Speaking the Truth in Love

Questions Readers Ask – How do I determine what is false teaching?


It is a temptation to judge someone by my own personal or cultural standards. Mr. X is a false prophet. How do I know? He says that homosexual behavior is perverted and calls Islam an evil religion. Obviously, the man’s a narrow-minded bigot.

But personal and cultural standards are often seriously flawed. “There is a way which seems right to a man,” the Bible says, “but its end is the way to death” (Prov. 14:12). This is why Solomon invites the wise person to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil” (3:5-6).

It’s also a temptation to let preachers sort things out for me. Brother Y is such a nice man. He’s knowledgeable, well-spoken, educated, generous, and considerate. If he says that a Christian can never fall from grace, well, then he must be right. He knows the Bible better than I do.

This approach is very dangerous. Some “nice” people are deceivers. “I appeal to you,” Paul says, “to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded” (Rom. 16:17-18). Deceivers are often quite masterful at concealing their real motives or intentions. Speaking of false teachers in Corinth, Paul says, “Such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:13-15).


So if I can’t really trust my own insights and many preachers are deceivers, then how do I spot false teaching? The Jews in Beroea point the way. Paul visited there on his second missionary journey. The Bible says that the Thessalonians “sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroea; and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:10-11). This is a fascinating statement. Here’s Paul, the greatest preacher (except for Jesus) the church has ever known, and the Beroeans are checking up on him. They are studying the scriptures for themselves to see if he is telling them the truth.

And God honors them for their diligence. They are “noble.” If checking up on Paul is commendable, then checking up on David Wright or any other preacher is imperative. Never take a preacher’s word for anything. Read for yourself. Read through the Bible in a systematic way (using one of the many through-the-Bible-in-a-year schedules available online). If a preacher shares a scripture with you, look it up in your own Bible and study the verses around it. Make sure that it isn’t quoted out of context.

One of these days we will stand before God in judgment. The Lord won’t say, “Now what did you sincerely believe?” or “What did the preacher tell you?” Jesus says, “He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day” (John 12:48.)

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