(an excerpt from Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing)
Do you foster false prophets?
You may contribute to their prominence and not realize it.
False prophets abound in the Church of Jesus Christ today. What led to their profusion?
They existed in the Apostle Paul’s day, too. He identified them and fought against their heresies. Paul warned his protégé, Timothy, of their invasion and what would encourage their presence.
“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (2 Timothy 4:1-4)
Paul described the conditions and causes within churches that give an open door to false teachers. These conditions permit them to foster their fallacies and errors, and enable them to step into the vacuum where they can assume positions of leadership and lead people astray.
Those same conditions exist today, infecting the professing Church of Jesus Christ. To prevent the presence and growth of false prophets in the Church, we must heed Paul’s warning to Timothy and turn from the practices that foster false prophets.
Danger Sign #1: Professing Believers Disavow Sound Doctrine.
“They will not endure sound doctrine.” (2 Timothy 4.3)
Paul declared that a time would come when people in the Church will disavow sound doctrine. They will seek the false and not adhere to the truth.
What does it mean when it says they will not endure sound doctrine? It means, very literally, they won’t stand for it. They will not put up with it. They want something else.
What sound doctrine will they not endure? In 1 Timothy 1.10-11, Paul used the exact phrase “sound doctrine” and explained what it meant in verse 11:
“According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.”
Paul predicted professing believers would not endure the sound doctrine of the gospel, the good news of the gospel that would save them and bring them back into relationship with God the Father.
This group included not just those on the outside of the Church, but also those within the Church. He said that Church members and professing believers, who said they followed Christ, would not put up with the gospel.
We face a grave problem today, the misstatement of the gospel. The Church fails to proclaim even the elementary truths of the gospel.
- The Sinfulness Of Humanity
The modern day presentation of the gospel evades the issue of sin, because people do not want to hear about their sins. The preaching of the gospel without including the truth of the sinfulness of mankind eliminates the key element of the gospel. The gospel provides salvation from sin. Sadly, many professing believers have never come to recognize their dire sinfulness before God, an elemental part of salvation.
- The Helplessness Of Mankind To Reconcile With God
Man contributes nothing to his salvation. One preacher said wisely, “The only thing that you bring to the salvation experience is your sin.” Sinners, utterly helpless and dead in their trespasses and sins, obtain salvation only by a gift of grace from God. The presentation of the gospel today frequently excludes this truth.
Most people assume that sinners provide something toward their salvation. However, salvation is neither a cooperative nor a synergistic experience, one where each party participates on a sharing basis. Sinners contribute nothing to their salvation but their sin.
Because the Church avoids these basic elements of the gospel, many people have not obtained salvation. They have never heard the gospel in its entirety.
Leaders within the professing Church today follow the same practice that Paul warned Timothy people would practice in that day. They will not endure the gospel. They will not put up with it. They do not explain it in its fullness.
This describes the first issue that Paul’s warning to Timothy emphasized, which gives rise to false prophets: people do not want the gospel. To avoid the growth of false prophets, the Church must overcome this error and return to a full presentation of gospel truths.
Danger Sign #2: Professing Believers Seek Personal Gratification.
“…but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.” (2 Timothy 4.3)
Modern day professing believers delight in satisfying their fleshly natures and desires. The phrase “but after” means they do not want this, but they do want something else. They did not want a spiritual emphasis in their lives, but they greatly enjoyed pursuing pleasure, which captivated their interests.
Professing believers, who lack interest in the spiritual condition of their lives, fill the Church. Holiness, conspicuous by its absence, lacks appeal, reserved only for the devout, an option sought by dour believers. The preference for knowing God “…at a distance” makes the interest in an intimate knowledge of God outdated.
The popular faith does not want God’s interference in life. The discipline of walking with God, pursuing after Him in obedience and trust for life’s plans, has vanished.
To soothe their “itching ears” they “heap to themselves” pastors who tell them what they want to hear:
- lessons on struggling with stress;
- messages on managing finances;
- feel-good homilies;
- superficial Biblical instruction;
- thoughts on raising children.
Instead of the gospel and holy living, these professing Christians want messages that appeal to their human natures. They pursue pastors and teachers who will scratch their ears and make them feel good. These conditions give rise to false prophets and teachers.
The Bible expressly speaks against satisfying the demands of our fleshly natures. Paul wrote to his friends at Rome on this very issue.
“I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.” (Romans 7:18)
“But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” (Romans 13:14)
This last reference refers to satisfying fleshly lusts instead of putting on Christ. Paul said, “Do not pursue your own lusts. That is not the way you should live as a follower of Christ.”
To avoid aiding the rise of false prophets in the Church of Jesus Christ, Christ followers must reject the popular trend toward satisfying their fleshly desires, and pursue after the knowledge of Christ.
Danger Sign #3: Professing Believers Turn To Error.
“And they shall turn away their ears from the truth.” (2 Timothy 4:4)
When professing believers disavow the gospel, and seek personal gratification from those who satisfy their desires, they turn from the truth to error. They gather to themselves deceptive church leaders and pastors who deny the truth. They turn to fables, imaginations, and stories. They follow error, not the Bible.
The Church has begun to enter this phase of decline. The professing Church today debates the existence of truth. The world has tried to debunk and degrade the gospel of Jesus Christ for generations, saying that we cannot know truth, an unthinkable thought which Christ followers should never consider.
The world has said this for a long time. Then world says, “There is no exclusive truth. My truth is just as good as your truth.” Of course, the world would say that. They do not want to believe God’s truth, because it describes them as sinners in need of a Savior, and they don’t want that.
However, it becomes an entirely different problem when false prophets, who profess to follow Christ, assume positions as leaders and pastors of churches and say, “You can’t know the truth.” Their error misleads those who respect and follow them.
False prophets teach that every one can know their truth but cannot know God’s truth. Every false prophet, teacher, pastor, or leader, who makes these kinds of claims, establishes himself or herself above God. They create a truth that they impose which surpasses God’s truth.
The false prophet or teacher who says, “You can’t know the truth” contradicts Scripture, much like the serpent in the Garden of Eden who said to Adam and Eve, “You’ll not die. God has not told you the truth. I am telling you the truth. Believe me. Don’t believe God.”
On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus gave a series of messages to His disciples on the Holy Spirit recorded in John 14, 15 and 16. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth and told how the Holy Spirit would guide believers into the truth.
Christ told them:
“… when He comes, He will guide you into the truth. Many things I cannot tell you now, because you cannot understand them, you will not endure them, nor will you understand them. You cannot grasp them now. But when He comes, He will guide you into the truth.” (John 16:13)
Further, Jesus said,
“I am the truth…” (John 14.6)
In His prayer in John chapter 17, Jesus prayed to His Father,
“One thing you will do Father; you will sanctify these people in the truth.” (John 17:17)
The Bible presents each member of the Triune God, the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, as providers, teachers, and revealers of truth. To declare that no one can know spiritual truth defames the triune God.
Untrustworthy teachers welcome the opportunity to encourage their followers to enjoy an easy and false doctrine. They do it subtly, carefully, and persuasively, so that error sounds like the truth.
To elude the support of false prophets in the Church of Jesus Christ, believers must reject the errors of the false prophets and pursue the truth, guided by the Holy Spirit Whom the Father and the Son sent to reveal it.
Paul’s warning to Timothy applies to the Church of Jesus Christ today, too. Professing believers, open your eyes to the truth. We can know the truth, and it will set us free from unwittingly fostering false prophets in the Church.
The whole sequence presented in 2 Timothy 2.3-4 describes recently published Christian magazines, books, and television and radio broadcasts. Many counterfeit spiritual leaders produce books and internet articles, and preach in churches and to vast crowds all over the world.
Organizations have risen in the last few years for the sole purpose of presenting error as true Christianity. Deceiving teaching looms dark over the contemporary church.
I urge you to bring these issues to the throne of God. Seek Him and His wisdom and stand for the inerrant truth of the Word of God.
Questions For Reflection and Application
Who can you identify that fits Paul’s description?
What organization(s) and churches follow the pattern that Paul explained?
Do you presently attend a church that fits the description of Paul’s warning to Timothy?
Can you recognize untruth when you hear it from the pulpit?
Do you follow the deceitful teachings of a false prophet(s)?
Has it caused you to consider that you cannot know the truth, that God does not demand of you total obedience and surrender of your rights in total submission to Him?
Do you pursue God and His righteousness above everything else?
Thank You, heavenly Father, for Your great grace in making provision for Your children by giving them warnings. In giving the warnings, You present that which is true and that which is false and the consequences of that which is false. And, Father, by Your Holy Spirit, apply these truths in our lives, that we might be taught by them, encouraged by them, strengthened by them, reaffirmed in the truth by them, corrected by them, conformed more assuredly and more completely to the truth. We will give to You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all of the glory for what You accomplish. Amen.