At our church, we have many opportunities to grow in your walk with Christ. One of these is a Thursday night Bible study called Covenant. Recently, we have been studying Jeremiah and there is a part in the story where Jeremiah has to contend with false prophets. These prophets are saying the direct opposite the message God has given Jeremiah. The other night at our meeting, one of the members of the class asked a question that I hadn’t thought about in a while. The question was,
“How do you know someone is a prophet or not?”
Their question wasn’t asking in the past tense. The question was, here, in today’s world, how do you know if someone is speaking on behalf of God or is speaking on behalf of something else.
Maybe it is the preacher on TV, the politician, the activist, the celebrity, the philanthropist, the scientist… how do you know what they are saying comes from God?
The ultimate answer to this question- hindsight is 20/20. Sometimes it is as simple as, were they right? But that doesn’t really help us in the moment where we don’t know yet how things turn out.
Have you ever experienced the moment where as you give your answer, you realize that you have grown in your understanding? Well, I had one of those moments!
The book of 2 Timothy is a great book. Paul is anticipating his death and is passing the mantle of leadership to Timothy. What always intrigues me about this book is how often Paul warns Timothy to be prepared against false teachers.
In 3:2-5 he says,
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal,not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God- having the form of godliness but dying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
Later in the book, in 4:3-4, Paul says,
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
Yup, Paul is definitely warning Timothy about false teachers and prophets in this book. Not only does he name some of their qualities he also gives us the alternative. In between the two verses above, Paul has this little line that is enlightening. 2 Timothy 3:10,
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings…
Paul reminds Timothy not only of Paul’s teachings but the quality of his life. For a true Christian, it is not enough just to speak truth, it must be lived as well.
This was critically important to the early church. Shortly after the apostles there were several people who tried to change the Gospel to fit their worldview. Examples of this are trying to take the Jewishness out of Jesus or denying the incarnation since gods are not flesh and blood. In the many debates that ensued, it was not just the apostolic teaching that won out, but the quality of character by those who believed. The evidence of their life was proof of God’s message.
One of the litmus tests you can apply in your life when you encounter someone speaking on behalf of the Lord is this, what fruit do you see in their life? Do you see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? If you don’t see those qualities it is a BIG RED FLAG. Be wary of such teaching.