“For the house of Israel and the house of Judah Have dealt very treacherously with Me,’ says the Lord. They have lied about the Lord, And said, ‘It is not He. Neither will evil come upon us, Nor shall we see sword or famine. And the prophets become wind, For the word is not in them. Thus shall it be done to them.” Jeremiah 5:11-13
The lies of false preachers are so devious and treacherous that even true preachers can fall prey to their lies. How can that possibly happen when we know so much about false preaching and teaching from God’s Word? Shouldn’t church leaders be wise enough to know when someone is trying to ensnare and trap them?
“For among My people are found wicked men; They lie in wait as one who sets snares; They set a trap; They catch men. As a cage is full of birds, So their houses are full of deceit. Therefore they have become great and grown rich. They have grown fat, they are sleek; Yes, they surpass the deeds of the wicked; They do not plead the cause, The cause of the fatherless; Yet they prosper, And the right of the needy they do not defend. Shall I not punish them for these things?’ says the Lord. ‘Shall I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this?’ ‘An astonishing and horrible thing Has been committed in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule by their own power; And My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?” Jeremiah 5:26-31
In our last study about false preachers we looked at what they preach and why they preach it. We looked at how to discern false preaching and teaching in local churches, conferences, denominations, writing (e.g. articles, books), radio and television, and new media (e.g. social media, blogs, online videos). Once you become adept at discerning false preachers and teachers, you will find that distinguishing between truth and lies is something you can do with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, there is one more thing we must consider and that’s how good preachers and teachers are “caught and trapped” by false preachers and teachers. While it is sad to see good men trapped by “wicked men,” it is even sadder to see how many trusting Christians who follow the truth preachers are pulled into the trap with them.
God’s Word gives us the insights we need to know how to handle this growing problem in the Church.
- Among My people are found wicked men
- They lie in wait as one who sets snares
- They set a trap
- They catch men
- As a cage is full of birds, So their houses are full of deceit
- They have become great and grown rich
- They have grown fat, they are sleek
- They surpass the deeds of the wicked
- They do not plead the cause, The cause of the fatherless
- Yet they prosper, And the right of the needy they do not defend
- Shall I not punish them for these things?
- Shall I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this?
- The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule by their own power; And My people love to have it so.
- And the prophets become wind, For the word is not in them. Thus shall it be done to them.
Among My people are found wicked men – even as there were many false prophets and lying priests among the people of Israel and Judah, there are many false preachers and teachers in the Church today. What they do, they do secretly and covertly at first.
Jeremiah said “they lie in wait as one who sets snares.” Peter wrote that false teachers “will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1). Here’s one of the worst parts of Peter’s prophecy – “And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Peter 2:2). How will they pull that off? “By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words” (2 Peter 2:3)
The Apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders of the same thing – “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29-30).
What common thread do you see in these prophetic warnings about false prophets and teachers? Covetousness.
“For I will stretch out My hand Against the inhabitants of the land,’ says the Lord. ‘Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them, Everyone is given to covetousness; And from the prophet even to the priest, Everyone deals falsely.” Jeremiah 6:12-13
Everyone is given to covetousness – False preachers and teachers want what doesn’t belong to them. They want the glory, credit and attention that belongs to God alone. They want people to follow them instead of Christ. They want to be great and important in the eyes of others. They want to be rich and enjoy the “fat” of the land, even at the expense of the poor and needy.
Don’t think it can happen to good men, honorable men, men who preach truth? Then you haven’t been paying attention. It can happen, has happened, does happen and will continue to happen. As the Apostle Peter wrote, “By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words.” As Paul said, “Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.”
Anyone can be trapped by more attention, more followers, higher position, and more riches. Anyone, including good preachers and teachers who have dedicated themselves to serving God and His people, can fall into the snares laid for them by wicked men and become trapped. And the people who follow those good men? Some of them fall in the snares and are trapped as well.
Have you ever laid a snare for an animal and trapped one? Did you make a lot of noise when the animal came close to the snare? Did you shoot flares and let all the animals in the area know that you had laid a trap for them? Of course not. If you were with a group of hunters and acted that way they’d send you packing.
Hunter/trappers get up very early in the morning, before the animals are up, and lay their traps. Some hunters lay traps days in advance of when animals will be in the area. Experienced hunter/trappers know how to hide their human scent with animal scent so animals are not tipped off to the dangers through their keen sense of smell. Hunter/trappers know the strengths and weaknesses of the animals they want to trap. They hide the trap and put things in the pathway that will entice an animal to get close enough to the snare to be trapped. Once the animal is trapped, the hunters move in for the kill.
It’s the same way with preachers of truth. A false preacher is not going to catch a truth preacher by making their lies obvious. Wicked men will get up early and lay the snare, hide their evil scent (wolves in sheep’s clothing), and place enticements on the pathway so that the truth preacher gets close to the snare and falls in, thus trapped by wicked men. Close followers of the truth preacher won’t realize what’s happening and will fall into the snare right behind their preacher. Followers of the truth preacher who are farther away and more discerning of the signs ahead will have time to stop before falling into the same trap.
How to Recognize that a Truth Preacher is About to Fall into a Trap Set by Wicked Men
These points are true for truth preacher/teachers in local churches, conferences, denominations, in books and articles, on radio and television and social media. There are probably some important points missing from these lists, but I wanted to present only those I had personally witnessed since becoming a Christian. I traveled quite a bit during the first decade of my Christian life and had the opportunity to visit many churches and attend many church conferences. I heard some of the top preachers and teachers in the country and had the opportunity to share a meal with several of them and learn more about their hearts and hopes. While some have remained faithful to the Gospel of Christ, some have left the faith and overturned the faith of many. I’ve also been involved with several local churches and seen how good people fall into Satan’s traps even after being warned.
I share this “discernment guide” with you based on God’s Word, the guidance of the Holy Spirit and more than four decades of experience in Christian ministry. May it help you in your service to Jesus Christ, “the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Listen to their Sermons/Lessons
- Do you hear a difference in how the preacher/teacher approaches God’s Word now than in the past?
- Has he backed away from strong stands against sin that were part of his ministry months or years before?
- Does he address the Deity of Jesus Christ in any way that differs from what he preached/taught in the past?
- Is he hesitant in addressing false doctrine promoted in the church because of personal reasons or fear of people?
- Does he approach the essentials of the Christian faith in ways that differ from what he preached/taught in the past?
- Are his sermons more about “feelings” (emotions) and less about “doctrines” (teachings)?
- Does he talk more about the Holy Spirit than Jesus Christ?
- Is he interested in seeing more “signs and wonders” in the church as evidence of God’s blessings?
- Does he preach/teach more about God’s blessings being physical (e.g. money, riches, possessions, fame) than spiritual (e.g. holiness, obedience to God, souls saved)?
- Does the size of financial offerings become a more important barometer of success in the church than the spiritual offering of one’s life in service to God?
- Does he use less Scripture and more stories, humor and anecdotes?
- Is he using new spiritual terms without defining them? Do you recognize some of those terms as also being used by false teachers?
- Is he focused more on his authority in the church than the authority of Christ in His Church?
- Does he seem more concerned about how he is perceived by others than by God?
- Does he quote from books written by authors you recognize as being false teachers or associated with false teachers?
- Does he want the congregation to read the same books?
- Does he show videos that make people feel better about themselves instead of worse about sin and better about God?
- Does the preacher/teacher talk more about building relationships with people than building a relationship with God?
- Do his sermons seem like a different Gospel than what he used to preach?
- Does he preach sermons and plan services that are seeker pleasing or God pleasing?
- Does he stay away from topics that are controversial?
- Are his messages crafted to be “politically correct” so that no one is offended?
Listen to their Conversations
- Is the preacher talking more about himself and what he wants and less about Jesus and what He wants?
- Does he talk more about recreation and vacations than the hard work of preaching the Gospel to the lost?
- Does he talk more about what other preachers say than what God says?
- Does he talk more like other preachers than the way he used to talk?
- Does he talk more about earthly/natural things than Heavenly/supernatural things?
- Does he say one thing publicly, but do the opposite privately?
- Does he say things you know are a lie?
- Does he get upset when confronted about his lies or is he repentant?
- Does he not want to address false teachings in the church that are brought to his attention?
Watch their Behavior
- Is he becoming more or less like Christ in his attitude toward church members and unsaved people in the community?
- Is he proud in areas where he used to be humble?
- Does he seem more interested in compromising than overcoming?
- Does he have an unusual interest in women who are not his wife?
- Does he have an unusual, even unnatural interest in children who are not his own kids?
- Is he more interested in dominating your faith than building it?
- Is he becoming more controlling about church funds, wanting exclusive control of the checkbook or placing his friends in a position of financial control?
- Is he more secretive about the church and ministry now than in the past?
- Does he get upset and even angry when people in his church question his leadership or don’t do everything he tells them to do?
- Has he changed his lifestyle in ways that seem to look more like the lifestyles of other preachers and teachers?
Listen to their Plans
- Do the preacher’s plans focus more on what he wants and less on what God wants?
- Does the preacher want to spend more money on himself and his family and on church buildings than on orphans, widows and the poor?
- Does he have plans to attend conferences and meetings that are theologically questionable?
- Does he have plans to invite questionable preachers to speak at your church?
- Do his plans seem more about building an earthly kingdom (kingdom now) than a spiritual kingdom (kingdom in Heaven)?
- Do his plans for the church look more like Laodicea than Philadelphia? More like Ephesus than Smyrna?
Preachers and teachers should be growing in their faith and knowledge just like other Christians. God’s goal for our lives is “to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). Do you see the purpose there? We are not conformed (fashioned) to the image of Christ so that “we” can be first among many brethren. We are conformed to the image of Christ so that “He” might be first. Whenever you see the emphasis of a preacher/teacher’s message and life change from “Christ-centered” to “me-centered” or even “we-centered,” know that something bad is going on. Something is enticing them to leave their “first love” (Revelation 2:4). There is only one answer to that problem – “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5)
Repentance is the only spiritual “ladder” out of the snares set for truth preachers and their followers who fall into the traps set by wicked men. When we study the seven church letters Jesus dictated to the Apostle John in Revelation, we see that five of the churches had fallen into spiritual traps. The spiritual ladder that Jesus offered to each of those five churches was the same – “repent.” Preachers and teachers who fall into the snares of wicked men can get out, but they and their followers will have to repent and humble themselves before God. That’s the only way out.
How Not to Follow a Truth Preacher into a Trap Set by Wicked Men
I believe strongly in warning young Christians about the danger of spiritual traps because they’re everywhere. Remember about hunter/trappers who get up early in the morning and even days in advance to set traps? Spiritual snares are already in place to trap new Christians. The traps are probably already set inside the church they attend or the concerts or conferences they go to with their new Christian friends. Wicked men are everywhere, savage wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after themselves. What did the Apostle Paul tell church leaders to do about that? Watch and warn night and day (Acts 20:31).
So, how can we be sure that we’re not following a truth preacher/teacher into a trap set by wicked men?
- Read your Bible every day and pray for wisdom to understand what you’re reading. (Ephesians 1:15-23)
- Compare all preachers and teachers with the preachers and teachers in the Bible that God identifies as good men to follow. God’s Word also explains the kind of men we should not follow. (1 Timothy 3:1-13; 2 Timothy 1:13; 3:1-17; Titus 1:5-16)
- Look at the spiritual “fruits” of every preacher and teacher you know. Jesus gave us the best method for discerning what kind of preacher/teacher a man is because “every tree is known by its own fruit.” (Luke 6:43-45)
- Ask God for a spiritually adept mentor who can help guide you through the maze of traps set by wicked men. (2 Timothy 2:1-3)
- Compare everything to Scripture, everything. The snares of wicked men are everywhere, so never stop comparing everything you see and hear with Scripture. (2 Timothy 3:13-17)
- Be wary of earthly riches. Jesus and His apostles warned of the dangers of money, fame and power. Remember what the prophets said about the power of covetousness to corrupt good men.
- Remember your true enemy – Satan. He set the first trap (Genesis 3:1-7) and has been setting traps for God’s people for thousands of years. The devil is quite adept at setting traps and using false preachers and teachers to set snares for truth preachers and teachers and the people who follow them.
How To Be Sure You’re Right
Given that Satan has used wicked men to set multiple traps for God’s people, how can we be sure that we’re right about what we believe about a preacher or teacher? How can we ensure that we haven’t fallen into a snare of the devil in thinking we can discern true preaching/teaching from false preaching/teaching?
God has given us at least five confirmations to ensure that what we believe about any particular thing is right:
Confirmation of God’s Word
“Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.” 2 Timothy 2:15-18
Rightly dividing the Word of Truth means handling it correctly, cutting a straight line with it, knowing the difference between truth and a lie. Part of a commitment to rightly dividing the Word of Truth is to “shun profane and idle babblings” because Paul knew they would increase to more ungodliness and would spread like cancer. In Paul’s example for Timothy he mentioned two members of a local church, Hymenaeius and Pheletus. They had “strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past.” Why was that a bad thing? Wouldn’t it just hurt Hymenaeius and Pheletus? Paul contined – “and they overthrow the faith of some.” That word, overthrow, is the Greek word anatrepousin. It means “to turn up or over, to upset.” It’s the same word used in the physical sense when Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers (John 2:15) and in the spiritual sense when “those of the circumcision” would be insubordinate and use their voices to deceive and subvert (anatrepousin – overturn, overthrow, upset) entire households “teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain.” (Titus 1:11) There’s another example of teachers coming into a congregation with false teachings “for the sake of dishonest gain.” Covetousness (love of money, power and prestige) is a root problem in false preaching/teaching.
Paul had mentioned Hymenaeius before in his first letter to Timothy – “This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (1 Timothy 1:18-20) Even though the Apostle Paul had delivered Hymenaeus to Satan to learn not to blaspheme, we see Hymenaeus still teaching false doctrine in Paul’s second letter to Timothy.
Confirmation of God’s Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the true Author of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21), so He will always confirm what He wrote. That’s why it’s so important that we read God’s Word and understand it. The Holy Spirit will never confirm anything as true in the life and message of a preacher/teacher that He confirmed as false in the Bible. The Holy Spirit is not here to talk about Himself. He’s here to talk about Jesus. He’s here to guide God’s people into all truth. He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will tell us about things to come. The Holy Spirit will glorify Christ. He will take of what is Christ’s and declare that to us (John 16:13-15). The Holy Spirit is here to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11). Based on what the Holy Spirit is here to do, He will confirm what’s true and what’s false to you as long as you are reading the word with understanding and rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
Confirmation of God’s Mentors
First, some Scriptural examples, then some caveats.
“I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind … Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.” 2 Timothy 1:3-7, 13-14
“But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 3:10-15
“You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:1-2
You may already have godly mentors in your life, but if you don’t ask of God and He will give them to you. The Lord wants you to follow Him and only Him and He knows who to send to you.
Now for the caveats. Human mentors are just that, human. They are fallible. They can and do make mistakes. So, you need to use the same guidelines with your mentors to make sure they haven’t fallen into a snare or aren’t headed down a path that could lead to a snare. The last thing you want to do is follow a mentor blindly and fall on top of him at the bottom of a spiritual trap. You may find it very difficult to get out once in.
I will also warn you that Christian or spiritual mentoring is a buzz word among false preachers and teachers. They will use spiritual mentoring (discipling) as a way of pulling you into one of their snares.
Confirmation of God’s Examination
We know that God will judge what we’ve done in the flesh through a supernatural testing when we are with Christ in Heaven – “each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:13). What Paul wrote next is sobering:
“If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 1 Corinthians 3:14-15
Given the fact that God is going to reveal and test the work we do on earth, is there anything we can do now to prepare ourselves for that testing? Yes, there is.
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified.” 2 Corinthians 13:1-6
We need to examine our faith regularly to make sure that what we’re doing is from God and for God, not from us and for us. Keep in mind what Jesus said about His future judgment of people. Many will be surprised to hear these words from Jesus:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” Matthew 7:21-23
Do you recognize those people? They prophesied in Christ’s Name, cast out demons in Christ’s Name, and did many wonders in Christ’s Name. What will Jesus say to them? “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” They will look at Jesus in Heaven and say to Him, “Lord, Lord,” expecting to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. However, Jesus said that “he who does the will of My Father” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Isn’t preaching in the Name of Jesus, casting out demons in the Name of Jesus and doing many wonders in the Name of Jesus doing the will of God? According to what Jesus said, it is not enough. False preachers and teachers will point to prophecies preached, demons cast out and wonders performed, but it won’t get them into the Kingdom of Heaven because what they did was not the will of the Father in Heaven.
That’s a tough message to share with people because they look at preachers and teachers as celebrities rather than servants like themselves (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 for a good explanation of that principle). Be cautious about what you think about others and yourself.
Confirmation of Our Experience
As I mentioned earlier I had the opportunity during the first several years of my Christian life to attend many Bible conferences across the country and listen to and meet many well-known Christian leaders. As I listened to some of them I was impressed by their passion, but warned by the Spirit that something was wrong with their words, motives and intent. I was not always able to identify what was wrong, but I trusted the leading of the Spirit and eventually learned why He had warned me.
Some of the men God warned me about in those early years have gone on to become leaders in large movements of false teaching in the Church and have overturned the faith of many. Trusting in the confirmations of God’s Word, God’s Spirit, God’s mentors and God’s examination will help us be able to distinguish false preachers and teachers from true preachers and teachers. It will also help us discern when a preacher or teacher in our church is close to falling into snares set by wicked men.
Here are some reminders as we wrap up this study of a Prophet’s Perspective About Preachers. My prayer for you and me is that God will keep us from falling into the snares of the wicked one and use us to point others toward the narrow path that leads to life and freedom.
“If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself. Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Timothy 6:3-10
“ But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:20-26
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”