BEWARE OF FALSE PROPHETS
For most of this fall, we have considered I and II Peter. Two letters written by Peter, an apostle and servant of Jesus. Letters written to people who had been exiled because of their faith in Jesus. Letters in which Peter challenged Christians, who he described as being chosen people, to live lives pleasing to Jesus by being done with bad behaviors and having good conduct in every aspect of life, including within families. Peter also challenged Christians to cast all their anxieties on God, to grow spiritually, to be zealous about the Christian life, knowing that the end of all things is at hand, to resist the devil, and to beware of false prophets.
As I thought about the last item on the list of teachings, it occurred to me there should be one more message in the series on the writings of Peter. A message investigating what false prophets do and what tests to use to determine that a teacher is telling spiritual truth rather than falsehoods. Such knowledge is important so we can beware of and avoid falling to the ploys of those whose aim it is to draw people away from faith in Jesus.
With that in mind, let’s begin today’s message by describing some different types of false prophets. Again, this is for the purpose of us being able to detect what false prophets do so we can beware of them, as in not fall to their teachings.
One type of false prophet is categorized as Heretics, who promote what contradicts any teaching of the Christian faith. Some examples are denying the virgin birth of Jesus, denying the suffering of Jesus, denying the resurrection of Jesus, denying the fact Jesus is much more than just a nice guy, denying that Jesus is the one and only way to Heaven, denying that the Bible is complete. Heretics are willing to find new truth, which is false truth, to present as the word of God.
As with the other types, Heretics are usually very persuasive, which makes them especially dangerous.
And this comment. I have been accused of some of the categories discussed in this message. I hope the accusations have been, are, and always will be false, but what a reminder that each of us must continually examine ourselves to make sure, not only that we beware of false prophets, but also that we are not false teachers ourselves.
Heretics promote teachings that contradict the Christian faith. Another type of false prophet is categorized as Charlatans. Charlatans are interested in the Christian faith only to the extent it can be financially beneficial. They use their leadership positions to benefit from the wealth of others.
There is a Biblical example of that. In Acts 8, we are told of a man named Simon. A man who was a magician, making his money and fostering a great reputation in that way. A man who saw and was impressed by Peter and John laying hands on people, those people receiving the Holy Spirit.
Simon went to Peter and John, offering them money if they would share their power with him. I think it can at least be assumed Simon wanted that power to add to his skills so he could make more money. Hence, being interested in the Christian faith for financial benefit.
Peter and John were not interested in financial benefits. They denied Simon’s request. Fortunately, Simon repented, but being a Charlatan can be a temptation. Let’s make sure we do not fall to that temptation.
Another category is False Teachers. Those who claim to have new revelation beyond the Bible.
Of course, day by day, season by season, we can all better understand the Bible. We can all better apply the Bible. But there is no additional spiritual truth that is coming. That is because God has fully revealed Himself in the Bible.
The Bible is complete. Anyone who teaches otherwise is a false prophet. And there is a warning found in Revelation 22. If anyone adds to the Bible, God will add to him the plagues described in the Bible. If anyone takes away from the words of the Bible - specifically this refers to the Book of Revelation, but I think, without being guilty of being a false prophet, this extends to all the Bible - if anyone takes away from what is in the Bible, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city.
Abusers is another category of false prophets. Abusers use their positions to take advantage of other people. As mentioned in both II Peter and Jude, this usually refers to lusting for others. Peter warned that many will follow their sensuality, and because of them, the way of truth will be blasphemed. In Jude is the warning that certain ungodly people have crept into congregations unnoticed. People who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality.
We know there are Abusers even now. How many times do we hear of religious leaders being found guilty of sexual sins against men, women, or children?
We need to make sure we do not become victims of Heretics, Charlatans, False Teachers, or Abusers. We need to make sure we are not Heretics, Charlatans, False Teachers, or Abusers. We need to constantly pray that God will help us stay true and centered on Jesus and Jesus alone.
We also need to beware of Dividers, who try to disrupt or destroy a church, happily causing strife between brother and brother and sister and sister.
Dividers are ungodly. We know that from Paul. In Galatians and Ephesians, Paul taught that those who cause divisions are devoid of the Spirit, whose first fruit is love and whose special work is holding believers together in the bond of peace.
Dividers work in many ways. Gossip and fomenting doubt about the skill of leadership are two of those ways. The purpose of Dividers is strife, not love, factions, not unity, discord, not harmony. The purpose is the perverse satisfaction that comes with destruction.
Ticklers are false prophets who care nothing for what God wants and everything for what others want. A person-pleaser rather than a God-pleaser.
Paul warned about this category in II Timothy. He wrote that the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears, will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Ticklers crave popularity. They want praise from the world. To maintain their follower’s respect, they preach only the parts of the Bible they deem acceptable, such as speaking much of happiness, but little of sin, much of Heaven, but nothing of Hell. They give people only what they want to hear, thereby preaching only a partial Gospel.
We all need to beware of Ticklers. We all need to make sure none of us are Ticklers. We also need to beware of and avoid being Speculators.
Speculators are obsessed with novelty, originality, or speculation that offers to displace the sure and steady doctrine of the Bible. Speculators promote ideas the Bible refers to as different, as in non-Christian, doctrine. Speculators are weary of old truths and pursue respectability through originality.
Beware of - and make sure none of us are - Heretics, who contradict established, Bible-based teachings of the Christian faith, Charlatans, whose only interest in the Christian faith is financial benefits, False Teachers, who claim to have new revelation beyond the Bible, Abusers, who use their positions to take advantage of other people, Dividers, who love to cause strife, factions, and discord, Ticklers, who concentrate on what people want to hear rather on what God wants communicated, or Speculators, who are quick to introduce new teachings rather than continuing to teach the truths of the Bible.
Beware of those categories of false prophets. Avoid being any of them ourselves. That is what Peter taught.
So how about some tests to determine whether a teaching is true rather than false?Knowledge we need to have to alert us to false prophets.
I have five tests to share, each one Bible-based.
Test 1 - The Test of Origin.
False doctrine comes from someone or something other than God. Sound teachings - true teachings - come from God.
The apostle Paul went to great lengths to convince the church in Galatia that the Gospel he taught was not his own, but God’s. He wrote, “I would have you know, brothers, that the Gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel, for I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
To the Colossian church, Paul wrote to avoid doctrine that is according to human precepts and teachings.
Paul told Timothy that some would depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, but Timothy and other true Christians in the church he pastored were to avoid that.
The point. If any teaching has in its origin the ideas of a person, it is false. We must not follow such teachings. On the other hand, if a teaching originates with God - if the teaching is based on the Bible - it is sound and true and must be followed.
Test 2 - The Test of Authority.
False doctrine is grounded in authority outside the Bible. Sound teachings are grounded in authority within the Bible.
The Bible is God’s inerrant, infallible, sufficient, complete, authoritative revelation of Himself to humanity. Teachings that originate in the mind of God are recorded in the Word of God and therefore are based on Biblical authority.
This second test requires us to read and study and think about the Bible so we will know what is the mind of God. Such a habit was praised in the Book of Acts. We are told of Bereans, who, Paul wrote, received the word of God being preached, doing so with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things - the things Paul taught - were so. In that way, they made sure they did not fall to false prophets.
In I Thessalonians, Paul claimed his teachings were based on divine authority, including proving his teachings were based on what we know as the Old Testament. He praised the Thessalonians for their careful assessment and acceptance of his teachings, rather than falling to false teachings.
The point. If any spiritual teaching is not from the Bible, it is false. We must not follow such teachings. On the other hand, if a teaching is from the Bible, it is authoritative. It is sound and true and must be followed.
Test 3 - The Test of Consistency.
False doctrine is inconsistent with some parts of the Bible. Sound teachings are consistent with all Scripture, as in the teachings agreeing with both the Old Testament and New Testament.
This test is based on verses in Hebrews and I Timothy, where warnings are made against diverse and strange teachings and different doctrine, meaning any teachings that do not agree with all the Bible.
This test again requires us to read and study and think about the Bible so we will know as much of the Bible as possible. And let us not think of that as overwhelming. I dare say none of us - not me, at least - will, this side of Heaven, ever know everything there is to know about the Bible. I do not think God expects us to. What He does want is for us to learn as much as we can. To keep learning so we can know more and more, working toward being able to know if a teaching or a doctrine is consistent with all the Bible.
The point. If a teaching is not consistent with all the Bible, it is false. We must not follow it. On the other hand, if a teaching is consistent with all the Old Testament and New Testament, it is authoritative. It is sound and true and must be followed.
Test 4 - The Test of Spiritual Growth.
False doctrine leads to spiritual weakness. Sound teachings are beneficial for spiritual health.
Once again referring to Paul, he instructed Timothy to put Paul’s teachings, which came from God and were based on the Bible and were consistent with all Scripture, before Timothy’s congregation. Paul added that if Timothy would do that, he would be a good servant of Christ Jesus, who wants His people to grow spiritually.
Timothy himself had grown. He had fed himself in the truths he had been exposed to since he was a child. He continued to do that. He had gained a thorough knowledge of God and his Word, which is why Paul called him a man of God with sincere faith.
The point. If a teaching discourages spiritual growth, it is false. We must not follow it. On the other hand, if a teaching helps make us spiritually healthy, mature, knowledgeable Christians, it is sound and true and must be followed.
Test 5 - The Test of Godly Living.
False doctrine leads to ungodly living. Sound teachings foster godly living in all aspects of life.
We know that, again through Paul. In II Timothy he wrote, “Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” That verse promotes living in ways that prove we know the Bible, again, in all aspects of life - how to do business, how to be a student, how to be a friend, how to treat strangers, what to do for entertainment, how to spend money.
The point. If a teaching does not promote living what is taught in the Bible - if it does not train us to live in godly ways - it is false. We must not follow it. On the other hand, if a teaching does challenge and encourage us to prove by how we live that we belong to Jesus, it is sound and true and must be followed.
Using those five tests, we can determine if a teaching is true or false. Using those five tests, we can determine that what we teach is true[. Of course the challenge is that we grab hold of what is true. Others also wrote that challenge. John wrote, “Hold fast to the truth.” Paul wrote, “Follow the pattern of sound, healthy words that build faith and love in Christ Jesus and teachings that agree with sound, healthy doctrine.”
We as individuals must accept and hold fast to what is true and deny and reject what is false. We as a church must welcome those who teach sound doctrine and rebuke those who do not.
And this. Let’s hold one another accountable. Even me. Let’s encourage one another to stay true to Jesus. Let’s be willing to deal with any who promote false teachings or false doctrines, doing all that for our spiritual good and the spiritual good of others.
In summary, false doctrine originates with people, is not grounded in Biblical authority, contradicts portions of Scripture, restricts spiritual growth, and discourages godly living.
True doctrine originates with God, has its authority grounded on the Bible, agrees with the whole of Scripture, promotes spiritual growth, and encourages godly living.
And let’s always turn away from and reject whatever Heretics, Charlatans, False Teachers, Abusers, Dividers, Ticklers, and Speculators teach. Let’s forever be known as followers of spiritual truth.
Today’s closing song has that very request in mind. Open my eyes, open my ears, open my mouth, open my heart. I have changed a few words to include God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and to make this not only an individual, but a corporate prayer.
Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou has for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now, I wait for Thee,
Ready, my God, Thy will to see;
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Open my ears, that I may hear
Voices of truth Thou sendest clear;
And while the wave-notes fall on my ear,
Everything false will disappear.
Silently now, I wait for Thee,
Ready, my Lord, Thy will to see;
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Open our mouths and let us bear
Gladly the warm truth everywhere;
Open our hearts, and let us prepare
Love with Your children thus to share.
Silently now, we wait for Thee,
Ready, our Lord, Thy will to see;
Open our eyes, illumine us,
Lord, help us, now and always, to know and teach the truth. Help us, now and always, to be protected against any and all those who teach anything other than Your truth. May our eyes and ears and mouths and hearts forever be focused on and dedicated to You.
You tell us how to do that by making sure teachings originate with You, that they are based on the Bible, that they are consistent with all the Bible, that they promote spiritual growth and that they promote godly living. Help us to use those tests so we will be worthy of who we are as Christians - Your children. Amen.