Why False Teachers Abound

False prophets and teachers are everywhere, but why do so many follow them?

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 27-28; 2 Timothy 4

15 And Jeremiah the prophet said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. 16 Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the Lord.’”

17 In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died. Jeremiah 28:15-17

3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:3-5

The answer is simple. People listen to false prophets and teachers because they prefer their message to the truth even when they suspect it is false.

In Jeremiah’s day, he was opposed by those who claimed to be speaking for God. One such person was Hananiah. He directly contradicted what Jeremiah was saying. The false prophet told the people that Nebuchadnezzar would not suppress them or anyone else. He assured them that the king would be returned from captivity and the stolen items from the temple would all be brought back and replaced. Jeremiah said not only would Judah be subjugated but all their neighboring kingdoms would as well. Someone was lying. Jeremiah was proven right when he prophesied of Hananiah’s death and it occurred on schedule. Would this convince everyone that Jeremiah was to be trusted? Read on and find out.

Paul was writing his final words to Timothy and to us. His warnings and charges are urgent. There would be difficult days ahead. People would not listen to sound teaching. Timothy would have to focus on fulfilling his ministry of preaching the word, including, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting. After all, that is what the Word of God does (2 Timothy 3:16).

Things have not improved in our time. Vast numbers of people still listen to those who tell them what they want to hear without checking to see if this is what the Scriptures teach. “God is all love and everyone is going to heaven.” No! That is not what Jesus or the rest of the Bible says. “God just wants you to be happy and healthy.” No! God calls you and me to repentance and faith in Him. He looks for people with broken and contrite hearts, not presumptuous self-esteem. [See Psalm 51:17; Mark 1:15.]

Study God’s Word. Watch out for the false teachers and phony prophets. They will end up like Hananiah.

Preparing for the Bad, Last Days

What should we do to prepare for the end of time? Scripture is clear. Know God’s Word well.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 25-26; 2 Timothy 3

15 Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”

16 Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.”  Jeremiah 26:15-16

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Paul writes to instruct Timothy in his pastoral duties and also to alert him, and all of us who have lived since him, as to the dangerous, difficult times that were and are to come. We read the list which begins with “lovers of self” and ends with “having the appearance of godliness but denying its power” (vs. 2-5). Narcissism would be rampant with phony, hypocritical uprightness.

Paul was not worried that Timothy would go astray. He knew the depth of character of his protégé. Not only that, Timothy had the Scriptures his whole life, the Word of God which brings wisdom for salvation and goes on to teach, reprove, correct, and train all who know it.

Jeremiah affirmed to the rebellious leaders of Judah that he spoke God’s Word to them. They not only ignored it but pondered executing him for preaching it. He barely escaped death for standing on God’s Word. He might have died for preaching the truth, but his enemies would and did die by it.

How do we prepare for whatever may come? There’s nothing wrong with stocking up on food, water, and firewood, but without a deep knowledge of the Bible, it will be in vain. Be prepared, God’s way, by His Word, given to us that the man or woman of God  “may be complete, equipped for every good work” including enduring the bad, last days.

Christ, Our Righteousness

In Jesus Christ there is sure salvation, because He is our righteousness.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 23-24; 2 Timothy 2

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’                                                                                     Jeremiah 23:5-6

8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.            2 Timothy 2:8-10

The prophet Jeremiah had the uncomfortable, but important, task of denouncing the failed, rebellious kings and prophets of Judah. God promised to punish them, but He also gave hope to the faithful among the people. Here we have a clear promise of a future king, of the lineage of David, who would deal wisely, execute justice and righteousness, and bring salvation and security to Judah and Israel. This and other prophecies kept the believing remnant of Israel hopeful until Jesus Christ, the Messiah, came [e.g. Luke 2:25-38]. Jeremiah and his contemporaries probably could have not imagined in their wildest dreams the extent of this prophecy. God did everything He promised and far more, by calling to Himself through Christ people from every tribe, nation, and tongue, all His elect down through history who in one voice confess, “The Lord is our righteousness.” [1 Corinthians 1:30].

Paul was concerned that the Church, which was beginning to reflect this global, cross-cultural composition, would be faithful to the gospel and to her head, Jesus Christ. He gives instructions to Timothy about preaching the word, appointing qualified godly leaders (see 1 Timothy), and insuring that the truths taught by the apostles to men like Timothy be passed on from generation to generation. Timothy needed to be careful about his own life, being watchful to avoid distracting entanglements with the world and foolish, ignorant controversies. He must do his best in handing the word of God. To do these things he will need to always keep Jesus Christ central in his mind. Ultimately, Timothy, Paul, Jeremiah and all other faithful believers down through history are united with us today to say “He is our righteousness!”

God’s word proclaims that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, but in Christ all who call upon Him are declared righteous before God. Be sure that is your confession and hope, even while you seek to be faithful in your service for Him.

 

Handling Injustice

Two godly men were unjustly imprisoned, but their responses to suffering were quite different.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 20-22; 2 Timothy 1

7 O Lord, you have deceived me,
and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
everyone mocks me.
8 For whenever I speak, I cry out,
I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.               Jeremiah 20:7-8

6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.                                                         2 Timothy 1:6-7

As we saw yesterday, God is the potter and we are the clay. That does not mean that we, who trust in and love Him, will automatically have smooth sailing through life. Both Jeremiah and Paul were imprisoned despite their faithfulness to God’s calling, but notice how differently they responded to their situations.

Jeremiah (ch. 20) was beaten and imprisoned by a priest named Pashur. The next day, upon his release from the stocks, the prophet told Pashur that he would watch his friends die, then, he would go into captivity and die also. So Jeremiah seemed to be unaffected by Pashur’s oppression. Nevertheless, following that episode, the prophet records his lament before God. He says the Lord “deceived” him. He was given a calling and a message from God which he could not silence in himself, lest he explode. As a result of his obedience, he was the joke of society, the village idiot on a national level.

Paul also was suffering imprisonment in Rome as he wrote his final epistle. There is some sadness and longing to see Timothy, but no blaming of God. His focus is still on charging and encouraging Timothy to continued faithfulness in the ministry. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be ashamed of my suffering,” Paul writes him. Paul assures him of his love and prayers, of God’s blessing Timothy with His Spirit, His Word, a godly heritage, salvation, and a calling to His service.

How do you respond to undeserved suffering? Two faithful servants of the Lord demonstrate that whether you vent before God like Jeremiah or calmly keep serving Him like Paul, God is the potter and He will not let you go until He has made of you what He wills and used you as He pleases. Stay faithful, even if you suffer injustice for His sake.

What and Whom to Avoid

Today’s reading: 2 Timothy 4:9-Philemon 25

My selection: Titus 3:9-11

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

My reflections: Paul warned both Timothy and Titus about avoiding foolish controversies and here he warns Titus also to avoid divisive people.  Jesus taught His disciples how to handle sin in the church (Matthew 18:15ff), which in extreme cases of resistance to correction should result in excommunication.

Pastors and elders must know not only what to do but what not to do.  There are many distractions such as controversial issues, stirred up weekly on blogs and social media, that have no merit. There are people who are bent on dividing congregations, often by criticizing the pastor (see 2 Corinthians 10-13).  Paul said, basically, “do not suffer fools gladly.”  According to Jesus (in the Matthew passage cited), there were to be two warnings and then, if there is no response, you administer excommunication and have no further contact with the person until or unless there is clear evidence of repentance.

My challenge: If you are a pastor, are you avoiding the distractions of foolish controversies that are unprofitable and worthless? Beware of being distracted by the latest novel theological idea floating around in cyberspace.  Do you and your elders deal decisively with people who attempt to divide or distract the congregation?  If you are a church member, are you a source of unity or of division in the congregation?  Beware of seeking to show your intelligence by stirring up debates on worthless topics.

Pray that your role in the body of Christ will always be one of promoting the truth of the gospel and the unity of the saints.

Tomorrow’s reading: Hebrews 1:1-6:12

A Warning to Preachers and Churches

Today’s reading: 1 Timothy 6:3-2 Timothy 4:8

My selection:  2 Timothy 4:1-4

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

My reflections: Paul’s letters advise and warn Timothy about how to fulfill his pastoral ministry in Ephesus, but it also holds much instruction and admonition for Christians in general.  It is obvious from the warnings given to Timothy that he was not an infallible super-Christian.  Nor were his congregants models of holiness and integrity.

Timothy might be negligent in preaching truths that would challenge his hearers.  He needed to be faithful to the Word especially when it ran counter to the thoughts and actions of the people.  On the other hand, Timothy, having told the church the uncomfortable truth, might be impatient to see them think and act accordingly, but he was to have complete patience.  Further teaching might be needed.  Change does not come easily even to those who are sealed with the Holy Spirit.

A congregation might be guilty of rejecting truth that would challenge them.  Sound teaching runs contrary to human passions.  When church attenders hear and reject difficult truth, they either leave or try to replace the preacher with someone who will tell them what they want to hear, “chicken soup for the soul.”

My challenge:  Pastors, beware of soft-pedaling God’s truth or of impatience with those you shepherd.  Church members, beware of resisting the truth that runs cross grain to your flesh. All of us will have to answer to God for our faithfulness, or lack thereof, in heeding His Word.

Tomorrow’s reading:  2 Timothy 4:9-Philemon 25

 

Instructions for a Good Servant of Christ Jesus

Today’s reading: I Timothy 1:1-6:2

My selection: I Timothy 4:6-10

6 If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

My reflections: In this succinct statement, Paul gives Timothy crucial commands for anyone who desires to be a good servant of Christ Jesus.

1.  Put truth before those you serve, your brothers and sisters.  Do not stray from the teaching you have received by getting into faddish or trendy teachings.

2.  Practice what you preach.  You yourself must be trained in the words of faith.  You yourself must follow the good doctrine, not irreverent, silly myths. This means you not only believe the truth but you train yourself in godliness with the same intensity of an athlete.

3.  Set your hope on the living God, the Savior.  Do not hope in anyone or anything else.  Set your hope on Him.  Keep your hope on Him. There is a life to come so keep that before you.

My challenge: Consider your service to the Lord today.  Are you a good servant by these standards?  What do you teach?  How do you live? In whom do you hope?  Teach the truth.  Be godly in your life.  Hope in God alone.  Never swerve from this.

Tomorrow’s reading: I Timothy 6:3-II Timothy 4:8