Friday, May 17, 2013

Danger Ahead

 In "The Sermon on the Mount", Jesus warned believers to watch out for false teachers:  "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:15-16a).  The warning about watching out for false prophets and others who distort the truth was not a new teaching by our Lord, but rather, a continuation of the many warnings given throughout the Old Testament to beware of those who twist the truth.
     Paul continues this theme as he speaks to the elders of Ephesus when he says:  "I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30).  The sad part is that Paul's words came true.  The Ephesian church had some of its own leaders who became involved in speaking twisted things and leading others astray.  This becomes clear when we read the letters to young Timothy.  Paul mentions quarrels over words (2 Timothy 2:14), genealogies (I Timothy 1:4), meaningless talk (I Tim.1:6) and godless chatter (1 Tim. 2:16; 1 Tim. 6:20).  In fact Paul starts his series of letters to Timothy by saying:  "I urged you when I was going to Macedonia to remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith" (I Tim. 1:3-4).
     Some of the issues that the false teachers raised concerned the prohibition of marriage and of certain foods (1 Tim. 4:3) as well as the belief that the resurrection had already taken place among believers (2 Tim. 2:18).  These "pot stirrers" were upsetting the faith of their fellow believers.  Jesus predicted this would happen.  Paul predicted it would happen, and he warned Timothy to guard the flock as a result and make certain to handle the Word with skill and care.
     Sadly, many false teachers can arise from within the Body of believers as they did in Ephesus.  Some come along for monetary gain and others for power.  Then, I believe there are those who may sincerely believe that their twisted teaching is right.  They have fallen prey to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons (I Tim. 4:1).  Ultimately, it is easy to get caught up in this web if we are not solid students of God's Word.  Let me give an example.
     During the years we homeschooled, there were some strong movements within the community of Christians committed to teaching their children at home.  One of these influential people was Mary Pride.  I had purchased a number of her books as she had a lot of good information on curriculum.  However, she also subscribed to a firm belief that couples should have unlimited children and that birth control was not what God wanted for the family.  On face value, it would have been easy to get swayed into that manner of thinking.  However, after prayer and Bible study, I could see that perhaps that was something the Lord had laid upon her heart, but my husband and I were not bound to that system of belief.  Don't get me wrong.  Children and family are very important.  I love them as evidenced by the four we had, but this is a decision to be made between a husband and a wife with God at the center.  This is not something that then is a mark of a "true" Christian.  Works, performance, do's and don'ts are not prerequisites for salvation.  Nor can doing certain things add to our salvation.  So how can we begin to discern if someone is passing along a teaching that is missing the mark?
     First, see how the teacher is using the Scripture.  Is the interpretation sound, and biblical?  We should not look at their personality.  Instead listen to what he says.  I John 4:1 tells us to test the teacher to see if he/she is from God.  Secondly, what is their goal?  Is there a spiritual goal?  Does this teacher want to lead people to a deeper relationship with God and holy living?  Third, check the teacher's motive.  Are they selfless or selfish?  Are they demonstrating humility in their life or in their efforts are they becoming wealthy?  Fourth, what is the teacher's effect?  Do those who follow this teacher understand the Gospel and the proper use of the Law?  Jesus said we would know them by their fruits.
     Once we have evaluated these things honestly, prayed and sought out the Scripture, we will know if the person is misguiding people in their teaching.  The church today, as in Ephesus, needs to confront and deal with false teaching.  Otherwise, we can get caught up in bunny trails that lead us away from the Lord and down a wrong path.   Let us be gentle as doves but as wise as serpents when it comes to eliminating false teaching from the body of believers.  Know the Scripture, study the Word and be alert for the enemy of our souls wants to distract us from living for Jesus Christ.  Selah!

Picture of the wolf courtesy of Jaqabar on Wiki Commons at:  Lobo en el Zoo de Madrid 01.jpg


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this today Barbara.

Sometimes I get so discouraged with all the voices out there that I want to withdraw into my cave with my Bible and shut it all out.

For me the question has always been about where and when to draw the line of separation from those who teach doctrines I believe should receive censure. I think there's plenty of room for differences in areas of eschatology, baptism and even other things - but at some point a line needs to be drawn in the sand. Many today may preach "The Gospel" but it is so polluted by err in other areas that I don't know how those ministries can be endorsed. Without question though a gracious attitude is always in season.

Barbara Thayer said...

Your points are well taken Diane. At some point, we do have to draw a line especially when a teaching or teacher is tearing apart the body rather than bringing glory to God. There is always room for disagreement on certain areas, but there is no room for someone who comes to steal the sheep or lead them astray with false ideas. Your concluding comment is also a gem. We do need to be gracious even as we exhort and rebuke those who are false teachers. God is the ultimate judge after all.

Thanks for your great insights and thoughts. I appreciate you sharing.