7 January – First Reading

Commentary on 1 John 3:22—4:6 

Today we have a passage very rich in meaning and deserving of a lot of reflection and prayer. It is in two parts. In the first (3:22-24), it speaks briefly of what is needed to be a true follower of Christ; in the second (4:1-6), it warns us against being deceived by false prophets into following misleading paths.

John begins by assuring us that whatever we ask, we will receive from God. And how do we know that? Because we “keep his commandments” and carry out his will. And what are these commandments? He immediately tells us that they are just two in number:

– total belief in and commitment to Jesus, as the Son of God; and
– loving each other as Jesus has loved us.

Beyond these two commandments, we need absolutely nothing else. All the rest that we have been taught may be called the icing on the cake. It is not that other elements of our Christian life are not important but, without these two fundamentals, the rest is nothing.

And it is not surprising that, when we live our lives with this faith and love, our prayers will be heard, because what we ask will be wholly in harmony with being closer to Jesus in commitment, love and service. As John says, “Those who keep God’s commandments remain in him and he in them.” It is a kind of symbiotic relationship which colours all whole lives.

In the second part (4:1-6), we begin to consider what the writer says is the third condition to ‘love as God’s children’, and that is to be on guard against antichrists and against the world. It is a matter of distinguishing between the good spirit, the Spirit of Christ, and other spirits which can mislead us. It is through the Spirit of the Father and Jesus that we know we are in Christ, and that he is in us.

But John warns us that not all “spirits” come from God. We need to “put the spirits to the test”. This is what we now sometimes refer to as “discernment of spirits”. There are many influences in our lives coming from various sources – all will come under the guise of good, but some are in fact leading us astray.

We need to examine these influences. Following the good spirit will bring “consolation”, a sense of rightness and peace. A wrong spirit will bring “desolation”, a sense of unease and restlessness. These are not at all to be confused with pleasure or pain. To choose a more painful way may well bring consolation, and we know we have made the right choice.

For John, the good spirit will lead us to recognise that Jesus, in his human body, is a revelation of God. It was precisely this that the Gnostics, and especially Cerinthus, denied, as for them all matter and flesh were evil. In God’s creation, we believe that everything he has made is good and is a reflection of his own Goodness. And our acknowledgement of Jesus Incarnate is not simply something intellectual – even the demons knew that God was in Jesus – but something that we confess publicly through our living.

To deny this is to be led by the antichrist, epitomised in the teaching of the Gnostics, who are the false prophets mentioned. They speak under the influence of evil spirits who are alienated from God. In the Gospel Jesus, too, warned about such false prophets (e.g. Matt 7:15; 24:11). So, too, did Paul (e.g. 1 Tim 4:1).

As long as we are of God and in Christ, we have nothing to fear. We do not belong any more to the “world”, the world of sin, the world of hate and greed, the world of corruption, deceit and violence. Those who know God will listen not only to him, but to those who are clearly his spokespersons. And each one of us is called by our Baptism to be a spokesperson, an evangeliser for the message of Christ.

We have to learn how to distinguish clearly where and in whom is the Spirit of truth, and where in whom the spirit of falsehood resides. We can all be torn between these two ‘worlds’ – the world of Christ’s Spirit, and the spirit of the ‘world’. Of course, much of the time we try to have our cake and eat it. We realise that we would like to be fully in Christ, but know that we have not quite gotten there yet.

Let us ask Jesus today to help us keep those two great commandments of faith/trust and love, and to help us to be able to recognise his Spirit in our lives and reject all those false influences which lead us astray.

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