it indicates the existence of what we would call heresy and raises the problem of whether and how the claim to speak by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration may be justified and tested. In summary, although certainty about the historical situation of John’s Epistle is unattainable, it is not hard to imagine what has been going on. However, says Smith, a plausible and probable scenario can be constructed – Christian prophets claiming the authority of the Spirit (or of the Anointed One) have been addressing the community. But whether in Spirit-inspired utterance or otherwise, they failed to advocate the necessary and proper confession that Jesus has come in the flesh.[26]

In fact, notes Smith, a generation earlier, Spirit-inspired speech seems to have created problems in Pauline churches. First Corinthians 12-14 attests to such issues, and more specifically, we read of a situation similar to 1 John 4:1-3 in 1 Corinthians 12:1-3.[27] There the proper Christian confession that Jesus is Lord is the mark of inspiration by the Holy Spirit, whereas a statement such as “Jesus be cursed!” cannot be so inspired.[28]


[1] Schnackenburg, Rudolf: The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 205

[2] Burdick, Donald W., The Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 70

[3] Revelation 13:11-15

[4] Numbers 22:41; cf. 1 Kings 18:19-40; 2 Kings 10:18-28

[5] Ecclesiastes 3:21

[6] 1 Corinthians 2:11

[7] Ibid. 2:12, 14

[8] Mark 3:5; Revelation 13:11; 16:13-14; Acts of the Apostles 5:3

[9] 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

[10] Ruckman, Dr. Peter S., General Epistles Vol. 2 (1-2-3 John, Jude Commentary) (The Bible Believer’s Commentary Series), BB Bookstore. Kindle Edition.

[11] 1 John 4:1, 4, 6 (KJV) “from God” (NIV)

[12] Ibid. 4:2

[13] Ibid. 4:4

[14] Ibid. 4:6

[15] Brown, Raymond E., The Anchor Bible, op. cit., vol. 30, p. 499

[16] Stott, John. The Letters of John (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), op. cit., pp. 158-159

[17] Phillips, John: Exploring the First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 134

[18] 1 John 4:1-4

[19] Hiebert, David E., Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit., October-December 1999, p. 434

[20] Wiersbe, Warren W., Be Real (1 John): Turning from Hypocrisy to Truth, op. cit., pp. 137-138

[21] 1 John 3:24

[22] Dead Sea Scrolls, 1QS III, 13-IV 25

[23] See Deuteronomy 13:1-5

[24] Cf. John 20:31

[25] Culpepper, Rudolph A., Harper’s Bible Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.

[26] Cf. 1 John 2:7

[27] Cf. John 12:10 and 14:32

[28] Smith, D. Moody. First, Second, and Third John: Interpretation, op. cit., pp. 104-105

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s