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1 John 2:1827; 4:16 comment (0)

June 18, 2009

By Steven R. Harmon

Related Scripture: 1 John 2:1827; 4:16

Bible Studies for Life
Associate Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

1 John 2:18–27; 4:1–6

It is a basic fact of life for contemporary Christians that they live in a world of multiple religions. Christians today also live daily with the existence of countless claims to represent the true expression of Christian faith and practice. These experiences are hardly new for members of the body of Christ. Christianity was one of many ancient Mediterranean religions vying for the devotion of inhabitants of that world, and as it expanded, there arose multiple versions of Christian teaching that made it necessary for the church to distinguish between true and erroneous accounts of the faith. The apostle John’s advice to first-century Christians dealing with ancient religious pluralism remains relevant for us, as we live with its contemporary equivalent.

The ‘Last Hour’ and Opposition to Christ (2:18–22)
The “Antichrist” and widespread opposition to Christian truth do not belong only to some far-off future series of events leading up to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It was then already “the last hour,” for the Incarnation of Christ had already inaugurated the “last things.” Now that the “last things” had come with Christ, opposition to His truth developed. The “Antichrist,” singular, is the personification of the nonbelieving world’s opposition to Christ so that in fact, there are “many antichrists.” In this case, such opposition to the truth originated within the early Christian community, but it led to the departure of these “antichrists” from the fellowship of the church.

This passage is often applied to the way the false teaching of certain groups places them outside the body of Christ. While that is a legitimate application of the text, it also stands as a warning to those who remain within the Church not to separate from it. There are occasions when allegiance to the truth that is in Christ necessitates divisions between church communities, but such divisions should never be resorted to quickly or taken lightly. In the ancient church, there was a connection between schism (leaving the mainstream church to establish another) and the development of heresy. The truth that is in Christ is known in His body, the Church. As long as the Church remains divided, it is hampered in its task of offering a complete account of Christian truth in its teaching.

Locating the Truth (2:23–27)
God the Father has located the fullness of truth in His Son, Jesus, so that “everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also.” How do we know this truth in such a way that we come to confess its location in Jesus? We hear from the Church what we “heard from the beginning.” It is true that “Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so.” But the Bible is given to us by God through the instrumentality of the Church, which also tells us the Bible is where we can learn about the truth that is in Christ. And as members of this Church, we share an “anointing” that “abides” in us, the indwelling Holy Spirit, who “will teach you everything” (John 14:26) and “guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).

Discerning Error (4:1–6)
John encourages Christians living amid false claims to truth to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” He offers two key tests for such claims. First the doctrine of the Incarnation: Do they “confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh”? This admonition, too, is a cause for self-examination, as we may give lip service to the doctrine of the Incarnation, but all too often, we emphasize the divine nature of Jesus in such a way that we neglect His real humanity and its implications for God’s positive relationship to the material order and human flesh. Second their relationship to “the world”: Is the group claiming this truth so accommodated to the surrounding culture that it is difficult to identify differences between the group and the culture? The Church is a countercultural community that draws its identity “from God” rather than from the culture — even if that culture is American culture. We are best equipped for discerning truth and error when we are deeply formed by the community whose identity is formed by God’s truth.

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