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” (Matthew 7:15–16, NKJV)?
Where have all the false teachers gone? They still exist despite those who say false doctrine is not sinful and does not risk one’s fellowship and future with God. Jesus warns us to be on guard for those who falsely claim to speak for God. They appear innocent as their deceitful message soothes the ear (Rom. 16:17-18). But we must test their fruit (their message) and not be fooled by appearances (John 7:24). When the teacher’s doctrine contradicts revealed truth, it is not sound doctrine (1 Tim. 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; Titus 2:1). Jesus said we would know false prophets (false teachers) by their fruit (v. 16). False teachers are identifiable by their “destructive heresies,” “destructive ways,” and “deceptive words” (2 Pet. 2:1-3). We know the false prophet by his false message. The false teacher’s bad fruit (false teaching) is not God’s word. It is fit for destruction (Matt. 7:17-20). We must test the teacher’s fruit (teaching) against “the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21; Gal. 1:8-9; Jude 3-4; 1 John 4:1, 6; 2 John 9). The Lord is not telling us to judge the teacher’s sincerity but the accuracy of what he teaches. Does it accord with the will of the Father (the Scriptures, 2 Tim. 3:16-17) or the wisdom and will of men? Indeed, we will know them by their fruits (1 Thess. 5:21-22).
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3, NKJV)
If we believe the Scriptures apply to us today, then we have been exhorted to “contend earnestly for the faith” along with the first-century saints who were “called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ” (Jude 1). Contending for the faith is not disconnected from our common salvation; it is integral to it. Failure to do so gives license to “ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness” and by their errors “deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). False doctrine destroys our common salvation in Christ. Therefore, we must agonize intensely (“contend earnestly”) for the faith, the gospel of our salvation (Eph. 1:13). We do not “contend earnestly” for political parties to save souls. Sin in politics ought to be exposed (Eph. 5:11). We do not “contend earnestly” for human wisdom to save souls. Sin in academia ought to be exposed (1 Cor. 3:18-21). We do not contend for an exclusively “positive” gospel that refuses to save souls by reproving and rebuking sin (2 Tim. 4:2-4). Declaring the “whole counsel of God” means we do not give quarter to sin wherever it is because souls are at stake, including ours (Acts 20:26-27). Join the struggle and hold up the hands of those who contend earnestly for the faith (1 Tim. 6:12).
1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. 2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! (Philippians 3:1–2, NKJV)
Identifying enemies of the truth and warning against those who destroy souls with their false doctrines and sinful conduct is not pleasant. Undoubtedly, that is why many refuse to do it. They prefer to let others do the hard work of exposing “the enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18; Eph. 5:11). Yet, Paul said doing so was necessary for the spiritual safety of the Philippian Christians. He did not see this work as bothersome, and he would not neglect it (v. 1). He gives three warnings concerning those “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is their shame—who set their minds on earthly things” (Phil. 3:20). 1) Beware of dogs. Isaiah described the irresponsible watchmen (leaders) of Israel as “dumb” (silent), lazy, and “greedy” (Isa. 56:10-11). There are still people who scavenge for the souls of the innocent, like pack dogs. Jesus warned of these “dogs” (Matt. 7:6). 2) Beware of evil workers. You will know the false prophets who speak in the name of the Lord by their fruit when they stray from the commands of God (Matt. 7:15-21; Psa. 119:115). 3) Beware of the mutilation. Those who bound physical circumcision on Gentiles for salvation were mutilators who put confidence in the flesh instead of the Spirit (Phil. 3:3; Gal. 6:12-13; Col. 2:11-12). That is what error always does and why it must be resisted (Jude 3).
9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. 10 He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds. (2 John 9–11, NKJV)
From pulpits and pews, people speak of “salvation issues.” True, there are issues of personal conscience and choice (on which God has not given a divine pronouncement) that qualify as non-salvation issues (Rom. 14:1-5). But today’s passage is not of that sort. The doctrine of Christ has been revealed and recorded in the Scriptures. We are called to abide in His doctrine (the truth, Jno. 8:31-32). The Scriptures reveal issues that affect salvation. Here are some: 1) Sin is a salvation issue (Rom. 6:23). Violating God’s will (and tolerating its transgression) brings eternal death. 2) Worship is a salvation issue (Jno. 4:22-24). We cannot offer God vain worship (void of “spirit and truth”) and be saved despite sinful worship (Matt. 15:7-9). 3) False doctrine is a salvation issue (2 Tim. 2:16-19). Men strayed from the truth and overthrew people’s faith with their iniquity when they taught error about the resurrection. For this reason, John warned us not to have fellowship with those who teach error (2 Jno. 10-11). 4) Spiritual neglect is a salvation issue (Heb. 2:1-4). Failure to grow in Christ is a sin that brings punishment (v. 3). Simply put, when God speaks His will, it becomes a salvation issue (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3-4).
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.