Vol. 5, No. 9
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Jesus warned his disciples, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits... Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Matthew 7:15-16 & 10:16). The world has intolerance for the truth; therefore, the scenario is used of Christians being sheep, a prey animal, sent forth into the middle of the worldly, the wolves. When Jesus says to be "wise as serpents," he is not referring to the manifestation of Satan in the Garden. For all their fearfulness, snakes are really very fragile creatures and are usually cautious in avoiding dangerous situations. Christians could here learn a valuable lesson from the snake. Rather than subjecting one's self to danger, we should "abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
The Gospel is the "power of God unto salvation" (Romans 1:16). It is important that we do not follow false teaching primarily because it is void of the power to save. Jesus said, "But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9). It is a useless waste of time and life to worship God by manmade creeds and such teaching is prevalent. Yet, Jesus also promised a reward seven times in Revelation 2-3 to each of the seven churches in Asia Minor to "him that overcometh". So, it can be done! We can overcome false doctrine, but HOW is the important question.
The Scriptures enjoin us, "Buy the truth and sell it not" (Proverbs 23:23). The story of the merchantman seeking goodly pearls comes to mind (Matthew 13). If the truth is represented by the pearl of great price, then we have an example of how we are to act when presented with the truth. It is so precious that we will grasp it to ourselves, even if it is unpleasant. Whether actively seeking like the merchant, or like the treasure hunter in the field, stumbling on it by accident, the truth is readily recognizable. There are only two classes of people in the world -- those who love the truth and those who do not. This truth separates the godly man from the world. Jesus said in prayer, "Sanctify them through thy truth: Thy word is truth" (John 17:17). Jesus also said, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). Receiving and submitting to the Gospel will free us from sin and make us heirs of eternal life. The whole "W.W.J.D." fad among many today would be pointless if we did not know what Jesus did! How can we know what Jesus WOULD do, if we don't know what Jesus DID do? The only way to know that is to study the truth of God's Word for ourselves.
One of the qualifications for elders listed in Titus 1 has to do with being able to "convince the gainsayers." A godly man will have such an intense hatred of false doctrine that he will oppose it and stop it at every turn. The deeds of the Nicolaitans were hated by Christ, and he commends the church at Ephesus for hating their deeds as well (Revelation 2:6). We must not hate the sinner, but we are to hate the sinner's sin! In fact, love of the truth predicates hatred of falsehood. We can't say we love the truth if we do not hate false doctrine. David stated in the Psalms, "Therefore I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold. Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way" (119:127-128).
We have great concern for the church in this regard. We would probably be shocked if we could see the extent of the progress falsehood is making into the church. I heard an old Gospel preacher remark once that he preached due to his hatred of sin! Because of sin, he would one day have to throw dirt into his beloved wife's face, or she into his. This is because "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). Teaching false doctrine is sin in the extreme, offering false hope to the hearers. "Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof. From such turn away" (2 Timothy 3:5).
Since the Bible is the only source of divine truth, we need to become familiar with its pages if we want to be able to recognize and defend against false teaching. I am told that workers for the FBI do not spend a lot of time in studying counterfeiting methods. They spend most of their time learning the subtleties of the authentic notes so that when they are confronted with a counterfeit bill, it is glaringly apparent. Young Timothy was told, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). The word for "Study" here in the KJV would be better rendered "Be diligent" or make an earnest effort in your handling of the Word. David again states, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart that I might not sin against thee" (Psalm 119:11). There is no substitute for plunging into the study of God's Word. We need the "Sword of the Spirit" constantly at the ready if we are to stand against the devil's attacks (Ephesians 6:17). The prophet Jeremiah described his desire for God's truth as a hunger: "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart" (Jeremiah 15:16).
Also amazing is the fact that while Jesus performed many miracles on the earth, he was able to resist temptation to the point of remaining pure and sinless before God without miraculous displays. Hebrews 4:15 reads, "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." To every temptation offered to him Jesus simply replied, "It is written..." (Matthew 4 and Luke 4). We have access to the same Scriptures today, and more in the New Testament so we are without excuse if we claim the devil overwhelmed us.
Polycarp, an elder at the church in Smyrna in the second century, was given the opportunity to curse Christ to be spared from death by burning. He was a contemporary of the apostle John and no doubt studied at the aged apostle's feet. What was his reply? "Eighty six years have I served him and he has never done me the least wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?" He met his death around 155 AD because he would not give up his faith even to save his own life. What gave him such courage and conviction was his intense appreciation for the Savior. Such conviction today is rare, indeed! The sacrifice of Jesus makes it possible for us to be saved. This alone should be sufficient cause to resist false doctrine, which cannot save. "Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Jesus admonishes the angel (messenger) of the church at Smyrna to "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). A literal rendering of the original language will reveal that Jesus wants his followers to be faithful even if faithfulness is the cause of their deaths. If the "angels" mentioned in Revelation are the evangelists, or elderships of the congregations, it is indeed possible that Polycarp took this admonition personally. He certainly heard the message of Revelation, possibly at its very first public reading in Smyrna.
Certainly, the application is clear for us. Jesus gave his life for us. We need to be so committed to him that we would rather die a horrible death than to compromise "one jot or tittle" of his Gospel! We have often wondered how many would be present on Sunday morning professing their faith if it were to suddenly become illegal to do so. What if it became a capital offense? This is the type of appreciation we need for the Son of God, and his sacrifice.
False doctrine can be overcome, if we love the truth and hate every false way and if we will fill our hearts with God's Word and love the Savior for the price he paid at Calvary for our sins. All that we need is found in the Holy Scriptures which, as Paul told Timothy, "...are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). We are indeed, "throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:16). Are you a Christian? What is your soul worth to you? Jesus said, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mark 8:36-37).