Call me paranoid, but I refuse to drink milk without smelling it first. And I don’t care what the date says on the jug (it’s been known not to matter), I’m going to take a whiff before I take a gulp! With this in mind, let me suggest that we need to scrutinize doctrine, rather than simply swallowing down whatever is presented from the pulpit, printed page, or any other medium by which spiritual teaching is propagated.
1 John 4:1 demands the Christian to carefully engage in this critical endeavor: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” The word test means to “examine, prove, or scrutinize.” Please note that this inspired imperative was issued out of loving concern: John begins the verse by referring to his audience as beloved, a tender term of affection. John was concerned for his readers and the disciple’s demand speaks volumes about the concern that every Christian should have when it comes to the responsibility of testing teachers.
- We should be concerned about ourselves and others over whom teachers have an influence. This is certainly why John wrote the words under consideration. And similarly, Paul wrote to the Galatians, warning them about the dangers of false doctrine and encouraging them not to be moved away from the Gospel (cf. Gal. 1:6-9).
- We should be concerned about the status of Truth. Remember that we are stewards of the Gospel, charged in part to defend it (Phil. 1:17; Jude 3).
- We should even be concerned about teachers. While some individuals preach error from impure motives (cf. Rom. 16:17-18), others do so ignorantly. Acts 18:24-26 alludes to Apollos teaching error regarding the subject of baptism. Obviously out of concern, Aquila and Priscilla took him aside and instructed him properly in this regard.
When it comes to milk, I smell it before I drink it because I’m concerned about getting sick. But when it comes to testing the words of religious teachers, I examine them alongside the Bible before I believe them because I’m concerned about the status of souls and the status of Truth. If I get sick from bad milk, I’ll likely recover. If I lose my soul by drinking down erroneous doctrines, I’ll never recuperate!