“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).
It didn’t take long for Paul’s warning to the elders of the Church in Ephesus to come true. Within the lifetimes of the original apostles false teachers had invaded the Church and were spewing their doctrines around wherever they went.
Paul called such people false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. He said they are servants of Satan whose end will be what their actions deserve (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
John said they have the spirit of anti-Christ. He said, “They went out from us but they didn’t really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us they would have remained with us, but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19). In other words they may attend a church but they are not part of the Church.
And, as we saw in a previous study, Jude said,
These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever (Jude 12-13).
Peter was the most aggressive in his condemnation of the false teachers. Here are some excerpts from 2 Peter 2, a chapter devoted entirely and exclusively to false teachers.
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping (2 Peter 2:1-3).
He said it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness then to have known it and then turned their backs on the sacred command that was passed onto them (2 Peter 2:21).
And the Lord said even though they will claim to have prophesied in His name, and in His name driven out demons and performed many miracles, He will deny them entry into the kingdom saying, “I never knew you. Away from me you evil doers” (Matt. 7:22-23).
You would think with the advent of the written word, all this false teaching would have stopped, because believers could check what they were hearing against what the Bible says to see if they were being told the truth or not. But the reality is that even in countries where the Bible is readily available most believers simply don’t take the time to read and understand it. A great majority seems to be content with having someone else read it for them and then tell them what it says. These believers have always been fair game for the false teachers.
Even today, when information abounds, average Christians know very little about what the Bible really says. Many are more familiar with what false teachers tell them it says than what they know from their own study.
Keeping The Wolves At Bay
What’s the remedy for this, you might ask? How do we avoid being deceived by these savage wolves? The answer comes in just one word, wisdom.
James 1:5-8 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”
It’s sad that so many believers who do read the Bible don’t ask the Lord for the wisdom to understand. But even among those who do ask not everyone receives it. This is because deep down most people have doubts about whether the Bible is the actual Word of God. They see conflicts between Biblical descriptions of certain events and what they have come to believe about these events from other sources. They are caught between the claims of an infallible God and the opinions of fallible man.
According to James, this makes them double-minded. He said they shouldn’t expect anything from the Lord. The only ones who ask for and receive wisdom are those who believe wholeheartedly that God is all that He claims to be, has done all that He claims to have done, and will do all that He has promised to do.
The Bible is a supernatural document that can only be understood by those who have been given supernatural ability (1 Cor. 2:14), but all true believers have access to this ability. It comes from the Holy Spirit who is sealed within us (Ephes. 1:13-14). Faith is the key that unlocks this ability because it takes faith to put aside our human understanding and accept God at his word. As you increase in faith, you will increase in understanding His Word, and as you increase in understanding His Word, you will increase in faith. It’s a never ending cycle.
A Great Blessing
I count it as one of the great blessings of my life that when I finally responded to the Lord’s call I was at a point where everything else I had depended on for strength had failed me. It seemed like the gods of money, self determination, and materialism that had once been the mainstay of my life were now working against me. The life I had constructed for myself was based on human tradition and the basic principles of this world. When it suddenly came crashing down around me I was reduced to the humiliating position of being a tenant in one of the apartment buildings I had previously owned. My home and all my earthly possessions were gone. The Lord was showing me that the gods I had been worshiping had proven themselves untrustworthy.
Now please understand that through all this I had thought of myself as a Christian. I was a regular church goer, a sunday school teacher, chairman of the building fund committee and one of my congregation’s leaders, a ruling elder. But since I didn’t have a personal relationship with the Lord I was a Christian in name only, a church goer whose real gods were the things of this world.
The great blessing I gained from the experience of losing everything was that I no longer retained any faith in the wisdom of this world. I had no further interest in trying to reconcile the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God, but considered them to be irreconcilable. God said, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate” (1 Cor. 1:19). For me that was already happening.
I strongly felt the need to learn more about God’s word. Since I was going to trust Him with both my earthly life and my eternal life it seemed logical to learn all I could about Him. This was especially true since by the time I would know from actual experience whether He was trustworthy to save me from my sins it would be too late. I would already be dead.
In what I now believe was the Lord’s doing, a friend convinced me to listen to a set of cassette tapes on Bible prophecy. It covered prophecies that have been fulfilled in the past as well as those that are still in our future. By the time I had finished I was convinced that the Bible contains an unbroken string of prophecies that were spoken and then fulfilled by God stretching back to the beginning of time. I knew that could only be accomplished by someone who stands outside of time and therefore knows the end from the beginning, an ability God claims for Himself. In Isaiah 46:10 He said;
“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times what is still to come.”
It made sense to me that if God fulfilled all those prophecies in the past then certainly He will fulfill the future ones too. After all, fulfilling prophecies is the way He proves to us that He is who He claims to be. In Isaiah 42:8-9 He proclaimed;
“I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”
Therefore I determined that I would accept His word for things even when it ran contrary to what I’d been taught in school or what I’d come to believe through my experience. No matter what the outcome of my life, when I stood before Him I wanted to be able to say, “I took you at your word.”
These decisions, which I believe were inspired by God, have helped me greatly in my search for wisdom because they follow the instructions James gave us to believe and not doubt. You see, the Bible doesn’t contain any multiple choice answers to the Great Questions of mankind. For example, it only offers one explanation for the creation. It only gives us one way to be saved, and one way to be certain we’ll remain so. There’s only one version of the end times contained within its pages. After a person has decided to accept God’s word as it’s written, the Bible becomes a lot easier to understand because there’s only one truth and that truth is revealed consistently throughout. Understanding that makes identifying false teachers simple, just like Paul said it would be in Acts 17:11.
The Fear Of The Lord Is The Beginning Of Wisdom(Proverbs 9:10)
When used in reference to God, the Hebrew word translated fear means respect, reverence, piety. When we learn to approach God’s word with respect, reverence and piety, believing that it consists entirely of a message straight from the Creator of the Universe to us, and is therefore not something to be treated casually, we’ll start to acquire its wisdom. The ability to teach the Bible is a gift from God (Romans 12:6-8), Some have it and some don’t. But the wisdom to understand it is something He makes available to all. He asks only that we believe and do not doubt.
As I said at the beginning, most Christians are content to let others do the reading and tell them what it says. Complaining that the Bible is too difficult to read they completely ignore the fact that they’ve been given a supernatural ability to help them comprehend it, and if they just ask they can have it in abundance.
When we approach God with respect and reverence, not doubting but seeking only to understand, He will grant us His wisdom and we will understand His word like never before. It’s the strongest defense there is against false teaching and the only thing that will keep the savage wolves at bay.