WHY ARE WE LOSING OUR CHILDREN?
James W. Boyd
Young people who are trying to do
right, and parents who are trying
to train them right, meet with the
most aggravating opposition from
other Christian parents
and young people who are content to
follow the world.
We properly make great efforts to take the Gospel to the
whole world. Many noble deeds and sacrifices are being made by
many people in this effort. God will bless them for it! At the
same time, while it is not true of all, many are losing their
children. Leaders in the church have suffered such losses.
Compare the number of small children in Bible study with the
number of young people in the teenage and young adult classes and
you can see that somewhere along the line we have many
dropouts. Faithful brethren who labor among the youth
warn of the increasing apostasy among the young: the lack of
genuine spirituality, a growing Biblical ignorance, disrespect
for Biblical authority, and either the inability or unwillingness
to stand for the truth even when taught. Again, we want to say
this is not an indictment of all. But it is true of many, even
many who have been reared in what we consider Christian homes.
IT STARTS IN THE HOME
From what are they being lost? To what are they being
lost? They are being lost from the church, truth, efforts to
restore New Testament Christianity in every generation. They are
being lost to other religions, denominations, non-religion,
anti-religion, atheistic and worldly pursuits. Many who are
retained are lukewarm and indifferent. Some have estimated that
as high as fifty per cent of our young people, reared in the
church, are leaving. What is being lost are precious souls.
These are souls with a good opportunity to go to heaven, settling
into a course of life that leads to hell.
Why is this drain taking place? Can we plug it before
others go that way? Some years ago I spent several months
inquiring, reading, interviewing, questioning young people,
parents, teachers, anyone who has much to do with the spiritual
life of the young, seeking answers to this problem. An analysis
of my findings show there are a number of factors that are
contributing to the loss of our young.
Basically, the attitude and action of the home dominates the
scene. The fault lies there more than any other place. We like to
blame every body and every thing other than where the blame
really lies. There is no profit in that approach. The home is not
the sole cause, but it is probably the prime cause of the loss of
the young. We need to take this medicine and do something about
it. Parents cannot play church, putting other things
first, and then expect their young to put God first. It seldom
happens. Parents have failed so often to teach by word and
example what a Christian should be.
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT?
God placed the prime responsibility of spiritual
training of a child on parents (Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4; Gen. 18:19;
Deut. 11:19). We need to study, not just passively read, these
verses. The first business of every parent is to see to it that
the child knows God and his duty to God.
Parents display such attitudes that are sickening and
disgusting. They are young only once. Let them have their
fun and good times. We need to learn that no time is a good
time that does not put God first. To indulge the young is
detrimental to them. They become ill-equipped to meet their
sacred duties. This attitude implies that it is unpleasant to
serve God. It is just a deprivation. It suggests that there is
plenty of time someday to learn about God. To say they are young
only once suggests that possibly God does not know that. Yet God
says, Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy
youth (Eccl. 12:1).
Can we rear a child fifteen or so years in the atmosphere
where God, the church, truth, Christianity, morality are
secondary to school, games, television, pleasure, movies, etc.
and expect them to be grounded in first things first (cf. Matt.
6:33)? Children are taught at home what is of prime importance.
Can we allow children to pursue social interests,
conform to the crowd, seek popularity, engage in unchristian
recreation, lascivious behavior, filling their minds with the
moral trash produced by the degenerate minds of the movie,
magazine, and television industries, and expect them to love the
pure, noble, moral and clean things of life?
Can we hold out to them the idea that success
is financial success, acceptance, worldly recognition, and expect
them to follow the Christ who never sought such things?
Too many parents have neglected to teach and
demonstrate in their own lives the loyalty God expects from a
Christian. Yet somehow, they think their children will seek what
is good above all else. Yes, the problem of losing our young is
first and foremost, above all else, a reflection of the home.
Some young people are lost when they enter into
circumstances that discourage Christianity. Sometimes it may be
unavoidable, such as when they might be forced from home into the
armed forces. The trials are hard and they need every
encouragement and prayer. Many are lost, or at least show their
lack of concern for Christ, during the years when they seek
higher formal education at colleges and universities where God
and His will are considered irrelevant and stupid. Take a young
boy or girl out of high school and sit him/her at the feet of
some wise scoffer and mocker who take shots at God all
the time, teaching infidelity as if he knew everything, it
certainly has a detrimental effect on many youths. They hear the
truth ridiculed and they do not know enough truth to resist the
error, nor are they in a position to be able to defend it even if
they were informed. The devil has many of his servants in the
chairs of learning in our educational systems.
A MAJOR DRAIN
Others are lost by disregarding the Lords teaching
regarding marriage. They marry outside the church and are
further drawn away from the truth. They ignore Gods laws on
marriage and divorce (too often having been led astray by false
teachers in the church regarding this subject), and once finding
themselves in a bad circumstance, they remain there rather than
please God and repent of their sinful state and come out of it.
Often young people are subjected to a divided home religiously,
or to one or both parents being indifferent toward God. This has
destroyed the faith that could and should have been nurtured.
NEGLIGENT OLDER PEOPLE
Still others become the victims of those who
constantly berate the Lords church, criticize it, belittle
it, and reduce it to nothing more than a denomination among
denominations that needs restructuring. These liberal, lying,
new lights, often speak of the church as being
out-of-date, answering questions nobody is asking, lacking love,
full of tradition, hypocritical, stagnant, etc. How can any
person constantly hear that Satanic barrage and have respect for
the church? They lose interest when they are convinced of such
harangue. Such critics often cater to, adopt, and admire the
message and methods of denominations. They like to impress the
young with their sensationalism, emotionalism, promotionalism,
jive talk, unorthodox dress and conduct. They create
and then exploit what they call the generation gap, and
wean the young away from the wise counsel of faithful parents,
godly elders and sound Gospel preachers. They call for an
abandonment of the past, whatever it was, and an adoption of the
new even if it is not true.
Parents and church leaders and teachers too often sit idly
by, complacent, gullible, naive, even cooperating with such
things, and uproot the sound and solid religious heritage our
young deserve. That heritage includes faith in God, love for
family, love for the church of the Bible, the sanctity of the
home, conformity to Gods standard of morality. Too many
young are being served huge helpings of modernism, immorality,
compromise, permissiveness, foul speech, Marxism, anarchy,
rebellion, down with everything, and up with nothing.
The do your own thing attitude has captured the souls
of many, and this go along to get along sickness that
is often evident among some older people has taken many of the
young away from God.
DID YOU EVER CONSIDER THIS?
These critics of Gods way are sometimes
politicians whose personal lives are in shambles, educators who
worship at the altar of their own wisdom, the social gospel
clergymen who do not have much regard for the soul of man or his
eternal destiny. Some act more like brotherhood fun and
games directors who are called youth ministers,
who think it is the work of the church to provide playgrounds,
gymnasiums, pleasure trips, etc., and put their emphasis there.
Many youth seminars have been little more than sessions
to convince the youth that the elderships, Gospel preachers and
parents who hold to the Word of God, are irrelevant.
The efforts of godly and determined Christian parents have no
more deadly enemy among the young that these flighty, flippant,
cute, know-it-all youth workers who constantly ape
liberal digressives and degrade the Lords church and
ridicule the nobility of the past.
The church has a role regarding parents and youth. It
is the same role that it sustains to all people, young and old.
It is not to assume the work of the parents and home, providing
recreation, secular education, etc. It ought not coddle and
condone sins regardless of who is involved. Rather than thinking
the answer lies with singles classes, single again classes, youth
seminars where brainwashing goes on, week-end retreats that take
the young away from Lords Day congregational worship in
favor of lake-side worship, the church has the
God-given task of preaching and teaching the same saving Gospel
to everyone. To preach the word by reproving, rebuking,
and exhorting is the work of the church. Ignorance of the Word of
God and the lack of respect for it is at the heart and base of
the loss of young people. It would be better to study the Word
rather than engage in problem solving where
participants share ignorance. The church deserves the full
support and cooperation by every home in assisting in such
We must add that parents have a duty to other parents. It is
sinful to place stumbling blocks before young people. Parents and
their young are responsible for their influence. It is not merely
my own business what my young people do, where they go,
how they dress, what they are allowed to do. Inasmuch as young
people influence one another, and peer pressure is heavy, parents
have the responsibility to see to it that their young set a good
example. It is not unheard of that young people who are trying to
do right, and parents who are trying to train them right, meet
with the most aggravating opposition from other
Christian parents and young people who are content to
follow the world. We have heard it said, Its
nobodys business but ours if my children attend the
dance. That is as false as a three dollar bill. Every member
of the church, parents, children, elderships, preachers, all are
effected adversely. We need to ask if the influence of our home
is contributing to the cause of Christ and encouraging Christ-
like conduct, or is it as often as not, like the influence of the
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Every young person is a gift from God. None can be lost
without it being an eternal loss. Experience warns that many do
fall away. Let us resolve that we shall make that number as small
as possible. Teach the young, show the young, what being a
Christian really is. Follow the teaching of the Bible, not the
ways of the world. Show them how to resist the influences that
are evil when they cannot avoid them. But many of these
influences can be avoided with parental concern, teaching, and
There is not one young person we can afford to lose.
Are you really willing for your son or daughter to go to hell?
Certainly, you are not. Just how studious and diligent are your
efforts, at home and in the local church, to see to it that they
One of the tragic realities of recent years is how many
schools, colleges, and universities operated by brethren are now
more of a hindrance to faithfulness among the young than helpers
of the home to keep them strong and build them up.
2720 S Chancery St.
McMinnville, TN 37110
Table of Contents
THERE AM I IN THE MIDST OF THEM #1
Garland M. Robinson
When is Jesus in our midst? When
does he promise to be with us? When
are we assured He is there? It
is when we do his will.
For where two or three are gathered together in my
name, there am I in the midst of them (Matt. 18:20).
THE LORD IS WITH US
The context of the Lords statement in Matthew
18:20 begins in verse one. The Lords disciples ask him a
question, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of
heaven? Jesus answered with a barrage of both action and
words in verses 2-6. He speaks of the sincere attitude and
humility that those who seek to follow him must exhibit. If we
desire to be great in the kingdom and in his sight, we must be
sincere, having no impure motive. We must be meek and humble. Our
heart is kind and seeking only to do His will. We do not try to
take advantage of others. We love and care for others. We wish
them well just as we desire to be well. We want to be accepted of
the Lord and we want those around us to be accepted as well. When
we do this, while humbly obeying his will, we are great in his
sight and in his kingdom.
Jesus speaks in verse seven about offenses
and how it must be that they will occur. An offense is a matter
that causes another to fall or stumble. Things like this will
happen, but woe to that man by whom the offence
cometh! Our goal is to never be one who contributes to
the downfall of another. If and when we do commit such offenses
(sins), we must repent of them, ask forgiveness and make it right
so they will not be charged against us.
In verses 8 and 9, He tells of the drastic measures one
must take in order to be a faithful disciple. He uses the figure
of cutting off a hand or foot or plucking out an eye if such
causes us to stumble in our Christian service. He is not
commanding us to mutilate our bodies. This is a figure of speech,
a hyperbole (exaggeration). The point is that we cannot allow
anything, even the most precious thing to us, to hinder
our service to God. Nothing can stand between us and our devotion
and commitment to the Lord. We must seek the Lord and His kingdom
first (Matt. 6:33). All else is secondary in
In verses 12-13, Jesus tells of a faithful shepherd
having a hundred sheep and how that if even one goes astray the
shepherd will search diligently until it is found. More rejoicing
is made over the one that is found than over the ninety nine that
are safe. Souls are precious in the sight of God (cf. Psalm
49:8)! Even so it is not the will of your Father which is
in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish
(v.14). These words also speak of our attitude toward the weak
and downtrodden. Our whole function as servants of the Lord is to
be as our Master. When we are so, we are like Him.
In verses 15-17, Jesus gives instruction on what to do
when a brother trespasses against us. The word trespass
means we have been sinned against. This is not a trivial matter
wherein someone has hurt our feelings. One has sinned against us
and their soul is in jeopardy. Its a matter that cannot be
swept under the rug and we just let it slide. This person needs
to know the error they committed and they need to repent. We are
obligated to try to resolve the matter with them. Because it is a
personal offense, against me and me alone, we go to them
privately. If the matter is resolved (in the repentance of the
offender), forgiveness is extended and the matter is laid to
rest. No one else ever knows anything about it. If, however, the
person does not repent, then we are to take one or two more with
us as witnesses in a further attempt to get them to repent. If
they repent, we have prayer together and the matter is not
brought up again it is forgotten. No one else has to ever
know about it. If the offender still does not repent, then the
matter is to be brought before the whole church. This shows the
seriousness of the offense and brings pressure upon the offender
to repent. If their stubbornness prevails and they do not repent,
the whole church is to see this brother as wayward, unfaithful,
and no longer in fellowship with the Lord and the church. He is
counted as a heathen man and a publican (v.17). When
the saints follow the Lords instructions to resolve matters
such as this, we meet with the Lords approval. We have the
assurance that He is in our midst.
The text of Matthew 18:15-17 is mis-used when applied
to a situation where error has been publicly taught/preached. It
is said that the error cannot be examined (corrected, rebuked)
publicly until the person who taught the error has been
approached privately. This is false. It ties the hands of
faithful brethren and hinders the defence of the Gospel. It says
that the truth must be silent while error is taught. Such is not
so. The Gospel is always to be presented while error is rebuked
and corrected. Consider Rom. 16:17-18, 2 John 9-11, Eph. 5:11,
The Lord and His way is not a way of division. It is a
way of unity, harmony and peace. If we want the Lord to accept
our service and worship, then we must comply with His commands.
When we live as the Lord requires, doing those things
pleasing in his sight, having an attitude and disposition that is
like His, He is in our midst. Notice the words of Matthew
18:18-20: Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind
on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose
on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if
two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they
shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in
heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.
Verse 18 shows that the apostles bound and loosed those
things that had already been bound and loosed in heaven (cf.
Matt. 16:19). They did not speak of their own will, they spake
Gods will. Jesus did the same (John 12:49) and so did the
Holy Spirit (John 16:13).
Verses 19 and 20 show that when we stand together in
doing the Lords will, He is with us He is in our
midst. We are one with Him.
A very common application that is made of verse 20 is
that when two or three are gathered together in the Lords
name, then He is with them. It is thought that this applies to
the assembly of the church. Some say that when two or three get
together at the lake, then that constitutes the Lords
assembly. And, for this cause some forsake the assemblies of the
saints on the Lords day and excuse themselves to do whatever
they want to do. Thats not what this verse is talking about!
Its not talking about the assembling of the church. Its
talking about the fact that when we do the Lords will,
following His word, then He is with us. He is in our midst.
Both Old and New Testaments show that the Lord is with
His people His church. He is in our midst. Psalm 22:22 is
quoted in Hebrews 2:12: Saying, I will declare thy name
unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing
praise unto thee.
In Revelation 1:13, John saw ...in the
midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of
man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the
paps with a golden girdle. This is an obvious reference
to the Lord Jesus. Seven verses later in verse 20, it is revealed
that the seven candlesticks are the seven churches.
The point is made clear, Jesus is in the midst of faithful con-
gregations, not just when they assemble, but when they act in
following His divine will.
The seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 & 3 serve
as an example (both good and bad) for us today. The obvious point
made in these two chapters is that the Lord walked in the midst
of these churches. He did so to govern, to watch and to rule over
them. Verse one of chapter two says he walketh in the
midst of the seven golden candlesticks (cf. Rev. 1:13).
Five of the seven congregations are given stern warning that
unless they repent, their candlestick would be removed (2:5).
They would no longer be a light bearer. They would cease to be a
shining example. The Lord would depart from them. He would
abandon them to their own selfishness and conceit. If they would
not listen and take heed, there would be no reward.
When is Jesus in our midst? When does he promise to be
with us? When are we assured He is there? It is when we do his
will. If we are servants of God, faithful and true, the Lord
is with us.
In the great commission, Jesus said, Go ye
therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of
the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them
to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo,
I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
Amen (Matt. 28:19-20). But, if we are not faithful, if we
hold ill-will toward others, if our heart is not right, if our
conduct is shameful, we cannot expect the Lord to stand with us.
Such a life is repulsive to the Lord. He does not promise to be
with us. Instead, He promises to take vengeance against us at the
last day (cf. 2 Thess. 1:8).
Having the Lords favor and approval is needed
above all else. He is the judge (John 12:48). If we desire and
expect to go to heaven, theres only one way to get there;
and, that is to do his will. Jesus said, And why call ye
me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say (Luke
6:46)? If ye love me, keep my commandments
(John 14:15). Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I
command you (John 15:14).
Table of Contents
For Deeper Study...
TRY, PROVE, TEST THE SPIRITS
An abundance of false teachers circulated among the
brotherhood of Gods people during the first century. It was
therefore necessary for biblical writers to frequently call
attention to this phenomenon. One writer who repeatedly warns the
brethren was the apostle John. In one of these statements he
declares: Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove
the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets
are gone out into the world (1 John 4:1, ASV).
Gods people must heed this same warning today. As
false teachers saturated society within the first century, it is
no less true in the twenty-first century. The Lords church
today is assaulted on every side by those teaching destructive
heresies. It is incumbent upon Gods people to take seriously
their responsibility as guardians of the truth. God expects and
demands this of us.
Following, is an exposition of 1 John 4:1. An
appreciation for this divine directive will help motivate us to
test the spirits in order to determine whether certain
doctrines originate with God or man.
The phrase false prophets translates a single term
in the original, a compound word composed of pseudo and
prophetes. The term occurs 11 times in the New Testament.
Its first occurrence is when Jesus warned the disciples of the
deceptive nature of false teachers Beware of false
prophets, who come to you in sheeps clothing, but inwardly
are ravening wolves (Matt. 7:15). Within the biblical
context, a prophet is a proclaimer of the divine will
which could not ordinarily be known except by special revelation.
The true prophet was an inspired spokesman for God.
MANY ARE GONE OUT
The term pseudo is often prefixed to words in
the New Testament to denote the spurious (false) character of the
one mentioned or the deceptive nature of the thing referred. For
example, besides false prophets there are false
Christs (Matt. 24:24), false teachers (2 Peter
2:1), false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13), false
brethren (Gal. 2:4) and false witnesses (Matt.
26:20). The apostle Paul even prefixes pseudo to the noun
logos (word) to characterize the false teacher as a
liar (1 Tim. 4:2). This latter sort is especially
dangerous because through hypocrisy they are like
actors who play parts so well that their words have the ring of
truth (BDAG, 1096).
Thus, the false prophet is the counterfeit whose
claims are bogus concerning himself and his message. He is a
fraud who pretends to speak by inspiration of the Spirit,
or at least on Gods behalf, but in actuality preaches a
message of human origin. His message does not comply with
Gods word. When one preaches that which is not in harmony
with divine revelation, that person is a false prophet. This kind
must be rejected. Association on a spiritual plane cannot be
extended because his efforts are detrimental to the cause of
Christ. Those who sympathize with and support a false teacher
becomes a partaker (fellow-shipper) of his corrupt
works (2 John 9-11).
The term many relates the numerous amounts of
false prophets operating at the time the apostle wrote this
epistle. John says even now have there arisen many
antichrists (1 John 2:18). In his next epistle he
continues to assert that many deceivers are gone
forth into the world (2 John 7). This high quantity of false
teachers agitating the brotherhood was anticipated by Jesus:
And many false prophets shall arise and shall lead
many astray (Matt. 24:11). Paul states there were
many adversaries (1 Cor. 16:9), many
corrupting the word of God (2 Cor. 2:17), many
enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil. 3:18), and
many unruly men, vain talkers and deceivers
BELIEVE NOT EVERY SPIRIT
Notice that the ratio of those misled by doctrinal
error is proportionate to the abundance of false prophets. The
existence of many false teachers results in the deception
of many innocent people. These are the percentages Peter
had in mind when he wrote, And many shall follow
their lascivious doings; by reason of whom the way of the truth
shall be evil spoken of (2 Peter 2:2). Sadly, we have a
large class of brethren today who do not believe there are
any false teachers. But the Bible clearly depicts that
there were many in existence even while the apostles were
still living. A quick survey of doctrinal deviations dispensed
throughout the land suggests there is no reason to believe their
tribe has decreased in modern times.
The phrase gone out translates a single verb.
Grammatically, the form is a perfect tense which may be
the most exegetically significant of all the Greek tenses
(Moulton, 140). Since the perfect is employed less frequently
than the present, aorist, future, or imperfect tenses, when it is
used there is usually a deliberate choice on the part of the
writer. The force of the perfect is that it describes an event
completed in the past (in the indicative mood) which has results
in the present time (i.e., in relation to the time of the
speaker/author). The resultant state which proceeds from
the past action is presented as a continuous state. It is
a combination of the aorist and present tenses. In this sense,
the perfect relates a completed action with continuous, existing
results (Wallace, 572-573). Another describes the perfect tense
as indicating a present state of affairs resulting from
a past action (Zerwick, 96).
The specific use of this tense here is called an
intensive (or resultative) perfect. This kind
of perfect is used when the writer wishes to emphasize not
so much the past event but rather the results or
present state produced by the action of the past. It is
not that the use of the perfect excludes the notion of a
completed act, but rather that the focus is on the
results which follows. The significance of this is that
John wants to call special attention, not merely to the fact that
false teachers had gone forth into society (a past event), but
specifically that the insidious influence of their error was
presently continuing to affect the brotherhood of Gods
people at the very time he wrote this warning to the brethren
(Vincent, 2:355). Although the difference is subtle, the KJV
(followed by the ASV) captures this nuance better than the modern
translations many false prophets are gone out
into the world in contrast to have gone out (NIV,
NRSV, etc.). This is not surprising. Reputable scholars are on
record as acknowledging the KJVs superior rendering of
the Greek Perfect over many modern translations (Wallace,
A comparison of the passage under discussion with 1
John 2:19 where the apostle says the false teachers went out
from us and 2 John 7 where he says they are gone forth
into the world, results in some grammatical dividends. In
all three passages the apostle employs the same verb to describe
the going forth of the false teachers, but in the latter two
passages he portrays this action with the aorist tense rather
than the perfect. This is significant because often the choice of
tense used by the speaker/writer is made for the specific purpose
of describing the specific kind of action he wishes to portray.
The significance of the perfect tense is that John wants to call
special attention to the fact that the influence of the false
teachers was presently continuing to affect the brotherhood at
the very time he wrote this warning to the brethren.
But with the aorist tense, John is concerned more with
emphasizing the simple fact that the false teachers have left.
This is done with the aorist which is the way an action is
portrayed in summary form; the action is portrayed as a whole,
including both the beginning and ending point. The whole
occurrence of the false teachers exit from the faithful is
viewed as a single entity regardless of its internal make-up.
This is not to deny that the false teacher continued to influence
Gods people in a negative way as portrayed elsewhere with
the perfect tense. There is simply a different emphasis
underscored with the use of the aorist. The fact that the false
teachers went out is given in snap shot form by the
aorist tense the false teachers have left (they
went out from us). The significance of the aorist tense here
is that with it John articulates that now the false teachers
are gone, they have left, and are no longer to be considered a
part of the fellowship of Gods people (Fanning, 255-
John uses a couple of imperatives to set forth the
obligation which Gods people are to implement toward false
teachers. The first comes negatively whereas the second takes the
force of a positive command. The apostle has just referenced the
commandment to believe on the name of his Son Jesus
Christ (1 John 3:23). He then offers an immediate contrast
at 4:1 with the first of two imperatives believe
not every spirit. While there are several uses for the
imperative in biblical Greek, the primary usage it to set forth a
command. Here, this one takes the form of a prohibition. An
action is being forbidden. Since the imperative is the mood of
intention, it moves in the realm of volition which involves one
imposing their will upon another. In this context, God imposes
his will upon his children by commanding them not to
believe certain doctrines even though they fly under the
banner of a religious message. As in any command, it sets forth
an obligation and not an optional choice. It might initially seem
strange that God would command his people not to be gullible or
naive in doctrinal matters. Yet, this is exactly what this
prohibition entails. There are some doctrines God absolutely
forbids people to believe.
PROVE THE SPIRITS
When God says believe not every spirit
but prove the spirits, the meaning is that one is
not to believe any religious teaching without proper
discrimination. The term spirits is an allusion to the
prophets and their messages. This is indicated by the immediate
reference to prophets in the second half of this verse.
The Holy Spirit miraculously inspired prophets in the first
century church so as to progressively reveal truth through them.
These inspired prophets were called spirits (2 Thess.
2:2) or spiritual (1 Cor. 14:37) because they possessed
the spiritual gift of prophecy. But the term spirit can
reference an activating spirit that is not from God... [and]
Because there are persons activated by such spirits, it is
necessary to test the various kinds of spirits (BDAG,
836). This being the case, the term pneuma (spirit) in the
passage under consideration is used as metonymy of the
cause. This is a figure of speech whereby the term is put
for the prophets and special revelation communicated through them
(Bullinger, 543). The sense of the passage, then, is as follows:
believe not every spirit [i.e., every doctrine spoken by a
prophet presumably inspired of the Spirit], but prove the spirits
[i.e., doctrines supposedly given from prophets inspired by the
Spirit], whether they [i.e., the presumably prophetic doctrines]
originate with God. To test the spirits then, was
in effect, to test the particular pneuma under whose
impulsion the prophets spoke the Spirit of truth
(cf. John 16:13) or the spirit of error (v.6).
The second imperative complements the first
prove the spirits, whether they are of God. One
is to reject (believe not) certain doctrines, but only after
those teachings have been evaluated in light of Gods
inspired will and found to be in noncompliance with revealed
truth. The term prove relates this evaluative process.
Paul uses the exact same imperative form Prove
all things; hold fast that which is good (1 Thess. 5:21).
The word can express a couple of different nuances of which both
may be embedded in its meaning here. First, it means to make a
critical examination of something in order to determine its
authenticity, put to the test, examine. Second, it
signifies to draw a conclusion about something as genuine or
worthy on the basis of that testing, to prove, approve
(BDAG, 255; Louw/Nida, 364).
This evaluative process cannot be accomplished without
the first idea and pragmatically would include the second. Once a
doctrine has been examined, if it passes or fails the test, it
must then, from a practical standpoint, be approved or
disapproved. Every doctrine is to be critically examined
in light of whether or not it is genuine. But a part of the
complete process involves the second definition as well the
doctrine examined now must receive approval when it passes
the test. It is not enough to merely test a doctrine. It
must then receive approbation if part of authentic truth. Only
then should any teaching be embraced by faith and obeyed as
saving truth. Our responsibility in this matter should never be
taken frivolously. The eternal welfare of souls is at stake.
That John uses the imperative in the present
tense is significant. What must be appreciated is that
time as an element of tense is basically non-existent
in non-indicative moods such as the imperative. At the forefront
is aspect or the way in which the writer wants to
portray the action of the verb. John could have placed the
imperative in another tense to relate a different kind of action.
He chose, however, to use the present tense and probably
for a specific reason. While contextual considerations must
always be allowed for, the unaffected meaning of a present
tense basically relates an activity as a continuous process,
without the beginning or end in view. Thus, John not only
commands brethren to prove the spirits but to do
so as an ongoing process of operation. This specific kind
of present is categorized as the iterative present
(which is frequently used with the imperative mood). Therefore
the idea conveyed is that of repeated, continuous action.
This is repetitive action in the sense that it is done over and
over, again and again (Wallace, 514, 520). The implication of
this is that as long as false teachers circulate within society,
the Lords church will continuously be under the God-given
responsibility to keep on repeatedly testing the doctrines taught
by those claiming to speak on Gods behalf.
John says doctrines are to be tested to see whether or
not they are of God. A consideration of the syntax here
offers some exegetical dividends. In the original this
grammatical construction consists of a preposition coupled with a
noun in the genitive case. It may be categorized as a
genitive of source (origin). This relates that a
doctrine must have God as its source for it to pass the test and
receive approval it must be of God in the sense of
being from God. If a religious teaching does not
originate with God (if it is not derived from a Divine
source), then it must be rejected as arising from some other
cause (cf. doctrines of demons, 1 Tim. 4:1; but not the
unwarranted taught by demons per the NIV). Today, if a
religious teaching cannot be substantiated as coming from
Gods book (the Bible), it ought not to be embraced as part
of the apostles doctrine or the doctrine of
Christ (Acts 2:42; 2 John 9). A false doctrine is nothing
more than a religious message which does not come from God.
Likewise, a false prophet is nothing more than one who preaches a
religious message which cannot be substantiated by Gods Book
(the Bible). Brethren will do well to heed these matters.
Following is my translation of the verse under
consideration. It is intended to be paraphrastic for the purpose
of highlighting the verbal tenses and moods used by the inspired
apostle: Beloved, I command you, dont believe every
spirit! But I command you to repeatedly test the spirits to
determine whether they originate with God, the reason why is
because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
Bullinger, E. W. 1968. Figures of Speech Used in the
Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Danker, Frederick William et al. 2000. A
Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early
Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Fanning, Buist M. 1990. Verbal Aspect in New
Testament Greek. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene A. Nida. 1988.
Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic
Domains. Moulton, James Hope. 1906. Prolegomena. A
Grammar of New Testament Greek. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.
Vincent, Marvin R. n.d. Word Studies in the New
Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.
Wallace, Daniel B. 1996. Greek Grammar Beyond the
Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Zerwick, Maximilian. 1963. Biblical Greek. Rome:
Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico.
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With this issue we are announcing a change of oversight in regards to Seek The Old Paths.
I have accepted the invitation to work with the Leoni (pronounced Leona) Church of Christ,
near Woodbury, Tennessee a faithful congregation with three fine elders, four dedicated deacons
and good faithful members. I have been preaching for them since August 2011 while they were looking
for a preacher. They extended to me an invitation to accept the work, and after much thought
and prayer, Ive decided to work with them. It does not require a change in my personal residence;
but, does involve a change of oversight and a change of address. You can start sending all
correspondence and contributions to:
Leoni Church of Christ
P.O. Box 7506
McMinnville, TN 37111
Preparations are underway to get all the necessary things in place for moving the equipment,
office, etc. The transition is going smoothly and you should not see any interruption in the paper
(with the exception were already experiencing because of equipment problems). As always, I request
your prayers in doing the greatest work on earth preaching and teaching the unsearchable
riches of Christ.
The church building is located at:
Leoni Church of Christ
6818 McMinnville Hwy
Woodbury, TN 37190
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