1 In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together, so that they trampled one another, He began to say to His disciples first of all, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.” (Luke 12:1–3, NKJV)
Jesus warned His disciples of the permeating effect of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy. Their religious pretense brought them reputation, renown, and respect from the populace (Matt. 23:2-7). Couple this with the heavy burden of their teachings, which bound traditions as if they were the will of God, and you have a powerful force that made their converts children of hell (Matt. 15:1-9; 16:6, 12; 23:15). Leaven is unseen in the dough, but the risen bread exposes its presence and effect. The gospel of Christ would spread from small beginnings to fill the world, exposing hypocrisy and error with the light of truth (Matt. 28:19-20). The gospel will not bring you reputation, renown, or the respect of men. But it will convert you into a child of God (Jno. 1:12-13; Gal. 3:26-27). May the gospel of Jesus influence you to walk in the light of His truth (Jno. 8:12, 31-32).
“Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:33, NKJV)
Christ’s words were scalding as He exposed the sins of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. “Woe to you…hypocrites!” “Blind guides!” “Fools and blind!” “Serpents, brood of vipers!” May disciples of Jesus follow His example of exposing, rebuking, and even pronouncing God’s condemnation of those who teach error and, by it, lead others into sin? Some say, “No, this was Jesus! He knew men’s hearts, but we don’t. We are not Jesus; we cannot do this.” Yet, here and elsewhere, Jesus addressed both the sinful conduct and the motives of heart that produced their error and sin. Both teachings and behavior, whether good or evil, come from the heart (Matt. 12:35). When He warned against false prophets, Jesus said: “you will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:15-16). Since we can know false proclaimers of God’s word from the fruit of their teachings, surely we are to warn others of the danger their error poses (Paul did this, 1 Tim. 4:18-20; 2 Tim. 2:16-18). Couple this with the undeniable truth that disciples follow their Master’s example, and we have ample right and reason to carefully identify and denounce sin and error (Lk. 6:40). Perhaps we should ask, did Jesus sin by using such harsh denunciations? No. Was His heart pure when He did? Yes. And, our hearts can be pure and our conduct without sin when we follow His example of warning against error and identifying those who promote it. Indeed, our hearts must be pure as we examine and expose error, lest we fall under the same condemnation (Rom. 2:1-2; 1 Tim. 4:16). God’s truth is our guiding light to expose sin and to advance righteousness (Jno. 3:19-21).
17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.” (Romans 16:17–18, NKJV)
The word “doctrine” in verse 17 is translated from a Greek word that means instruction or teaching. If doctrine is not important to one’s relationship with Jesus (as many avow), then why did the apostle say to “note” and “avoid” those whose doctrine causes divisions and offenses? If doctrine is not essential to being united in Christ (which many affirm), then why does teaching contrary to what had been learned (from the apostles) cause division (Gal. 1:6-9)? The answer is that doctrine does matter. False doctrine causes division. False teaching divides people from God and from each other. The apostle Paul lays bare the heart of the false teacher in verse 18. His (or her) motive is to serve and satisfy self, not the Lord Jesus Christ. Such a motive is hidden by “smooth words and flattering speech” that deceive the naïve (simple). But, their doctrine conflicts with revealed truth. We must test every message we are taught against the Scriptures to see if it is from God (1 John 4:1, 6). This will protect us against the deception of error. We must trust the word of God more than the word of any human.
14 Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:14–15, NKJV)
A contrast of two “words” is made in today’s text. First, there are words of strife which are profitless and ruinous to those who listen to them (v. 14). Then, there is “the word of truth” which is to be rightly divided by the diligent worker to be approved to God. Words of strife are catastrophic (ruin, Gr. “katastrŏphē”), demolishing the faith of those who teach and accept them. On the other hand, when the word of truth is dissected correctly (rightly dividing, “to make a straight cut”), the result is God’s approval without shame. Scripture teaches us the difference between words of strife and words of truth in the next sentence. (We can know truth, and we can know error.) Paul went on to say the “profane and idle babblings” of false teaching are the ruinous words we must avoid (2 Tim. 2:14, 16-18). To diligently present ourselves approved to God we must not embrace false, profitless, strife-filled words. Rightly dividing God’s word is required to know these words for what they are. When we have ears to hear (receive) truth we must also have ears that recognize (and refuse) false teaching. “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21-22).
2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (2 Timothy 4:2–4, NKJV)
A Christian friend shared the following sign with me: “Too much sugar preaching leads to truth decay.” I like that. Just as we are drawn to the sugary high of candy (that leaves us without nutrition, and eventually with cavities), we can be lured away from sound doctrine by feel-good preaching (that fails to nourish our souls with truth, as it leaves spiritual decay of error in its wake). Do you “endure” (allow, bear with) sound doctrine, or have you replaced it with the soothing scratch of your itching ears? We must not become intolerant of Bible preaching that convinces, rebukes and exhorts. Preach me the word, because its truth convinces me of Christ, of my sin, and of His way of salvation. Preach me the word, because its truth rebukes my error, and does not comfort me in sin. Preach me the word, because its truth exhorts me to bear the image of Christ, to live by faith in holiness and righteousness of truth. The word is not always easy to accept, but it is exactly what we must hear, receive, and hold fast to be fruitful and blessed in the Lord (Lk. 8:15).
These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; (Jude 12, NKJV)
Some believe it matters not what you teach, believe, and do to serve God, as long as you are sincere. Jesus taught differently (read Matt. 7:21-23). So did Jude in today’s verse. Jude warned Christians against false teachers, whose error corrupts the grace and destines them to destruction (Jude 4-11). Jude explains: 1) False teachers are spots (hidden reefs) in your love feasts. They are like unseen dangers lurching beneath the surface, ready to tear and to destroy those who venture into their waters (2 Pet. 2:1-2); 2) False teachers are deceptive. They often appear beautiful, attracting unsuspecting souls to take a closer look at their false ways. But, their beauty is deadly as they devour innocent souls (Matt. 7:15; 23:28; 2 Pet. 2:3). 3) False teachers are self-serving instead of fearful of God and sin (Phil. 3:18-19). Like empty clouds, they give no spiritual refreshment to the soul. They are fruitless and lifeless. Ignoring a false teacher and his false teaching is even more dangerous than a ship’s captain who ignores the reefs and rocks in the ocean. Hidden rocks can take a seaman to his death. When false teachers are hidden among us they take souls with them to eternal destruction (2 Pet. 2:1-3, 18-19). Oh yes, it matters what you teach, believe, and do in service to God (Heb. 12:28-29).
1 You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. 2 You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice. (Exodus 23:1–2, NKJV)
Israel was strictly charged not to 1) Spread falsehoods, 2) Support unrighteous witnesses, 3) Join others in committing evil, and 4) Affirm what is false and influence others to pervert justice. Honest people continue to earnestly avoid speaking and promoting falsehoods against others. So, shouldn’t we be just as concerned with not advancing falsehoods about God? Yet, untold millions of otherwise honest people see no problem with accepting and spreading false teachings as if they belong to God. By affirming doctrinal error as truth, they influence many others to twist the truth. False teaching in the name of God is a sin of injustice against God. We are sure this does not go unnoticed by the Almighty (Matt. 7:21-23). Before you assign a doctrine and a practice to “the will of God” you must be sure His word supports it (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Examine the Scriptures to see if what you or others are saying about God and His will is true (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1, 6). Accept no counterfeit gospels. They are false reports that bring souls under divine condemnation (Gal. 1:6-10).
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13, NKJV)
More than a few times we have heard this passage misused to endorse accepting people in error and the immorality it produces. Such brethren defy the existence of absolute truth while tacitly accepting the moral relativism it produces. Since good and sincere brethren disagree on certain doctrinal issues (which they define as gray areas), they conclude each one will have to just “work out their own salvation” on the matter. This view is applied to divorce and remarriage. One of the problems with using Philippians 2:12 this way is it results in accepting adulterers as if they are faithful Christians. No longer is the sinner rebuked and called to repentance. Now he or she is tolerated and allowed to “work out their own salvation.” People “commit adultery” when they divorce and remarry in violation of Matthew 19:9. How do you “work out your own salvation” as an adulterer? God only forgives the adulterer when the sinner repents, prays and ending the adulterous remarriage. “Work out your own salvation” means to keep on obeying God (read verse 12 again). You bring your salvation to its full accomplishment by obeying God, not by remaining in disobedience.
16 But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. 17 And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, 18 who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16–18, NKJV)
False teaching is not benign. It leads to harmful spiritual effects upon its teachers, those who follow them, and those influenced by the followers (2 Pet. 2:1-2). Yet, some will tell us that false doctrine is really a non-issue. They say things like, “everybody is in error on something;” or, “nobody is 100% doctrinally pure.” Their solution is agreeing to disagree on revealed truth. That is not the Bible solution (1 Corinthians 1:10). Today’s passage exposes and explodes this false reasoning about false teaching. First, false teaching is identifiable. Some messages are indeed profane and empty, infecting and destroying souls (v. 16). These stand in contrast with “the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Second, error leads to ungodliness (v. 16). False teaching is sin. Third, error leads to more error. It spreads. Someone said, “Error does not stand still. It continues to work.” Unopposed, it spreads like cancer (v. 17). Fourth, false messages leas to overthrowing faith (v. 18). It does matter what you believe. Fifth, false messages lead to strife (2 Timothy 2:23). Avoid error. Do not begin to listen to it, or receive those who teach it (2 John 10-11). It leads you away from the truth, and straight into iniquity (2 Timothy 2:18-19).
19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19–20, NKJV)
This Bible passage enjoins upon faithful Christians the task of rescuing a struggling, sinning Christian from spiritual death. It forever exposes and opposes the false teaching of “once saved, always saved.” Here, the soul that needs saving is a Christian who: (1) Has wandered from the truth. We must walk in the truth to be secure in our salvation (Jno. 10:27); (2) Needs turning back. The person is headed in the wrong, spiritual direction; His present way is “error.” You see, there really is only one way that leads to life (Jno. 14:6); (3) Has sinned. The person is “a sinner,” “in error” and in “death.” He/she is lost. You see, doctrine (teaching) affects salvation. False doctrine is error; a wandering from the truth. Wandering from the truth into error is a real danger. When it happens, the spiritually strong must become first responders, trying to save a soul from death (Gal. 6:1). In what more worthy endeavor can you participate? “He who wins souls is wise” (Prov. 11:30).