There will be false teachers among you
Jeremiah lived 600 years before Christ. Jacob's descendants had divided into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Many of the people served idols and were immoral.
God called Jeremiah to make His message known. He was a true prophet of God. There were also many false prophets in the land, who told the people what they wanted to hear. In Jeremiah, chapter 23, God warns the people not to listen to false prophets. And He warns the false prophets, that He will punish them. From this chapter we learn important truths that can help us avoid false teachers today.
Peter warns Christians of all ages: “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. And many will follow their destructive ways” (2 Peter 2:1,2).
There were false prophets in the Old Testament, there will be false teachers among us as well.
Jesus warned: “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matthew 24:11). The fact that there are many false teachers among us and that many people listen to them is simply a fulfillment of the word of Christ.
He also said: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). False teachers are false not only in doctrine but also in their appearance. They pretend to be something they are not. On the inside they are vicious wolves who kill and scatter the sheep. But they wear a sheepskin to trick the sheep.
Paul told the elders at Ephesus: “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29,30).
John warned: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
These warnings of Christ and His apostles would be futile if there were no way to distinguish between those who speak the truth and those who teach error.
When one considers the thousands of preachers and priests in the world, it is obvious that most of them are not speaking for God because they teach conflicting things.
One man I baptized started reading the Bible because different priests in his own church were teaching different things.
His reaction was: “Since the priests say different things, I will read the Bible for myself. What it says will certainly be right.” The first time I met him he said: “I don't know where it will lead me, but I have decided to do what the Bible says.” I thought, “If he really means that, he will become a Christian.” And he did. Have we decided to do what the Bible says?
God has given us the Holy Scriptures so we can test the spirits.
What does God think about false teachers? “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” (Jeremiah 23:1). They will be punished for their evil deeds: “You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings” (Jeremiah 23:2).
In verses 9 and 10 Jeremiah laments the terrible state of the land “because of the prophets.” “For both prophet and priest are profane” (verse 11). Profane means 'secular', 'not holy'.
The prophets and priests were supposed to be spiritual and holy. Instead, they were secular.
A tourist visiting a monastery in Italy was astounded by a sign in botched English: “We harbor all kinds of diseases and have no respect for religion. Please donate some small arms for our hospital.”
False teachers do indeed harbor all kinds of spiritual diseases and have no respect for true religion.
A preacher was invited to work with a small church of Christ in a mission area. He replied that he was willing to come if he could have a big salary and a house that was nice enough to impress the business people of the community.
Beware of false prophets, preachers and priests. They are more concerned about worldly things than spiritual values. Jesus said to the religious leaders: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.” ... “Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:25 and 28).
In Jeremiah 23, God says that He will bring disaster on the false prophets. The prophets of the northern kingdom caused Israel to err through idol worship. (Do some religious leaders today encourage people to bow down before images?)
Of the prophets in the southern kingdom, God says: “Also I have seen a horrible thing in the prophets of Jerusalem: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they also strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns back from his wickedness. All of them are like Sodom to Me, and her inhabitants like Gomorrah” (Jeremiah 23:14).
False teachers strengthen the hands of evildoers. This is explained in verse 17: “They continually say to those who despise Me, 'The Lord has said, “You shall have peace” '; and to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, 'No evil shall come upon you.' ”
This explains why false teachers are so popular! They are politically correct. They go along with the times. They adapt their message so it will not offend society. They tell people what they want to hear.
Are people who follow their own heart in our time told by some religious leaders that no evil will come upon them? Do some religious leaders condone the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah? Do some preachers say that no evil will come upon those who Jesus says commit adultery because of divorce and remarriage (Matthew 5:31,32; 19:9)?
Beware of false prophets, preachers and priests who tickle the itching ears of evildoers (2 Timothy 4:3,4).
“For from the prophets of Jerusalem profaneness has gone out into all the land” (Jeremiah 23:15). They were profane themselves, and profaneness spread from them to the whole country. We live in a secular society. We must be careful that we do not become a secular church by listening to bootlicking false teachers.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; they speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:16). False teachers tell you what they think, rather than what God says.
Because of the neglect of the false prophets, the people did not repent: “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in My counsel, and had caused My people to hear My words, then they would have turned them from their evil way and from the evil of their doings” (Jeremiah 23:21,22).
We have been warned. We must distinguish between what comes from God and what comes from man: “ 'The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; and he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?' says the Lord. 'Is not My word like a fire?' says the Lord, 'and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?' ” (Jeremiah 23:28,29).
If a man has a dream and wants to tell it, ok, but he should not claim that it came from God. Man's word is chaff. God's word is nutritious grain. They who have God's word must speak it faithfully. It is powerful, like a burning fire and a hammer that pulverizes rocks.
Peter said: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11).
How can we distinguish between the word of man and the word of God? Through Isaiah, God commanded the people: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). We recognize false teachers by comparing what they say with the word of God.
There are false teachers among us, just like there were false prophets in the Old Testament. Do not listen to them. False teachers are secular, more concerned about popularity than purity. Their profaneness spreads like cancer. False teachers strengthen the hands of evildoers, comforting them in their sin rather than calling them to repentance. God has given us the Scriptures so we can know the difference between the word of man and the word of God. “To the law and to the testimony!” Beware of false teachers.
The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers.
Permission for reference use has been granted.
Published in The Old Paths Archive