Detecting a false prophet, their craftiness, their followers, and how to respond: love or shun?
“…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:14)
When we anchor our faith on the Word of God, we won’t be “carried around by every wind of doctrine”. These various doctrines come to us by way of the false prophets. The false prophet’s agenda is to attack the truth of God’s Word. Since right doctrines lead to right living and false doctrines lead to bad living, having right teaching is paramount. Jesus explained how even a little error is very damaging (Galatians 5:9). Many friends I have had believe that Christians are to “eat the meat and spit out the bones” when it comes to listening to teaching. That is, to take what is good and discard what is bad or false, and to keep listening. Where do we see Christ teaching this?
The Bible also likens false prophets to wolves. They seek to destroy the flock with their false teaching. In fact, they have an inner drive to bring down God’s sheep, and often this drive is well disguised. The Bible says false prophets are crafty:
“These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted…” (Jude 1:12)
So crafty are false prophets that they seek to get to the sheep by infiltrating our churches and homes (this can be through radio, TV, books, online sermons, etc.):
“For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim. 3:6,7)
One of the commands of Jesus is to beware the false prophets who come to us in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. Please notice in the Scripture above the word, “creep”. How many people have you known who look and seem like Christians, but who turn out in the end to be teaching false doctrine and their own ideas over the truth of God’s Word? It was the ancient Pharisees who nullified God’s Word in order to follow their own ideas:
“…thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:13)
This is why Jesus had a problem with the Pharisees (an ancient Jewish sect). They were overly lax and liberal with the truth and commands of God and invented their own false teachings instead. They set themselves up as religious representatives to the people. The Bible says to beware the false teachers, but it is also the command of Christ to seek to reconcile with others whom we have offended or who are offended by us, to put out those fires in our lives, and “leave your gift at the alter”:
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23,24)
Reconciling with others is an act of worship. Being the one who actually seeks the reconciliation is spiritual maturity; however, does God even want us running after certain people He has removed from our lives? Based on my own personal experience, sometimes it is painfully clear who is a false prophet and sometimes it is not so clear. There is great danger in mistaking a wolf for a sheep, but there is also great danger in mistaking a sheep for a wolf. Jesus wants us to have peace with our brothers, and we must not call our brothers what they are not (see Matthew 5:22). Jesus said we can know them by their fruit and of course, whether or not they are teaching truth or lies. What happens when there is a false teacher in the family? Would God ever call a believer to reconcile with a false prophet? Why or why not? And, do false brothers or “tares” also fall into this category (i.e., the category of “beware”)? Paul said he was in danger of false brothers in 2 Corinthians 11:26. I have come across false teachers, and it is a mind trip when it happens. The shock of it feels a bit like being a “deer in the headlights” when the individual you thought was a dear friend or pastor turns out to be a massive semi truck about to run you over and devour you swiftly with lies and false accusations rooted in lies.
Another command of Christ is to let your light shine because God is good to all:
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:44,45)
Was Christ referring to the false teachers too when he said “enemies”? With all the multitude of exceedingly stern warnings in Scripture about false prophets and false teachers, not to mention, the one which commands us to “mark and avoid” such people (Romans 16:17), how do you personally reconcile all these verses together? For example, what if there is a false prophet in your family? How would God want you to treat them? What if they got sick or needed money? It seems as thought there is a vast disconnect between “loving enemies and letting your light shine” and “being weary of, marking and avoiding” such individuals. When light shines, it shines on all. Light is not exactly selective on who or what it shines on. I am not suggesting shining light on the false prophets nor casting pearls before swine, but I am raising some real questions.
One time, years ago, I was actually exceedingly nice to a false prophet. I bought them gifts for all their children and expressed my love to them in many acts of service. Of course, I didn’t actually know they were a false prophet at that point. It didn’t turn out for my benefit at all, but ended up being massively, spiritually damaging. The guy ended up severely verbally abusing dozens (if not hundreds, actually) of sincere “sheep”. Wolves don’t exactly care if you are nice to them – it does not phase them – I have noticed. They are still wolves by nature. I am not suggesting that you make the same mistake I did.
What has been your experience, and how do you weigh all these verses together in your quest to obey the commands of Christ? Do you think the false prophets go after the empathetic and merciful types of “sheep” more than others? How do you know when God wants you to “go and reconcile” and when God wants you to “run and shun”?