#383 - DEFEND THE NARROW (30/6/21)
Updated: Jul 1
An article in the Guardian from 2015 begins,
‘Leaders of a Christian church in Singapore who misappropriated £23m of church funds in a failed attempt to turn the pastor’s wife into a global pop star to attract more followers have been convicted of fraud after a two-year trial. The charismatic pastor Kong Hee and five aides spent some of the money on glitzy music videos featuring scantily clad dancers to support his wife Sun Ho’s singing career in Asia and try to crack the US market.’
Now, I could be wrong, but there must have been signs! clearly, a lot of people in the congregation of over 17,000 people, did not know how to spot a false prophet!
Today I want to think in more detail as to how we can recognise false prophets. We are to ‘watch out for false prophets’. How do we recognise wicked or unhelpful teachers so as to defend ourselves? We need to be able to recognise bad fruit. If you know your trees, you will know that you there is a massive difference between apples and Manchinees (apples of death) and we need to be discerning. Jesus warns us,
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them.” (Matthew 7:15-20)
'But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.’ (2 Peter 2:1-3)
The internet is awash with Christians attacking other Christians as being false teachers. What is the right way to handle this subject?
Don’t judge a sheep by it’s cover
Firstly, we need to remember that there are false teachers. Demonic powers are at work to deceive us. They come ‘in sheep’s clothing’. We are not to listen and value a teacher just because they are attractive to us. Being zealous, conviction, intellectual, funny, having good fashion sense, physically attractive… is not our measure for success! We must look at the content of the teacher’s curriculum and character carefully.
Look at the fruit in their lives
We are to be able to look at the fruit of their lives. Therefore, clearly, Jesus expects us to be able to look at their lives. This means that we are not to give priority to teachers who are on the internet. Of course, content in books, recordings, YouTube… can be of great help. However, it’s our local church teachers who are to be given our priory. Even though they may not be as good communicators!
Here’s some fruit -good and bad- to look out for that I’ve taken from 1 Timothy 3. It’s about ‘Overseers’ who are the primary teachers in a local church, so I think that’s it’s warranted to use this section to guide us in thinking about false prophets.
‘Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.’ (1 Timothy 3:2-7)
I won’t spend time explaining each term. You can see that good fruit must be evident. Bad fruit is the opposite of these things. You can see that teachers should have high standards of truth and character.
A good test - Do they inspire me to be narrow?
After listening to them:
1. Do I have greater confidence in Jesus? Am I more in awe of the gospel? Or am I inspired to do works that earn credit with God?
2. Do they inspire me to become overly focussed on secondary issues such as the end times, the environment, helping the poor, money, the law, evangelism, gifts of the Spirit… many of which are good things but Jesus and the gospel must never be eclipsed.
3. Never listen to anyone who tells you that they know when Jesus is coming again. Such a teacher is, at best, unwise. At worst, he’s seeking to create a following for himself.
4. Am I more inspired to live a life of obedience to God’s word? Or am I inspired to accept other teachings alongside or even above God’s word?
Be discerning in whom you listen to. Bad teaching will infect you! We are to recognise and ‘keep away from them’ (Rom. 16:17).
Paul warns us,
‘Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.’ (2 Timothy 2:16-18)
John Pipers said,
‘The shape of error is always changing. You can’t preach enough negative sermons to stay ahead of it. And you don’t have to. The best protection against the darkness of error is the light of truth.’
And your best protection against false teachers is to be devoted to truth with brothers and sisters who are also seeking Jesus’ ‘narrow way’.
Here is some really helpful teaching on this subject from a teacher that I encourage you to trust:
COMMUNITY GROUP STUDY - GET NARROW
It might be good to begin with notices. Please share from this week’s Church News.
Do you have a memorable experience of taking the wrong road or route?
Recap of Sunday's message - please share in your group
On Sunday we continued with our series on discipleship from The Sermon on the Mount. Jesus uses four illustrations (we'll cover three this week) to challenge the crowd that He's teaching - and us- to a decision: will we obey Him or not?
1. ENTER THE NARROW WAY
Please read Matthew 7:13-14
JESUS IS THE ONLY SAVIOUR
The narrow way is about Jesus being the only ways to salvation. Peter said to the crowds,
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12
We cannot be saved from our good works. Paul taught,
‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’ (Romans 3:23-24
2. DEFEND NARROWNESS
Please read Matthew 7:15-20
We have to 'watch out' and learn to recognise wolves and those that are simply unhelpful. The 'flock' (local church) is defended in two ways:
God gives elders and other leaders who are to help the church to remain narrow. In our information age, it's important to prioritise the teaching of your local church elders.
Please read Acts 20:28-31
We must learn to defend ourselves. Church leaders and movements can go bad. It's important to pray for our leaders and talk to them if we feel uncomfortable with their teaching or behaviour.
3. DO - DO NARROW THINGS
We must enter, defend and do what's narrow.
Please read Matthew 7:21-23
These false prophets want us to abandon the narrow gate and road in favour of the broad. The broad way is living outside of the Lordship of Christ. The narrow gate and road is about obeying Jesus as His disciple. Those who truly know Jesus, will seek to obey Him.
I think that it's important to add that there's lots of teachers and teaching which is enjoyable but is simply a waste of time or promotes a 'self-help' approach to gaining success. Of course, there are no non-Christians from whom we can learn. However, Jesus wants us to be His disciple and to give our minds, predominantly, to learning from Him.
1. Did God Speak to you, or what do you plan to do in response to Sunday's message?
2. What is the narrow way?
3. How does one enter the narrow way?
3. How does one recognise false teachers?
4. How do you, or could you, give priority to learning from Jesus?
5. Jesus says that only those who 'do the will of my Father' will enter the kingdom of heaven.' We are saved by faith and not by works, so what does Jesus mean by this comment?
Serving, Investing and inviting
1) Have you got any encouraging stories of serving, investing and inviting that you'd like to share?
2) Who has God put into your life that we could pray for together?
2) How are you planning to serve invest and invite?
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