If false teachers want the same thing as all teachers – for people to believe their message and follow their teaching – why are they so dangerous?
What’s the Danger of False Teachers?
(4) False Teacher’s teaching looks good on the surface but is flawed.
Jesus brings this out in His third woe, which is centered on oaths. In verses 16-18 we read,
““Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’” (Mt 23:16–18)
The scribes and Pharisees believed your oath was binding only if you swore by specific things. So for instance, if you swore by the Temple, you could break your promise, but if you swore by the gold on the Temple you couldn’t. Or if you swore by the altar instead of the gift on the altar you were free.
Now, on the surface that sounds good. It might even make sense to us, which is why false teachers are able to deceive people. Their reasoning seems to make sense until you dig a little deeper.
Jesus does exactly that, He digs a little deeper starting in verse 19 to point out the flaw in their argument. There He says,
“You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.” (Mt 23:19–22)
So digging a little deeper, Jesus points out that you can’t escape an oath by using clever wording. He tells us our oaths are binding no matter what we swear by. Whether it be the gift or the altar, the gold or the temple, heaven or the throne of God, swearing by one means you swear by the whole thing and your oath is binding.
So false teachers are dangerous because on the surface their argument makes sense until you dig a little deeper or have someone point out the flaw. There are many examples of this, but let me just give you one.
Creflo Dollar, a known prosperity gospel teacher says that God has given us the power to seize and command riches and wealth to come to us. He bases this on Deuteronomy 8:18, which says,
“You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (Dt 8:18)
If we were just to take that one verse in isolation, it might seem God has actually given us power to seize and command riches and wealth to come to us. But if we dig a little deeper and look at the surrounding context, we see that is not exactly what God has done. Starting in verse 11 Moses writes,
““Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God…“
Then after telling them all the things God has done he says,
“…Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (Dt 8:11–18)
Digging a little deeper, we see God hasn’t given us the power to seize and command riches and wealth. God instead is reminding us that He is the one who gives us all that we have. So we shouldn’t allow pride to swell up in our hearts thinking that we are the ones who have created our own wealth.
On the surface, Dollar’s teaching sounds good, it’s even tied to a verse in the Bible, but his message is false. You might not discover his teaching is wrong until you dig a little deeper or have someone point it out to you, which is what makes false teaching so dangerous. It looks good on the surface but it’s really flawed.
(5) False Teachers focus on things that are good but their focus is flawed
We see this in our last woe. Look what Jesus says in verses 23 and 24
““Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Mt 23:23–24)
Here, Jesus points out that the scribes and Pharisees focused on tithing to the exclusion of what Jesus calls the weightier matters of the Law. When Jesus says this, He isn’t condemning tithing. Tithing is a good thing, a necessary thing, it’s even something God commands. Instead, what Jesus condemns is their focus. He condemns their focus because their focus caused them to neglect mercy, justice, and faithfulness.
Sure, they gave exactly 10% of everything they brought in, but they treated others terribly. They exercised no mercy, they weren’t just in their dealings with others, nor were they faithful.
A modern day example of this is the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. They state that their mission is to reclaim Christianity as a faith of extravagant grace, radical inclusion and relentless compassion.
Some of what they are on mission to do is good and right. God models and teaches us that we are to show grace and compassion to others. But this church, if you can really call it a church, focuses their attention on two attributes of God. They focus on grace and compassion to the exclusion of God’s other attributes.
Their focus on grace and compassion as led them not only to reach out to the LGBT community, but also to include those of other faiths as children of God, which are all things the Bible condemns. So while they are focused on things that are good, they have allowed that focus to take center stage and to supersede the gospel message.
So we see then that false teachers often focus on things that are good, but their focus is flawed. So we have to be careful, we have to be aware, and we have to realize that our focus must be on Jesus and the gospel message, not on something else.
For next time:
Now that we know the dangers of false teachers, what should our response be?
Question for Reflection
- Which of these strike you as particularly dangerous?
Post adapted from my sermon False Teachers – Their Desire, Their Danger, Our Response