Yes, there is such a website: false-teachers.com. And yes, false teaching has become a tsunami of sham (and shame), leaving people drowning in ignorance and misunderstanding. It’s a crisis in America, and in many underdeveloped countries, it’s a catastrophe.
Want to get rich quick? Want to be an instant celebrity? Want to have sex with anyone you wish? In the west African country of Ghana, no problem: just become a pastor! Christianity Today reports that those who call themselves Christians in Ghana has mushroomed in recent years to the point that 70% of the population claims to follow Christ. But it’s more like a mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb.
The picture is clouded by rogue, untrained pastors who profess Christ but prey on the poorest of the poor. The pastors mix Christianity with traditional African religion, consulting the dead, impregnating teenagers, all the while preaching that they can solve the problems of poverty . . . if only the people will give to the church the little money they have and do whatever the pastors tell them. It’s false teaching on steroids. And with that kind of false teaching, few are true Christians.
Unexpectedly, false teachers and heresy raised their ugly heads two thousand years ago. It was the earliest days of the church, and Paul, Peter, John, Jude, and Jesus warned about the fake news.
Wow! For heresies to be so common so soon after Jesus was here on earth, it’s almost inconceivable. And the cancer was spreading far and wide. “Many will follow their shameful ways and bring the way of truth into disrepute” (2 Pet 2:2).
Where did the false teachers come from? Unfortunately, from within the church: “They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam” (2 Pet 2:15; cf. 2:20). “You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam” (Rev 2:14).
The New Testament reveals a lot about the sinful lifestyles of the false teachers (see Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy, Peter’s 2nd letter, and Jude’s letter):
Well. Is there any good news in all this? Yes, PTL! For those who listen to God, instead of the false teachers, “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). And yet today, many people continue to be gullible and easily enticed by false teaching. Untold millions fall into the trap of half-truths and distorted platitudes. Is it as serious as it sounds? If people are going to hell as a result, yes, indeed, it is.
APPLICATION: What steps can we take to make sure we’re not being influenced by the fake news of false teachers? What can we do to help rescue people who are trapped in the mire of misunderstanding?
In today’s media, both traditional print/TV and social media, people weigh in on various issues. It could be anything from voter meddling, to sexual affairs, to school shootings, and everyone has an idea for who to blame, and some people even have suggestions for how to fix it. Most issues tend to polarize quickly into two or three camps, and then the flame wars start. Name-calling, ad hominem attacks, and the “discussion” rapidly devolves into incivility. The problem with this trend is two-fold: 1) the participants behave like children, but more importantly 2) NO ONE IS LISTENING TO THE OTHER SIDE. Probably at least one of the sides (maybe both sides) may have some merit to their arguments and the other sides aren’t hearing them. I suppose you could try to fix THIS problem by better debating training, rules, and moderators, but the problem is both expected and not a people problem. It is a spiritual problem. Yesterday’s verse and today’s verse explain the situation: “They are of the world, therefore what they say is of the world, and the world listens to them. We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (1Jn 4:5-6)
We could spend time trying to correct the world’s media by writing Letters to the Editor, tweeting, responding to people, but it is not the people we are responding to, it is the spirit behind the people. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, … against spiritual hosts.” (Eph 6:12) How do you know which spirit you are addressing? We are to test the spirits (v.1) There is a specific spiritual gift of discernment (1Cor 12:10) given to some believers, and the gift of the Holy Spirit given to all believers.
Case in point: the story with Joy Behar, The View, Mike Pence, and prayer. The spirit behind the comments (both sides) is far more telling than the comments themselves. The battle is spiritual, and for our part, we must be careful about not getting sucked into saying anything that would make it HARDER for someone to later come to faith (in other words, don’t call them an idiot even if the spirit of error is saying idiotic things.) Address the error without addressing the messenger. “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” [2Tim 2:24-26]
Last Saturday I met with a friend whom I’ve known for forty years. Over the past twenty of those years our world views have gradually become polarized. So as she was again attacking the “Far Right” I commented that politically speaking both ends of the spectrum may have something in common since both devour as truth the ideologies of their news sources. The starting points however are vastly different. Even though I thought my friend knew my view, she asked me to state my starting point to which I replied, “The authority of the Bible.” Pshaw! – She of course is certain people are basically good at their core so we need to accept everyone and allow each person to believe however they want to because this is how we love each other. (The exception would be “evil” legalistic dogmatists.)
Today’s verses in 1 John and James brought to mind what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him . . . .” Isn’t it totally amazing that we who have the indwelling Holy Spirit, the One far greater than the spirit of this age, also have “the mind of Christ”? (1Corinthians 2:16)
Having the mind of Christ we are equipped to resist the devil and discern false teaching. And yet . . . . (pause), the Devil can be ever so conniving and lure us into subtly adopting ideas that may appear innocuous but could be placing us on the proverbial slippery slope. In my desire to keep the gospel message pure as I live and teach, I have an ongoing struggle with using methods that are intended to be relevant to the lost who are “seekers” but might actually be watering down the gospel. Sometimes I get grumpy about this but in humility I must continue to pray in the Spirit and draw ever more near to the heart of God.
In our Adult Bible Fellowship on Sunday, I was struck by the phrase in 1 John 3:12, “Do not be surprised…if the world hates you.” Besides a few off-hand comments about being “holier than thou” or “living in the ‘holy city’” (Winona Lake), I don’t ever recall being greatly mistreated by anyone because of my Christian faith. In America, I thought, we were largely protected from such abuse.
But, we heard something quite different on the national news last week. Bitter hatred toward a particular Christian and his faith was blatantly broadcast on a TV network. We have come to expect more and more intolerance toward Christianity in the public media. To be sure, it is often directed with a broad stroke at what is usually misconceived as Christian. But we may be entering into a time when openly professing your faith in Christ will be less and less tolerated. It has begun to sound very much like the times that John may be writing about.
John is the only biblical author that uses the term antichrist. Others write of the man of lawlessness or of false prophets who claim to be or to know “the Messiah.” It really is neither John’s purpose, I think, nor ours to try to identify the Antichrist (capital A) who is prophesied to come in the end times. But it is important to recognize that antichrists exist today, and their false teaching not only condemns them (2 Peter 2:3), but it may also mislead those who are sincerely looking for truth.
As John explains in today’s text, the essential untruth of the antichrists or the spirit of antichrist is the denial of the incarnation of Jesus, that is that God himself took on human flesh and lived among us (cf. John’s Gospel 1:14). In contrast, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (v. 2). We can have good relationships with people from many different tribes of the universal family of God so long as they believe that the incarnate Jesus is the only way to have a relationship with God.
Let’s be clear in the message we teach by what we say and how we live so that we reflect the one who came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). In John’s Gospel, he wrote, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).
Have you ever been in one of those awkward moments in which you’re not sure whether to indulge someone’s comment because you’re not sure whether they’re messing with you or not? For example, if someone tells you your shoe is untied, perhaps you are hesitant to look down for fear of falling for some sort of joke? If you’re like me and do that, it’s probably because you don’t want to appear gullible, and therefore want to be extra cautious.
In today’s reading, John is telling us a similar thing: don’t be spiritually gullible! He tells his readers not to believe every spirit but rather to test them to see whether they are of God or of the antichrist. We should not just go along believing everything that we have heard but should instead test what we hear. This should apply to what we hear on TV, what we read on the Internet, even what we hear at church from the pulpit (don’t tell Kip I said that…) – in other words, we must test what others are telling us! We don’t do this in a judgmental or hateful manner, but we do this because getting it right about Jesus is everything.
And that’s the test that John puts forth. “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (v.2). On the flip side, as we’ll see in tomorrow’s reading, those that deny that Christ has come in the flesh are of the antichrist (v.3). See, at that time there was a lot of Gnostic false teaching that suggested that the spirit is good and the body is bad, therefore Christ didn’t actually come in the flesh. But that is not true, and that is a test against which we can examine teachings! But also note that these people deny the Father and the Son (1 John 2:22-23). In other words: these false teachers got it wrong when it came to who Jesus is. That’s the test: what do others think and say about Jesus?
There is a lot of subtle yet dangerous teaching about Jesus today. Some suggest that he’s simply one way among many to salvation. Some see him as simply a means to wealth and prosperity. Some see him as a poster-boy for a political cause or campaign. We must not be spiritually gullible about these things, however, and we must read the Word of God and see who Jesus actually is: the eternal Son of God who came to earth as a man and died for his people, rising from the dead and now reigning and ruling from his throne in heaven.
Don’t believe everything you hear but instead test it. And what is the test? What do they say about Jesus?
It was March 24, 1998, at Westside Middle School, in Jonesboro, Arkansas. English teacher Shannon Wright, 32 years old, was explaining nouns and verbs when the fire alarm sounded. Probably another fire drill, she thought, as she led her students outside. Unfortunately, the class walked into a hail of bullets as an active shooter came around the corner. As she yelled to her students to get back inside, she noticed a 13 year-old girl in the direct line of fire. Jumping in front of the girl, Mrs. Wright took two bullets, killing her, but allowing the girl to escape unharmed. Her husband summed up Shannon’s mortal sacrifice, simply saying, “She loved kids.”
Similarly, at the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, assistant football coach Aaron Feis threw himself in front of students, giving his life, but sparing theirs. A spokeswoman said, “He died the same way he lived—he put himself second.”
Would we take a bullet for another person? Would we go through surgery to donate a kidney or a lung to someone who would die otherwise? Would we suffer painful persecution if it would spare another person from persecution? Would we give half of our salary to someone who couldn’t get a job? Do we care about the needs and concerns of others more than our own?
John is addressing an important question in his letter: What is the most salient, convincing characteristic of true faith? How can we be sure we’re believers? His answer is in two parts. In the first portion of chapter 3 he made it clear that it’s the vertical dimension of being holy. And God is the model for that. In the second half of the chapter it’s the horizontal dimension of sacrificial love for one another. And Jesus is the model for that.
Jesus said, “Everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). And sure enough: the early church found that their greatest evangelistic tool was not talking but loving. People were drawn to Christ especially when they saw how the believers loved one another.
German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by the Nazis while still in his 30s, wrote, “The church is only the church when it exists for others.”
So how do we move our “love for one another” up to the top of the ladder? Og Mandino put it this way: “Treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend all the care, kindness, and understanding you can.”
Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice for us, in effect taking a hail of bullets. If the love of God is truly in us, we will sacrifice anything for one another . . . bullets, finances, time . . . anything. This is how true faith works.
Epistemology is the science of knowing, or, “how do you know what you know is so.” Philosophy classes may explore knowing only what you can experience, or science classes know what you can repeatedly measure, or logic and law classes know only what you can prove. Atheists and skeptics only know what they can see for themselves. After reading some of the schools of thought on epistemology, it is a wonder they can know anything at all.
In 1st John, seven times he says, “by this we know,” and the things we can know are: Him, love, truth, abiding (3:24), more truth, more abiding, and that we are children of God. In contrast to the world’s knowing something, the way you know these eternal truths is not by experience or sight or logic, but is often by our obedience, or by God giving something to us (His Life and His Spirit). The reason God’s ways are MORE sure is that your experiences can fool you, science can’t measure some event in the past, and you can’t see motives, but God’s Spirit is given to us once and for all (“the gifts … of God are irrevocable,” Romans 11:29).
We may be buffeted by doubt, we may be accused by the world of believing a myth, but this one thing (actually seven things!) I know: “by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit which He has given us.”
Nearly 100 Christian publishing companies in the U. S. continue to release between a handful and several dozen new titles every year. We can collect insightful volumes on a host of topics to fill our time and book shelves, yet as beneficial as reading great books can be, it cannot guarantee godliness. For example, I saw Neal Anderson’s book The Bondage Breaker in the home of a relative who is quite deceived and who treats his wife with utter contempt.
As I read these few verses in 1 John I was impressed with how concise the command and purpose of our life is: believe in Jesus, love, and obey. Our fast-paced culture is cluttered with distractions and it’s a challenge to remain in close and constant fellowship with Christ. It’s no wonder love often grows as cold as a cup of forgotten tea. Do we need to acquire books more than we need to allow Jesus to capture our gaze? It’s sad to see folks who try so hard to obey without the motivation of a grateful heart reflecting God’s holy love.
Hebrews 10: 19 – 39:
Endure conflict and suffering for Christ since
Near is the Day of the Lord, and
Destruction is certain for those in
Unbelief who insult the Spirit of Grace. The
Righteous will live by faith and
Approach God with confidence because of a
New and Living Way which Christ inaugurated. With a
Clear conscience and unwavering hope, let us
Encourage each other to love and good deeds.
When you were a kid, you expressed your true love with a homemade, paper Valentine which declared “Roses are red…” It was also true when you were still a child and lived in a ‘traditional’ home—with a mom and dad, sister, brother, and a dog, maybe—that you related “Jesus loves me” to the affection your parents showed you.
As teens, however, your thoughts of love were mostly romantic and totally unrealistic. Furthermore, given how self-centered they were, that “luv” had absolutely no resemblance to biblical love.
So, when we begin to think of biblical love, we have to turn to the Scriptures for a clear picture of what God intends love to be. Today’s text gives the prime example of love: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” John goes on to say that we should be ready to do the same: “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
Wow! That’s a pretty high standard; how can we ever achieve it? Perhaps it would be helpful to realize that the essence of biblical love, so well illustrated in the life and death of Jesus, is sacrifice. John gives an illustration of what that kind of sacrifice might mean among believers: sharing material possessions with family members in need. It’s a very strong statement with a negative connotation. “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”
Another “Wow”! This doesn’t sound like a take-it-or-leave-it option, but rather a hard and fast guideline: give to others in need even if it means sacrifice on your part. Or is John saying it isn’t really an indication of biblical love unless it involves sacrifice?
When the Apostle then says, “Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth,” he seems to be in agreement with what James expresses in 2:14-17 of his epistle. “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?” (v. 14). Today we might say, “Actions speak louder than words.”
Back to thinking about love through one’s life span. It’s family affection as children; it’s often just romance in young adulthood. But as we mature, love takes on a little different character. Certainly, genuine love among humans continues to include affection and romance—at least it should, but there’s an added or expanded dimension: caring. Caring for one another as we grow older may involve sacrifice, but it’s done willingly out of a once-made and still-held commitment.
Surely, this is true in the physical realm of marriage, but it should be even more true in the spiritual relationships within the family of God. This is what biblical love is all about: showing I care by my willing sacrifice for another’s good.
Yesterday at WL, Sam reminded us that it should be obvious whether we are following Jesus or not through the way we live our lives. And that’s John’s point in today’s reading as well.
He reiterates the message that his audience would have heard from the time of their salvation, that they should love one another. Remember that when Jesus summed up the commandments, he did so by saying love God and love others (Matthew 22:34-40). So John again reiterates that message: love one another. He then gives an obvious example of love vs. hate that his readers would have been familiar with.
He goes to the example of Cain and Abel, a story that is told way back in Genesis 4. Abel presented a sacrifice that was righteous and acceptable to God, but Cain’s was not. So Cain, in his hatred, murdered Abel. Is there any doubt in that example as to who was filled with love and who was filled with hate? Certainly not! It should be the same with us.
Note too that John doesn’t expect this to be an easy task, to love those who hate. After all, Cain murdered Abel because he didn’t like that Abel’s sacrifice was righteous and accepted while his wasn’t. If we live our lives abiding in Jesus and loving others, there will be people who hate us for it. John wants to make sure that none of us are surprised by this. We shouldn’t be, especially since Jesus had already predicted that it would happen: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Jesus was hated by many, so it should not be a surprise when his followers are hated as well.
See, John has been carrying on this theme of “abide” in this letter, and he has urged the Christian to abide in Christ. Here, he uses a negative example: those who don’t love abide in death, and those who hate and murder do not have eternal life abiding in them. John picks up here on the ideas of Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount, when he raised the bar on the commandment not to murder by saying that the one who hates his brother is still breaking the heart of that command (Matthew 5:21-26). The idea here goes beyond mere external actions but also internal attitudes as well. Are you filled with hate? That often will manifest itself in outward actions (even sometimes to the extreme of murder), but it always starts internally.
So the question to ponder is actually quite simple, and it should be quite obvious: are you filled with love or with hate? The true follower of Jesus is filled with love! Why? Because we have been loved first by Christ! As John will say later in this letter, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). And Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Because we belong to Jesus – who first loved us and gave his very life to redeem and reconcile us – we love.
If you have truly experienced the love of Christ, you can’t help but show it to others. And it should be an obvious characterization of our lives.