Meditations in 1 John : 49 : Don’t Listen to them
1 John 4:5,6 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 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.
Get the context. Who are the “They” at the beginning of these two verses? Well right back in chapter 2 John referred to ‘the world’: “Do not love the world or anything in the world.” (2:15) meaning all those who were godless, and self-centred and motivated by purely fleshly desires, and after that he kept on making comparisons between us Christians and the rest, for example speaking of those against Christ, “even now many antichrists have come,” (2:18) and “the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist–he denies the Father and the Son,” (2:22) and he warned “those who are trying to lead you astray,” (2:26) and went on to declare, “Everyone who sins breaks the law,” (3:4) and even more, “do not let anyone lead you astray…. He who does what is sinful is of the devil,” (3:7,8) and for further clarity, “Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother,” (3:10) with yet a further warning, “Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you,” (3:13) and then into the present chapter, “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.” (4:1) Then, we saw, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them.” (4:4)
So, whether he is saying it as a warning or simply to differentiate us from the rest of the world, John does distinguish us from all unbelievers and they are the ‘They’ he now refers to here, and when we look back it should now come as no surprise (because it’s just a continuation and reiteration of what he’s said previously) when we find, “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.” Anyone who speaks with a spirit that is in opposition to the Holy Spirit is part of ‘the world’. Now we may wonder why John appears to make such a meal of this, repeating these things again and again and the answer, I would suggest, is because so often we tend to see no difference between us and the world around us. We forget that they are hostile to God, and they are hostile to the truth. Their whole world outlook is anti-God and this is true whether they are crusading atheists, materialistic and humanistic scientists or simply the person in the street who declares strongly, “Don’t you talk to me about your God!” They listen to one another because it is to their advantage to do so, because they thus bolster up their unbelief and confirm to themselves that they don’t need God.
But then John does a comparison again, as he has done so many times in this letter: “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us.” In the same way as the world listens to the world, so Christians listen to Christians, and especially to apostolic leadership who bring wise teaching, counsel and revelation.
So, he continues, you want yet another indicator of who belongs to which kingdom or dominion? Well it’s about who listens to who: “This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. If you want to discern what spirit is behind what you hear on a daily paper, whether it is on the news or simply the talk of the community, see where it comes from and who is listening to who. Watch out for the atheistic or materialistic or humanistic speaker or originator of what you hear. Watch how they are accepted by the world around you who will so easily agree and fall in line. Then watch how, when a member of the church speaks out, they are derided by the voices of the world, and watch how people respond to the two sides.
We are called to be discerning and we are called to understand the difference between the kingdom of God and the dominion of the enemy. We should not be surprised by these things but we should understand them and recognize the origins of the things we hear around us, and recognize them for what they are. There IS a clear distinction between the two camps and we should not be afraid of declaring those distinctions.