Recognizing False Prophets or False Teachings
Test All Things
“Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 NKJV) “Put all things to the test: keep what is good and avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 TEV)
To recognize false prophets or false teachings we must heed the above verse and “test all things.” We must not just accept anything that is being said or written, we need to learn the all important lesson of testing or “proving” the issues of this life. In the world that we live there are so many things that are false and evil. We must be constantly on guard and “prove” or test things, lest we become ensnared by something that is wicked. Cults are spreading. Many Christians are being deceived and have accepted idolatrous practices without even being aware of their evil. Some religious groups have existed for years under the guise of Christianity and yet are far from the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Lord warns us of these false teachers and tells us to be aware of them.
Jesus gives us the guideline for determining false prophets:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?
Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
“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 7:15-23 NKJV)
God’s Standard, The Bible
Certainly, we are admonished to be on guard. However, some go to such extremes as to become narrow-minded and closed to some beautiful truths in the name of being careful. What should our role as Christians be in regard to acceptance of a new thought, idea or doctrine? We are told to test or prove all things, not to reject them because they might be strange or new to us. However, we should not receive them either, until we first prove them.
How do we test things? All true Christians are in agreement that our standard is the Word of God, the Bible. God left us this Book as a reference, standard, or gauge so we could know whether something is good or evil, truth or error, right or wrong. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 TEV))
One of our major faults as Christians is that we tend to quote men on certain subjects instead of referring to the Book God gave us. We recognize that God gave us men to lead us into the truths of God, but our problem becomes who are the true men of God and who are the false ones that Christ warned us about? Sometimes we tend to evaluate men according to the size of their ministries, their popularity with men, or their endowment of certain gifts, etc.
Check the Fruits
The Lord said in verse 20 of Matthew 7 that we would know them by their fruits. What are these fruits? Galatians 5:22-24 defines them as being the fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
We are told to look at their lives and see if these fruits are predominant in them and examine if they are living the crucified life. Of course, we must allow for imperfections that have not been overcome yet; but we should readily see the fruit of the Spirit in more abundance than the imperfections. One way we can check this is to notice the words that a man speaks. The Scripture says in Matthew 12:33-35 (NKJV), “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.”
Pride and Greedy Lifestyles
Many people have been led astray when they could have recognized the wrong spirit simply by the boastful and conceited words of men who exalted themselves instead of Christ. Others would have been spared if they had examined the lifestyles of certain men who claim to be God’s anointed. Their lifestyles are far from being temperate, reflecting expensive and ostentatious living habits. This is not referring to well-dressed men and women, nice homes, and quality things but the extremes which reveal anything but the nature of Christ. Of course, neither is the other extreme of poverty the nature of Christ. Men of God should live temperate, moderate lives, overcoming poverty and avoiding extreme show of wealth.
Jesus warns against serving two masters, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Luke 16:13 NKJV) The greed for money or the undue emphasis on the giving of tithes does not reflect the Spirit of Christ. Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” (Matthew 23:23 NKJV) “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:13 NKJV)
True Prophets Reflect Jesus
Let us test all leaders and see if their fruit is good fruit. Do they love and not hate, have joy instead of depression, and promote peace instead of strife? Do they keep criticizing others? Are they longsuffering (patient) or impatient, gentle or harsh? Do they show love and tolerance for those that oppose them? Do they walk in faith, or doubt and unbelief? Are they meek, giving God the glory for their talents and gifts, or do they pridefully talk of all they are doing or their group is doing? Does temperance prevail not only in their lifestyle, but in their personal habits as well, or do extremes exist that do not glorify God? In essence they will not live for themselves, but for others as Jesus did. Do they reflect Jesus? They will live a crucified life that glorifies God! Proverbs 20:11 (NKJV) says, “Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right”
Examining the conversation of these leaders can quickly reveal the God they serve. Do they speak of God’s kingdom, His righteousness, and His love; or does their conversation center on money and the things of this world and life? Are they peacemakers, sowing mercy and love? Are they gentle and patient, or do they lose their temper easily? Do they walk in faith, or are they continually looking to other men for their needs to be supplied? Are they always pressuring people for money, or do they simply receive those gifts of money as unto the Lord? Do they have the joy of the Lord, or do they minister out of duty? Are they truly joyous with that joy spilling over to others, or do they continually complain and gripe over all the things that are not pleasing to them? Is goodness evident in their lives instead of evil? Do they put people in bondage by always threatening them with the wrath of God, or is freedom of choice extended with the occasional reminder of the penalties of sin? Are they being manipulative with the over-emphasis on the wrath of God? Jesus came to set us free, not to bring us under the bondage of men.
Examining lives by this standard we must be careful not to go to extremes ourselves and expect total perfection of all ministers or elders. There are many godly men and women who are called of God, who have overcome in many areas, although they still have some weak areas. They are believing as they walk with the Lord that these too will be perfected.
We are especially called to be patient and loving towards our brothers and sisters in the Lord. But to turn away from men who, “will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3:2-5 NKJV)
The Qualities of Church Elders are spelled out in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 (NKJV)
“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.
A bishop then must be blameless,
the husband of one wife,
of good behavior,
able to teach;
not given to wine,
not greedy for money,
one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?);
not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.
Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Likewise deacons must be reverent,
not given to much wine,
not greedy for money,
holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience.
But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless.
Likewise their wives must be reverent,
faithful in all things.
Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.
For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.”