How Can We Distinguish Between True and False Teachers?

Preacher

How can we distinguish between true and false teachers? Jesus provides us with a test in Matthew 7:15-20. He says,

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

Beware of Sheep in Wolves Clothing

Jesus tells us there will be those who come as wolves in sheep’s clothing. They will act like Christians, sound like Christians, but they are not Christians. Instead they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, who want to do nothing but deceive those they are teaching.

Jesus tells us to “Beware” or “Watch out” for these teachers, which means we can’t accept everyone’s teaching before examining it and them. Just because they claim to preach the Word, doesn’t mean they do. Just because they claim to live by the Word, doesn’t mean they do. It is up to us to discern their fruit, which is their message and life.

Examine Their Message and Life

Given Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, we are looking for those who live by the narrow way and preach the narrow way. The narrow way involves all of what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount. Some of which are a requirement to be:

  • Poor in spirit – We see a necessity to depend on God.
  • Act as Salt and Light – A witness for the gospel.
  • Deal with our anger, lust, and marriage problems.
  • Have speech that is true.
  • Don’t retaliate, honor others, and don’t seek self glory.

If a teacher is not willing to teach the narrow way, he is a false teacher. If a teacher is not willing to live by the narrow way, he is a false teacher.

True teachers live and teach the narrow way.

If the person we are listening to does not live by and teach the narrow way, no matter how entertaining, we are not to listen to them because they are a false teacher.

We Have Work To Do

Given Jesus’ command and warning, when we come to attending a church service, listening to a podcast, or watching a preacher on T.V. we have work to do. We can’t be a passive listener seeking entertainment. We have to be active.

Being active involves listening attentively to the message. Taking note of what is being said. Checking the Scripture as the preacher speaks. And finally, examining the message afterward.

When it comes to listening to a sermon, we have work to do. We can’t sit by idle soaking in the message because the person speaking to us might be a false teacher.

The Reason We Should Make This Distinction

It is important we make this distinction because those who follow false prophets are headed down the broad road to destruction. Those, however, who follow true prophets are headed down the narrow road to eternal life.

You see, those on the broad road don’t want a narrow road message. Instead, they want their ears tickled. While, those on the narrow road don’t want a broad road message, they want to hear the true teaching of the Word.

So then, depending on who you are drawn to listen to, depends on what road you are following.

Question for Reflection

  1. What preachers are you drawn to – narrow road preachers or broad road preachers?

Resources

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Post adapted from my most recent sermon

Are You On the Broad or Narrow Road?

Road Less Traveled

When I was in elementary school, I looked forward to that time in the day when we left our class room and went to the gym for P.E. Most days we would play a team sport. Basketball, whiffle ball, or something like that.

Our teacher would have us all line up behind a line. Two captains would pick who they wanted on their team. As your name was called, you would cross the line and join your captain.

Inevitable there was always an odd number, so one person wouldn’t get picked, which meant they couldn’t cross the line and join a team. You didn’t want to be that kid because you had to sit out and wait until the next game.

At the close of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus too is drawing a line in the sand. His line doesn’t determine whether you get to play a game or not. It determines whether you are in the Kingdom or not.

While that line has been there all throughout Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, it becomes even more pronounced at the end as Jesus draws a clear distinction between two ways of living.

The reason He ends in this way is to force us to examine our own lives to determine whether we can cross the line and join Him in eternity or not.

What is required for us to cross that line and join Jesus in eternity?

Jesus begins by drawing a distinction between two roads. He says in Matthew 7:13-14:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Jesus’ command is for us to enter by the narrow gate, not the broad gate. To travel the narrow road, not the broad road. Jesus gives this command because one road leads to eternal life, while One road leads to destruction.

Only Two Roads

Notice Jesus only provides two roads. He tells us we are either on one or the other. No one is neutral. You can’t hangout between the two roads. Everyone travels either the narrow or broad road.

These two roads head to one of two destinations, which means not all roads lead to the top.

The Difference in the Two Roads

These two roads differ from one another. The narrow road is hard, while the broad road is easy.

Why is the broad road easy? 

It is easy because it is what comes natural to us. It doesn’t require we make any sacrifices. It doesn’t require we change our will.

Why is the narrow road hard?

The narrow road, on the other hand, is hard because it is unnatural. It requires we focus. We work at it. We change our will.

I was listening to a sermon this last week and the preacher said “When it comes to learning a second language, it is difficult for us, almost unnatural, whereas our first language is easy, almost natural.”

I can attest to that. In High School and College I learned Spanish. In seminary, I had to learn Greek and Hebrew. When it came to learning these languages, it was tough. Hours of focused work was necessary. I constantly flipped through vocabulary cards. As I studied diligently, there were times when I thought I would never get it.

When I spoke Spanish, or translated the Bible from Greek or Hebrew, conscious effort and focus was required. English, on the other hand, comes easy. Sure, I have to think about what I am saying, but not nearly as hard as with the others. It comes natural to me.

The same with broad road living. It is what comes natural to us. It requires no effort or focus on our part. Not so with narrow road living. It is unnatural and hard. It requires we exert effort.

How do we know which road we are on?

We can determine what road we are traveling by thinking about the distinctions we just drew.

If how we live on a daily basis comes easy to us, it’s natural to us, it requires we expend no effort, or we don’t have to change our will, we are probably on the broad road. If what we believe and the way we act is inline with society, we are probably on the broad road.

Take for instance the following topics.

  • The sanctity of marriage.
  • Sex before marriage
  • Lust
  • Exclusivity of Christianity

Each requires we pick one side or the other. Each has a popular opinion and a more restricted opinion.

Those on the broad road:

  • Reject the sanctity of marriage.
  • They reject the idea we must wait until we get married to have sex.
  • They reject the idea that lust is wrong.
  • They reject the idea that Christianity is the only way to God.

While those on the narrow road, take the opposing opinion, which is not always easy or popular. Nor is it what comes natural. Holding the narrow road opinion requires we consistently work at it. Above all, it requires our heart be changed by the gospel.

So we can tell what road we are on by looking at what we are doing. If we are doing what comes easy to us, and is natural to us, and if we are always inline with society, then we are probably on the broad road. However, if we are doing what is hard, if we have to change our will, if we are counter cultural, then we are probably on the narrow road.

Question for Reflection

  1. What gate have you entered through? What road are you on?

Resources

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Post adapted from my most recent sermon

Turn the Other Cheek

Slap in the Face

In Matthew 5:39, Jesus says:

If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

If you are a regular church goer, chances are you have heard this phrase before, but what does it mean? Is Jesus advocating physical abuse? Is He is telling us never to defend ourselves? Or is He talking about something different?

The Action

Before we answer our questions, let’s imagine the action. Two blows are involved. The first blow comes from a person slapping you on your cheek with the back of their hand, causing your face to turn to one side. The second blow would come when you voluntarily turn your other cheek to them, so that they could then come across your face with their open hand.

What does this have to do with being a True Disciple of Jesus?

In Jesus’ day, when someone slapped you with the back, or palm, of their hand, it was more an insult than a physical attack. The person being slapped would be dishonored and shamed. This is true in our day as well. When a man says something rude to a woman, she may slap him. There is no question she may desire to physically harm him, but her slap will probably do nothing more than bruise his ego, dishonor, or shame him.

Jesus is teaching us we are to allow ourselves to be shamed and dishonored instead of retaliating. The idea then is that we are to relinquish our rights to worldly honor. Instead of finding honor from the world, we are to find honor and acceptance in Christ. After all, as Christians, we are the sons of God. What could bring more honor than that?

What would relinquishing our worldly right to honor and personal retaliation accomplish?

(1) It would break the chain of evil.

Our natural response is to hit, take, or offend back, when we have been hit, stolen from, or offended. When we relinquish our rights to worldly honor and personal retaliation, we break the natural chain of evil.

(2) It would take retaliation out of the personal realm and give it to God.

Jesus provides this teaching because the Old Testament Law an an eye for and eye was being misused. The Law’s original intent was to take retaliation out of the personal realm and place it into the hand of the judges, in order to keep blood feuds from starting and preserve Israel’s witness to the surrounding nations.

By Jesus’ day, the Law had been misused. Instead of accomplishing its purpose of limiting personal retaliation the opposite happened. Personal retaliation was exacted more often outside of the court of law. Part of the reason this was happening was because people felt dishonored. In order to gain their honor back, they retaliated.

Jesus then is teaching us that a willingness to be dishonored is necessary to preserve peace and unity in a community, as well as to be patient and allow God or the court to work.

(3) It would show a completely different way of thinking and living than the world, allowing us to witness to those around us. 

Allowing someone to dishonor us, and even physically attack us without defense to a certain extent is completely foreign to most people. When we act in ways different than our society, people want to know why we are acting that way and how we can act that way, which then allows us to be a witness to Jesus and His life transforming power.

Are you willing to give up your worldly honor and be shamed, in order to be a witness for Christ? The question is tough, I know. It is, however, what Jesus is calling us to as His disciples.

What turn the other cheek doesn’t mean

(1) It doesn’t mean we allow someone to abuse us physically, or even mentally.

Advocating physical or mental abuse would be a misuse of Jesus’ teaching. If you are in an abusive relationship, get out of the situation, and get some help. Cities often have abuse shelters. As well as most churches are willing to help. Seek these resources out if you are being abused.

(2) It doesn’t mean we must be a pacifist

We can defend our country, our family, others, and even ourselves at times.

When it comes to defending ourself it gets a bit complex. Some say never, but I believe we can defend ourselves when we are left with no choice. When we do defend ourselves, we should use the least amount of force necessary to protect ourselves. Remember, it is not about our honor. We do not have to win the fight. We can simply punch someone in the face and run away.

Conclusion

Returning to our initial questions, we now see we can fight back against abuse and an attacker. Jesus’ teaching is more about relinquishing our rights to honor than self defense. With His command, Jesus is doing what He has been doing all throughout the Sermon on the Mount, He is attacking our heart, probing to see if we love Him more than our own honor.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you agree or disagree?
  2. How have you taught or heard this passage taught in the past?
  3. Does thinking about this passage in light of honor/dishonor help you understand Jesus’ teaching better?

Resources

Sermon: Do Not Resist the One Who Is Evil

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