Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus[a] is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world. Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
We Christians like to be very nice, and can be very sentimental while we’re at it. But this is a passage calling us to be discerning, and, yes, discriminatory, even critical; we don’t find ourselves comfortable with this. There are a lot of attractive things and ideas out there, but not every attractive impulse is of God. We have to exercise our judgement, and that is not always easy.
There are insistent spirits, pulling us in all sorts of directions, not all of them helpful. There are the membership statistics to increase – or a decrease to stem. A few more socials, or meals, should do the trick. Nothing the matter with this, of itself. But the cart goes behind the horse, not in front. Bible Study can be boring, but it should lead, not follow. A fellowship spiritually forged can well be cemented by bands of fellowship and food, but it doesn’t often work in reverse order.
The story of the Sheep and the Goats is a salutary one. There are far too many starving people around, certainly for a nation as rich as we are. It is an authentic spirit which leads to support Food Banks, and also to ask why they are needed. But if we let this take over, the authentic spirit drowns out a siren voice, which can lead to political action becoming an end in itself, rather than a proper consequence of Christian witness.
One of our denomination’s leaders has pointed out that we are not called upon to be successful, but we are called upon to be faithful. Or maybe it is that an authentic spirit enables us to see success in God’s terms, rather than the world’s. Those are surely the only relevant criteria.
O Lord, we are so busy,
we don’t like to waste a moment,
with so much to do
and we feel virtuous after we’ve done it;
how out of order is that?
What we don’t seem able to do,
Lord, is to stop;
to stop and listen to the spirits,
to welcome the authentic ones,
and reject the attractive spurious ones.
Lord, teach us again to recognise the ones that indeed come from you.