The museum was rightfully cautious. Finding a kouros was unbelievably rare, but even more so in this condition. So museums have a process for determining whether or not a piece of art is authentic or a fake...
They brought in a world-renown geologist who ran multiple tests and examined the piece closely. He took a core sample of the marble and examined it under a microscope. He looked at tooling marks left by the hammer and chisel. They compared stylistic traits of this piece with other known pieces.
After 14 months of study he concluded the marble had been taken from an ancient stone quarry, and had a layer of dolomite on the outer layer, which is impossible to duplicate he thought, indicating that it was extremely old...and therefore not a contemporary fake...so the museum planned on buying it.
The problem was...many were not convinced it was real. First came Italian Art Historian Frederico Zeri who couldn’t put his finger on it, but just knew it wasn’t authentic. Next was Evelyn Harrison, a foremost expert on Greek Sculpture. She too knew it wasn’t right. Next came Thomas Hoving, former director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. While he couldn’t quite tell anyone why...he just sensed that it wasn’t right. The museum was worried so they arranged for a special meeting in Athens, Greece with the worlds leading experts...and they immediately reacted against the piece being authentic. They couldn’t say exactly why they felt it was fake, but they just knew it was.
These men and woman were able to do, within just a few short seconds, what a leading scientist couldn’t do in 14 months...determine the sculpture a fake. (From Blink by Malcolm Gladwell)
As we go through life, we face different beliefs and make many decisions in our search to determine the truth. Some are very simple decisions, but other decisions are extremely difficult and life changing. They challenge us at our core, and can even threaten our faith. So we need something to help us sort out what is true and what is false. In today’s passage from 1 John, we are going to look at how we as Christians can make informed and God-honoring decisions.
But first I want to show you a video clip about how NOT to use your logic to make a decision
1 John 4:1-6
1 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.
Remember John is writing to a group of Christians in Ephesus whom he pastored. He is now 80-90 years of age and in exile on the lonely island of Patmos about 30 miles off the coast of modern day Turkey. He is writing to this church because false teachers and prophets have come in and started leading the people of the church astray.
The Supernatural Forces of Evil
The people probably wouldn’t have believed so quickly, but the false prophets seem to be working in something of a supernatural “spirit.” John’s emphasis on not believing and testing the “spirits” tells us they were using some supernatural things as proof that their message was authentic.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to John’s readers or to us that our enemy is capable of supernatural feats, but sometimes it does. We forget our world is infused with the both good and evil forces moving and doing battle within a supernatural realm. And Satan, our enemy, is more than willing to disguise his actions behind a mask of deception.
Paul says in Ephesians 6:10-12, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Paul knew the realities of the Supernatural world, and the dangers they posed to God’s followers...that’s why he calls them to put on the armor of God.
Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
These people standing before Jesus at the judgment seat fully expect to be welcomed into His Kingdom. They had prophesied in Jesus’ name, driving out demons, and performed miracles. They performed some pretty spectacular things, and they, like these false teachers, believed the supernatural activity was God’s stamp of approval on their teaching.
The false teachers John addresses were teaching a false doctrine and then supporting their false claims with supernatural works and prophecy, with “spirits” as John calls them, that were leading many to doubt the teaching of John and place their faith in a false system.
It is easy to see how it would; don’t you think? If someone walked in here, preached a charismatic message, but we all thought, “There’s something not right about that message,” but then he or she began to pray for healing and people received sight, or the lame walked, and emotional disorders were healed...wouldn’t you begin to overlook their teaching? Make excuses for it...maybe they misspoke or I misunderstood them or the Bible is hard to really understand what it says...Because it’s obvious that God is doing something through them; right?
I have seen that in full force at one conference I attended. The errors of the speaker’s message were disregarded because of the miraculous healings done at the end of the service. I am talking about more than just a doctrinal difference or something being misspoken...that would be petty. There were serious errors of the faith, and yet they were overlooked because of the supernatural things taking places, and people flocked to it.
It just seems that only people who believe and follow God and do what is right would be able to do miraculous things. But according to John...that isn’t true. According to today’s passage miraculous things, “spirit” things, happen through false prophets as well...through antichrists, these liars who don’t even acknowledge Jesus as come in the flesh.
Handling the “spirits.”
So John’s advice is pretty simple... “don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God...”
Don’t take everything you see at face value. All the signs we think of as God’s blessing may not be signs of God’s blessing at all. They may actually be a deception of some other spirit. Don’t believe everything. Test the spirits to see if they are from God. Check them out...see how they line up with God’s Word. In John, we see this amazing blend of head and heart. We see a radical belief in the miraculous and mysterious and unexplainable, but also holding on to the “testing” ability God has given each one of us.
When it comes to certain stories and Internet legends...I am the guy who will post the link to Scopes.com. We see it all the time of Facebook and places like that...this or that story that a quick look at Scopes would resolve. We need to not be gullible or easily led astray, and we need to test...to check things out.
As Jesus was preparing to send His disciples on their first solo-mission adventure he says, in Matthew 10:16, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
Why would Jesus says this? Because He knows there is an enemy. And this enemy loves to disguise himself and use whatever means possible to lead God’s children astray.
John tells us to test everything and Jesus says to be as shrewd as snakes...because he knows there is always something that just isn’t right when it comes to the enemy. He is a liar and has been a liar from the beginning. He will use any tactic He can to gain a foothold in our lives.
Sometimes, like in the church in Ephesus, Satan will use miraculous or supernatural “spirits” to lead us astray. I mean who doesn’t want to see people healed from lifelong maladies and struggles...and Satan is more than willing to concede a physical healing, if he can deceive us on a grander scale. Sometimes he will use more subtle techniques; anything to gain a foothold in the life of a believer.
So how do we test the spirits?
John gives us four very clear ways to test the spirits.
First, We are children of God. Based on your being a child of God and what you know of God’s working...based on God’s presence through the Holy Spirit in your life...does this ring true. In 1 John 4:4 it says, “You, dear children, are from God...” We are from God. We are His children. We have talked over the past few weeks about having the DNA of God, and because we have the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, we, “have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
This verse isn’t about us being able to handle anything that comes our way...it is about our ability to sniff out the spiritually fake and dangerous messages that come our way. We are able to do so because God is at work in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Second, We are able to see the problems in the message. There is always something that isn’t quite right about false messages. 1 John 4:5 says, “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.” Their message sounds great to the world. It is popular, and people run to it. In the Gospel of John chapter 6 we see people flocking to Jesus because he was doing all the miraculous things and turning a few loaves and fishes into a banquet for more than 5,000 people, but as soon as he started talking about the realities of the Kingdom, people turned and deserted Him because his teaching was too hard.
John reminds us that as Children of God, indwelt with the Holy Spirit, that things will sound different to us. Worldly people will chase after a worldly message, but the Children of God will be able to discern the Truth.
Third, we are to listen to godly leaders and counselors. 1 John 4:6 says, “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us...” God places leaders in our lives to guide us, and to give us direction. The spiritual gift of preaching, teaching, and leadership does not mean the person is better than anyone else, but it certainly means they have a responsibility, laid on them by God, to invest themselves in the Word of God...to get it as right as possible when studying and preparing...and to be workmen approved by God, as Paul says, so they can guide those under their care into a deeper knowledge of God and stronger involvement in the ministry.
As a leader in the church, I don’t get it right all the time. Even less than that if you ask my wife. But I sense regularly the weight of what has been laid on me as a pastor, and I know that being a leader in the church carries with it a lot of responsibility for how I lead and guide those under my care. John felt that for those in the church he is writing to.
Fourth, we are to listen to Scripture. Sometimes you start with the most important, and sometimes you end with it. Scripture is the foundation of all our beliefs about the faith. I think this is also part of that last verse I read, 1 John 4:6 says, “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us...” John and the other Apostles were writing Scripture. Their words were Scripture. And while John was writing to a specific people at a specific time with specific issues...his words continue to have meaning and depth and application for us some 2,000 years later. Scripture is our very foundation for Truth as Christians.
John Wesley put these steps into what has become known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. It is a four step process for working through theological beliefs to find Truth.
- Scripture-start with God’s Word
- Tradition-what does 2,000 years of history teach us on the subject..
- Reason-how does this stack up logically...
- Experience-what does our experience as Children of God show us in this regard...
The Supernatural Deception
As we close I want to look at a few specific examples to help us grasp how these false messages slip into our lives and attempt to wreck us.
I asked Cyndi for permission to share this story.
She and Jason had been trying to have a child for quite some time, and were having no luck. In fact, it was worse than just not having a child, they struggled through several miscarriages. In their last and most hopeful time, she had several people come to her with “prophecies” about the baby being okay. Jason was also without a job, and they owned another home in Kentucky that they couldn’t seem to sell. After she miscarried, she wrote me this email...I have edited it to focus us this morning...
What was the purpose of prophets in the Old Testament? Has that purpose changed today? What is the point of someone giving me a prophesy...?
What do I do when people (who have the gift of prophesy) have given me what they feel is a word of prophesy and they turn out to be wrong? This has happened with several people that I trust telling us our last pregnancy was going to be the one we would have. They actually feel horrible about what happened. It's just frustrating that 3 of them did this.
I've recently asked God to stop his "prophets" from giving me false hope and false information. That I would stop trying to listen to others but that I need him to speak to me directly. I mean, would God withhold information that I need and give it to someone else to give to me? This seems very inefficient.
And for the record, this exact same thing happened when I was single. I had 5 different people give me prophesies that I'd getting married again. A couple of them said "soon" which didn't help...
Anyway, I guess I'm just frustrated that people are trying to be encouraging when it ends up being hurtful and I'm not sure how to take it. I feel like I'm closing myself off to God's prophets and that's probably not healthy. Btw, the "prophesies" we've been hearing have been about having a baby, selling Jason's house in KY, and Jason getting a job. I feel like I don't want to share prayer requests anymore because I don't want to hear anyone's opinion anymore.
We don’t have time in this message to address all of her questions...I just read this so we can see that Satan will often use good and well-meaning people to send us his false and damaging messages, and, like Cyndi, we must return to John’s advice to not “believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God...” Just because someone says they received a word from God does not mean they did, but just because it sounds all supernatural doesn’t mean we can disregard it. We don’t believe everything, and we test it against God’s word, against what he has taught us, against the good advice of godly leaders, and against the voice of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
It also reminds us to be careful when working with the spiritual gift of prophecy...some don’t have it, but want it so bad because it is really cool and try to live as if they do. Others have it and need training in how to use it properly.
The Common Sense Deception
So that is one way for the enemy to gain a foothold...But beyond the spectacular and the supernatural, I think Satan uses a technique that is way more devastating in many of our lives. You can call it “common sense” or “keeping it real” or “the gentle whisper” or whatever you want...but it is a subtle and devastating approach.
Let me give you a few examples.
You sense that God might be leading you to tell others about your faith, and the enemy starts to whisper his message in your ear...they are never going to listen to you...they are just going to ask you a question and you aren’t going to be able to answer it...and then what?...you will look foolish and so will God’s kingdom...they might even ignore you and just disregard you...best to leave that to the people who have the “gift” of evangelism...
Maybe God is asking you to step up in a ministry and the enemy starts to whisper in your ear...you’re not a leader...you aren’t like what’s his name over there...that guy has it all together...you’re a wreck...not to mention that you aren’t very smart....and you don’t have the right personality...don’t worry someone else who is smarter and more talented will do it...there are enough people willing to volunteer...
You might be going through a difficult time in your life, and the enemy starts to whisper in your ears...you are worthless...see what a mess you have gotten yourself into...God isn’t going to help you...why don’t you just give up now and save us all some time...
Maybe God is leading you to take a bold step of faith, and then it begins...that’s pretty scary what is your family going to think?...what are people around you going to think?...I know I would be scared to do something like that...and where is the money going to come from...you know you have failed in the past...this is going to be just like that...
Those things seem like common sense to us. We don’t have the right personality or we aren’t smart enough or we don’t all the answers...all of them sound like good reasons...but they aren’t. Fear begins to take hold, and what seems like common sense is really just lies the enemy uses to wiggle in once again to deceive us and keep us from doing what God has for us.
And when these message begin to take root in our lives we back away from what God has for us. We allow fear and false messages to cloud our understanding of who God is and who we are as His children.
Let me rewrite 1 John 4:1 a little bit for you, “Dear friends, do not believe every message whispered in your ear, but test the message to see whether it is from God, check against His Word, ask others about it, listen to God’s voice, think about whether this sounds like something you would expect from God, because many false message have gone out into the world.”
This morning...You might be receiving some false messages that have been holding you back? What lie have you allowed to control you or cause fear in you to keep you from being and doing what God desires in your life?
Don’t believe it!
Test the message to see if it is from God! Evaluate it against what you know of God, the leading of the Holy Spirit in your life, the advice of Godly leaders, and the Scriptures.
Does it ring true with God’s message for us?
Most often it will not.