What If The World Were Right?
A sermon based on 1 John 4:1-11
Sunday, May 10, 2015 – Easter 6B
A few years ago, I read a book called Into the Wild by John Krakauer that tells the true story of how, in April of 1992, Chris McCandless walked into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. In his diary, he described how he ran out of supplies, but couldn't get back across the river to get out of the woods, so he hunted small animals and foraged for berries and roots.
But he confused his berries. You see there are two berries that grow in Alaska that look almost identical. But there's a big difference. One is completely safe to eat. The other contains a deadly poison.
Most believe that instead of eating good berries, McCandless ate a poisonous plant that looks almost identical. And that was his undoing. With his stomach cramping up and unable to keep food down, Chris McCandless crawled into his sleeping bag in an old bus and laid down to die. Two weeks later his body was found by a man on a moose hunt.
If you want to live off the land, you have to have quite a bit of knowledge, don't you? If you want to eat wild berries, you have to know what you're doing. You have to know the difference between edible berries and poisonous ones. It's a matter of life and death. Eat the good berries and you live. Eat the wrong berries and you die.
This morning, thee Apostle John warns us that the same is true with doctrine. You need to know the message of the preacher. It's a matter of life and death. It's a matter of eternal life and death. The right kind of doctrine brings life and peace and joy. The wrong kind brings death in hell. So know the difference, John says, and test the spirits to see whether they are from God. Test them to see if their message is spiritual food or spiritual poison. Eternity hangs in the balance. Our portion of God's Word for consideration today is from 1 John 4:1-11…
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
I. Test the Spirits of the World
Not all doctrine that seems right is right any more than every berry that looks similar is the same. They're not all harmless. Some doctrines, while delicious looking are deadly.
One author once wrote that there are really only two worldviews: The one is Theocentric or Christocentric, that is, it's all about God in Christ. This is the healthy doctrine. The other is Anthropocentric or Egocentrice, which says it's all about man or, more pointedly, it's all about me.
These two may both look nice, but one is healthy for the soul and the other is a deadly poison of the world, spewed by false prophets, literally "lying preachers," and find their source in the spirit of the antichrist, in satan.
And the latter, poisonous doctrine suggests that its all about you. First, it suggests that life is all about you in living to serve yourself. For the opposite of love isn't really hatred, but selfishness. Where love says, "I will sacrifice what I want to serve you," selfishness says, "I will take what I want or at least manipulate and plot to get it, even if I appear loving."
But then, when the guilt and shame of such selfishness strikes, that egocentric worldview says that it's still all about you. Now you must make it up to God. You must set things right. You must earn his love back again after you messed up.
In contrast, the true healthy, life-giving theology is all about Jesus. I often tell my Bible Information Class that when choosing a church, they ought to do a simple, two-step test: 1) Pay close attention to how often they mention Jesus. Do they preach Jesus? Or is it all about you and what you do? Do their sermons offer, 7 steps to a better life, or 5 ways to a happier home? Do they promise you more things if you do the right things? Do they only tell you what you ought to be doing for God? If it's all about you, it's not Christian. "Every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God."
Then the next step of the test, is to ask, "If they do mention Christ, what do they say about him?" Do they say he was a great teacher? A moral leader? A wonderful example for us to follow? Those are all true, but if that's all they say, they're not Christian. "Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God… This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
That is to say, Christ is God come in the flesh to pay for mankind's sin—to be the atoning sacrifice that would pay for our sin, yours and mine. Any church that teaches Christ as example, but fails to proclaim Christ as Savior, denies that he's God come in the flesh to die for sin and they are not from God, but from the world, from the antichrist.
The source of such a teaching is not the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, but is a spirit, a breath or wind, of falsehood. Not to get too crass, but if they're not from God, they're just breaking wind. That's all it's worth. But it's more dangerous than that because it often smells so good to us who, in our sinful nature, always want it to be all about me. It's poison dressed up like perfume. It smells so good, but is deadly, like the berries that looked so delicious to McCandless, but ultimately killed him.
It's been said that believing anybody is just as dangerous as believing nobody. We need to test the spirits, dear friends, because so much is at stake! To be deceived is to risk losing the Word, losing your faith, and ultimately losing heaven itself!
So test the spirits. But test them by the right measure. Test them by the Word of God! Have you even seen a "Fisherman's Ruler"? It claims it's a foot long, but is really only about 6 inches. The fisherman uses it to measure his catch so he can tell people how huge the fish was that he caught and can swear that he measured it! But of course, you know it's a lie.
What if the false prophets or lying preachers were right? What if it were all about you and all about you earning favor with God? Then we'd all be damned! Thank God that the world is not right! Follow them and you lose your soul. But follow the Word, spoken by God through John and the other human authors of the Bible, follow this true ruler and study the Word here in Bible class, at home in your own reading and devotions, then listen to what you hear and test it against that Word that you'll know so well, and you will be able to distinguish between truth and lies, between life-giving doctrine and poisonous teachings.
Then you will be able to rejoice in truth of what Christ has done for you…
II. Love the People of the World
"Test the spirits," John says, so you know what is from God and what is from the world. But then John goes on to give another another test to give:
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."
So how well do you love others? This isn't a difficult test to administer. You simply have to ask yourself how selfish you've been. Have you been selfish at work? Or have you always sought the best interest of your employer? Have you been selfish with your spouse? Or have you sought to get them to do what you want instead of serve them in humble love? Have you been selfish with your siblings or your parents? Or have you always sought to serve them first in whatever way that you could? Have you been selfish with your time? Or have you used all of your time to serve your Savior and only stopped to recharge that you might serve him more?
This isn't a difficult test to administer. But it is an incredibly difficult test to pass. In fact, we've all failed. And we all fail this test every day. Can anyone here dare to claim that they've been perfectly loving and never selfish for even a single day of their lives?
"Whoever does not love does not know God…"
Thank God, dear friends, that that's not the end of the message. John goes on to write, "God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
God the Father loved you so much that he sent his Son to be tortured and killed for you. He loved you so much that he abandoned his Son to hell for you. Jesus loved you so much that he volunteered to be the atoning sacrifice for your sins—even knowing the hell that it would cost him.
So John calls all who read his letter, "Dear friends." But the King James Version is more literal to the Greek when it translates that word, "Beloved." With that simple word, John reminds his readers—he reminds us—who we are: Beloved not just of John, but beloved of God. So the old liturgy began, "Beloved in the Lord, let us draw near with a true heart…"
This is who you are through Christ: Not a failure, even though you've failed to love God, not a loser, even though you've at times bought in to the theology of the world, not a damned soul, even though you rightly deserve to be just like I do. No. You are beloved by God. You are his dear children, born of God. You are forgiven for every loveless action, credited with Jesus perfect love to others. God credits Jesus' loving words and actions to you and so, through Jesus, you pass the test.
Now, "[Beloved], let us love one another, for love comes from God… [Beloved], since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." And we do love each other.
We love each other with a true and sincere love, even if that love is sometimes a tough love. Love points out sin. If you went on a hike with a friend and watched him start to eat poisonous berries, it wouldn't be loving to ignore it and let him eat away. Instead the loving action would be to knock the berries out of his hand. If he got angry with you and called you loveless for taking away his precious berries, and insisted on eating them, the loving action would still be to plead with him not to eat.
Love doesn't tolerate poison, but tries to lead a friend to repentance. So engage in that difficult discussion with your friend. Consider taking the Bible Information Class again so you're equipped to have it. Or read some apologetics so you can answer the challenges he'll bring.
Show love in external matters, providing for the apparent needs of your friend. (And, by the way, this won't always be fun or easy since, to show love always calls for sacrifice.) But show love in meeting needs, that you might show love by showing how Christ has met their biggest need: "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
And show love as you help others to test the spirits according to the Word of God. Show love even to those who hate you and who would hurt you. After all that's how God loved you. Even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. "Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us."
Test the spirits, dear friends. Grow in your understanding of the Word to make sure you never eat the spiritual poison of the world. Then test yourself, to see if you've loving others as God has loved you. Then rejoice that the world isn't right. You don't have to do anything to be right with God. God had done it all for you in Christ. Then, go and love others as God has loved you. In Jesus' name, amen.