Hearing the Difference
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” – 1 John 4:1-2
Do you know how to tell the difference between imitation and genuine jade? My friends tried to teach me a clever trick (the trick involves a hair and a match) to make this distinction before I ventured off down the silk alley in Beijing.
The word clever comes with the connotation of intelligence. Yet, the ability to make a distinction between two options is one way of understanding what it means to be clever.
Some believe that the word, “clever” derives from the old Norse word kleyfr which means “easy to split” or from the ancient Germanic word cleofan , which means “to cut or split apart.” This origin implies that cleverness is about the ability to identify a clear difference between multiple options. In this way cleverness is akin to discernment.
In 1 John, the letter writer encourages the church to be discerning and to distinguish between the voices that clamor for their attention.
Whose voice do you listen to? Whose advice do you take? Whose words can conjure confidence or confusion within you?
Identifying the messages clamoring for our attention, discerning whose voice to give priority, and separating out those which are not healthy or holy is a challenge not limited to the ancient church. It’s a dilemma we wrestle with in the here and now.
For the author of 1 John it was important to remind the church that God’s love is more powerful than our voices of self-doubt and self-criticism and that the spirit of God is with us always (3:19-24). God has given us all that we need to be clever, to distinguish the path of wisdom from the path of folly.
And when we need to be clever, when we need to distinguish the way ahead, scripture reminds us to be guided by love in action. Any voice can proclaim to have and know the truth but the one we follow, the genuine article is the voice that calls us to live love. For in this way we proclaim Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.