Speaking the Truth in Love

Visions of Their Own Minds

Searching for someone who preaches the truth is like looking for an icicle in July. Most false prophets rattle on for 30 minutes or so without ever opening the Bible. Determining that such men are merely expressing human opinion is fairly easy. Other false teachers, however, tell Bible stories and cite numerous scriptures. This preaching style can be very deceptive. The frequent biblical references give an impression of authentic Gospel teaching.

In his great prophetic book, Jeremiah addressed this very issue: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes; they speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No evil shall come upon you.’ […] Behold, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who use their tongues and say, ‘Says the Lord’” (Jer. 23:16-17, 31). The false prophets known to Jeremiah invented dreams and visions from the Lord and then passed them off as genuine revelations. “Says the Lord” was equivalent to “The Bible says.”

The quotation of scripture is no guarantee of healthy teaching. But how is a person to distinguish between false teaching and the truth? Following the suggestions below should help us identify that midsummer icicle:

Check It Out. The people of ancient Beroea compared Paul’s preaching with the scriptures (Acts 17:11). When someone is preaching, follow along in your own Bible and do more reading at home.

Look at Context. Even the devil quoted a scripture (Matt. 4:6). But by ignoring context, he twisted its meaning. Carefully read the passage before and after any text to clarify its meaning.

Ask Questions. Jesus, the embodiment of truth, received questions from both friends and enemies. Beware of a preacher who is defensive about his teaching.

Watch for Humility. False prophets tend to have inflated opinions of themselves (2 Cor. 11:20-21). Their arrogance slips out in innumerable ways—boasts about position or personal possessions, self-promoting illustrations, degrading remarks about others, and so on.

Share This