John has warned his readers about two threats, one internal (a condemning heart) and one external (the false teachers). The answer to both lies in right belief – believing that Jesus is the Christ. In this last section of this week’s passage, John reminds his readers how true belief is confirmed.
Read 1 John 4:4-6 and have a look at the following questions…
In verse 4, John is reassuring the church in a number of ways. If the “one who is in you” is the Spirit of God, then what is the reassurance for God’s people?
Verse 5 talks about the false teachers and the people who listen to them. What can you conclude about them, and their audience?
In verse 6, John is talking about himself. How does the apostles’ witness help identify true believers?
Paul has been teaching about two kinds of spirits in 1 John 4:1-6. Can you draw up a list of what the differences between them are?
Pray: giving thanks that God’s Spirit is stronger than any opponent, and ask that you would continue to listen to the apostles’ as you trust in Jesus, the Christ come in the flesh.
John is concentrating in 3:19-4:6 on the ‘belief test’, and the heart of that test in found in the middle of each half of the passage. 3:23 describes it as the belief “in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ”, and 4:2 describes it as acknowledging that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh”. Just like in the first passage that introduced the test (see 2:22-23), the identity and humanity of Jesus Christ are the key things which define orthodox doctrine. One you misrepresent Jesus, the whole of Christianity starts to come apart.
Read 1 John 4:2-3 and think about the following questions…
Sometimes we think of the Holy Spirit more in terms of our own subjective experiences. But how do we recognise the Spirit in verse 2? What is his work here?
The Spirit is witnessing to the true identity of Jesus. Another way to translate the second half of verse 2 is “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh…” Why are Jesus’ Messiahship and continuing humanity both so important to our faith?
Have a look back to 1 John 2:18-20. Who were the antichrists back then, and what characterised them?
Antichrists won’t come wearing a label. How would you recognise one if you met them, and how will you learn to rely on the Spirit’s work in pointing you to Jesus?
Pray: Giving thanks for churches you know that have stayed true to the Spirit’s witness. Pray that you would continue to recognise his work in you.
John’s big aim is to reassure shaky Christians who have just been through a church split: a number of people have walked out on them (1 John 2:19). His letter is both a warning and an encouragement to keep going – as he explains here…
Read 1 John 4:1 and think about the following questions…
Why is the idea of a ‘false prophet’ so deeply unfashionable in our culture? And even within the church?
John is clear, though, that not every spirit is ‘spiritual’ in the right sense. In context, what does he mean by ‘testing’ the spirits?
John is picking up on a biblical theme. If you have time, have a look at Deut 13:1-3, Matt 7:15, Mark 13:22 and 2 Peter 2:1. Why is the warning about false teachers so widespread in the Bible?
If ‘many false prophets have gone out into the world’, why do we assume that in our age, we are safe? How can we keep on our guard?
Pray: for the safety of the Christians you know, and the safety of your church. Pray that we would be on our guard against the false teachers who are going out into the world even in our generation.
John has warned about the dangers of a condemning heart, but now he explains the incredible experience of being a Christian who believes the truth and whose heart has been set at rest.
Read 1 John 3:21-24 and think about the following questions…
What would you normally associate with confidence? How do adverts portray confidence and where would they say it comes from?
Compare verse 21 with Hebrews 4:14-16. What is Christian confidence like? How would you sum it up in a few words?
This confidence comes from belief in God’s son, Jesus Christ (verse 23). Why is each part of Jesus’ name (Son / Jesus / Christ) important if we are to believe in him truly?
This confidence leads to all kinds of other benefits. In verses 22 to 24, there are at least three – how would you describe them?
In verses 22 and 24 it looks like these benefits are conditional on obedience. From the first part of chapter 3, how do we know that that can’t be the case?
Pray: that the truth about Jesus would set your heart at rest. Pray for those you know who are struggling to believe.
Further reading: Whiter than snow by Paul David Tripp
John is returning for a second time to the theme of doctrine or belief, as he seeks to reassure Christians that what they know is real (see 1 John 5:13 for a reminder of his over-all aim). This time, though, he extends the test even further…
Read 1 John 3:19-20 and think about the following questions
How does this passage compare with the previous explanation of the ‘belief test’ (1 John 2:18-27)? In which direction has John extended his test?
How do these verses follow on from the previous section (the love test in 1 John 3:11-18)? And in 1 John 3:18 in particular, how do we see the boundaries between the tests breaking down?
What do you think it means to have a ‘condemning heart’? Is that similar to having a bad conscience?
If God knows everything… will he agree or disagree with our condemning hearts? Is his knowledge of us good or bad news?
How might going back to 1 John 1:8-9 reassure us that he is more prepared to forgive us than our hearts are? How does this set our hearts at rest?
Pray: Giving thanks that because of God’s grace, we can set our hearts at rest before him.
After showing us what true love is John now turns to the practical implications for our lives.
Read: 1 John 3:17 & 18
How have other christians sacrificially loved you?
How have you sacrificially loved other christians?
What might it look like for us to lovingly lay down our lives for our brother’s and sister’s over the coming weeks?
Pray: Asking God to help us lay down our lives for our brother’s and sister’s. Thanking God that our love is not what brings us into relationship with God but is a mark of a heart that has been transformed by the sacrificial love of the Lord Jesus.
John now gives us the bible’s definition of love.
Read: 1 John 3:16
How would you describe God’s love from this verse?
How is Christ’s love so different from the hatred of Cain in verse 12?
What should our response be to Christ’s love?
Pray: Thanking and praising God for His supreme expression of love seen in the self sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Thank Him that Jesus has won your heart by His love and ask God to help you express the same love in your own life today.