Commentary on 1 John 4:1-6
Preaching Series on 1 John (Week 3 of 4)
July 8, 2018
Preaching text: 1 John 4:1-6 Testing the spirits
Gospel: John 14:15-17 The Spirit of truth
In the context of 1 John, there were many ways to be spiritual. The basic issue, according to chapter 4, is whether spiritual claims are centered in the Word that Jesus embodied. For the writer, the incarnate Word cannot be reduced to spiritual abstraction. Divine love is not simply an idea. It takes tangible form in the life Jesus lived and the death that he died. In John’s gospel and epistles, the death of the human being named Jesus is the most radical expression of divine love for the world. If God’s Word was not embodied, there is no reason for faith to be embodied.
The writer uses the word “antichrist” for the view he opposes. In the popular imagination, the antichrist is a political figure who is coming to dominate the world at the end of the age. But in 1 John, that is not the case. The Greek prefix “anti” means both “against” and “substitute for.” The writer uses the term “antichrist” for a form of the gospel that circulated in his own time. It is “against” Christ because it offers a thoroughly spiritualized “substitute for” Christ. And the writer notes that the world finds the disembodied message more appealing than the incarnate one.
Yet the passage says that believers “overcome” or “conquer” the power of the antichrist. Note that there is no description of apocalyptic destruction. Instead, victory is won wherever faith is professed and lived out in love (1 John 5:1, 4).