Testing the False Teachers and Their Erroneous Ways
Summary: The Bible warns us that “there will be false teachers among you.” The Bible also gives us clear insights to help us test and expose those who would pervert the Scriptures to their own evil ends.
2 Peter 2:1-3a But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories.
• Let it be clearly established — “There will be false teachers among you” (vs. 1). We need to take that apostolic warning seriously, because (vs. 2) “many will follow” their shameful teachings and evil ways. My heartfelt desire today is to give you some spiritual weapons from Scripture to help you test and avoid such false teachers.
• We’ll take a brief look at 16 characteristics of false bible teachers, starting with the verses above.
1) Vs. 1 They often prefer to operate “secretly,” behind the scenes, cutting some of God’s sheep out of His flock and into another group who follow the teachers’ false doctrines.
• I recall a false teacher who lived in a suburb of Anchorage. In the 1970s he lured three of our young bible college students into his web of heresy. The leader of that group taught that we are already in our glorified bodies, not subject to death. Of course, that group saw the error of that heresy when that false teacher eventually died!
• Remember, God’s truth never has to hide itself and be taught in exclusive, secretive meetings.
2) Vs. 1 Their teachings contain “destructive heresies.”
a) “destructive” — their teachings tend to tear down, not to lift up and edify.
b) “heresies” — their teachings tend to divide, not unite. Heresy by its very nature is destabilizing and divisive.
c) “heresies” — their doctrines are not consistently biblical. Often this is done with small amounts of destructive, heretical content slipped in among a majority of accepted biblical doctrine.
3) Vs. 1 “…even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them”
a) Watch out for anyone who minimizes the person, the ministry, or the stature of the Lord Jesus.
b) The sovereignty, the absolute Lordship, of Jesus may be brought into question by their words or their conduct.
c) “denying … who bought them” — their teachings may minimize or even undermine our redemption by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
4) Vs. 3 “in their greed” — if a minister seems to be constantly asking for money, find the exit! I attended a series of evangelistic meetings many years ago. The speaker would take a minimum of a half hour in each meeting coercing a large offering for him with what I call “strong-arm” tactics. After four days of this, I found the exit.
5) Vs. 3 “These teachers will exploit you.” Ask yourself, does the minister seem to care genuinely for your growth, maturing, and victory in the Lord? Or do his interests seem to be foremost?
6) Vs. 3 “…with stories they have made up.” If you sense exaggeration, embellishment, or outright lies, those are marks of a false teacher.
1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work — which is by faith.
• The apostle Paul exhorted Pastor Timothy to take an aggressive stand and to “command certain people not to teach false doctrines” to the Ephesian Christians that Timothy was pastoring.
7) Vs. 4 “…nor to devote themselves to myths” — a true bible teacher imparts the plain sense of Scripture. He does not need to put forth ear-tingling ideas to capture an audience.
8) Vs. 4 “nor … endless genealogies” — in the context Paul was addressing, this might have referred to Gnostic “insider information” genealogies. Or perhaps it was dealing with some aspect of the negative influence of some Judaizers, who were trying to get Christians back under Moses’ Law.
• The one “genealogy” that truly matters to us is: Am I a born-again son or daughter of God Almighty?
9) Vs. 4“controversial speculations” (controversies, questions, endless arguments) — watch out if a teacher’s doctrines seem to cause a lot of dissension and conflict. By contrast, that which is of God tends to be “pure, peaceable, gentle” (James 3:17, KJV).
10) Vs. 4 “rather than advancing God’s work” — A false teacher’s message will not be likely to emphasize important facets of “God’s work,” such as prayer, evangelism, caring for people, showing mercy, missions, and other biblical endeavors. Rather, he’ll seem to have his own agenda.
11) Vs. 3“false doctrines … [instead of] the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ” — the false teachers’ doctrines do not focus on our Lord Jesus Christ. Be very much on your guard against a minister who does not consistently honor and glorify Jesus.
12) Vs. 3“false doctrines … [in contradiction to] godly teaching” — the ministries of false teachers do not succeed in building holiness and godly character in the hearers.
13) Vs. 4 “He is conceited.” If a minister seems self-centered and full of himself, watch out! I was shocked once to hear a minister exclaim, “Lord, if you don’t come down here, I’m coming up there!” Such talk has no place in our relationship with the sovereign Lord God Almighty.
14) Vs. 4 “...an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words” — having lost sight of the Gospel, the false teacher may redirect his attention to controversial ideas and words.
15) Vss. 4-5 False teachers’ ministries tend to “result inenvy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction.” Jesus had taught us that “by their fruits you shall know them.” Given enough time, the false teacher will produce in himself and his hearers these negative results, which resemble the “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-21, KJV) rather than the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
16) Vs. 5 “…who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” Watch out for teachers who have a major focus on serving God as a stepping stone to financial gain. They have conveniently overlooked the biblical warning that “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10, NASB).
SUMMARY of 16 Characteristics of False Teachers:
• They may operate secretly, behind the scenes.
• Their heretical teachings are destructive, not edifying.
• Some false teachers even deny Jesus Christ as the “sovereign Lord.”
• Often they are greedy for money.
• They will exploit you.
• Many of them will exaggerate, embellish stories, or even lie.
• They may feature “myths,” rather than the plain meaning of Scripture.
• They may elevate inconsequential things like genealogies to mainline importance.
• Their doctrines tend to cause controversies, dissension, and conflict.
• They underemphasize or ignore the truly important aspects of “God’s work.”
• Their doctrines do not make Jesus Christ central to their message.
• They leave out godly teaching that leads to holiness.
• The false teacher may be conceited and full of himself.
• He will often focus on things that cause controversies and quarrels.
• The fruit of his ministry tends to be very negative, full of envy, strife, friction, etc.
• The false teacher erroneously teaches that “godliness is a means to financial gain.”
In closing, my prayer is that these biblical warnings will help you sort out the true minister of God from the false one. May God establish each of you under the beneficial influence of pastors, teachers, elders, and other godly ministers who will love you, will care for you, and by sound biblical preaching and teaching will help you grow in your faith and your relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.