“We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” ~ 1 John 4:6
Explanation of the Text: In reviewing the closing verse of this particular section of John’s epistle, it is easy to judge John as arrogant. It appears that John is indicating that the Christian faith is built not around Christ, but around men such as the apostles. But it is important to remember under what authority John writes. He is not writing to build himself up nor is he writing in the name of men. Instead, John is writing in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is building off of his previous point reaffirming the principle that false teachers and false teaching does not acknowledge Christ. This is a litmus test for judging the truth value of teachings: does it acknowledge Christ?
The Christian is urged to live a life that continues in truth. In his writing to the Ephesians, Paul writes of the household of God being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone (cf. Ephesians 2:20). It is not that the apostles and prophets were perfect men to be idolized, but it’s that they were both filled with and poured out the truth that is Jesus Christ. Thus the teachings that they proclaimed are in accordance with God’s standards and worthy of emulation.
The issue with the false teachers is that their claim to know God was denied by the way in which they constantly refused to listen to and be conformed by His Word, they refused to listen to the teachings of the apostles and prophets. That is why John can write a test of true or false teaching (and true or false believers) is indicated by its acknowledgment, acceptance, and accordance of Christ. “The only way men can come to know God is by God choosing to reveal himself” (1) which He currently does through His Word. In order to know God, one must know His Word.
Examination & Application of the Text: We are rightly reminded that there is an affinity between God’s Word and God’s people and so it can also be seen that there is a correspondence between the message and the hearers (2). What goes into you internally will come out of you externally, meaning that what goes into your mind and your heart will come out in your lifestyle and actions. For that reason, we must be filled with the things above (cf. Colossians 3:1-4). To be fixated on the things above means have a foundation built upon the apostles and prophets (cf. Ephesians 2:20). The question is then, how does a person built a foundation on the apostles and prophets who are no longer living to instruct us? From the meditation upon the Word of God (Psalm 1:1-3).
One of the great applications of this text is that it points to the listening to and understanding of God’s Word, i.e. we must sit under solid teaching and preaching. Quoting Thabiti Anyabwile unpublished sermon notes, Daniel Akin writes in answer to that question:
“I love the answer of Thabiti Anyabwile:
Through a certain kind of preaching. The preaching that takes the apostles’ words, explains their words, and applies their words is the kind of preaching that enables us to listen to them today. We call this expositional preaching because it exposes what the apostles have written and the meaning and application of their words. When you listen to the word of God expositionally preached, you are listening to the apostles, and ultimately you are listening to God himself ” (3).
Questions to Consider:
- What role does preaching and teaching have in your spiritual growth?
- Are you involved in a place in which you are being fed God’s Word in a manner that exalts God’s Word over man’s word?
- In what ways does your relationship with the Word of God need to improve? (Note: I believe that a poor relationship with the Word of God indicates a poor relationship with the Son of God).
(1) David Jackman, The Message of John’s Letters: Living in the Love of God, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 115.
(2) John Stott, The Letters of John, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 158.
(3) Daniel L. Akin, Exalting Jesus in 1, 2, 3, John, Christ-Centered Exposition (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), Location 1858.