It has been observed that one of the clear marks of contemporary society is the way people can accept contradictory opinions. There is a reluctance to say that something is wrong, providing the opinion or practice does not interrupt the lives of other people. If it is suggested that it is wrong, the person making the comment is often said to be judgemental. Yet we know that sometimes people may be interrupted by unwelcome information.
For example, I may be sitting watching a television programme unaware that smoke is coming out of the window of another room in my house. A passer-by who shouts at me and urges me to escape from the fire has my good at heart, even although he is interrupting my enjoyment. Of course, any sensible person would be grateful for such an intrusion. Tolerance of what is destructive is not a sign of broadmindedness. Indeed, the observer of the danger would be a criminal if he allowed the unaware person to suffer the consequences of the fire.
It is obvious from John’s comments in verses 1-6 that he was aware that certain dangers faced the church of his day. The congregation to which he was writing had gone through a difficult time during which false teachers had penetrated the gatherings and led people astray. He also knew that other false teachers would arise. The basis of his outlook was not merely an assessment of current trends and how they would develop. Instead he built his teaching on the instructions given to him and the other apostles by the Lord Jesus when he was here on earth (Matt. 7:15-20; 24:11, 24-25).
It is important to note that John, as did Jesus and the other apostles, refers to false teachers within the visible Christian church. He is not referring to the founders and leaders of other religions such as Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism. There is no doubt that these religions contain false prophets, but they are not a threat to the spiritual outlook of the church because they are not part of it. The dangers that John sees are from within the church.
It is also important to observe why John is making this point. His reason for doing so is found in his endearing term, ‘Beloved.’ He highlights the danger because he loves the Christians. Sometimes it is suggested that to behave in such a way reveals a lack of love. Yet would we regard a person who did not protect sheep from wolves as a lover of the flock? If that is necessary in the physical world, it is also essential in the spiritual world. A true leader who loves the church will warn it of all dangers that he sees.
How does one get this heart of love for the people of God? The answer to the question is straightforward. This heart outlook develops from spending time with God in his Word, with him in prayer, and by using the other means of grace. It is impossible for a person to have it if he does not make use of these means. This heart of love also develops by spending time focussing on particular people, praying for them, and asking God to defend them from personal tendencies that may be doors for false teachers to get through.