One of the things I like about the Christian faith is that it encourages you to put to the test the spirits of preachers; we are to question our spiritual leader. The unfortunate fact, however, is that most of us in the church lightly or fail to exercise this right and consequently, we gullibly believe anyone that brings the Word to us. As long as someone holds the title of brother, sister, bishop, deacon, general overseer, or reverend, we blindly follow his/her advice or leadership. Yet, the Word of God remains the same:
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world”–1 John 4:1
The Bible says that “many prophets have gone out into the world”, this therefore means we should apply even more caution as these false prophets are everywhere and anywhere! Who are the prophets? It is anyone that is a spokesman of God, including those who give us revelation about the future, share the Word of God with us, and advise us in the Lord. I recently conducted a study on 1 John 4:1-6 and realized that we, the Church, have not been testing the prophets of God in the biblical manner and no wonder we are led astray.
1 John 4 verse 1: Let’s make a very clear point from the above verse, the Bible says “test the SPIRITS”. It doesn’t say “test the PERSON”. This is where many of us go wrong because we base our judgment on the physical, i.e. the way a person preaches, dresses, miracles performed, charitable works, etc. Remember that man is made of body, spirit, and soul; here, the caution is not to examine the body but rather study the person in the spiritual matters. Even the devil can preach an outstanding sermon, do great wonders, and speak eloquently, but does that make him a saint? Of course not. Hence, we discern a prophet’s spirit by its manifestation, i.e. the fruits, the quality of his behavior, submission to the Word, resistance to temptation, and genuine love for God. This is what the Lord Jesus says:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them”—Matthew 7:15-20
We should never base the godliness of a brother or sister in the Lord by what he/she displays at church on Sundays. Their real nature is revealed during the week, at work, on the bus, on social media, etc. For instance, I never trust someone’s faith unless I have really examined their private lives. Regardless of if I have known a person for months at church or been following their teachings online, I can never vouch for their faith as I have never examined their personal lives.
Verse 2: “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.” We usually understand this verse by thinking if a person confesses with his/her lips that Jesus was man and God, then the Spirit of God lives in him/her. Yet, this is not what the verse says. The stress here should be placed on the word “spirit”, that is, every “spirit” that confesses not every “mouth” that confesses. Anyone in the church (adulterers, murderers, liars, gluttons, etc) can proclaim with his/her lips that Jesus is Lord, and the Bible even says in James 2:19 “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” It’s not about who can say it with their mouth but rather which spirit can proclaim this with its actions. You shall know them by their “fruits”! When an individual believes Jesus is God’s Son who came as a man to show us the way to the Father and died for our redemption, he/she will, consequently, strive to live a holy and pure life on earth. That’s why the Bible adds “because as [Jesus] is, so are we in this world”-1 John 4:17. It doesn’t matter if the whole congregation is convinced that a bishop is sent by God, but as long as we do not see good fruits in his personal life, we should never follow his guidance.
Verse 5-6: “They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” Why do we see people in the church being led astray by false prophets? The answer is because we are of the world, as written in the above verse, “the world hears them”. If we are long-time believers of Christ and still cannot discern the Spirit of God by falling for the erroneous teachings/counsel of a brother, sister, pastor, or deacon; then, we are not of God but of the world. That’s the reason we are easily deceived! We watch drama ministers on Youtube and because they wrote an inspiring movie, we automatically label them as “men of God”; a woman prophesies a good word over our lives, we automatically ascribe her the title of “spiritual mother”, and so on. This is why many of us follow detrimental advice when it comes to career, education, marriage, or finances because we are not of God and thus easily believe those false prophets who are of the world…There is an essential need to pause and reconsider our ways.
God’s plan for His children is that we should be sober and vigilant for our adversary, the devil, always seeks whom to devour. As the warning stated earlier, many false prophets have already gone out into the world and the plan of the evil one is to steal, kill, and destroy the children of God. The choice is left to us: Are we going to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit or of men? Are we going to swallow every counsel or test every spirit? Acts 17:11 gives us a great example of God-fearing men that even scrutinized the apostle Paul’s preachings so that their faith would not rely on his words but on God’s: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” May we learn from the Bereans!