Lesson 5 – False Teachers, False Doctrine
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. 7:15-20).
The words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ give warning of false teachers who would lead the flock of God astray. He revealed their identifying mark -- we will be able to know they are false teachers by their fruit (teaching, doctrine). Jesus also warned, "And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many...For there shall arise false christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect" (Matt. 24:11,24).
The inspired Peter predicted, "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction." The sad result of their false teaching is that "many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of" (2 Peter 2:1-2).
The Lord's church has had plenty of false, deceiving, corrupt teachers arising from the inside. We have been plagued with supporters of false doctrines that have divided the body of Christ. More damage and destruction is often accomplished when men arise out of our own midst speaking perverse things. We will always have the burden of false prophets and teachers preaching and teaching soul damning doctrines which lead men astray. The results of traveling down the broad way, engaged in sin, will be destruction in eternal hell (Matt. 7:13-14).
There are some that will ask, “Why does it make so much difference about sound doctrine?” Let me answer. Sound doctrine is essential to our salvation and we must demand it and defend it at all costs.
We must keep in mind when we read the New Testament that we are reading the words of the Savior. Paul wrote, "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37). The Lord sent the Holy Spirit to inspire the writers of the New Testament. "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come" (John 16:13). Peter explained how the words of the New Testament came to be. "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:20-21). No man was given a thought and left to his own discretion as to exactly what to write. All the writers were "carried along" or "borne along" by the Holy Spirit who was communicating the very words of Jesus. Jesus told the apostles, "He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you" (John 16:14- 15). The Father told the Son; the Son told the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit inspired the men to write heaven's words.
Now, understanding that principle, we turn our attention to what the New Testament (the words of the Savior) has to say about sound doctrine. Paul wrote, "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 Tim. 4:3-4). Paul was exhorting Timothy to remain faithful to the doctrine which had come from heaven (1 Tim. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:2). The young preacher was warned by the aged apostle that there would be some who would turn from sound doctrine and turn unto fables. Paul equates sound doctrine with truth in this text, speaking of sound doctrine in one verse and the truth in another. Paul also wrote, "Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrineboth to exhort and to convince the gainsayers" (Titus 1:9). The context of this verse concerns itself with the qualifications of an elder. An elder (bishop) is to be able to convict one, by using sound doctrine, who would speak against or deny truth (a gainsayer). This command came from the Savior also. Again Paul wrote: "But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1).
How can those among us today say doctrine is not important? Jesus said to speak that which is sound doctrine. Therefore, because we are commanded to speak sound doctrine, there is the danger of speaking that which is not sound! That which is not sound is to be avoided (Rom. 16:17-18). The word "sound" means "to have sound health, i.e. be well (in body); fig. to be uncorrupt (true in doctrine): be in health, (be safe and) sound, (be) whole (-some)" [Strong's]. Sound doctrine is that which is healthy to us spiritually. To teach doctrine that is not sound is to teach a corrupted doctrine that will cause one to be lost, not saved.
Not only does the Savior command sound doctrine, but our salvation demands sound doctrine. Jesus said, "And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free"(John 8:32). We have already noticed sound doctrine is equal to truth, so it is sound doctrine that sets us free. We can also see this point when we notice Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." The gospel is also equal to the truth as we notice in another place of Paul's writing. "But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thess. 2:13-14). The gospel is God's power to save and it is equal to truth which is equal to doctrine. God's power to save could also be referred to as sound doctrine. Therefore, our salvation demands sound doctrine.
What is amazing is how brethren say doctrine is not important and at the same time try and show someone how to be saved. Sound doctrine is essential to salvation because the gospel is essential to salvation. The gospel is essential to salvation because the truth is essential. Yet, there are brethren who say we do not have to agree on doctrine! Do we have to agree on truth? Do we have to agree on the gospel? All these terms are equal to each other!
The Savior commands sound doctrine because it is by Truth we are set free. Not only is it by Truth we are set free, but it is by Truth we remain free. We must continue in the gospel in order to go to heaven. "If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister" (Col. 1:23).
Speaking sound doctrine mandates we live a sanctified life. We are to live a life which is different from the world about us. Paul writes: "But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behavior as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed" (Titus 2:1-5). Sound doctrine involves being the proper examples in our homes, being the proper examples in our personal lives and being the proper examples of what Christians should be. We must continue in this doctrine to be healthy spiritually. Therefore, there is never a time we can speak any thing other than sound doctrine.
So, why do we insist upon sound doctrine? Because the Savior commands it, our salvation demands it and our sanctification mandates it! We must have sound doctrine in order to please God and go to heaven. We must study to know sound doctrine and then we must be willing to die in order to preserve it. We cannot fellowship those who do not uphold sound doctrine. We cannot compromise in order to avoid persecutions. Sound doctrine is essential to our salvation and we must demand it and defend it at all costs. What we need are more brethren who are not afraid of controversy and who see the need for standing in the gap and being heard for truth. We need more brethren who will demand sound doctrine.
1. How to recognize a false teacher
1.1. Men desire positive preaching, fair speeches that makes one feel good. Men like to be praised and loved by others. They would rather not offend anyone. They prefer making friends to making enemies. But this is not always possible nor pleasing in the sight of God. The Bible teaches that each of us must be willing to "endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:3). We are also warned, "No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier"(2 Tim. 2:4). When the going gets rough we need to remember to "...endure all things for the elect's sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory"(2 Tim. 2:10). That suffering for Christ is inevitable is clearly seen. Paul states, "Yea, and all that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12).
1.2. 2 Peter 2:1-22
1.3. Jesus never compromised truth, not even one word of it, in order to either gather or hold a crowd of people. Every Christian needs to study carefully the following passages of Scripture: John 6:26-27; Lk. 6:22, 26; Rom. 16:17-18; I John 4:l; Jude 3; Tit. 1:9-11; II Tim. 4:1-5; Matt. 19:16-22.
1.4. One false teacher after another is now being paraded into the Lord’s church. Preachers and elders encourage their members to attend these meetings. In doing so they are bidding them "God speed" and becoming a "partaker in their evil deeds" (2 John 9-11). So how is a false teacher recognized?
1.4.1. One who teaches that one might be saved without doing what God commanded in His word is a false teacher.
1.4.2. When one teaches that God just might not punish anyone eternally in a devil's hell, is a false teacher.
1.4.3. When one teaches that women need to have a different role, than what is instructed in the scriptures, in the church today, he is a false teacher.
1.4.4. When one teaches that elders have no authority over God's flock, he is a false teacher.
1.4.5. When one teaches that instrumental music in worship will not cause one to be lost, he is a false teacher.
1.4.6. When one applies Matthew 18:15-17 to public proclaimers of error, he is a false teacher.
1.4.7. When one encourages participation and fellowship with denominational bodies, he is a false teacher.
1.4.8. When one teaches there is more than one reason for divorce and remarriage, he is a false teacher.
1.4.9. When one advertises a gospel meeting of a known heretic, they become partakers of his evil deeds.
1.4.10. When one fellowships those who teach and/or promote false teachers, they also become guilty.
1.4.11. When one teaches that the Lord’s Supper can be taken “anytime”, he is a false teacher.
1.4.12. When one teaches that you can ignore books of the Bible because they don’t apply to you, that is a false teacher (2 Tim. 3:16).
1.4.13. And the list can go on and on.
1.4.14. "Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? Or will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?" (Psalm 94:16).
1.5. One further point, anyone who holds to a false doctrine, whether he professes it or not, is NOT qualified to be a preacher, elder, or deacon. This is not an opinion. It is what the scriptures teach.
1.5.1. Titus 1:9; 1 Tim. 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:13; Titus 2:7-8; 1 Tim 1:3; 2 Tim 4:1-6
1.5.2. Woe unto those unrepentant souls who have partaken of false teaching when they stand before God in the day of judgement (2 Pet. 2:4-9).
2. Spiritual Cowardice
2.1. Why aren’t more people speaking up? Do we no longer care? For the past twenty five years or more most of us have been aware of the false teachers running rampant among us; false teachers having sprung up in nearly all places wherein the Lord's church exists! There are many that know the truth better than to allow such to take place and should be avidly opposing such blatant error, but we find instead that they have chosen to remain silent. Why is this the case? Why is it that more of our so-called "faithful" brethren have not defended the faith as one might have expected them to do?
2.1.1. Could it be that we are afraid to speak up because we are ashamed of the gospel, the Truth of God's Word? In Romans 1:16 the apostle Paul states, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." Then in Acts 4:19-20 we read, "But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." Are we ashamed?
2.1.2. Could it be that we are afraid to stand up and defend the truth because it would cause us to have to disagree with those we know and those with whom we frequently associate? However, Paul informs us that he was "set for the defense of the gospel" (Phil. 1:7,17). We should be as well! The apostle Peter says we are to "...be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15). Are you set for the defense of the gospel?
2.1.3. Could it be that we are afraid to speak up on various doctrinal issues because we fear that we might lose some of our close friends? Revelation 21:8 states, "But the fearful...shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."Are our friendships more important to us than Truth? To whom do we owe our loyalty -- God or friends? Who and what will judge you in the last day (see John 12:48)?
2.1.4. Could it be that we are afraid to speak up because of a family member [who was a good person, either living or deceased] we feel we would be "condemning" in so doing? The apostle Matthew wrote, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:34-38)
2.1.5. Could it be that we are afraid to speak up because we feel we would no longer be accepted by the so-called "in-crowd?" Was Jesus concerned about such? No! Then neither should we! Then, there are those among us who seem to "go-along-to-get-along." Timothy was told in 2 Timothy 4:2, "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." The phrase, "be instant in season, out of season" has the connotation of preaching the truth when people want to hear it and also when they do not!
2.2. Does Ephesians 5:11 mean anything anymore? "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them."
2.2.1. Some would have us think that 2 John 9-11 has lost its meaning. Is it still wrong to bid God speed to one that "transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ?" YES! To do so is to become "partakers of his evil deeds."
2.2.2. Have we forgotten Romans 16:17 where Paul states clearly that we are to "mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them?" Instead of making excuses trying to justify the use of false teachers, let us "mark them" (Rom. 16:17). Instead of advertising and announcing false teachers and their doctrine, let us "avoid them" (Rom. 16:17) and "admonish" them (2 Thess. 3:15). Instead of encouraging false teachers, let us "expose them" (Eph. 5:11). Instead of receiving them (2 John 10), let us "restore" them (James 5:19-20).
2.2.3. Instead of supporting false teachers, and their doctrine by condoning, rallying around, promoting and upholding them, let us "speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15) so that they may be convicted of sin, repent of sin, push it aside, and be united once again in fellowship with God (1 John 1:6-7).
2.2.4. We cannot support, uphold, condone, encourage, promote (by word of mouth or way of life) that which is false doctrine without becoming guilty ourselves. We must stand always for that which is good (1 Thess. 5:21) and against anything that is detrimental to the cause of Christ. Because of our love for God, for his Word, for the church, for our souls, and the souls of others, let us be ready always to declare, defend and do God's will (1 Peter 3:15; Eph. 4:15; 2 Tim. 4:2-4; Jude 3; Rom. 12:1-2; Titus 2:11-12).
3. The responsibility of the preacher
3.1. Hold the faith and a good conscience (1 Tim. 1:19). The preacher must trust God implicitly, looking to him for help under all circumstances. He is to seek to know what is right, then do what he believes to be right. Otherwise, he may be condemned by Jehovah (1 John 3:20).
3.2. Be diligent in preparation (1 Tim. 4:13-15). The preacher is obligated to study the whole Bible. He is to give all diligence that he may stand approved of God (2 Tim. 2:15). Paul instructs that he give himself wholly to his study and work. He should be as well informed as possible in all things that will enable him to do his work well, and not be satisfied with a mere smattering, or merely "getting up a sermon."
3.3. Take heed to himself concerning his life and teaching (1 Tim. 4:16). Preachers are prone to seek to correct the faults of others, the church and the community. He should never forget to turn the searchlight inwardly, lest after he has preached to others he himself may be lost (2 Cor. 13:5; 1 Cor. 9:27). One should take care to preach the truth and practice it.
3.4. Keep himself pure (1 Tim. 5:22; 2 Tim. 2:22). Be free from hasty and unjust actions. Exercise sound judgment. Do not allow self to be used in unethical schemes. Avoid youthful lusts. Avoid questionable places and conduct. Not only should we avoid evil, but also hate evil (1 Thess. 5:21-22; Rom. 12:9). Let him also be pure from the blood of all men by declaring the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:20,26,27).
3.5. Follow after righteousness (1 Tim. 6:11-12). This command is in connection with the warning against love for money. Covetousness is idolatry (Eph. 5:5). The mercenary preacher cannot please God. In order to be righteous -- a condition acceptable to God -- one must flee covetousness. When one preaches primarily for money he does not obey this command.
3.6. Hold the pattern of sound words (2 Tim. 1:13; Titus 2:7-8). Greatest care should be exercised in stating truth in the language of inspired writers. The teaching of Christ as given by the Holy Spirit must be upheld (John 16:13-15). The truth should be positively unmixed with the philosophies of men. Preachers must seek to please God (Rom. 15:3), not seek the applause of men (Matt. 6:1-6).
3.7. Be sober in all things. Only those influenced by truth have well-balanced minds and clear vision. Turn not aside unto fables, neither strive about words to no profit (2 Tim. 2:14). Hold steadfastly to divine truth (2 Thess. 2:15).
3.8. Suffer hardships (2 Tim. 4:4). Preachers should not be exalted in mind over their accomplishments. Compare them with the sufferings and privations of Paul. He must bear persecutions that come because of preaching the truth (2 Cor. 11:21-28).
3.9. Protect the church from false teaching (1 Tim. 1:3). Preachers should know the truth; they should know what error is and how to expose it. H. Leo Boles often said, "One cannot preach the truth without exposing error." A different doctrine is a perverted gospel and the anathema of God is upon those who preach it and those overcome thereby (Gal. 1:6-9).
3.10.. Preach the word (2 Tim. 4:1-2). This is prefaced by a most solemn charge. The preacher must adhere strictly to apostolic teaching (2 Tim. 2:2). Take care to teach all the apostles taught and only that delivered through them by the Spirit. The word of God is inexhaustible. Preachers should study and expound the scriptures, give their lives to this -- one of the greatest needs in the church today. Be not content with polishing up sermons of sectarian preachers as too many are now doing. If the preacher devotes himself to unfolding the Scriptures he will never lack for sermon material.
3.11.Reprove, rebuke, exhort (2 Tim. 4:1-2). Too long the trend has been to speak softly and tread lightly. Note the force in the meaning of these words: 1) Reprove: "convince, refute, confute, convict, bring to light, expose, find fault with, correct, reprehend severely, chide, admonish, to call to account, show one his fault, chasten, punish" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon on elegcho). 2) Rebuke: "To tax with fault, rate, chide, reprove, censure severely, admonish or charge sharply" (Thayer on epitimao). 3) Exhort: "To incite by words or advice; to advise or warn earnestly" (Webster). "Admonish" (Thayer on parakaleo). Two-thirds of this command is negative. In Jeremiah 1:10 the prophet was similarly ordered: "to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant." This is not to be abused, yet when strong measures are demanded the preacher should not hesitate. Let there be strong denunciation of error and sin, and strong entreaty for souls to turn from them.
3.12.Expose sin without partiality (Titus 1:13-16; 1 Tim. 5:20-21). God is no respecter of persons (Rom. 2:11). The preacher must be as impartial in his dealings. The church should be purged of evil. The truth can never be hurt by obeying it. We cannot honor God and wink at evil. The rich should be warned as well as the poor (1 Tim. 6:16-19).
3.13.Warn against apostasy (1 Tim. 4:1-6). To be a good minister of Christ, the preacher will warn against digression and apostasy. It is presently urgent that all faithful preachers wield the sword of the Spirit against the encroachments of liberalism that now seek to permeate the church of the Lord. Satan is alert to every opportunity to turn souls from truth. We serve Satan's cause when we fail to warn against error.
3.14.Bring to remembrance the ways of Paul (1 Cor. 4:17). He followed Christ (1 Cor. 11:1); sought no personal glory (1 Cor. 2:1-5); was honest (Acts 23:1); declared the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:20,27); gave himself wholly (2 Cor. 11:23-31).
3.15.A fearful responsibility rests upon those who choose to preach. They should determine to know the truth and preach it at all costs. Heavier judgment comes to those who would be teachers from impure motives (James 3:1). The work of the preacher may be summed up in Paul's charge: "Preach the word!"
4. The responsibility of the eldership - In his parting address to the elders of the church in Ephesus, Paul prophesied: “I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Wherefore watch ye.” (Acts 20:29-31). Elders do indeed have a sober responsibility of guarding the flock from grievous wolves. Within such a framework, a number of things are necessarily implied.
4.1. The elder himself must be a diligent student of the Bible. His Bible knowledge must be beyond that of the average member of the congregation that he oversees. The elder who superficially studies the Word, and hence evinces such in the classes he teaches, will surely not motivate the church to know the Book. Elders should build good personal libraries, take in-depth Bible courses (where such are available) to thus enhance their qualifications as stewards of God
4.2. The elder must inform himself of popularly circulated false religious doctrines. Generally he may do this by subscribing to good religious periodicals that call attention to current trends (the Spiritual Sword renders an invaluable service in this connection). He ought to attend Bible lectureships and keep in close touch with the activities of our brotherhood. Far too frequently error has swept like wildfire through a congregation while the elders were totally unaware that it was in vogue. Be prepared.
4.3. Elders must take seriously their responsibility to guard the church. They must be absolutely dedicated to that end. Jesus Christ, Himself the chief Shepherd (I Pet. 5:4), characterizes those shepherds who are not committed to a defense of the flock as hirelings who actually care not for the sheep (John 10:12, 13). Elders will give account to God for those souls that they lose to false doctrine through their neglect (Heb. 13:17).
4.4. Elderships must know the doctrinal needs of the church and accordingly inoculate against the errors that our people are sure to be confronted with. How many elderships, for instance, have had the wisdom to require courses in the local Bible school program in Christian evidences? Such is needed from the primary grades onward.
4.5. God’s bishops must know the teachers who labor under their oversight and be assured of their soundness in the faith. Preachers who teach error, or who are unsure of where they stand on matters of faith, should be removed, even if they are popular with many of the congregation. I’ve known of a preacher who has openly declared that he believes the use of mechanical instrumental music in Christian worship is optional. His elders have said that they disagree, but will defend his right to hold that opinion. They are unworthy of the name they wear! Moreover, elders should be thoroughly aware of the literature being used in the Bible classes. Through such means is unsound teaching occasionally smuggled into the local church. There are constant dangers facing the flock. The danger of false doctrine coming in false philosophies effectively propagated in some educational institutions, by the media, and in personal business and/or recreational contacts, must be met, resisted, and overcome by the truth. (1 Tim. 2:4; John 8:32). The deadly dangers of immorality and indifference must be declared and from these dangers the “flock” must be defended. This will involve elders in planning and promoting a strong Bible study program, a positive pulpit, and a practical program for involving God’s people in activities such as personal work, visiting the sick, and helping the needy, which will keep them involved in the Lord’s work. The elders must “feed” the flock. The word “feed” in Acts 20:28 could be rendered “to tend” the flock. Elders will be careful about what is taught and preached to the “flock.” They will insist that the “whole counsel” of God be clearly and convincingly declared. (Acts 20:27).
4.6. Elders must have the courage and the willingness to meet error head-on. They must not only be able to exhort in sound doctrine, but also to convict the gainsayers (Titus 1:9). God, through His inspired prophet of the OT era, pronounced a “woe” upon shepherds who allow the sheep to become “food to all the beasts of the field” (Ezek. 34:5). The elder’s task of protecting the church is certainly a stressful one. Dealing with false teachers is never pleasant. But, if we may borrow Harry Truman’s expression, those who can’t take the heat had best get out of the kitchen! Too, one is appalled at the number of elderships (and I use the term loosely) in some places that utterly refuse to have anything to do with religious debates. The church grew mightily when she kindly but forcefully met the opposition of the sects from without and hobbyists from within. I honestly believe that much of the church’s aversion to religious debates today is due to the fact that many, which are weak and uninformed, just do not have total confidence in the doctrine we proclaim. They are denominationalists in attitude if not in action. But churches will never be strong in defense of the gospel until leaderships become strong. The times are crucial. Elders must arise to meet the challenges of the day. Brethren, future generations of the church are depending upon you!
4.7. The elders must also “take heed to the flock.” There are reasons why this is so: first, the Holy Spirit has made elders overseers and shepherds. The Holy Spirit has, in the New Testament, revealed the qualifications and responsibilities of elders, (1 Tim. 3: Titus 1). When men who meet these standards, including the desire for the work, (1 Tim. 3:1), are duly selected, appointed, and recognized-by a congregation, then in a very real sense the Holy Spirit has made them bishops.
4.8. Faithfulness to Christ and fidelity to His Church do not come accidentally because those forces which seek to delude, deceive, and destroy are tirelessly working. The church at Ephesus, like any congregation of the Lord’s church today, is “never more than one generation from apostasy.” (Acts 20:33-34) Apostasy is usually an insidious development and not a brazen movement. However, the destruction of a church either by internal apostasy or external forces is a real possibility as seen in the fact that the Ephesian church today exists only in memory. The awesome responsibility of shepherding God’s flock is indeed a challenging thing. The church of Christ is important to Him (Eph. 5:25-27). The men who have the oversight of the Lord’s church have a tremendous and serious work.
5. How are we to respond to false teachers? How are we to react when false teachers are found in our midst aiming deceit at brethren? The apostles show us how to deal with Satan's servants. The apostle John wrote, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). What does it mean to "try the spirits?" Brother Guy N. Woods states that they were able to test the spirits "either by exercising miraculous power in the discernment of spirits (1 Cor. 12:4-11), or by comparing the claims of these men with the known teaching of the Holy Spirit through properly accredited representatives" (Peter, John, Jude, Gospel Advocate, p.287).
5.1. Mark False Teachers - "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned; and turn away from them" (Rom. 16:17).
5.1.1. The word "mark" means to watch carefully, diligently. It has been said that the idea of "branding" a brother (or a group of brethren) is not in the word translated "mark" in this verse. This is true concerning the single word of the text. However, the context of Romans 16:17 demands the act of taking note of false teachers so that we might be able to avoid them and to warn others of them. This text demands that those who teach things contrary to the doctrine of the Lord be branded or exposed in some way for what they are. Still, some say, "Well, that is unkind, unloving, and un-Christ-like." But, is it?
5.1.2. Jesus said, "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees." He also said, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." Did not Jesus love them? Was Christ unkind? Yet, he did expose the Pharisees and the Sadducees and warn others of them.
5.1.3. Paul knew of certain men who taught false doctrines and he warned others of them so they might be careful (2 Tim. 2:17). So, when one is found to be teaching harmful doctrines, it becomes the duty of him who learns it, to warn others if the false teacher cannot be corrected. But because such public warning may cause some unpleasantness in the church, many refuse to engage in it. These, through pride, have more regard for the good opinion of the community than they have for the purity of the church or the approval of the Lord. Paul says we are to have no fellowship with such, but even reprove them (Eph. 5:11). He, who fails to reprove, fails in half his duty to the Lord. Preachers of the gospel and elders of churches cannot escape the responsibility of doing such. Brethren, false doctrines do not flourish without false teachers. Therefore, those that propagate and promote divisive doctrines must be dealt with. Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said we are to "mark...and avoid" them. Therefore, there must be a constant vigilance in everyone who follows Christ to observe, look toward, take aim at, take heed to, mark, the false teacher (Rom. 16:17; Jude 3)
5.2. The standard to use
5.2.1. We are not left to our own opinions as to whom to mark. We are to mark them who are causing divisions and occasions of stumbling contrary to the doctrine of the apostles. Paul says, "if any man obey not our word by this epistle." And, again he says we are to "withdraw from all" who do not walk after the traditions received from him (2 Thess. 3:6,14).
5.2.2. "Hold fast the pattern of sound words which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus"(2 Tim. 1:13). Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to teach certain men not to teach a different doctrine, nor to give heed to fables (1 Tim. 1:3,4). If man or angel preach anything different from what the apostles preached, he shall be anathema (Gal. 1:8,9). Jesus condemned the Jews of His day for departing from the Law of Moses and doing things not commanded, and commanding others to do likewise (Matt. 15:1-9).
5.2.3. We are to be content to preach what is revealed through inspired apostles. Since they were guided into all truth, it follows that anything more or different from what they preached is no part of the truth. That which is not truth is from the devil, for he is the father of lies (John 8:44). To preach that which is not true is to serve the devil, and all that serve him here will have to spend eternity with him. Hence, the seriousness of failing to preach the truth.
5.3. And turn from them
5.3.1. Does this imply concerted church action expressed in withdrawal of fellowship? Or, does it mean for individuals to shun or avoid such characters lest they be contaminated with false teachings? Paul told the Thessalonians to withdraw themselves from all who walk disorderly, and not after the traditions received from him (2 Thess. 3:6). This looks like public condemnation and exclusion from the fellowship of the church. But in another verse he says if any one obeys not his word, "note that man, that ye have no company with him, to the end that he may be ashamed. And yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thess. 3:14,15).
5.3.2. From all we can find on the subject it seems that one who teaches false doctrine should: 1) be corrected, if he will take it; 2) be warned to cease his false teaching; 3) be exposed so as to stop him (Titus 1:9-11); 4) be excluded from the fellowship of the church as a last resort to save him and the church. False teaching spreads like cancer (2 Tim. 2:17), so it must not be allowed to continue in the body. Elders have the duty of seeing that it is stopped. Church discipline is truly in some places the "forgotten commandment."
Brethren, the teachings we hear and read must be tested, examined, proved, and checked by the Word of Almighty God. If one's teachings are not in accordance with the inspired Word of God, then we cannot have fellowship with those promoting the false teachings. The apostle Paul revealed by direct revelation from Jesus Christ, "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" (Rom. 16:17-18). The apostle tells us to "mark" them which divide the church of our Lord. "The word 'mark,' the Greek word skopeo, 'to look at, watch, behold, fix one's eyes upon, direct attention to". Faithful Christians are to fix their attention upon those who cause division contrary to the doctrine of Christ. After this, we are to turn away from them, because, 1) they do not serve Jesus Christ, 2) they serve their own belly, 3) and by smooth/fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent. Christians are to mark these people and turn away from them. We cannot fellowship false doctrine and the people who spread it! We must not tolerate it, put up with it, compromise it, or in any way have fellowship with it!