By Rick Becker 7 September 2017
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” – John 10:10. We are all familiar with this phrase, usually quoted when referring to Satan. However, when we examine the context, we see that Jesus is in fact referring to false teachers. Satan is certainly a liar who is hell bent on destroying God’s sheep by any means, and one way his intentions are carried out is through false teachers.
If we look at the context of this verse, we see a contrast between Jesus – the good shepherd, and the false shepherds of Israel – the Pharisees. The previous chapter recounts the healing of the man born blind, and how despite this miracle by Jesus, the Pharisees excommunicated the blind man and condemned Jesus – the good shepherd. Jesus promptly rebukes the Pharisees (John 9:40-41) and Chapter 10 continues in the same vein, with the object of Jesus’ condemnation being the religious leaders of Israel. Jesus refers to them as “that man” vs 1, “a stranger” vs 5, “all who came before me” vs 8, “a hired hand” vs 12, clearly all references to the religious leaders.
In verse one, we are told: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber” John 10:1. Jesus is using a parable to contrast a true shepherd, who cares for the flock, as opposed to a hireling, who is ultimately concerned with some sort of selfish gain. Today we have hirelings in the church: these false shepherds do not fulfil the biblical criteria to minister in the church. Scripture is clear, one of the qualifications is that those who teach must be able to rightly divide the word of truth: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.“ 2 Timothy 2:15
These hirelings have not come through the door which is Christ, but as Jude warned have “crept in unnoticed.” The threat to the spiritual welfare of the church is internal because this is where false teachers operate – within the fold. You will find these hirelings on stage at a plethora of conferences hosted annually by churches or movements such as Hillsong, Bethel, The Call, IHOP, Willow Creek GLS and others. Some of their common errors include the prosperity gospel, word of faith heresy, and dominion theology as espoused by those in the New Apostolic Reformation.
They have disguised themselves as “apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). These false apostles are described as being savage wolves. Paul warned the Ephesian elders: “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them… ” Acts 20:29-30
False teachers come to steal, kill and destroy. They do this through their teachings and behaviour: “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).
How exactly do false teachers “steal kill and destroy?” The passage above reveals some of the ways:
Their false doctrine which is destructive – false teachings present either a distorted view of man or a distorted view of God. Last weeks blog post revealed the extent to which false teachers have distorted the biblical view of mankind. It is impossible to mature in the the faith, or at times even be in the faith unless these two views are aligned with scripture. A distorted view of God is not a foundation to build upon – Os Guiness explains: “Sometimes when I listen to people who say they have lost their faith, I am far less surprised than they expect. If their view of God is what they say, then it is only surprising that they did not reject it much earlier. Other people have a concept of God so fundamentally false that it would be better for them to doubt than to remain devout. The more devout they are, the uglier their faith will become since it is based on a lie. Doubt in such a case is not only highly understandable, it is even a mark of spiritual and intellectual sensitivity to error, for their picture is not of God but an idol. ”
― Os Guinness, God in the Dark.
Their conduct maligns Christianity – scandal after scandal has plagued popular leaders of mega churches (due to their depraved conduct) bringing the name of Christ into disrepute. Extra marital affairs, plagiarism, covering up a family members pedophilia, stealing church funds, sensual productions on church stages and other indiscretions are regularly witnessed. To make matters worse, there is little accountability, and the perpetrators are usually “restored” to a ministry position they were never qualified for in the first place, after a few months.
Their exploitation of people through their lies. A good shepherd will protect his sheep at all costs. False teachers exploit the flock through various manipulative means, justified through their twisting of scripture. The weak, vulnerable, hurting and naive are preyed upon and abused. Furthermore, a hireling’s primary concern is the wages he/she will receive at the end of the day. This brings us to three observations concerning false teachers who come to steal, kill and destroy:
1. They exploit their followers through stealing their money:
Their ultimate concern is self gratification, monetary reward being one of their motives: “..they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” Titus 1:11 This means that they want your money as “they have hearts trained in greed” 2 Peter 2:14. Let’s not lay all the blame on them, because in order to enrich themselves, they appeal to the greed of their followers. Teaching on tithing or the “principle of sowing” therefore dominates many of their messages.
New Testament believers are never commanded to tithe, but to give in this manner: “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9: 6-8
The irony is that tithing did not work for prosperity teachers; what made them rich are their fabricated stories which tickle ears. The apostle Paul did not mince his words when teaching on how we should deal with those who teach false doctrine and are motivated by greed: “For there are many who are insubordinate,empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith,” Titus 1: 1 – 13
Don’t be fooled by all the good these teachers do, and you can be certain that they will let you know that they are doing good! Most of these celebrity teachers and megachurches make sure that they do some charitable work. Some might point to these works as evidence of good fruit, however, building Orphanages, christian universities, fighting human trafficking etc can never justify a false gospel. “You will know them by their fruits” also refers to sound doctrine. Those who teach what they ought not to, are displaying bad fruits.
“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” 1 Timothy 6:3-6.
2. They tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear:
False teachers tell you what you want to hear, and in doing so rob you of the truth, and of Christ himself. What does our carnal nature want to hear about? Self, naturally. Our destiny, our purpose, our legacy. Sadly, Paul described the times we are living in in his letter to Timothy: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 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, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” 2 Timothy 4: 2-4
When last have you heard a sermon by one of these mega church leaders condemning sin, exposing false doctrine, warning of the judgement to come, rebuking, reproving, and contending for the faith? These are subjects they conveniently ignore as they are too busy catering for the passions of those on the wide road that leads to destruction. The cost of following Christ has been exchanged for the comforts of a relationship with God in which you determine the conditions and rewards – a partnership.
This is not a new scenario; God condemned Israel for seeking out prophets who told them what they wanted to hear: “For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord; who say to the seers, “Do not see,” and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 30: 9-11. Centuries later, this verse is still applicable to the likes of T D Jakes, Brian Houston, Joel Osteen, Shawn Bolz, Patricia King and Kris Vallotton to name but a few.
What these teachers will offer, is the opposite of self denial and picking up your cross. Self denial has been replaced with gratification of self: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,” 2 Timothy 3: 1-4
3 They cause division in the body:
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” Romans 16:17-18
We need to dispel a common misconception regarding this verse. This verse is NOT saying that warning people of smooth talkers and exposing their error is divisive. This verse IS saying that those who cause cause divisions and obstacles are the smooth talkers who have veered off from the doctrine they had been taught. These hirelings need to be marked (named) and avoided (a healthy division) as they take advantage of their naive followers. Their common errors include teachings that place us back under the law (Galatians 2), grace as an excuse to continue in sin (Romans 6), and false philosophy (Colossians 2).
The book of Jude exhorts us to contend for the faith, and then goes on to describe false teachers who have crept into the church. Jude then states that “It is these who cause divisions.” Jude 19
It is those who depart from sound doctrine that are causing division: “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.“ Acts 20: 29 -30
The dividers are those who twist or ignore scripture. These are some of the words scripture uses to describe their teachings and methods: myths, cleverly invented stories, fables, relying on dreams, destructive heresies, distort the truth, empty talkers. Paul, in his first Epistle to Timothy, reveals the consequences of following false doctrine: “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.” 1 Timothy 6: 20 -21
Paul lamented the ease with which false apostles were accepted in Corinth: “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.“ 2 Corinthians 11:4
Sadly, today is no different, let us heed the words of Charles Spurgeon:
“He who does not hate the false does not love the true; and he to whom it is all the same whether it be God’s word or man’s, is himself unrenewed at heart. Oh, if some of you were like your fathers you would not have tolerated in this age the wagon loads of trash under which the gospel has been of late buried by ministers of your own choosing. You would have hurled out of your pulpits the men who are enemies to the fundamental doctrines of your churches, and yet are crafty enough to become your pastors and undermine the faith of a fickle and superficial generation.”