John isn’t talking about Ghostbusters here; to test the spirits means to put your spiritual teachers to the proof of Scripture. “Test” (δοκιμάζετε) means “to prove, discern, or examine.” Few have likely ever believed they were a false prophet, but a tour of churches around the country would put you in contact with many who preach and teach what is contradictory to Scripture. It would be counterproductive to write of the situations of which I am aware, but I see three main problems that lead people to continue to sit under “false prophets.”
1. People who profess Christianity are often not well versed in the Scripture. And although the Bible can be understood by the masses if they take the time to read it on a regular basis and familiarize themselves with it from cover to cover, you can take verses from the Bible to prove almost anything. For example, it is easier to argue for slavery using the Bible than against it, but I hope no modern Christian would believe that slavery is a part of God’s plan for our lives. And people from both sides of an argument often have verses to back up their belief. Believers would be well served to learn what the Bible says for themselves and not rely on the opinions of others.
“The scripture in times of disputes is like an open town in times of war, which serves in differently the occasions of both parties.” Alexander Pope
2. False prophets are usually charismatic leaders. In seminary I had to read many secular books on leadership. I have wondered if some who sensed the “call” to ministry wouldn’t be equally successful using the principles they use to “build a church” in running a business. True prophets of God in this last age would do well to model Christ in servant leadership. No church leader should have their own agenda, but should seek God’s will for the body of believers they serve. No one doing the will of God needs to manipulate through human means.
"No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means.” --George Bernard Shaw
3. People are comfortable and creatures of habit. This one is perhaps most troubling. After months of struggle my husband and I once left a church that had some false teaching coming from the pulpit. Some left the church for the same reason, but many people stayed. The most concerning thing is that many who stayed vehemently opposed the teaching, but only in whispers. Most who disagreed chose to say nothing and stay in a church where they were comfortable with family and friends, even if it meant a lack of spiritual growth in their own lives.
“Each epoch has found in the Gospels what it sought to find there, and has overlooked what it wished to overlook.” -- Ludwig von Mises
“We approach Scripture with minds already formed by the mass of accepted opinions and viewpoints with which we have come into contact, in both the Church and the world. It is easy to be unaware that it has happened; it is hard even to begin to realize how profoundly tradition in this sense has moulded us.”
Dear friends, be careful which opinions and viewpoints you accept as biblical. Often the deceptions are so small that your spirit may not discern it unless you are in tune with the will of God through prayer and personal study of the Scripture. Be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) who received Paul’s message with eagerness but daily examined the Scriptures to make sure his teaching matched God’s Word.