1 John 4:4-6
Who Listens to Whom
As we have seen throughout John’s letter, he is concerned that believers believe and confess right doctrine, live right doctrine (i.e., practice righteousness), and love one another. But the Christian knows that this is a tall order in this world. We are aware of our weaknesses and shortcomings. “How shall we manage?” we wonder. Such an attitude is exactly the humble disposition the Lord desires of us, for it is when we forsake ourselves and cast all our cares on Him while relying on His strength alone that He delivers and saves us. So in regard to the false teachers and deceivers, the Apostle encourages us: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them.” And how is this? “For He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” And this is indeed a great comfort. I am reminded of the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” by Martin Luther, “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing; were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus it is he; Lord Sabaoth his name, from age to age the same, and he must win the battle.” The rest of the hymn is just as good. I recommend it.
But why is it that the world listens to the false teachers or even those promoting immorality? That’s simple: Because the people who advance falsehoods are of the world, and falsehood is the world’s love-language. Indeed, to the extent that we preach a message which the world accepts while remaining the world (i.e., unrepentant), we may rightly judge that we have perverted the gospel message. We speak truth when the world hears us and responds in one of two ways: 1) Conversion whereby people experience saving faith and repentance; or 2) Persecution whereby the world tries to stamp us out of existence. To the extent that the world accepts our message without change or simply ignores it, to that extent are we preaching a false gospel. The world will always listen to flattery and falsehood.
But those who know and belong to God listen “to us,” John tells us. And who is “us?” The Apostolic teaching which the Apostle brings in this epistle. The Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). The Church is defined in the creeds as: One, Holy, Universal, and Apostolic. As Christians, we must heed the apostolic word found only in the Scriptures. When we listen to them, we hear the word of God as God’s people have for generations. And here again we recognize the spirit of truth from error.