37 Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it? 38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed? 39 Why should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?” (Lamentations 3:37–39, NKJV)
Jeremiah’s Lamentations may seem an unlikely place to teach respect for God’s silence, but this passage powerfully describes the futility and falsity of speaking when the Lord has not spoken. God had brought His righteous wrath upon Jerusalem to punish her sins (Lam. 1:3-5, 8-11; 2:1-8). He announced judgment against Zion and brought it to pass at the hands of the Babylonian army. Many false prophets said Jerusalem would not fall, but its fall showed they spoke when the Lord had not commanded it (cf. Jer. 28; 2 Chron. 36:15-21). They preached a message of “peace, peace” when there was no peace, only impending doom (Jer. 6:13-15). We have no right to complain against God when He punishes our sins according to His word (v. 39). Both “woe and well-being proceed” from Him, not us. We must submit to His word humbly and faithfully. Jerusalem and Judah refused to do that, and the Lord punished them. In the New Testament, honoring the silence of the Scriptures (of God) is not going beyond what is written but instead, abiding in Christ’s doctrine (1 Cor. 4:6; 2 Jno. 9). We must follow what the Scriptures say, not speak where God has not spoken. To teach and practice things God’s word does not speak of will not have God’s approval, but is a transgression of the doctrine of Christ. Let us speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent.
1 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. (2 Peter 2:1–2, NKJV)
Peter’s warning makes it clear that what we believe and teach matters to God. Therefore, what Bible teachers teach us should matter. To think it does not matter to God what we believe “as long as we are sincere” flies in the face Peter’s admonition. The instruction of a false teacher is erroneous. His message is destructive and heretical and often is brought in secretly (cf. Jude 4). False teaching denies the Lord, who is the Truth, and in whose word we must abide (Jno. 14:6; 8:31-32). Peter emphasizes the danger of following error in verse 2. We cannot follow a destructive way without also being destroyed. False teaching is against “the way of truth.” When Christians follow it, others blaspheme (speak against) the truth. Peter did not teach unity in doctrinal diversity. Peter did not say a teacher is false only if his heart is insincere or deceptive. It is the false teaching that identifies the teacher as false (Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Jno. 9-11). Minimizing false teaching minimizes Peter’s warning and endangers souls. Truth sets us free, but error enslaves (Jno. 8:32).
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. (James 3:1, NKJV)
James sets his context for mature control over the tongue (Jas. 3:2-5). The teacher of God’s word will be judged for the teaching he does and the words he uses in that work. Every responsibility one has will be judged; James is not singling out teachers expect to emphasize that teaching comes with judgment – an incentive to be mature in the use and control of our tongues. 1) God will judge what a teacher teaches. We must teach the revealed word of God, not opinions, and the will of men (1 Cor. 2:1-5; Acts 20:20-27). Teachers must be careful to speak God’s word (2 Tim. 4:2; Gal. 1:8-9). Teach truth, not error. 2) God will judge how a teacher teaches. Paul explained this to Timothy: “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition” (2 Tim. 2:24-25). Coupled with “rightly dividing the word of truth,” Timothy would know how to teach effectively. 3) God will judge why a teacher teaches. Paul continued, “if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). We teach the gospel to save souls, not to commend ourselves before men (1 Cor. 1:23-24; Col. 1:28; Matt. 23:6-8). As teachers, may our tongues speak words that honor God and accomplish His will in the hearts and lives of men. Be careful teachers; judgment is coming.
“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).
103 How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! 104 Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way. (Psalm 119:103–104, NKJV)
God’s word is pleasant to the taste of those who meditate on it continually, who rest their understanding in it, and who follow it to avoid evil and do good (Psa. 119:97-102). Possessing a knowledge of truth and an aversion to error equally describe the lover of God’s word. The real test comes when God’s word reproves us and rebukes us. Does God’s word become bitter to us when it exposes our sin and error? It ought to remain just as sweet as when it approves us, for its reproofs identify where we need to correct ourselves and grow in the Lord. Does God’s word become bitter to us when it rebukes our sin? It ought to remain just as sweet as when it approves us, for in its rebukes are pleas to repent and be renewed. Solomon wrote, “The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise. He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding” (Prov. 15:31-32). Preaching the word of God includes reproof and rebuke – not to become a judge over others – but to proclaim God’s word of warning and salvation to the lost (2 Tim. 4:2). Whatever message God’s word contains, it will always be pleasant and refreshing to those who accept its wisdom and obey its precepts.
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.
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).
13 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’” 14 And the Lord said to me, “The prophets prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart.” (Jeremiah 14:13–14, NKJV)
Many prophets were telling Judah, “Peace, peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Jeremiah was telling them destruction was on the way (Jeremiah 6:22-30). How was Israel to know the difference between a false prophet and a true prophet? “If the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). Jeremiah was the true prophet; the others were false because their prophecies failed. False prophets are deceived and speak from hearts of deception, not from divine revelation. Even today some claim to be prophets of God. But, like the lying prophets of old, their words are false because they do not conform to the Scriptures (the revealed mind of God, 1 Corinthians 2:6-13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Revelation is now complete (John 16:13). Today, we know whether a message is from God or from the heart of man by comparing it to the words of Christ’s apostles (1 John 4:1, 6). They wrote the commandments of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37).
15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matthew 7:15–20, NKJV)
Are you sure your preacher is preaching the truth? How do you know? Jeremiah warned of prophets who “prophesy lies in my name” by speaking “the deceit of their heart” (Jer. 14:14). These two-legged wolves in sheep’s clothing continue to devour God’s flock by speaking error in the name of God. When someone speaks on behalf of God we must test what is said to be sure it is indeed from God. Our measuring stick is inspired Scripture, including what the apostles taught (Acts 17:11-12; 1 Jno. 4:1, 6). You see, it does matter what is taught and what is believed. If doctrine doesn’t matter, then why does Jesus warn us of the wolves?
Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. (Psalm 119:104, NKJV)
The inspired psalmist cast his lot with those who gain enlightenment through the word of God (cf. Eph. 5:17). There are many sources of information that are “falsely called knowledge”, but only one that gives us understanding of divine truth and His will for our lives (1 Tim. 6:20-21). We “hate every false way” precisely because they oppose God’s truth. They lead us away from God. There is one way of truth that leads to God, the Father. His name is Jesus (Jno. 14:6). Every false way leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13). We are morally obliged to know and follow God’s precepts. Do not be enamored with the false ways of sin and death.