“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.
For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve.”
Some professing Christians are to be avoided!
To the spiritually astute, it is immediately obvious that despite protestations to the contrary, some supposed saints do not serve the Lord Christ; rather, they are utterly focused on gratifying their own desires.
Consequently, though they may be unconscious of their own motives, it is nevertheless the case that their speech, though plausibly reasonable, is geared to deceive the naïve.
We have no business entertaining any thoughts that we honour Christ through tolerating such individuals either in our assemblies or in our homes!
It is not godly to tolerate deception—it is wicked.
The Apostle of Love has warned believers of the danger in entertaining such deceivers.
“Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.
Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.
Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.
Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God.
Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works” [2 JOHN 7-11].
It is important to note that John did not say they were deceivers and opposed to God, though that would be a true statement.
Rather, the Apostle uses the definite article, saying that such an individual is “the deceiver and the antichrist.”
It is as though John is saying that the motivating spirit behind such individuals who are often resident within our assemblies is that of the coming antichrist.
Such individuals stand opposed to truth; and through their teaching and actions they supplant the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Perhaps you recoil from speaking so forcefully about those who wander from the Faith, but the Apostle of Love was not at all reticent about labelling such people as individuals who deceive and thus as people who are opposed to the cause of Christ.
There exists a woeful lack of discernment among the saints in this day so late in this dispensation.
Trained by our culture to avoid becoming involved, we hold back from investing our lives in one another.
Church discipline is unheard of.
Should a congregation attempt to hold its members accountable, the courts seem eager to jump in to ensure that wayward members maintain their “rights.”
In our rush to gain members, we are loath to hold those same members accountable for their lifestyle—for their words and for their actions.
We who are followers of the Risen Son of God are not called to engage in a witch hunt, searching for doctrinal deviation; however, when we observe professed believers turning aside from the path of righteousness, we are responsible to halt the error before it contaminates the assembly.
Christians must bear in mind the apostolic maxim that “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” [1 CORINTHIANS 5:6]; a little error destroys the work of God.
Before going farther in our study this day, I must pause to point out a significant truth.
Churches are not kept safe by a doctrinal review committee, or by learned scholars pouring over the writings that flood the market; churches are kept safe because the people of God have committed themselves to the written Word of God.
Christians in this Dispensation of Grace are not dependent on “prophets” purporting to have a “word from God.”
We have the written Word of God, the completed canon of Scripture.
Moreover, the Spirit of God resides in each believer and He thus guides us as a congregation!
This is John’s meaning when he writes, “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.
But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you.
But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him” [1 JOHN 2:26, 27].
It is not that we do not need teachers among the assemblies—the ascended Master Himself gives teachers to the churches [EPHESIANS 4:11-14]; rather, it is the Spirit of Christ resident within the congregation who guides us, watching over us to deliver us from evil.
So long as the congregations walk in the Spirit—seeking the will of the Master and endeavouring always to do those things which honour Him—we should anticipate that we will be able to discern the will of God.
Should a congregation become self-centred, seeking their own comfort rather than seeking the will of the Father, that congregation will be susceptible to every sort of evil and incapable of distinguishing between their own desires and the will of the Spirit.
In fact, such people will impose their will on the congregation, all the while insisting that they are doing the will of God!
Let me speak very plainly to the congregation: doctrinal deviation is not theoretical, nor should we imagine that it is somehow remote; it lies always close at hand.
History is littered with the husks of dead congregations and dead denominations that were once noted for their adherence to the Word of God.
At some point, those congregations and/or denominations substituted man’s imagination for the revealed mind of the True and Living God.
And though such religious groups may still attract a following at this time, the Spirit of God is long-since departed and “Ichabod” is writ large above the door.
All one need do to verify this real and present danger is look at the desolate hulks that litter the Canadian landscape—derelict church buildings that once housed vibrant congregations that are long-since dead.
Our fallen nature is prone to promote our personal interests over the will of God; this is especially true whenever we take our eyes off the Lord.
Any of us are capable of performing the most detestable and outrageous acts against the Spirit of Grace—and we shall perform such despicable acts if we fail to adhere to the Book or if we cease to esteem the people of God as His holy people.
Ultimately, we are responsible as a congregation to fear God more than we fear any mere mortal; and fearing God, we are to hold fast to His Word.
Then, holding to His Word, we will not tolerate doctrinal deviation.
THE MENACE — “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.”
It is easy to imagine that Paul is speaking of the introduction of doctrinally suspect teaching.
However, examination of the original text leads to the conclusion that he was addressing a much different issue than infiltration by unbelievers intent on disrupting the faithful, though such could possibly be included by the language.
Paul speaks of those who cause divisions; what is in view are individuals who divide churches into factions.
Especially does the Apostle have in view individuals who create factions that are loyal to themselves.
They may be people who come into the congregation from outside, or they may be long-time, prominent members.
Perhaps these individuals show up in a congregation, having left another congregation where they had trouble.
Usually, they give no indication that they had trouble in their former church, but investigation will reveal that is why they left.
They are usually knowledgeable, perhaps even capable and able at providing a message or a Bible study.
Though the Word warns us to make full proof of those who wish to be teachers, people like this are usually warmly welcomed, in part because the people of God lack discernment, or more commonly because they have grown spiritually lazy and don’t want to exercise discernment.
However, problems quickly develop.
These individuals want to push a particular point of doctrine to the exclusion of a more balanced view of biblical truth.
They are critical of those who disagree with them, and there are always some who disagree because they are not so easily taken in by a glib story.
When everyone does not go their way, they will leave and take those who follow them with them to establish another church which is more biblical, or more faithful.
Perhaps they are long established members of the congregation who have a reputation as spiritual leaders but without substance to their message.
In this instance, they attack anyone who is teaching truth that challenges them or that does not accord with their own peculiar view of truth.
They demand that the church expel those who threaten their comfortable existence.
After all, they and those who agree with them are the vital component of the church.
If individuals leave because they disagree with the power brokers, it is no great loss.
They are convinced that they hold to truth, even if it means pushing out those who disagree with them.
Paul also warns of those who create obstacles.
The word he uses is skandalon; we get our word “scandal” from this Greek term.
However, Paul is not thinking of scandalous behaviour; rather, he is focused on people who add to the message of truth.
They create rules, purportedly to give guidance for those who want to follow Christ.
This is what the Pharisees were doing in Jesus’ day, just as they were exposed when Jesus said of them, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
They do all their deeds to be seen by others” [MATTHEW 23:4, 5].
The Master also confronted them when He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.
For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” [MATTHEW 23:13].
Those whom Paul identifies do not deny the essentials of the Faith, but they are prepared to introduce demands that are not part of the biblical message, and insist on conformity to their rules.
Often, the concepts introduced are not wrong of themselves, but when they become a test of the Faith, they become wrong.
It is not wrong to worship on a particular day, but to insist that only the day you choose is sanctioned by God is to introduce a rule which God does not establish.
It is not wrong to maintain a diet consisting of some restrictions; but to impose that diet as a test of spirituality is wrong.
Standards of dress are not necessarily wrong; but when we demand that any who wish to worship with us must meet our standard, we err.
We must always bear in mind Pau’s words that “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” [GALATIANS 5:1].
This is not to say that false teachers are not a problem—they are a serious threat to the churches.
Jude warns, “Certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” [JUDE 4].
Hear what the brother of our Lord said: “Certain people have crept in unnoticed.”
These vandals were even then present among the assemblies!
And though God had warned against them, designating their character, the people of God were responsible to identify them and act to expel them from positions of influence.
Jude echoes Peter’s warning written near the same time.
“False prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.
And in their greed they will exploit you with false words” [2 PETER 2:1-3a].
Peter says so long as there have been a people identified as worshippers of the True and Living God, there has been a large body of liars who seek to dissuade the faithful from the truth.
That trend will only accelerate as we approach the last days.
It has been said that a church is always one generation from apostasy.
In reality, the descent into apostasy is often much more rapid than that; apostasy can happen within a matter of days!
God appointed the elders of the congregation to guard against heterodoxy and against heteropraxy.
What is fascinating is that the danger is not solely from outside the congregation—often the danger arises from within!
It makes little difference whether the threat arises from outside or within, if it is not addressed, it must result in destruction and shame.
The point merits emphasis as it is vital for a healthy congregation and because it is neglected in so many churches in this day.
A primary task of elders is guarding the flock.