Like many of you, I have grown to appreciate modern humor known as ‘memes,’ or a picture with witty phrases meant to justify or mock everything under the sun. It’s not uncommon to see Willy Wonka, Neo, and Mr Rogers all in the same day, expressing some issue they feel the world should be passionate about…condescendingly.
Last week a pastor friend of mine lobbed the spiritual truth grenade above (Angry Tiger) in which I could identify. Pictured with an enraged Tiger Woods, written were the words, “How your pastor feels when he finds out you’ve been listening to false teachers on TBN.” I’m sure most who viewed Angry Tiger saw it a funny joke, but as a pastor…I saw reality.
Rarely do weeks go by without catching word that someone I love and care about is in the sights of a false teacher. The culture that we live in makes them readily available and easily accessed. Combine ease of access with the malnourished discipleship taking place across American churches, and you arrive at the perfect scenario for deception. However, it is not just a challenge for twenty-first century Christians. It’s also a commonly addressed problem in the Bible. The Old Testament and New Testament tell stories of people deviously twisting God’s words. At times, it was to justify behavior (Genesis 3). Other times it was for personal gain (Ezekiel 13); but behind it all is a scheme of Satan to leave people broken.
The apostle Paul, in addressing the false teachers at the churches of Galatia writes,
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant[b] of Christ.
Reading those words, I get the picture in my mind of a loving father trying to instruct his child to navigate potential pitfalls. Believing in error is possible because we live in a fallen world, surrounded by flesh inclined to sin, propelled by a heart that can lead us towards ways that seem right and good, but in the end is the way to death (Prov. 14:12). Understanding this, Paul passionately tells the Christians at Galatia – be alert.
So the question the Angry Tiger raises in my mind is simple: How should we respond when we see our brothers and sisters in Christ being swept away by deceitful teaching?
We should pray – Facebook can be a wonderful thing for the church, but it also can expose people’s hearts. It connects us in such a way that often times people in moments of anger or despair show their entire friends list their true beliefs. From likes, shares and comments, I’m regularly exposed to influence of false teachers upon those I love. I’m thankful Facebook was not around when I was younger, as there were many times I would have responded and it would not have been beneficial to the Kingdom of God. I believe one of the marks of maturity as a Christian is our ability to pray before acting. My go to response is criticizing the error when I should be praying in response to the error. Who should you be praying on behalf of today?
We should mourn – At this point in my life, I have seen many people marginalized and abused by those overemphasizing or de-emphasizing Scripture that my heart breaks upon witnessing it. I believe Scripture shows Jesus having a similar reaction when he wept for Jerusalem in Luke 19:41-44. Upon seeing the city full of men and women hearts hardened by their unbelief, he wept. Many take the stance of apathy when seeing people destroyed before their eyes; let not apathy, but genuine Christian love propel us.
We should prepare– After Nehemiah learned that the efforts to bring restoration to God’s Holy city, Jerusalem, had failed, Scripture explains – he mourned, he prayed, and he begin to prepare. His immediate response was not criticism of failed leadership, anger towards God, or utter despair. Instead, his burden led him to see a ministry opportunity that he began praying and preparing to do something about. Nehemiah began doing the calculations, the research, and the planning so if God blessed him with an opportunity to personally be the vessel by which he met the ministry opportunity, he would be ready.
Nehemiah’s moment came in Nehemiah chapter 4. The King, after recognizing the look of despair upon Nehemiah’s face, began to ask questions about his torment. Nehemiah shared the situation taking place in Jerusalem and at the end the King said, “ what are you requesting?” This was the moment he had prepared and planned for and Nehemiah was ready. Nehemiah was then able to step into this God provided opportunity and see his requests granted- a wall rebuilt- all because God’s servant had prepared and was ready to give a response.
If God opened an opportunity for you, as he did for Nehemiah, to bring hope to those who are hopeless, would you be prepared? What steps can you take today to become ready to give a response?
In john 10:10 Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The enemy destroys in a multitude of ways, but for many it comes in the form of false teachings. My prayer is that we would learn from the example set by the Bereans in Acts 17. Paul came into their region proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, but they didn’t take his word for it because of his position, his title, or because it “felt right.” Scripture says they believed the good news because they went home at night and searched the Holy Scriptures and found his words to be true. May we do the same.
I pray this helps you grow in your love for Jesus, His Church, and His mission.