DISCERNING FALSE TEACHERS

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.

(3 John 1:4 NASB)

The apostle Paul found himself in a great dilemma, for the church in Corinth had a dispute. Some preferred Paul’s teachings and others argued that Apollos was “the better teacher.” These preferences were based on “appeal,” for the measurement used for their preference was based on the personality traits of these two teachers, thus the way they presented the teachings. Paul was greatly disturbed, and he admonished the members of this congregation, going as far as reprimanding their fleshly behavior which was causing strife among their members, (1 Cor 3:1-5).

In fact, Paul clearly warned them to be very careful in their judgment, that it should not be based on “personal preference,” but how each man builds on the foundation of the gospel, (1 Cor 3:10-11). Let’s heed this warning, for though we are clearly warned to discern and weigh every teaching, we cannot unequivocally discharge a teacher because we do not like his style of teaching or the way he presents himself, (1 Cor 4:5). If we judge the teaching presented by a specific teacher, we should judge according to ‘what they teach,’ whether the teaching be ‘gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,’ (1 Cor 12-13).

If a teacher adheres to the foundation of the gospel as laid down by the 12 Apostles, namely ‘that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared,’ having shown Himself as the resurrected Son of God (1 Cor 15:1-8), we carefully proceed to judge how he continues to build on this foundation, for false teachers will eventually distort this foundation by presenting a twisted version of “another Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel,” (2 Cor 11:4).

There is not a single teacher who followed in the footsteps of the 12 Apostles who can unequivocally claim to have all truth pertaining to the depth of God’s Word in teachings built on the foundation of the Gospel; in fact, every teacher should guard himself from such a prideful stance. Let us thus be careful not to judge beforehand, (1 Cor 4:5). Yet, if any solid teacher should err in any way of interpretation which does not agree to sound teaching, we should follow the apostle Paul’s advice to the church in Galatia, namely, ‘if a man is caught in any trespass (error or fault), you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted,’ (Gal 6:1). [Insertion added by the author.]

Now, having established a healthy plumb-line for discernment while we test one another’s interpretation of the Scriptures, we should also not let down our guard pertaining to false teachers. The apostle John wrote in his third epistle, ‘Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him greeting; for the one who gives him greeting participates in his evil deeds,’ (2 John 1:9-11).

Thus, using the apostles Paul and John’s aforementioned criteria, we should not discard a teacher based on ‘personal preference,’ for that would amount to strife as a result of “flesh;”  but rather, we should carefully study the content of the teachings to determine, by the Spirit, whether the teacher remains faithful to the foundation of the Gospel, not associating with teachings introducing ‘another Jesus, a different gospel, and a different spirit.’ There is no compromise in the matter of taking a firm stand against those who eventually distort the foundation of the Gospel.

Furthermore, the apostle Peter indicated that false teachers will be “sensual” and “greedy,” (2 Peter 2 1-3), and that we should be watchful, ‘especially (discerning) those (teachers) who indulge in the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring and self-willed,’ (2 Peter 2:10). [Insertions added by the author.] Essentially, Peter warned that false teachers will, like the false prophet, bear fruit according to their flesh and not according to the Spirit, (Mat 7:13-20).

We thus have two essential measuring lines to discern false teaching. First and foremost, does the teacher maintain to the foundation of the Gospel, ‘not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by manifestation of the truth commending (himself) ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God’? (2 Cor 4:2). [Insertion added by the author.] Secondly, does the teacher bear the fruit of the Spirit in his personal conduct, or do we have evidence that he ‘indulges the flesh’ ? (Gal 5:16-25). If anyone goes too far, distorting the Gospel and living a greedy life-style of self-indulgence, we should take a clear stand against such a teacher.