6th Sunday of Easter (B)
I John 4:1-11
May 6, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle reading from I John, focusing on the first verses which were read a few minutes ago.
If you been listening to President Trump, you know that he’s been incredibly vocal lately on the topic of fake news. Fake news is a story that is circulated on mainstream media or social media that’s made up in an effort to damage a person or their reputation. Frequently, it’s hard to determine if stories are fake or not, and that’s their intention. The sheer quantity of fake and flawed stories reminds me of what I was told as a child; You can’t believe everything you hear. We need to logically think about what we see and hear if we’re to filter out the fake news and other assorted lies. Don’t believe everything you hear is also good advice when it comes to spiritual things. We use our God-given gifts of judgment and His Word to test what we hear to see if what is being said is right. We have to be discerning because there are only two spirits, two voices, speaking in this world; the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Lies.
As we’ve walked through John’s first letter, we’ve heard a lot of encouragement from John as he’s talked about God’s love. In today’s text, he has instructions for those who are loved by God. He says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Spirit here doesn’t mean a ghost, it simply refers to the source of what is being said, and truthfully, most of these spirits are lying.
These lying spirits inhabit every part of the world and they fill the ears of believers and unbelievers alike with fake news. Accordingly, John calls them false prophets. They claim to speak for God, but they can’t, because they’re lying. Now, I should be clear here, when I say they speak for God, I mean all gods. Some may claim to speak for the true God, but they also speak for Allah, Satan, themselves, the culture. They profess to speaking a truth that they want people to hear and embrace, but it’s not God’s truth. And just as the false prophets of the Old Testament angered God, so do the false prophets today. Most of the false prophets wouldn’t say that’s what they are, but anyone who changes God’s message to fit what they want it to fit and what they want you to believe are false prophets.
False prophets say, “The parents of Little Alfie in England didn’t know what was best for him so the government decided that he would die.” Lying spirits say, “Abortion is good because women aren’t forced to care for a baby they didn’t want.” Lying prophets say, “If you’re a good person, you’ll go to Heaven, even if you don’t believe in God.” The lies go on and they cover every conceivable issue. And people love to hear what they say. John says, “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.” The false spirits say what the world wants to hear because they’re speaking from a worldly point of view. You and I however are not part of this world. We’re in it, but we’re different. We listen to God and the Spirit of Truth, not the false and lying spirits, and to tell them apart, we test them.
The word John uses for “test” refers to examining coins to see if they’re counterfeit. Just as the lady at the gas station will use a special pen on a hundred dollar bill to see if it’s real, we have to test what we hear. Far too often when it comes to the spirits, people take them at face value. If it sounds good it must be true. Even Christians fail to test what they hear and fall for the lies. You have to take what anyone says about God and Christ, faith and life, and test it against the Word of God. God’s Word is the test for counterfeits because it’s the only perfect truth.
Across Christianity there’s a wide range of opinions on certain subjects and many of them fail the test. I realize I may be getting into trouble here, but I need you to hear me out. I know some of you disagree with the Church’s stance on gay marriage, assisted suicide, and sex outside of marriage. I get it, some of what God says makes me uncomfortable. My sister is gay and I want her to be happy, but God says her behavior is a sin, so I can’t say that what she is doing is good, even if it makes her happy. A pastor and professor I know had an affair and can no longer be a pastor. The Church lost a talented man, and some say he shouldn’t have had to quit. But God says pastors must be above reproach and he isn’t, regardless of his gifts. The lying spirits that speak nowadays have always spoken, and God’s Word has always had an answer, but people don’t often like the answer, so they ignore the parts they don’t like. I’m not asking you to instantly change your minds nor am I condemning you. The life of a Christian is a life of struggle, and the only way to faithfully struggle is to hear God’s Spirit who is the Spirit of Truth and not the spirt of lies. Jesus puts it this way, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” They might look good, they may sound good but all they want is to destroy you.
The biggest clue if it’s a false spirit is its witness about Jesus. John says, “Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” Who does the spirit say Jesus is? Is He the Savior or a liar? Is He God or just a man? Is He the Jesus of the Bible or the Jesus of this world? We test the spirits and the false prophets by their witness of Christ, because no one can say Jesus is Lord without the Holy Spirit, and if they can’t say it, they’re not sent by God.
The truth is that only Jesus brings salvation. He brings the forgiveness of sins. This is the truth we hold to no matter what. Don’t let voices tell you that Jesus doesn’t love you or forgive you. Don’t let the voices say that what He is or taught doesn’t matter anymore. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life. He is the only way to know God and His Truth. As Paul said, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” The Gospel is the ultimate truth and we hold to that truth no matter how much we have to struggle.
The Christian life is a struggle because our sinful selves have their own opinions, thoughts and desires. Our natural inclination is to want what we want. God’s natural inclination though is for us to live with Him for eternity. John says, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” God lives in you and He is far greater and far better than the world or the spirits that speak out of it. He is the God of Truth. His Word is unbreakable and incapable of error or deceit.
We need the truth, even if it makes us uncomfortable, because God’s truth is that He wants only what is best for us. The false spirits don’t want this. They want what’s best for themselves so compare what you hear in the world to what God teaches you in the Word. Does the spirit say something other than what God says? It’s a lie, or at the very least, a mistake. What does God say about the social and life issues currently happening in our world? There’s nothing new under the sun and God has addressed them. We’re not always going to like what God’s says about something, but it’s God’s Word not ours. John talks a lot about love and true love is a faithful proclamation of the entirety of God’s Word, even if you, I, or anyone doesn’t like what He says. This is one of the reasons I encourage you to read and study the Bible. It’s why you need to be in Bible class where we discuss God’s Word in depth. When you come to know it and are able to apply it to what you hear, you’ll be able filter out the lies and know the truth. God is in you, His Spirit leads you, and through Him you will know the truth, the truth that leads to eternal life.
Martin Luther said that whenever the lying spirits speak, they find listeners. It doesn’t matter how absurd the lies, people believe them because it makes them feel good. When God speaks people snore and ignore because what He says makes them feel uncomfortable and His Word is always at odds with our sinful nature. Through Christ, God has overcome our sinful nature and He has given us His Son. Through Christ we can trust that God always tells the truth. When you know Christ, when you know that all God wants is what is best for you, then you know God. It’s not easy to filter out the lies, this is why God gives you His Holy Spirit. He wants you, He wants everyone, to know the truth, because He is the only source of truth in a world of lying spirits.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen