A Tree and Its Fruit

Does anybody else like watching things like police chases on the news?  I have a friend who lives in California.  He posts on Facebook every time there is a police chase on the news in his area, and I always have to stop and watch these chases, no matter how long or short they are.  It just fascinates me.  I don’t know what it is, but I love seeing how these people behave when faced with the possibility of punishment.  I always wonder, when I’m watching these chases, what exactly are these people thinking?  What makes them think that they’re going to be any different than the thousands of other people who have run from the cops, only to be caught?  Who is talking into their ear, and telling them that this is a good idea?   It always fascinates me, too, to hear the news people commentating on the chase.  They all know full well that the chase will come to an end at some point, and that the person or people running will end up getting caught.  Still, these people keep running, and keep thinking they’re going to escape their fate.  It never ends up working out very well for them, though. One of the chases my friend posted, the guy running from police took them all over Los Angeles, and ended up in a shipping area at the ocean, where he got out of his car and climbed up a crane to try to get away from the police.  The chase, of course, ended a few minutes later, because the man didn’t have anywhere to go once he got up there.  His only choices were either jump and die, or let the police take him into custody, which is what he eventually did.  It just makes you wonder why a person would tell themselves, or allow someone else to tell them, that they can do what they’re doing.

Today, we are continuing our series on the Sermon on The Mount, and we are going to be looking at false teachers and false teaching.  The Bible refers to this section of scripture as A Tree and Its Fruit.  Now, I’m sure that, as soon as I said false teachers, a few people popped into your mind, at least for those of us who pay attention to such things.  Some of us could probably even make a list with several names on it.  I can think of at least 10 people off the top of my head, but we’re not going to be focusing today on specific people, but on specific types of people.  These people are known as false teachers because they pervert and twist the gospel, or they use it to make themselves rich, or to gain influence over other people.  Some of them even use their platform and position as a way to take advantage of people.  We will look into each of them today.

Our main scripture today comes from Matthew 7:15 – 20 (NLT).  It says “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.  You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act.  Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.  A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.  So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire.  Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.”

Paul Washer said “One of the greatest distinguishing marks of a false prophet is that he will always tell you what you want to hear; he will never rain on your parade; he will get you clapping, he will get you jumping, he will make you dizzy, he will keep you entertained, and he will present a Christianity to you that will make your church look like a Six Flags Over Jesus.”  This seems to be a popular trend these days.  We see megachurches using props, special effects, even animals in some cases, to get a message across.  For so many people, church looks more like the set of a Michael Bay movie than it does a place of worship.  Now, I don’t want you to misunderstand me.  I am not in any way saying that large churches are a bad thing, or that the preachers in those churches are false teachers.  I have gone to many large churches over the years, and many of them teach very sound doctrine.  Unfortunately, I have also been to some where the gospel is not taught at all, and where people are given a message of encouragement that is more inspirational than scriptural.  There’s nothing wrong with teaching about God’s goodness, as long as repentance is included.  2 Timothy 4:3 – 4 (NIV) 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.”

Tim Challies wrote an article last year called 7 False Teachers In The Church Today.  In it, he pointed out the 7 different types of false teachers that the church faces.  In our message today, we will look at each of the different types of false teacher, and what the Bible has to say about each of them.

1. The Heretic 

The heretic is someone who teaches what blatantly contradicts an essential teaching of the Christian faith.  2 Peter 2:1 – 3 (NIV) says “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 shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.  In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.  Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.”

2. The Charlatan

The charlatan is someone who uses Christianity as a means of getting rich.  1 Timothy 6:3 – 5 (NIV) says “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing.  He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

3. The Prophet

The prophet is someone who claims to be gifted by God to speak fresh revelation outside of scripture which are new, authoritative words of prediction, teaching, rebuke, or encouragement.  1 John 4:1 – 6 (NIV) says “Dear friend, do not believe every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God; Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.  This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”  A few weeks ago, someone on facebook shared a post about predictions that claimed to be “of God”, but they were all about the president winning reelection and a wave of conservative victories across the country.  The danger in prophecy is not what you are prophesying, but the reasons you are doing it.  Far too many people are tricked into believing these men are messengers from God, when they are actually nothing more than hypnotists.

4. The Abuser

The abuser uses his position of power and leadership to take advantage of other people, often in a sexually abusive way.  We have seen much of this come to light in the Catholic church in recent months.  2 Peter 2:2 (NLT) says “Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality.  And because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered.”  Anyone who uses their God-given position as a way to feed his sexual lust is, in my opinion, deserving of both punishment on earth and in the afterlife. 

5. The Divider

The divider is someone who uses a false doctrine to disrupt or destroy a church.  When I was just out of high school, our church hired a new pastor who, over a weekend retreat with the youth group, told a group of high school boys that it was okay to look at pornography, as long as you did not give in to your sexual desires in doing so.  Along with that, he was known to use profanity in his office, as well as belittling women that worked at the church.  It was not long at all before the church split over the decision not to fire him.  Jude 18 – 21 (NLT) says “They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires.  These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you.  They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s spirit in them.  But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life.  In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.” 

6. The Tickler

The tickler is someone who doesn’t care for what God wants, but only cares what men want to hear.  Many people today call these people and the churches they preach at “seeker friendly”.  The New Living Translation version of 2 Timothy 4:3 – 4 says “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching.  They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.  They will reject the truth and chase after myths.”

7. The Speculator

The speculator is someone who is obsessed with novelty, originality, or speculations.  Hebrews 13:8 – 9 (NLT) says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas.  Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules about food, which don’t help those who follow them.”  Paul speaks about these people as well.  In 1 Timothy 1:3 – 4 (NLT), he says “When I left for Macedonia, I urged you to stay there in Ephesus and stop those whose teaching is contrary to the truth.  Don’t let them waste their time in endless discussion of myths and spiritual pedigrees.  These things only lead to meaningless speculations, which don’t help people live a life of faith in God.” 

As I’ve written this message, it’s almost felt like I’m writing a letter back in time to warn John Connor about SkyNet or something.  There are many examples of these kinds of teachers all over the world, and unfortunately, more and more people are seduced by a false form of Christianity every day.  My prayer today is simple, and it goes like this:

Father

We thank You for giving us Your Word, so that we may be able to discern true gospel from one which is not.  Lord, we thank You that we can come to You personally, and You give us wisdom to know and to point out things which are not of You, and I pray that You would give us each the wisdom to see the differences, and not to be swayed by false teachings.  Most of all, we thank You for Your Son Jesus, and for the price He paid on the cross so that we could receive Your grace.  It’s in Your Name we pray.

Amen

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