false-teachers

1 Chronicles 24-25, Micah 3

Today we’re scheduled to read 1 Chronicles 24-25 and Micah 3.

This devotional is about Micah 3.

How do these guys who set dates for Christ’s return keep going in ministry after they are proved wrong? How do the prosperity preachers respond when someone says, “I sent you every dollar I had in my bank account but I never got the financial miracle you promised me!”

I don’t know how anyone who delivers a false message remains in ministry after the message proves to be false. Some of them are able to withstand being discredited and continue in their “ministries.” They shift the blame to others saying, “You didn’t have enough faith” or, in the case of false rapture predictions, “I made a mistake in my calculations.” Although they may continue in ministry for a season or longer, their audiences dissipate and their influence dwindles. This is as it should be, of course.

In this chapter Micah continued speaking on the same themes as in chapter 2. He confronted the oppression of the elites (vv. 1-4, 9-12) and the false prophets who tried to neutralize his message (vv. 5-8). His message to the false prophets was that they would run out of material: “Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them.” This prediction wasn’t so much that they would lack things to say; rather, it was that reality would make it impossible for them to keep up the false hype. Verse 7 says, “The seers will be ashamed and the diviners disgraced. They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God.” The context for this is the coming judgment of God (v. 12). When you’ve been prophesying peace and prosperity, what are you going to say when Nebuchadnezzar sieges your city and people are starving? When you cry out to God to deliver his people from the Babylonians, but the Babylonians invade your city, kill a multitude of men, then ship the rest off to Babylon, what is your answer going to be?

Micah was confident in the Lord that God would continue to empower his message (v. 8) and that he would be vindicated when his predictions came true. Likewise, he knew that God would not allow false teachers to get away with preaching their prosperity gospel. It was only a matter of time before truth was established as fact and lies were debunked by reality.

The Bible always tells us that false prophets will be discredited by their results. Their predictions will not come true and/or their lives and the lives of their disciples will disintegrate into moral disaster. Keep your eyes, then, on the results of a religious teacher’s message; don’t be fooled by how positive and encouraging it is.

Are you looking for truth from someone who has already been discredited? If so, then these words to heart. It is safe--and right--to ignore what someone says if the results they predict don’t materialize.

1 Chronicles 23, Micah 2

Today we’re reading 1 Chronicles 23, Micah 2.

This devotional is about Micah 2.

Micah fought a two-front war in this chapter.

First he spoke out against powerful, greedy people who used power to take the land and homes of others (vv. 1-2). Because of their sins, God would take all the land and hand it over others (vv. 3-5).

The second front Micah battled was from false prophets who attempted to silence Micah’s message (vv. 6-11). The message of these false prophets was summarized in the last line of verse 6 and the first three lines of verse 7. I will paraphrase their false message this way: “Shut up! We’re not going to lose to another nation, Micah! God’s patience is infinite (vv. 7b). He will never turn on his people.” Their argument was that God’s promises to his people were completely unconditional. No matter how much God’s people sinned, they would be safe because God loves them just that much.

It is always more pleasant to believe the prediction that we’ll be OK. If one economist is predicting a recession and another is saying that current problems in the economy are temporary but then a big boom is coming, which one would you want to believe? If one doctor tells you that your cough will clear up in a few days while the other says you have lung cancer, which message is more appealing?

Micah’s situation was similar. He predicted pain and suffering for all of God’s people because the wealthy were exploiting average citizens. Meanwhile, the prophets of eternal optimism rebuked him and told these unrighteous businessmen that everything would be fine.

We want things to be fine; we want good times. God’s message, however, wasn’t that good times were impossible. Instead, he offered a better way to prosperity: “Do not my words do good to the one whose ways are upright?” (v. 7d-e). God wanted his people to prosper but he wanted their prosperity to come as a blessing for obedience to his word. “Take the medicine,” God was telling his people. “Repent of your greedy oppression and do what is right and then everyone will prosper because I will bless you.”

Ultimately, God does have good plans in store for his people (vv. 12) when Jesus comes as king (v. 13). Before that, however, they would pay a heavy price for their sins. The best course of action was to believe God’s word, pay the price to undo what they had sinfully done, and do what was right going forward. Instead, they chose to listen to the sunny-side up prophets. Verse 11 sarcastically describes the kind of prophets we all, in our sinful nature, want: “If a liar and deceiver comes and says, ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’ that would be just the prophet for this people!”

Are you listening to the hard truths of God’s word? Do we pay attention and change our ways when God’s word rebukes us? Or do we change the channel and listen instead to a message that offers more encouragement? Encouragement is good unless it distorts God’s word (as in verse 7a-c) and comforts us in our sinful ways. Everyone would rather get a massage than have surgery but only one of those ways will remove cancer and put you on the road to health again. Let God’s word surgically address your sins and shortcomings; then you will walk more righteously and follow Christ right into his kingdom.

2 Samuel 4-5, Ezekiel 13

Today, read 2 Samuel 4-5, Ezekiel 13.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 13.

In today’s reading, Ezekiel receives a word from the Lord about the many false prophets that had infected Israel’s theology. As he typically did with Ezekiel, the Lord used Ezekiel’s vivid imagination to deliver this prophecy. God told him that they were “like jackals among ruins” (v. 4). Instead of fixing the walls (v. 5) by preaching repentance, the false prophets arrived to pick apart the carnage that was left after the disaster of brought on by God’s judgment. The source of their “knowledge” was themselves (v. 3: “follow their own spirit”), not God (vv. 6-7) though they spoke in his name and presumed his authority.

After pronouncing God’s judgment on these false prophets in verses 8-9, the Lord described the ruinous affects of their false words in verses 10-12. Their words provided a false assurance of God’s peace (v. 10a), but it is a whitewash (vv. 11-12). It is interesting that we still use the metaphor of “whitewash” today. It describes an attempt to cover serious problems by making everything appear to be OK. That’s what the false prophets were doing. Instead of calling people to real repentance and faith in God, they were giving false assurances of peace. Their message promised impenetrable security, as if they were safe behind a steel door when in fact the door was made of plywood and covered with aluminum foil. Those who believed these words would be swept away by the flood of God’s wrath along with those who gave the false prophecies (vv. 11-16).

One thing that was unique about Ezekiel’s prophecy against the false prophets is that he specifically called out some women who were speaking these lies in the Lord’s name (vv. 17-23). And why did they do this? For personal gain (v. 19: “a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread).

So what do false prophets look like? They make stuff up and call it God’s word, they give a false sense of security by promising good things instead of warning of judgment and calling people to repentance for sin, and they do it for personal gain.

Not much has changed since Ezekiel spoke these words. Even today we have prosperity teachers and “possibility” teachers who speak encouraging, motivating words but these words come from their own ingenuity, not from God. They never speak of the need for repentance or call people to desire and follow holiness. They never warn of God’s judgment but instead promise his peace and favor. They profit at the expense of their listeners without conscience (v. 18b). The New Testament tell us that many such false prophets have gone out into the world (1 Jn 4:1), so be on guard. Watch what you read, whom you listen to and watch. Look for these things; a relentlessly positive message may be as palatable as candy, but it will cause you to rot spiritually.

1 Samuel 17, Lamentations 2

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 17, Lamentations 2.

This devotional is about read Lamentations 2.

The book of Lamentations records the poetic but mournful outburst of the prophet Jeremiah to the overthrow of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. All that God had said through Jeremiah happened in his lifetime, before his own eyes. Unlike the victory of faith that God gave to David in 1 Samuel 17, which we also read today, there was only defeat and judgment for Judah, David’s people, a few hundred years later.

Jeremiah’s lament described the toll that the Babylonians exacted from Judah. Their pride as God’s people (vv. 1-4), their city and its magnificent temple (vv. 5-9), and the death of many people (vv. 10-22) were all causes for weeping by Jeremiah and the survivors of this battle. But why would God allow such devastation to fall on the people to whom he had promised so much? Of course the answer is their sin and rebellion against him, but Jeremiah speaks of that in a particular way in verse 14: “The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The prophecies they gave you were false and misleading.” It was a lack of truth by those who claimed to be prophets that lead to this judgment of God. The key phrase in verse 14 is, “…they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” If the people had only repented of their sin, they could have received a great deliverance like David’s deliverance over Goliath. But many people did not know how angry the Lord was with them for their sin and those who did (because they heard Jeremiah and other true prophets like him) chose to believe the lies of the false prophets.

So we see in this passage how much damage false teaching can do. It gives false assurance to people who need to repent. It tells people that God loves them and is pleased with them instead of calling them to look to God in faith to find their acceptance in the merits of Christ. We live in an era where enormous masses of people have been assembled into churches, yet there is little hunger for truth there. The message they hear may talk of salvation in Christ, but it is salvation from guilt, from financial hardship, from divorce, from childhood wounds, from addictions, from a meaningless life or whatever. Yes, Christ has the truth for all of these things, but that was not the core message he gave us to proclaim. Our message is not primarily about how to feel better and perform better; it is to bow in reverence and repentance before a holy God, loving him for his perfections, thanking him for his grace and mercy, desiring to become like him in our moral choices and in our attitudes toward others, and hoping for his kingdom over anything this life can deliver.

When people say that God’s judgment will come to America, I wonder what they think that means. Do they think that we will be conquered by some foreign government? It sure seems that way and, if the USA were the “new Israel” then maybe a passage like this one would lend itself to that. But God is not working with nations these days; he’s calling out of the nations a people for himself (Titus 2:14) whom he will bring into his kingdom at his appointed time. What we should be telling people to fear is not a political or military conquest but the final judgment, where God will punish each person—individually—who did not know him. Our message, then, is geared to do what Jeremiah condemned the false prophets for not doing: “they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” While preaching against sin is unwelcome and considered unloving in our world, it is what God uses to turn people in faith and repentance to himself.

1 Samuel 7-8, Jeremiah 44

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 7-8, Jeremiah 44.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 44.

The remnant in Judah went to Egypt (v. 1) even though God told them not to do that. They dragged Jeremiah there, too (Jer 43:6c). I’m not sure why they brought him because he did what he had always done, namely, confront their sins and call them to repent.

Recall from Jeremiah 42 that God had promised peace and prosperity for the remnant if they stayed in Judah (42:10) and disaster if they went to Egypt (42:19-22). Despite the fact that God had done exactly what Jeremiah prophesied when Nebuchadnezzar defeated Jerusalem, the remnant still went to Egypt in open defiance to God’s word through Jeremiah. Why?

The answer to that question is contained in the way this chapter is framed: a direct confrontation between God and “the Queen of Heaven.” The people of the remnant reasoned that they were better off worshipping the Queen of Heaven. In verses 17b-18 we read, “...we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.” So they re-interpreted God’s judgment as a bad consequence for forsaking the Queen of Heaven.

Jeremiah knew that God was more than equal to this challenge. Put God’s word up against the Queen of Heaven and God will win bigly. Verses 27-28 say, “...the Jews in Egypt will perish by sword and famine until they are all destroyed.... Then the whole remnant of Judah who came to live in Egypt will know whose word will stand—mine or theirs.”

There are plenty of false religions offering false doctrine today. There are also a bevy of self-help gurus offering much different advice than God’s word does. They preach the message that happiness is not found in Christianity or in dying to self. Instead, they tell us to be true to ourselves, to follow our passions, to find a life that is worth living. In contrast to these false message, the Bible says that “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23) and that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The fact that everyone does wrong and suffers for it is daily proof that God’s word is true. Yet people still cling to the idea that truth to improve one’s life is available outside of God, outside of his word, and definitely outside of His church. When sinful life-happiness strategies crash, bringing disaster, sorrow, great pain, and death, God’s word is vindicated. When false doctrines fail to deliver what they promise, God’s word is likewise vindicated.

We cannot help but be exposed to false ideas and doctrines because we live in this world. But, are you believing their lies? Are you taking in those lies in greater number, not incidentally but deliberately? Be warned that God will prove his word to be correct; if you choose to sin because someone else is telling you that sin is the way to happiness, you will pay a heavy price as God’s word proves itself true again.

So, be wise. Believe God’s word and do what it says, even if someone makes a compelling argument for something else.

Deuteronomy 29, Isaiah 56

Here are today’s OT18 readings: Deuteronomy 29 and Isaiah 56.

This devotional is about Isaiah 56:10-12.

Everyone wants to feel optimistic about the future. Because there are always problems and struggles in this life, we always hope that things will be better in the future. There is a market, therefore, for teachers and prophets who will tell you that things are going to get better. They assert that God’s blessing is coming even if his people are living in sin or worshipping idols.

In these verses of Scripture, God confronted Judah’s leaders. Although these leaders are not directly specified, they are called “watchmen” (v. 10a), “dogs” (v. 10c, 11a), and “shepherds.” These titles suggest spiritual leaders. They might mean false prophets, priests, Levites, or all of the above. What are these spiritual leaders like?

  • They are supposed to be watchmen but they are blind (v. 10a-b) so they are unable to see spiritual danger when it comes.
  • Similarly, they are called “dogs” in verse 10c. Dogs were despised in ancient Judaism, so they were not bred and kept as pets but as helpers to shepherds. Instead of being on alert for predators of the sheep, however, these dogs “cannot bark... lie around and dream” because “they love to sleep.” Like the blind watchmen of verse 10a, they were worthless for alerting God’s people to spiritual danger.
  • Finally, “they are shepherds who lack understanding,” meaning that they do not care for the sheep but for their “own gain” (v. 11e) and pleasure (v. 12a-b).

The greatest indictment of these bad spiritual leaders is what they teach which Isaiah gave us in verse 12c-d, “tomorrow will be like today, or even far better.” Instead of warning Judah that God’s judgment was coming like a good shepherd, a good watchdog, and a good watchman would, these false spiritual leaders prophesy better days to come. Their intention is not to get God’s people to repent but to reassure God’s people that the best is yet to come.

One sign of a false teacher in any age, then, is a relentlessly positive message. When someone speaks for God but prophesies prosperity and hope only, with no discussion of sin, no warning about God’s judgment, and never a word (in this age) about the blood of Christ, that person exhibits the signs of false spiritual leadership described here in Isaiah 56.

I know what kind of teaching you get in our church but I also know that my voice is not the only spiritual influence you hear. Whether you read stuff on the Internet, listen to radio preachers or watch them on TV, think carefully about what you are being taught. Turn off anyone who prophesies only better days ahead with no call for repentance, no warnings of God’s judgment, no offer of hope through the death and resurrection of Christ. The good news, the best news, is that Christ died for our sins not that Jesus wants you to be rich and free from pain. So get your good news from that kind of teacher.

2 John

Today, read 2 John.

Ten years ago or so, the “emergent church” was a big topic of conversation in Christian circles. A few young pastors had rapidly built ministries and reputations for being able to reach younger people who had a post-modern mindset.

Today, nobody talks about the emergent church. It fragmented and died almost as quickly as it began. Some of the more prominent men who led that movement are no longer in the ministry. Before leaving the ministry, however, at least two of them turned in their credentials as Bible-believing evangelicals. They did this by publicly embracing universalism--the idea that God will save everyone, not just those who trust in Christ.

John never heard of the emergent church during his life on this earth but he prophesied about its leaders (and plenty of others) in verse 9: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” There is a long pattern of teachers who start out embracing the doctrines of our faith which John calls “the teaching of Christ” in this verse. Eventually, though, some get bored with the Bible or grow skeptical about some of our doctrines. They “run ahead” and do “not continue in the teachings of Christ.” They abandon the precious doctrines of our faith and get out of line with Christ, our leader.

Verse 10 tells us what to do with these teachers: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them.” This is how you should treat anyone who once taught the truth but departs from it. Cut them off, and stop listening to their words or supporting their work.

Are you careful about the inputs that come into your heart and your spiritual life? Do you compare the teachings and claims of men with God’s word? Are you ready to run from anyone who once was a biblical teacher but moves on to other more innovative ideas that contradict scripture? Many Christians get too attached to a person and look the other way when that person departs from the truth. Don’t be that guy! It will damage your spiritual life and hurt the church.

2 Peter 2

Today, read 2 Peter 2.

This chapter predicts strong judgment for false prophets. The point of the chapter, however, is not to warn the false prophets themselves. The point is to warn US about them. They are sneakily deceptive according to verse 1 (“They will secretly introduce destructive heresies”). They “will exploit you” (v. 3) and “seduce the unstable” (v. 14b). Their judgment is certain according to God’s long pattern of judging the wicked (vv. 4-10), but before that judgment falls they will cause much “harm” (v. 13).

How do we avoid falling prey to these false prophets? Knowing the truth and comparing all truth claims to it is the most important way to avoid them. In addition, though, the scriptures encourage us to watch the outcome of their teaching and the lifestyle that they lead. Are they greedy for money (v. 3a, 14c)? That’s a telling sign. Does their teaching actually have tangible spiritual results? Or is it merely pious sounding talk with no real substance? Verse 17a says that they “are springs without water and mists driven by a storm.” Verse 19 says that they “promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity.”

There is so much teaching available to us now through books, radio, TV, and the Internet. These mass broadcast media make it harder to know what these teachers are really like, but you cannot hide what you are forever. So, first of all, keep reading and learning God’s word. But beware--and wary--of the teachers you allow to influence you. Look for the substance of God’s word in their teaching and watch how they live. These things will help you know whether someone is a man of God or a false teacher.

1 Timothy 6

Today read 1 Timothy 6.

What motivates people who teach false doctrine? According to verse 4, it is pride: “they are conceited.” And, wouldn’t you have to be? To set forth your own ideas as if they were scripture, one would need an over-inflated self-confidence. Another motivation is greed; verse 5 says that false teachers “think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”

Instead of bringing us wealth, however, godliness teaches us contentment. Verses 6-8 say, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” This world has many nice things to offer but the person who accumulates them all will leave them all behind when he dies. When Steve Jobs died in 2011, he was worth over $10 billion but a beggar who died with nothing on the same day took the same amount of wealth into eternity. As Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.” If you walk with God, however, and learn to trust him, having the basics will be all that you need. Again 1 Timothy 6:8 says, “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

This is what false teachers miss. They think that novel ideas about God will be a path to wealth that will given them satisfaction. Instead, they may find prosperity but miss the real gain of walking with God--a life of true satisfaction.

Are you content with what you have? Or do you think that more of something (or everything) will bring you more satisfaction? Money doesn’t by happiness but godliness brings contentment. Focus on your walk with God and let him satisfy you as no material thing can.

2 Samuel 4–5, 1 Corinthians 15, Ezekiel 13, Psalms 52–54

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Samuel 4–5, 1 Corinthians 15, Ezekiel 13, Psalms 52–54. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Ezekiel 13.

In today’s reading, Ezekiel received a word from the Lord about the many false prophets that had infected Israel’s theology. As he typically did with Ezekiel, the Lord used Ezekiel’s vivid imagination to deliver this prophecy. God told him that they were “like jackals among ruins” (v. 4). Instead of fixing the walls (v. 5) by preaching repentance, the false prophets arrived to pick apart the carnage that was left after the disaster of brought on by God’s judgment. The source of their “knowledge” was themselves (v. 3: “follow their own spirit”), not God (vv. 6-7) though they spoke in his name and presumed his authority. 

After pronouncing God’s judgment on these false prophets in verses 8-9, the Lord described the ruinous affects of their false words in verses 10-12. Their words provided a false assurance of God’s peace (v. 10a), but it is a whitewash (vv. 11-12). It is interesting that we still use the metaphor of “whitewash” today. It describes an attempt to cover serious problems by making everything appear to be OK. That’s what the false prophets were doing. Instead of calling people to real repentance and faith in God, they were giving false assurances of peace. Their message promised impenetrable security, as if they were safe behind a steel door when in fact the door was made of plywood and covered with aluminum foil to look like steel. Those who believed these words would be swept away by the flood of God’s wrath along with those who gave the false prophecies (vv. 11-16).

One thing that was unique about Ezekiel’s prophecy against the false prophets is that he specifically called out some women who were speaking these lies in the Lord’s name (vv. 17-23). And why did they do this? For personal gain (v. 19: “a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread").

So what do false prophets look like? They make stuff up and call it God’s word, they give a false sense of security by promising good things instead of warning of judgment and calling people to repentance for sin, and they do it for personal gain.

Not much has changed since Ezekiel spoke these words. Even today we have prosperity teachers and “possibility” teachers who speak encouraging, motivating words but these words come from their own ingenuity, not from God. They never speak of the need for repentance or call people to desire and follow holiness. They never warn of God’s judgment but instead promise his peace and favor. They profit at the expense of their listeners without conscience (v. 18b). The New Testament tell us that many such false prophets have gone out into the world (1 Jn 4:1), so be on guard. Watch what you read, whom you listen to and watch. Look for these things; a relentlessly positive message may be as palatable as candy, but it will cause you to rot spiritually.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.