Lesson Seven
1 John 4

Our society desperately searches for enduring relationships that bless people through love. Typical relationships in our society are a disaster. The majority of our relationships produce emotional frustration and pain. Failed relationships create as much or more grief as does death. In fact, there is very little difference in the grief people suffer because of a death and the grief people suffer because of a divorce.

Even the relationships that survive are too often frail and hollow. Too many are based on pretense instead of substance.

The greatest single power available to Christians in our society to attract people to give serious consideration to Jesus Christ are Christian relationships of love. The more successful we are at loving and building relationships of love, the more successful we will be in reaching people in our society.

  1. Before we examine 1 John 4, we need to remember something and be aware of something.
    1. First, we must remember that John did not divide his letter into chapters and verses.
      1. Yes, I know that I keep reminding you of that.
      2. Let me show you why it is so important to remember that fact.
        1. The emphasis in 4:1-6 is on "trying the spirits."
        2. But notice that the "bookends" on each side of "trying the spirits" is an emphasis on the importance of love.
        3. Immediately before we read about "trying the spirits" we are told that it is love that verifies that we have passed out of death into life.
        4. Immediately after we read about "trying the spirits" we are told that love is the proof that we have been conceived by God and know God.
        5. Any spirit that tries to convince us that love is not of basic, spiritual importance is not God's spirit.
    2. Second, notice that John's emphasis is on relationship, not on knowledge.
      1. The antichrist, those who declared that Jesus was not the Christ, often claimed that God gave them a special revelation.
      2. Their "revelation" emphasized that knowledge was essential and declared love was not of primary importance.
      3. Knowing God's "revelation" was more important than loving Christians.
      4. Note that John strongly rejected the idea that knowledge is more important than love.
      5. Note that John strongly emphasized that Christians loving Christians is essential.

  2. I John 4:1-6, the importance of "trying the spirits."
    1. "Do not believe every spirit because there are many false prophets; test the spirits" (4:1).
      1. First notice that the voice of the spirits here are human voices, the voices of false prophets.
      2. In a world without Bibles, there was an enormous problem of determining what to believe.
      3. In a world with Bibles, there is an enormous problem in determining what to believe.
    2. The Spirit of God confesses that Jesus Christ came in the flesh and that he came from God (4:2).
      1. They struggled with a huge problem that never troubles most of us.
      2. If Jesus was divine, if he came from God, how could he be a fleshly man?
      3. We do not have an answer to that question; we accept it by faith.
        1. We just don't consider the answer to that question to be important.
        2. They did.
        3. To them that was a huge faith question.
    3. The antichrist denied that Jesus came from God and lived in the flesh (4:3).
      1. These Christians had heard the antichrists were coming.
      2. I doubt that they expected the antichrists to come from the Christian community; they likely expected antichrists to be an "outside force."
      3. Antichrists were already in existence.
      4. Even though they began as Christians, they taught a "Christless" way to belong to God.
    4. John said clearly (4:4):
      1. You are from God.
      2. You have overcome the antichrist.
      3. Why?
        1. The Holy Spirit is in you.
        2. This was a common understanding in the first century Christian community.
        3. Paul emphasized the same truth in Ephesians 3:16,17 "... that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith..." (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        4. They had not overcome the antichrists because they had defeated them.
        5. They had overcome the antichrists because the Holy Spirit was in them.
      4. God defeated Satan in the world by letting Jesus die, and God defeated Satan in you by letting His Spirit live in you.
      5. God's Spirit can live in you because you believe that God sent Jesus in the flesh, and in that faith you have been conceived by God.
    5. We need to take a moment to focus on what John was talking about when he wrote of "trying the spirits."
      1. This is one of many misused and abused verses in the New Testament.
      2. In the context of the point John made, "trying the spirits" had nothing to do with:
        1. What translations Christians use.
        2. What use we make of church buildings.
        3. What style of worship that we use.
        4. What spiritual programs and ministries that we select.
        5. Or a thousand other applications that we have made.
      3. We do not of ourselves decide that something is evil and authorize our opposition on the basis that John said "to try the spirits."
      4. Most of the world fought the idea that Jesus was the Christ.
        1. Judaism denied that Jesus was the Christ.
        2. Paganism denied that Jesus was the Son of God.
        3. The Roman government considered Jesus and all who followed him to be a dangerous heresy that was a threat to the government.
        4. Even the antichrists said Jesus was not the Christ; and they came from among the Christians.
      5. There were two tests that they were to apply to those who declared that they spoke for God.
        1. Do they declare that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God?
        2. Do they emphasize the importance of Christians loving Christians?
        3. If they do not emphasize both essential truths, they are not from God.
    6. The antichrists are not from God; they oppose God (4:5).
    7. "We" (the apostolic voice) are from God (4:6).
      1. Those who know God listen to us.
      2. Recall how John began this letter (1:1-3)--we heard, saw, and touched him; we are actual witnesses of the life of the physical and resurrected Jesus.

  3. What does this mean? "It is urgent that you love each other" (4:7,8).
    1. Love is from God; God is into loving relationships.
      1. The closer people get to God the more loving they become;.
      2. Conversely, the further they get from God the less loving they become.
      3. What kind of love? Sacrificial, unselfish love. The love that God had when He sent His son to this world (John 3:16). The kind of love Jesus had when he died on the cross, the "Father forgive them" kind of love (Luke 23:34).
      4. Knowledge of God produces love and creates relationships.
      5. It is utter deceit to claim to know God and not love.
    2. God's love revealed itself in them by giving them life in the Christ (4:9). [Instead of giving them an organ transplant God gave them a soul transplant.]
    3. Love is not revealed by what we do, but through what God did--He sent His son to be our substitute in paying for the consequences of the wrongs we do (4:10).
    4. If God loved every one of us that much, we ought to love each other (4:11).
    5. Loving each other does two things (4:12).
      1. It allows God to continually live in us.
      2. It allows God's love to become complete in us.
      3. Love enables us to become 100% of what God wants us to be.
      4. We become what God wants us to be through relationship, not through doctrine.
      5. If it were possible for us to be 100% correct in doctrine, and in doing that not love, we would not be what God wants us to be.
      6. God living in us and our living in God is dependent on love.
      7. Doctrine is important because we pursue truth.
      8. Love is critical because we want God to live in us as we live in God.
    6. Possession of the Spirit verifies we live in God and God lives in us (4:13).
    7. The apostles witnessed the fact that God sent Jesus to be the world's Savior (4:14).
    8. Confessing Jesus as the Christ is essential if God lives in you and you live in God [he is speaking of something much deeper than baptismal confession] (4:15).
    9. You must know and trust the love God has for us; mutually living in each other can happen only when you understand God is love (4:16).
    10. When love becomes complete in us, we will have confidence when the judgment arrives (4:17).
    11. Love destroys fear, and fear destroys love. Love can never be complete in the person who lives in fear of God's punishment (4:18).
    12. If God had not first loved us, we would not know or understand love (4:19).
    13. It is impossible to love God and hate a Christian (4:20).
      1. Only liars claim they can do that.
      2. You cannot love the unseen God and hate the seen brother.
    14. This is God's basic command that John emphasized: the Christian who loves God should love Christian brothers and sisters (4:21).

Loving relationships are the key to a successful congregation. The opportunity to form loving relationships are the key to a powerful outreach. When we let God show us how to love, we take the chains off of God. Powerful things happen.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 4 April 1999
previous next in series

This sermon is also available in French.

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell