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  • Writer's pictureDexter Bersonda

Identifying and Dealing with False Teachers or Wolves


“But even Jesus dined with sinners!” “If we don’t build rapport with them, how are we going to win them?” “Are you perfect or is your church perfect, for you to judge?”


These are just some of the objections that one may encounter when a false teacher (or a perceived association with him) is called out. It is as if being a false teacher who draws away people from the truth is nothing different from being a winebibber or a prostitute. It is as if Jesus modeled a love that patiently bears with any kind and amount of error. In this article I would like to address some of the objections to speaking out against false teachers and present what the scriptures say we should do in dealing with them.


Are we not to judge?


First, haven’t we been told not to judge? Many people love quoting Matthew 7. “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Many people take these verses to mean that all kinds of judging is wrong. This has become a convenient excuse for people to silence any criticism. They interpret the meaning of the verse as: “Jesus said you don’t have any right to tell me I’m wrong.” Later in Matthew 7 though Jesus said “Watch out for false prophets. . . . By their fruit you will recognize them.” So how are we to identify false prophets if we do not judge their fruits? Here are points we need to understand about judging:

  • The Bible’s command that we do not judge others does not mean we cannot show discernment. We are still to discern right from wrong to identify false prophets and watch out for them.

  • Jesus did have a direct command to judge. “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” John 7:24. The important thing in judging is that we do with right judgment and not superficially or hypocritically.

Didn’t Jesus dine with sinners?


Yes, but when it comes to how Jesus interacts with them, sinners can be broadly categorized into two groups:

  • Those who are seeking, wandering, or misguided. For these people Jesus was patient, gentle and compassionate. Matthew 9:10-17, John 8:1-11, Luke 7:36-50

  • Those who are religious hypocrites and false teachers. Jesus did not avoid them but rebuked them and called them out with bold conviction and often harshly. Matthew 12:33-34

It should be noted that not only Jesus, but even the apostles and John the Baptist (Matthew 3:7) followed this pattern of engagement with false teachers.


When it comes to sinners, Paul would associate with them in order to win them as he has shown in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” However when it comes to false teachers, his instructions are markedly different, as can be seen in the texts we will look at below.


So to answer the question “Did Jesus associate with sinners and should we in order to win them?” For most kinds of sinners, yes. For false teachers, no. We need to learn the distinction between them.


Among sinners then, who are these false teachers that Jesus and the apostles dealt with harshly?


  • During the lifetime of Jesus and before the beginning of the church, the false teachers of the day were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. These are groups that are corrupt, legalistic, and hypocritical, relying on their own works for salvation, and would eventually be responsible for crucifying the Son of God.

  • During the age of the church, false teachers are those that Jesus calls false prophets which he also likened to wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15.) The reference to wolves means they are intent on destroying faith and will cause spiritual carnage in the church for their own profit or benefit. The reference to sheep’s clothing means that they will appear innocent, harmless and part of the church so that they can do their evil works from inside the church. The apostles have these to say against them:

    • They are carnal, materialistic and wordly. Philippians 3:18-19 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

    • They are depraved in mind. 1 Timothy 6:5 "and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain."

    • They are greedy and manipulative. 2 Peter 2:3 "And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep."

    • They are deceitful with their smooth talk and flattery. Romans 16:17-18 "I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive."


How are we then to engage with false teachers?


  1. We are to beware or be alert of them. Beware means to be watchful so that we can identify false teaching when we hear them and identify the false teachers purveying them.

    1. Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

    2. Acts 20:28–30 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.

    3. Matthew 16:11-12 “How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

    4. Romans 16:17-18 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.

  2. Once we know who they are, we are to avoid them.

    1. 1 Corinthians 5:11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

    2. 2 Thessalonians 3:6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

    3. 2 Thessalonians 3:14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.

    4. 2 Timothy 3:2-5 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good,treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

    5. o 2 John 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting,

  3. False teachers are then named to warn the flock about them

    1. 2 Timothy 2:16-17 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.

    2. 1 Timothy 1:19-20 By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

    3. 2 Timothy 4:10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me

    4. 2 Timothy 1:15 You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.

  4. We are also to expose them

    1. Ephesians 5:11-12 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. (Here the word “expose” means to “Censure them; show them to be wrong”)


Conclusion


We should judge with right judgment as Jesus said. The command not to judge does not mean we cannot show discernment, which we need to use to identify, mark and avoid false teachers. Jesus did dine with sinners, treating them with patience and gentleness. We should do the same. However, when it comes to false teachers, who we define as those wolves pretending to be sheep in order to take advantage of the sheep for their own benefit, the scriptures tell us differently. We are not to associate with them. We are not to build rapport with them. We are to be watchful of them, avoid them, name them and expose them. We are to be concerned for the sheep and not the wolves.


Paul told Titus that “For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” (Titus 1:10-11) This should be one of the goals of shepherds in watching over their sheep. May God use his shepherds to make sure those who teach for shameful gain will be silenced.




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