Who Should We Listen To?
Friends, who are we listening to? Who, or what, is influencing what you believe? What is your primary source of truth?
Statistics Canada reports that 48.9% of Canadians read the newspaper daily. 57.1% of Canadians read a magazine at least once a week. Canadians, on average, watch 22.3 hours of television a week.
What I could not find, however, is a statistic for how often Canadians, in particular, Christians, read their Bible. If we, here at St. Andrew's/Fraser were to answer that the Bible is our primary source of truth, would our lifestyle support our claim?
The issue is not how much TV you watch. The issue is not how often you read the newspaper. The issue is how much time do you spend reading Scripture in comparison to time spent reading other materials, and in comparison to time spent watching TV. The issue is, 'Who are you listening to'? Are we listening to the Spirit of Christ or the spirit of this age?
We are naive if we think we are unaffected by what we read and see. Jesus tells us that "the lamp of your body is your eye; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when (your eye) is bad, your body also is full of darkness"(Lk. 11:34). What we read, and what we see, affects, both, our beliefs and our behaviour.
The apostle John, thankfully, gives a clear call for discernment in chapter 4 of his letter, "1Beloved, 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. "
Discernment is very important. We try to be discerning about the career we choose; we try to be discerning about the person we marry; we try to be discerning about what we spend our money on--Why? Because we all know that poor decision-making leads to misery.
Christians are to be joyful, not miserable. The trouble is, many Christians have become disenchanted--even disenchanted with God--because they believed in a spirit that was not from God. When need to be very careful about what we believe. We need to be careful about what we believe because it affects the health of our soul.
Is not our soul infinitely more valuable than our body? Our body lasts only for this lifetime, but our soul endures forever. In a day and age where we are so meticulous in choosing which types of food we will consume, why are we so reckless about what we expose our minds to?
Notice how we take every measure to protect our body from harm--we take vitamins, we eat right, we exercise, we wear seatbelts in the car, we wear sun-screen and a hat on a hot summer day . . . and these are good things. But why do we not take such care with our soul? Is not prayer the sunscreen for our soul? Is not God's Word the nutrition our soul requires? Is not fellowship with other Christians at church the kind of security our soul needs?
The apostle John is concerned, first and foremost, about the condition of our soul when he writes, "do not believe every spirit". Our society encourages us to believe in whatever 'feels best', but this makes little sense. If your spouse or good friend had a serious heart condition, would you let them eat an entire bucket of fried chicken based on the logic that this food 'feels best' to eat? I hope you wouldn't! In the same way, it is not healthy to allow people we love to believe in whatever 'feels right'. We are to believe in what is healthy for the soul.
The word for "believe", pisteuo (pist-yoo-oh), means to "put trust in". John is saying that we should not put our trust in every spirit. This, of course, begs the question, 'What should we put our trust in?'. To answer this question, I draw your attention back to chapter 3, verse 23, "this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another".
We are to put our trust in Christ, and not to trust every spirit of this world. Only a spirit that comes from God should be trusted in. The problem is that distinguishing between the spirits is not easy. If it were easy, John would not command us to "test the spirits". We are to "test the spirits" because otherwise it would be difficult to know what is from God and what is not from God.
It appears that John's readers encountered this very problem. It appears that John's readers were accepting uncritically all teaching which claimed to be inspired by God. It appears that John's readers were not practicing discernment.
I recently heard one pastor say that the most disbelieved verse in Scripture is Ephesians 6:12: "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places". Because our battle is against "the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" God's people must be discerning! We must "test the spirits" because the spirits are not obvious. The spirits are not obvious because, as Paul tells us in 2Corinthians 11:14, "Satan disguises himself as an angel of light".
Presbyterians, at least Canadian Presbyterians, typically do not want to consider such things, but we must. We must consider such things because "our struggle is not against flesh and blood". In other words, our struggle in this church is not to have a certain type of music, our struggle is not to have a particular preaching style, our struggle is not our approach to Sunday school, our struggle is not our approach to evangelism--our struggle is not against flesh and blood!
Until we recognize this, we will never be as discerning as we ought to be. Christians must begin by winning the battle 'between the ears'. We must guard our minds from ungodly influences the same way we guard against eating a bag of chips when dieting.
John helps us to test the spirits in verses 2 and 3 when he says, "2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. "
John makes testing the spirits seem so easy here, but we know it is not as easy as seeing who confesses Jesus Christ and who does not. We know that there are people who can say true things about Jesus who are not in fact born of God. Even Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 7:21). In other words, merely saying right things about Jesus is no sign of the Holy Spirit's presence.
The sign that we are born of God, according to chapter 3, verse 24 is whether we keep the commandments of Christ. What commandments in particular is John referring to? Verse 23, to believe in, to trust in, Jesus Christ and to love one another.
To simplify John's advice on discernment: Do not believe claims of faith unless they are accompanied by loving actions. By the same token, do not be fooled by loving actions unless they are rooted in a love for Christ.
John not only wants us to be discerning, but he also wants to inspire confidence in our ability to be discerning, and so he reminds his readers, "4You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. "
We can be discerning because we are born of God. As the apostle Paul has said, "we have the mind of Christ"(1Cor. 2:16). Greater is Christ who is in you than the evil one who is in the world. We can win the battle of the mind when we allow Christ to do the fighting. How do we let Christ do the fighting? We let Christ do the fighting by learning and applying His Word.
This is John's counsel in verse 6, "6We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us." At first glance, this statement sounds like the height of arrogance. So it would be if uttered by every individual Christian. We would be tempted to shun anyone who would presume to say, 'whoever knows God agrees with me; only those who are not from God disagree with me'. But this is precisely what John is saying. Yet, it is not the doctrine of John being expounded here, but the doctrine of Christ.
If John is preaching God's Word accurately, Christians will listen to him. And by listening, I mean more than just physically hearing. As John Calvin has said, "the hearing mentioned by the Apostle, is to be understood as the inward and real hearing of the heart". By listening, John means the learning and applying of God's Word.
True Christians listen to God's Word. Faithful Christians accept and apply God's Word even when faced with a myriad of alternatives.
To answer the question, 'Who should we listen to?', I answer 'Listen to Christ; listen to His Word'.
When we accept that truth, we must then ask, 'Who are we listening to? What is our primary source of truth?'.
Go ahead and read the daily newspaper. Listen to the radio. Watch TV. Surf the internet. Share ideas with friends. But listen only to one voice--the voice of Christ, revealed in His all sufficient Word. Amen.