Posted by Gary on March 22, 2014
Matthew 7:15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
When one surveys the landscape of American Christianity today primarily through discussion and comments on social media, one is left wondering if anyone believes the warning Jesus gave us in Matthew 7:15. You can sample such a discussion on Dan Gaffney’s Facebook page here.
What Jesus intended us to hear cannot be mistaken. As always, Jesus speaks clearly and frankly. Jesus has warned us that that there are false prophets and that these prophets are wolves (who by the way, eat sheep). So deceptive are these false prophets, they actually appear to be one of the sheep they are determined to devour.
If we took Jesus seriously, we would weigh carefully the teaching and example of every person who claims to be Christ’s messenger using the infallible measuring rod for such examination, the Word of God.
But what we find increasingly is that people, yes, I am afraid many Christians included, have no willingness or intention of examining, weighing and passing judgment on those who seek to influence the destiny of their eternal soul or the souls of others.
Not only are these mistaken friends unwilling to judge others and their doctrine, they are quite convinced that they are obeying Jesus by their refusal. Matthew 7:2 is endlessly quoted, “Judge not, lest you be judged” and those of us who seek to be discerning and sound the alarm against un-Biblical teaching are accused of being unkind and unloving. At some point we have to have a serious discussion about what love is but let it suffice for now to remind us that Scripture teaches us that love “rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).
Jesus is not a politician, He does not talk in sound bites. Christ’s teaching must be viewed as a whole, not by one statement in a particular setting. It is true that Jesus forbad a certain kind of judgment in Matthew 7:2 but in John 7:24 He commands us to “judge with righteous judgment” so, it cannot be that Jesus has forbidden all judging. By the way, why is it that no one ever quotes John 7:24?
Coming back to the verse at the head of this post, why would Jesus warn us about false prophets if He did not intend for us to discern between false prophets and true ones? What makes a prophet true? What makes him false? How can one determine this without making a judgment?
From this point forward I want to catalogue just a sampling of verses from Scripture that address this issue of judging those who claim to be God’s messengers with some brief commentary for each:
Matthew 24:4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you.”
Jesus tells us that there are people who will seek to mislead us. How do we distinguish them from those who are leading us into the truth? “See to it…” is a command, we are to make sure no one deceives us. How can one say they will not judge the teaching of others and see to it that they are not misled at the same time?
Matthew 24:11 “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.”
Here on a different occasion then mentioned earlier in Matthew 7:15 Jesus tells us again there are false prophets and that they will succeed in misleading “many”. Does the word “many” concern you? Many false prophets lead to many being mislead. Could you be one of those who are being misled? Can you think you won’t be if you won’t judge the teaching you sit under?
1 John 4:1 “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Can God’s Spirit say it any more plainly? “Do not believe every spirit…” Do you see this friends? You and I are taught by spirits. We cannot see the spirit (or hopefully, Spirit), we only see the package, the person. However, every teacher is indwelt by a spirit, either the Holy Spirit or a deceiving spirit. We are told to test the spirits! How do you test a spirit? Where is it? It is in the person standing at the pulpit or talking on the radio. Come on people, some of you should not need this explained to you by this point on your journey.What are we to test? The message. How do we test it? By the Word of God. How can we test the spirits without making judgments on the teaching? If God has commanded us to test the spirits is not a refusal to do so disobedience?
Why are we to test the spirits? “Because many false prophets have gone out into the world”. Do we think that false prophets stopped existing at some point? Do we believe there are false prophets in 2014? Who are they?
2 Timothy 4:3-4 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”
A statement that there is sound doctrine therefore there must also be unsound doctrine, judgment is required to distinguish between them. Also a warning that a time would come when sound doctrine will not be endured, sound like today? Then a further warning that there will be teachers who will tickle ears. What is ear tickling? Is it not an avoidance of the demands and negatives of the gospel? Ear tickling is a denial or avoidance of the Bible’s condemnations, its mention of hell and punishment. To mention only God’s love and not His justice is ear tickling. Who are today’s ear ticklers? Do you want your ears tickled?
Mark 13:22-23 “for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. “But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.”
Jesus again warning us that there are not only false prophets but also false Christs! The devil knows no boundaries in his attempt to mock God and damn God’s creatures. What are these false prophets and Christs seeking to do? “Lead astray”. What does Jesus command us to do? “Take heed”. Can one take heed without judging the teaching he hears?
Revelation 2:2 “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;”
Jesus commends the church of Ephesus for what? Testing those who claim to be apostles. Could they apply such a test without making judgments? Guess what? This church had to declare negatives, “You sir are not an apostle!” Not everyone means well, not everyone is true. The Church is not just a place of big, warm, fuzzy affirmations it must also be the place where darkness is exposed and liars are confronted. The church in America in 2014 is unwell, it will hardly do these things and increasingly condemns those who insist we must. It is amazing that those who say they do not judge do actually judge those who seek to be discerning calling us unkind, unloving and narrow which are all…judgments.
Revelation 2:20 “But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.”
Jesus addresses another of His churches, Thyatira, and has no commendation for them but actually a strong rebuke. For what? They tolerate “that woman Jezebel” who is doing what? Teaching. Is it not clear that Jesus expected this church to make a judgment about what was being taught in her midst? If many who will not judge today are right then Jesus should not be rebuking this church but commending it for its great love shown in it inclusiveness and broad theology. But He does not commend does He? By the way, go read the rest of the letter to Thyatira and discover what Jesus threatens to do to Jezebel then ask yourself if Joel Osteen would preach this Jesus to us.
Titus 1:9-11 “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.”
Oh my,where do we begin? Hold fast the faithful word “in accordance with the teaching” how do we determine if the teaching is in accordance with the faithful word without making a judgment on the teaching?
We are to “refute” those who contradict the faithful word.How can I set out to refute if I have not first determined that a teaching needs to be refuted? Will I, you, the Church not have to make a judgment?
What kind of men are out there parading around as God’s messengers? “Rebellious men” (and because we disobey the Word now, women), “empty talkers”, “deceivers”. What does the Bible command us to do to such men (and women)? “Silence them”. “No” we insist, “We must have religious dialogue, everyone’s view and opinion is as valid as another’s.” We are more concerned about being nice than obedient.
They are, “teaching things they should not teach” there are things that should not be taught. Why do they do this? “For the sake of sordid gain.” We have just described about 80% of the teachers on religious television today. Does a teacher you listen to always talk about money and prosperity? Then mark it, this is what drives him or her. Head on over to MinistryWatch.Com and learn some things about the teachers watched by millions, perhaps even you and wake up.
Jude 1:3 “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
Here God through Jude “appeals” to us to do what? “Contend earnestly for the faith”. What does it mean to contend? To fight, to battle, to prevail. Against whom? Those who would teach anything other than those things that have been handed down once for all to the saints. This of course can be teaching things contrary to what has been handed down but it can also be a refusal to teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:20), deliberate omissions of God’s revealed will so that what is presented is a false representation of God and His Word. “Contend” is the call, not be nice. Yes, we are to speak the truth in love to those who are humbly seeking truth but to those who distort truth we must be ferocious, see Matthew 23 and listen to Jesus be ferocious with false teachers. Is this your Jesus?
Speaking of ferocious…
Galatians 2:11-14 “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?
Here is Paul right in Peter’s face confronting his false teaching via Peter’s actions, his hypocrisy in that he eats with gentiles when Jews aren’t around and won’t eat with them when Jews are around. How unlike Paul we are. Guess what? Paul not only got in Peter’s face but did it right in front of everyone! Now that’s not very nice. Peter had led astray in public and he was rebuked in public and we have no stomach for this whatsoever. Does Paul acknowledge this as sin as so many today would say it was? Does he say he was wrong to judge Peter and rebuke him let alone in front of other people? Paul is not acknowledging a wrong he committed he is standing by the right he performed. Will we perform it when it becomes necessary?
This one is just for sheer enjoyment…
Galatians 5:7-12 “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.”
Paul is speaking about the Judaizers who were misleading people who had come to faith in Jesus with false teaching. Paul had obviously judged the teaching of these men and found it false. Paul knows that when false teaching is tolerated it spreads, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”. Perhaps if we believed this, we would be more concerned and willing to judge and act but apparently we don’t care what makes its way through the Church. These men are determined to have circumcision, they are obsessed with cutting the flesh and so Paul boldly declares that he wished they would, “mutilate themselves”. Now that’s not loving is it? Paul was obviously not as concerned about being nice as we are today. I know many believe Paul was wrong and they in their great tolerance are right. My question to such people is, “And God used you to write how many books of the New Testament?”
2 Peter 2:1-3 “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”
Again the Bible is warning us that there will be false teachers “among” us. Not somewhere else or off yonder, but right where you and I are. How will their heresies enter the church? With a parade? With fanfare? Trumpet blasts? No, they will be introduced “secretly”. When will we understand this? When will we take it seriously? This means such teachers will have to be in our midst, they will have to look at least on the outside like sheep. How else could they introduce their heresies secretly? Peter tells us that what they teach is “destructive”. Their teaching will destroy churches, people’s lives, their souls. Could the stakes be any higher? Can we say we will not be discerning or make judgments when there is so much to be lost?
Peter tells us further that such men will face judgment…if we want to be loving then shouldn’t we go to such false teachers and warn them of the judgment that is awaiting them that Peter says is not idle or asleep but approaches them most certainly? We are not nearly as loving as we like to believe we are for if we were, we would make judgments about the teaching we receive from someone and go to them to warn them if they teach falsehood lest they receive eternal condemnation.
1 Corinthians 11:18-19 “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.”
We often lament the fact that there are factions within the Christian faith and certainly we look forward to the day when God ends all factions and unites us in His presence. But here the Bible tells us that for now, factions must be so that those whose teaching is “approved” may become evident. How can we refuse to distinguish between teachings and teachers when God Himself is determined to distinguish between them and has even commanded His people to do this along with Him using His Word as our guide?
2 John 1:7-11 “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.”
Listen to the Word of God…the world is full of deceivers. Who are they? (At this point you are to stop and think about this question…) You and I are commanded to “watch” ourselves. In regard to what? The influence of these deceivers. Can you watch yourself without making judgments about teaching? There is a teaching “of Christ” and anyone who does not possess it “does not have God”. Does this mean if the teacher just talks about Christ he is ok? No, there are false Christs. There is a Christ who is just a good teacher, or a Christ who is just a moral example. There is a Christ who is only love but who doesn’t tread the winepress of the fierce wrath of God Almighty (Revelation 19:15). Just talking about Jesus and even the cross is not enough, every word and statement about Jesus must be in accord with the Bible, anything more or less is untruth, dangerous to souls and condemned by God.
John commands his readers to make a judgment, some people you are to allow in your house, other people you are not. All dependent upon what? Their teaching.
1 Timothy 1:3 “As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines,”
Some men teach, “strange doctrines”. Not all doctrine is the same, some doctrine is “strange” not in accord with the Bible. What is Timothy charged by Paul to do? To teach these men not to teach such doctrines. How can Timothy do this without passing a judgment on the teaching of others?
2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 “Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.”
Paul here tells us that the doctrine of the Apostles was trifled with by others. Some even contradicted the Apostolic teaching and Paul is writing the Thessalonians to tell them to dismiss these teachings. It appears that letters were circulated falsely claimed to be letters from the Apostles themselves and Paul’s point is, that the Apostle’s teaching is so clearly from God that it cannot alter. The teaching cannot be one thing at one time and a different thing at another time. The people were to distinguish, judge between what the Apostles had taught them and what they were hearing from others either in person or in written form. The point being again, God’s people are commanded to make judgments about teaching.
2 Timothy 3:13 “But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
Here the Bible gives us great insight into the hearts of deceitful teachers. God’s Word teaches us that while they deceive, they are also being deceived. This of course must be for they are either knowingly or unknowingly the servants of the great deceiver Satan. This is how it is possible for a teacher to believe that he or she is sincere or accomplishing good with their teaching and manner of life.
The truth that we can be self-deceived is why Paul submitted his doctrine to other teachers to make sure he was not in error (Galatians 2:2). This is also why the Bible teaches us that the teaching of prophets is subject to prophets (1 Corinthians 14:32-33). No man’s teaching is above scrutiny and judgment for God has not just spoken to only one person but reveals His truth to all His people by His Spirit (1 John 2:20-21).
This self-deception explains further how some teachers may appear to be so sincere, they are self deceived. It also explains how some can seem to have started off well yet end up in error. This is a vortex that pulls down everyone in its wake, every time the false teacher deceives they simultaneously deceive themselves. Through this two-fold deception the devil gets both teacher and student and will we not be discerning about what we are taught and who is teaching us?
Well, this ends my longest Blog post ever. May God’s Word drown out my well-intentioned yet uninspired commentary. May the Church in our day awaken from its slumber. May she cast off the false belief that we are not to judge the teaching that is offered us in Christ’s name. Who might want to see us stop judging teaching to distinguish between true doctrine and false? Might the devil have a stake in this? Jesus has warned us of wolves in sheep’s clothing do we believe Him? Who are these wolves?
By the way, it is not nice or loving to allow false teaching to continue, not when one understands the eternal consequences. If you are one who does not judge, come to see that you are actually hating the souls of others not loving them.
I close by asking you to do with my teaching what I have called you to do with everyone else’s, judge it. Read the Scriptures I have listed then read them again. Go to your Bible then go to God in prayer and seek confirmation as to whether this is a faithful witness or not.
Acts 17:11 “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”
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