BEWARE WHAT YOU BELIEVE
When Jesus gave His warning to beware of false prophets, He told how they could be identified by observing the "fruit" they bear. There is no mistaking a plant when you recognize its fruit. False teachers are no exception. To recognize them, you only need to compare what they teach against the standard of God's word. But what if you aren't very familiar with what the bible teaches? Those who are young in the faith often find themselves vulnerable because they have not become grounded in the teaching of the scriptures. "For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." (Heb. 5:13-14)
In Jesus' parable of the sower, you will recall that the seed that fell on the stoney ground lacked the soil for the newly sprouting plant to take root. "Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away." (Mt. 13:5-6) In explaining this parable, Jesus said that "... he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles." (Mt. 13:20-21) Herein is the danger of immaturity in being ungrounded in the knowledge of God's word.
The solution to the problem of spiritual vulnerability is study, study and more study. When I say study, I don't mean commentaries, religious periodicals, bulletins, tracts, etc. to the exclusion of God's word. (And yes, I mean this article as well.) Keep in mind that while those "helps" may be accurately "on the mark," they are the writings of men who are fallible. Even though such "helps" can be valuable in our quest for greater understanding, there is the danger of accepting the teachings of men without "looking any farther." It is too easy to be "intimidated" by those who display bible knowledge and to just "assume" they must know what they are talking about. Regardless of the fact that they may be "well known", eloquent, noted as authors of many books, etc. they are still fallible. It is true that Paul said we should "...join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern." (Phil. 3:17) Paul used himself and his fellow-workers as an example of the pattern that we should follow. In stating this, he was encouraging his readers to "note" (or be observant of) those who so "walk" and join in doing likewise. However, it must be understood that Paul was not saying that they were perfect or infallible in all of their behavior and therefore were the standard by which we are to measure our own conduct. Paul confirmed this when he referred to the incident regarding the apostle Peter that occurred while they were at Antioch; "But when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed." (Gal. 2:11) Peter knew better than to behave as he had on that occasion, because in rebuking him, Paul said that "the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy." (Gal. 2:13) Peter, and those who followed his poor example, were acting contrary to what they knew to be right. That is hypocrisy. In spite of this poor example, it took nothing away from the infallibility of the inspired message of the gospel that they preached. In that same letter, Paul warned that "even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8) Here, Paul makes it clear that the gospel which he and his fellow-workers had preached was the standard, and if he or his fellow-workers should come along later and teach something different they should be regarded as being "accursed." What we learn from this is that while God's word is infallible and trustworthy, the same cannot be said for men.
The Bereans understood this, and displayed a healthy attitude in regard to learning the truth. "These were more fairminded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11) The interesting thing about this observation is that these Bereans didn't take for granted that Paul and Silas were accurately teaching truth. After listening, they went to the standard of God's word and "searched the Scriptures," then they compared it against what they had been taught. If they could see the need to confirm what inspired men were teaching, how much more so should we follow their good example in confirming what uninspired men teach?
Apollos was "...an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures..." who "...had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John." (Acts 18:24, 25) He lacked some important understanding of scripture, so "when Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately." (Acts 18:26) Apollos is an example of honesty and humility, who, upon being "corrected," did not react with resentment, but acknowledged his newfound truth and adopted it into his teaching. But what about those who had been previously taught by Apollos? We find that Paul encountered some disciples at Ephesus where Apollos had previously preached before being taught more accurately. Upon questioning these disciples, Paul realized that they too lacked the same information that Apollos had lacked. So he taught them as Aquila and Priscilla had taught Apollos, and the result was "when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 19:5) The moral? "...Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning." (Prov. 9:9)
- Gary V. Womack - June 2003