The words “false prophets” certify that there are also true prophets, from whom the false prophets differ greatly. Over the past 45 years I have been greatly blessed by the ministries of genuine modern-day prophets in the Lord’s local churches. However, I have also seen the potential—and sometimes actual—harm inflicted on God’s people by false prophets. They tend to show up within the churches “in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” They don’t generally look like thundering, bearded prophets in robes, but usually resemble the typical churchgoer, at least outwardly. It is urgently important that we be discerning and identify false prophets, so that we may avoid their evil influences. Some of the harmful things they do include:
Jesus said we will know false prophets “by their fruit” (Matthew 7:16,20)—the fruit of their lives and their ministries. As with people in general, the fruit test, the observance of their character and what that produces in their lives, is how Jesus said we will be able to discern the false from the true minister of God. A true prophet will be godly, Christ-centered, and manifesting the fruit of the Spirit. A false prophet will not. So watch out for them.
Watch out for bad teaching—taught either by word or example (or both). The Pharisees represented strict, formal religion, which they practiced hypocritically. Jesus warned about that. Herod represented worldliness, materialism, and immorality. Jesus warned about that, too. Both these errors can, like yeast, slowly, subtly permeate our lives.
We can see false teachers, even in the pulpits of some churches today, teaching these heretical doctrines. Many churches are bound by strict, formal, dry religious practice like the Pharisees of old. Such churches are lifeless, and sometimes entirely Christless. Remember, the apostle Peter warned us about false teachers “even denying the sovereign Lord.” Anytime you hear a preacher or teacher minimizing or denying the absolute centrality, supremacy, and Deity of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18), find the nearest exit!
This is dead, cold, man-centered religion:
The Judaism of Jesus’ day had much of this heartless, lifeless religion, having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5). This same pattern is repeated in some segments of Christianity in our day. Watch out for churches, pastors, and TV preachers whose emphasis is everything but the Lord Jesus Christ. There's no life there!
Watch out for materialism and the pursuit of possessions and natural honors. One of the fast tracks to the decline of your walk with the Lord is getting overly involved in the pursuit of the things of this world (Mark 4:19). There are many kinds of greed. Here are some:
Watch out for deception about the end times. There will arise false Christs (“I am he”). Sad to say, many people over the centuries have followed such false Messiahs. Also, remember that the word “Christ” means “Anointed.” There have been many who have claimed special anointings from God and have gathered deceived disciples around themselves. Sometimes their deceptive ministries have even manifested what seem to be signs and wonders. But we recall that it is not uncommon for Satan and his followers to perform lying signs and wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:11-17). So be very careful of anyone who claims an “anointing” that is not consistently used to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.
Also be wary of false prophecy teachers. Now it must be admitted that there are varying viewpoints among sincere, genuine bible teachers about the precise events of the end times. I’m not speaking of that. The danger lies in the prophecy teachers who are making merchandise of the saints (2 Peter 2:3). Jesus warned that many will come claiming, “The time is near.” On the one hand, there are millions of dedicated Christians who long for the Lord’s Second Coming and who hope that it is near. That is my hope too. But there are others who always seem to have the latest exciting end-time predictions which (conveniently for them) you must urgently order — “…offer #27, only $95 + s/h.” Then when those fail, along comes updated “offer #35, only $95 + s/h.”
Watch out for divisive people. They creep into churches and small groups within the local churches. They subtly introduce new, exciting teachings. They are slyly critical of others, but never of you, of course! They are smooth, flattering talkers. I can recall encountering quite a few such dividers over my past 45 years in ministry.
To your face in public, and especially when the pastors and elders are around, they may seem harmless. But behind the scenes is often where they lurk and express their divisive poison. They may voice subtle doubts about the church leadership. They might slyly suggest some exciting “new” teachings that differ from that which you have learned under proven pastors and bible teachers. Their talk is clever, smooth, enticing, even flattering. The apostle Paul said, “Watch out” for them.
One of the strongest declarations in Scripture is that “…the Lord hates…[him] that soweth discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:16-19, KJV). Watch out for them! If you run into alleged believers who major on speaking divisively of others in the church, and especially of the church leadership, do what the apostle Pauls says and “keep away from them.” Better yet, try saying this to them: “You know, it would be good for me to go with you to the pastor so you can share these thoughts with him.” Just watch how fast that divider finds the exit!
Watch out for backbiters, bickerers, and arguers! If someone starts such a conversation in your presence, just shut it down! Churches are not exempt from the presence of people who pride themselves on the phrase: “I like a good argument!” But the apostle tells us that such biting, devouring, bickering, and strife can negatively affect “your entire [church] fellowship” (15, Amplified).
The simple solution is, as Paul wrote, to “watch out” for people whose conversation about others fails the “love your neighbor” test. Refuse to listen to critical, argumentative conversations. And keep away from such in the church. And again, remember that the Lord hates the sower of discord (Prov. 6:16-19). Don’t participate in something the Lord hates!
Keep serving the Lord Jesus with all your heart. It is not my intention (nor in my power) to resolve here the ongoing Calvinism-Arminianism debate, nor do I intend to tackle the often contentious discussion for and against “eternal security.” Suffice it to say that the apostle John warns of the possibility that we believers can “lose…[our] full reward.”
Remember Moses (Numbers 20:2,7-12). He wavered in his trust in the Lord and did not properly honor God (vs. 12). As a result, God told Moses that he would not be allowed to bring Israel into the promised land, thus falling short of the “full reward” that God had for him in his earthly life. Did Moses make it to heaven? Of course. We see him many centuries later with Jesus and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-3). But by his faltering conduct Moses missed some of God’s plan and reward for him while he was on earth.
The apostle John warns us to continue in a steadfast, heartfelt devotion to the “teaching of Christ” (vs. 9). In context, he seems to be stating that our loss of a full reward (8) is linked to “not continu[ing] in the teaching of Christ” (9). Keep Jesus central, keep Him preeminent (Colossians 1:18, KJV) in your life. Continue in His teachings, and you will be His greatly blessed “disciples indeed” (John 8:31, KJV).
©2016 James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.