Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8, NKJV)
This warning is equally relevant and applicable to us as when given to the Colossian saints. Consider dissecting this warning in reverse. 1) The source of the danger. False teachings originate in the “basic principles of the world” and the “tradition of men” formed around those principles. We are taught not to love the world (1 Jno. 2:15-17). False teaching grows out of misplaced love, impure lusts, and human pride. 2) The means used to spread false teaching. The philosophical systems and sophistry of men (the wisdom of men) inject doubt and “empty deceit” into unsuspecting minds (Col. 2:3-4; Rom. 16:16-17). The gospel is foolishness to the “enlightened” minds of unbelievers. Professing to be wise, they become fools (1 Cor. 1:18-25; Rom. 1:22). 3) The effect of false teaching. It captures souls and plunders our spiritual treasures. In Christ, we have “all riches of the full assurance of understanding” because “all the treasures of wisdom and understanding” are in Him (Col. 2:3-4). Truth is in Jesus, and error is of the evil one (Eph. 4:21; 2 Cor. 4:3-4). 4) The warning. We must “beware,” carefully watching for false teachers and their deceptive teachings. You see, it matters to God what we believe and teach. He does not accept every “wind of doctrine;” therefore, we cannot (Eph. 4:14). Because there is truth, there is also error. We strive to speak the truth in love because the truth frees us from sin (Eph. 4:15; Jno. 8:31-32).
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).
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).
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).
1 And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who prophesy, and say to those who prophesy out of their own heart, ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’ ” 3 Thus says the Lord God: “Woe to the foolish prophets, who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing!” (Ezekiel 13:1–3, NKJV)
Does it make a difference what you teach religiously, as long as you are sincere? Yes. Because it makes a different to God, it ought to make a difference to us. It is an insult against God to teach something as being from God, when in fact it only comes one’s own heart (mind or will). It is putting words into His mouth. Such lies against God by the false prophets of Israel were among the sins that led to the nation’s demise at the hands of the Babylonian empire (approximately 600 years before Jesus was born). Even now, more than a few sincere, religious people accept and promote the false teaching that “it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere.” What Bible passage teaches that? Truth is God’s word, not what I choose to define as truth (Jno. 17:17). Only the truth of God that is revealed in the word of Christ will free us from sin. Only by abiding in the word of Christ are we truly His disciples (Jno. 8:31-32). Be sure to speak and obey His teachings, and not the teachings that originate in the human heart. The Scriptures reveal the difference (2 Tim. 3:16-17).