There are two verses in the New Testament that just drive me crazy when people misinterpret them. The second one is part our text today. Here they are:
Do not worry about . . . what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say. (Luke 12:11-12 NRSV)
You do not need anyone to teach you. . . . his anointing teaches you about all things. (1 John 2:27 NRSV)
These verses have been used to excuse exegetical sloth many times. I’ve heard of preachers who don’t prepare at all—they just walk up to the pulpit and engage in small talk until they feel moved to speak on something.
That’s clearly not the intent of these verses. If it were true, the irony would be unbearable: John would be teaching his people that they don’t need anyone to teach them!
These two verses teach different things, although they have been twisted into a unity. The first text from Luke says that God will give his followers divine wisdom to know what to say when they’re being persecuted. It’s certainly not an excuse to avoid studying scripture. The second verse is the subject of this devotion.
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John is still concerned about the antichrists that came out of his congregation to deceive them. These antichrists were deceiving the believers into thinking that they needed extra revelation that only they, the antichrists, could provide. The content of that knowledge, as we looked at last week, was that the Christ descended upon Jesus at baptism, and left him sometime before the cross.
Earlier, in verse 24, John gave the first antidote to this kind of deception: what you heard from the beginning must abide in you, so you will abide in the Son and in the Father. This week, we find a second antidote to the deception (also mentioned earlier in verse 20, but given more emphasis now).
The second antidote is the anointing: the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.
Let’s look at the elements of that anointing:
- It abides/remains in us. The Spirit’s anointing is not something that comes and goes. As William Griffin once suggested to me, it’s not like Curtis Joseph on a hot streak (of course this dates the conversation—go Toskala). We don’t need to pray to receive an anointing any more than we need to pray to be saved again. Once was enough: God’s strength to hold us is far more powerful than our ability to run. Jesus made this clear in John 14:16: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever” (NRSV).
- The anointing teaches you, in lieu of the antichrists. I must stress: John is not suggesting that we ignore wise teaching and just listen to our hearts. He is urging us, when we hear something that doesn’t line up with what we’ve been taught in the past, to allow the Spirit of Christ to confirm whether or not it’s true.
- The anointing is always true, and is not a lie. Teachers are a mixed bag. Some are good, some are bad. Even the best miss the truth sometimes. The Holy Spirit will always, and only, witness to the truth.
- The anointing urges us to remain in Christ’s teaching. Semantically, there are two options here. This verse could be urging us to remain in the anointing, or to remain in Christ. Theologically, the Spirit of Christ always points back to him. In fact, Jesus told his disciples that “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:26 NRSV).
So we have a one–two punch against antichrists and false teachers: the word we’ve heard from the beginning, and the witness of the Spirit of Christ.
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The trick is learning to listen to the anointing. I don’t have any short cuts or easy methods to offer for this. Even the most mature saints fail at times. However, the key to listening is right in the text: remain in Christ. As we continue daily to pray, to listen, and to do what he tells us, his voice will grow more and more familiar.