Judging False Prophets And TeachersDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | October 21, 2001
Selected highlights from this sermon
False prophets are on television and in stadiums trumpeting miracles and predictions. We must constantly discern what they say in order to steer clear of their idolatries, delusions, and false visions.
At the core, every false teacher adds something to the Gospel and obscures its power. They talk about a different Jesus and a different Gospel, and they will exult themselves as they wield money, intimidation, and exploitation.
When Jesus made the statement, “Beware of false prophets,” he said two very important things. First of all, He said that false prophets exist, and secondly, that they are dangerous. Very dangerous. And yet today if one begins to evaluate the teachings, the miracles, or the prophecies that come from the lips of some of the people who minister to large congregations, sometimes on television, immediately one is accused of being divisive, of dividing the Body.
And then there’s that verse of Scripture that is misused that says, “Do not touch the Lord’s anointed.” Actually those are the words of David, you remember, who would not kill King Saul, but that doesn’t mean that David would not be critical of Saul or evaluate Saul’s actions. And so people, therefore, think that any kind of evaluation, even though the Bible says explicitly, “Test all things,” the minute we begin to test they say, “Oh, you know you’re against miracles, and you are dividing the Body.”
Well, as I pointed out in a previous message, you are also unifying the Body. Jesus said in Matthew, chapter 24, that there are going to be so many prophecies and so many false miracles at the end of time that, if possible, these teachers and gurus would even deceive the elect. Wow. Think about that. And I believe that day is here.
Now, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to look at a few passages in the Old Testament—very few—that introduce us to the whole subject of prophecy and false teachers, and then we’re going to look at a New Testament chapter devoted to the characteristics of false teachers so that when you are watching television, or when you are in contact with people who are false, that you might be able to have a spirit of discernment to say, “Yes, this is false; this is not of God even though he preaches the Bible, apparently, and it sounds so good.”
First of all, I want you to know that there are two kinds of false prophets. I want us to look, first of all, at Deuteronomy, chapter 18, and I’ll turn there only very briefly, and then we’ll go to Deuteronomy 13. It says in verse 19 of chapter 18: “If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him into account. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I’ve not commanded him to say, or who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.” Verse 23: “What if a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord and it does not take place of come true? That is a message that I have not spoken.”
One of the tests of prophecies is to know whether or not the predictions that have been made come true. Now there are some people...This is a very obvious sign of a false prophet, but there are some people who follow prophets whose predictions have not been true and they keep on blindly following them anyway.
Now it becomes more tricky. Deuteronomy 13. I’m picking it up at verse 1. The first kind of false prophet is someone who makes predictions that do not come true, but there’s another kind. It says in chapter 13, verse 1, “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and yet he says, ‘Let us follow other gods, and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer (Notice...) even if his predictions and miracles are true.” Wow.
You say, “Well, are there examples of that?” Yes. In the Old Testament there’s the prophet Balaam, a very interesting man who was asked by the king of Moab to curse Israel. Now Balaam was a follower actually of the god Baal evidently. He was a soothsayer. He was into séances, and the Bible says “divination.” And he wants to curse Israel because the king wants him to curse it. It was believed that this prophet had tremendous power. And the minute he opens his mouth he blesses Israel and makes wonderful prophecies for he says, “Out of Jacob there shall come a star, and a scepter shall arise out of Israel, and he shall crush Moab.”
Some of the wonderful prophecies regarding Christ come out of his mouth. Would you interpret him as a true prophet?
His predictions were accurate, and yet the Bible says that he was a false prophet for a number of different reasons. First of all, he was very greedy. In fact, the king of Moab said, “I will pay you handsomely if you curse Israel.” That’s one clue. Secondly, it says that he was into sorcery, and thirdly, the New Testament clarifies that Balaam actually, in the end, encouraged the Israelites to commit immorality with the women of Moab, and thus infiltrate Israel and weaken them through immorality. How do you like that for a teacher? He says good things. He says right things, things that even appear to honor God, and yet he is a follower of a false god. That’s why the New Testament condemns Balaam with strong language and he becomes the prototype of false teachers who speak good things.
Under contemporary examples...this past summer my wife and I were at an airport and we met a man, and when he discovered who we were, he said, “I want to tell you this story.” He said, “I was attending a meeting one day where a priest stood up and made a prophecy, and said, ‘There is someone here who is fighting leukemia, some man here.’” He said, “Well, there were a couple of thousand people so I knew that there might be several people fighting leukemia. But then he went on and he said, ‘But he’s also going through a divorce.’” And the guy thought, “Well, that’s two out of two.” And then the third prediction was that he would appear there that September (the next September) and give testimony of the fact that a healing had taken place. And this young man went through a bone marrow transplant and so forth and appeared on that platform in September to give testimony of the fact that he was healed. And this, of course, in his mind confirmed the fact that the leader of the meeting was right in what he said. He was a true prophet.
So standing there, as we were waiting for our car, I asked him one question, and only one. And as far as I am able to tell, the person who led the meeting and made the right predictions was not a true prophet of God. You say, “How do you know? What question did you ask?” I’m not going to tell you right now. I’m going to tell you a little later.
I want you to notice also that the book of Jeremiah... That’s another book that devotes chapters to false prophets. I can’t imagine how we’ve overlooked all these things. Jeremiah 14, verse 14! If you turn there for a moment it gives us the different kinds of revelations that false prophets have. We’re in Jeremiah 14:14: “Then the Lord said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying the lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you (Now notice four different kinds of ways that the revelation comes.) false visions (“Well, I’ve just seen the Lord and He appeared to me and this is what He said,” and then you’ll notice it says), divinations (and these might be such things as the reading of our palms, or it could be astrology, or it could be any number of different ways that the future is being predicted), idolatries (people who encourage us to actually follow other gods, and then, notice this) and delusions (it says) of their own minds.”
Think about that. People sitting together saying, “The Lord showed me this,” or “I believe this,” and “This just came to me,” and they have some new revelation. The Bible says that it is possible that these might be delusions from their own minds.
Now, I have to ask you a question. What do the false prophets teach? I can’t believe that as I was reading it yesterday it reminded me of the fact that no matter how things change they always stay the same. The same kind of message. You’ll notice what it says. Verse 15: “Therefore, this is what the Lord says about the prophets who are prophesying in my name. I did not send them, yet they are saying, ‘No sword or famine will touch this land.’” That’s what they are saying, and you know, if we had time to read other prophesies in Jeremiah you’d find that they are saying the same thing. I choose only one, chapter 5, verse 12, God says, “They have lied about the Lord. They said, ‘He will do nothing. No harm will come to us. We will never see a sword or famine.’”
One of the characteristics of false prophets is that they always predict universal blessing, blessing without repentance, prosperity because this is your inheritance. Can’t you just imagine these false prophets saying that? God promised us good crops. God says He’s going to rebuke the devourer. “Let us rebuke the devourer in the name of God, Jehovah,” and on and on they go. And the people say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, we like that so much better than a message of judgment.”
Now, listen very carefully, folks. What is it that is characteristic of false prophets? All the time, almost all the time, first of all, they confuse their delusions with the words of God because they think that they are getting messages from Him unfiltered. And secondly, almost always, it’s universal blessing; universal prosperity without repentance, without the hard work of holiness. Just enter into your inheritance and be blessed along with me.
Now, the question is what about prophets today? And for this (false prophets and teachers) we are going to turn to a chapter in the New Testament where I shall be giving you those five characteristics I promised you a few moments ago.
Take your Bibles and turn now to 2 Corinthians, chapter 11, a chapter devoted to the false prophets in Paul’s day. Paul begins chapter 11 by saying, “I hope you will put up with me a little in my foolishness. I am jealous (verse 2) for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”
By the way, how did the serpent deceive Eve? The serpent deceived Eve by giving her a new revelation. This was to be a new word, a word that was equal to the Word of God, or maybe even above the Word of God, and they were going to get some insight, and it was through revelation.
Now, I want you to look at verse 5 before we actually give you the characteristics. Notice what the apostle Paul says: “But I do not think that I am the least inferior to those.” My translation, the NIV, says, “the super apostles.” You might, in your translation have apostles of eminence, but these are super apostles. “I may not be a trained speaker but I do have knowledge.”
Who are these super apostles? Well, the super apostles are the apostles, first of all, who come with letters of recommendation, as we’d notice if we took time to read chapter 10. They wanted to lead the people into a deeper, fuller relationship with God. They said that in order to do that, you had to become Jewish, and if you became Jewish, then you really entered into the fullness of the Spirit. This is based on Galatians and that’s heresy.
And then they say that they are much wiser than Paul. They claimed that they had more ability, more knowledge, a more complete message and they were gifted in oratory. They were into rhetoric, and Paul wasn’t, and they tried to demean him because he’s such a bad speaker, as we shall see in just a moment.
All that by way of introduction.
What are the characteristics of false prophets? Are you ready? Number one, they have their own Jesus. You’ll notice that Paul says in verse 4: “For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we have preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received...” What is the Jesus that these people were preaching? First of all, they were not denying the reality of Paul’s ministry and his proclamation of Jesus. What they were saying is, though, that if you keep the law and if you are willing to become Jewish, it is then that you are saved and you enter into blessings. They added to the work of Jesus on the cross, and Paul says that is a false Jesus.
One commentator says this: “They were teaching that because Jesus died on the cross and He suffered, we don’t have to suffer in this life.” Now, all of us know that when Jesus died on the cross He died that He might redeem us from an eternal hell, and that that gift of salvation is free. But we believe that Jesus calls the church to suffering. In fact, it’s one of the marks of a true church. And yet the false teachers denied this. They said, “Why do you want to follow a Jesus who is going to cause you to suffer? Come with us. We’re the prosperity people. If you come our direction you don’t have to suffer like Paul did.” I’ll point that out later that that’s what they were teaching.
I want you to know today that the false teachers were preaching Jesus. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! But it was a Jesus without a cross. It was a Jesus without understanding the completeness of redemption. It was a Jesus with something added on. I want you to know that you don’t have to deny the faith to be a false prophet. You just have to twist the faith and add to it.
Now when it comes to false prophets, of course, and false religions, they’re all over the place. I’m speaking primarily of what’s happening within the church and not outside of it, because when you get outside of it, then you get into all kinds of false Jesuses.
This past summer I was at O’Hare airport, and a woman was reading The Prayer of Jabez, so I asked her to share with me where she was in her spiritual journey. And she said that she was a Mormon and she was reading the prayer because she hoped that God would bless the new business that she was going to begin. And so we got into a discussion, and she said, “Well, you know, we Mormons love Jesus too.” And she said, “There is only one Jesus.” (chuckles) I looked at her with a loving smile and I said,
“Lady, I want you to know that there are many Jesuses. They are all over the place. There’s the cosmic Jesus.”
A leading preacher here in Chicago, a woman who speaks to more people than I speak to, told me that when she preaches Jesus she’s not talking about Jesus of Nazareth. She said, “I’m speaking about the cosmic Jesus that indwells everyone,” so there’s the cosmic Jesus. There’s the Jesus of the liberal theologians who say that He was a mere man. It’s a Jesus who’s a teacher. It’s a Jesus maybe even who died, but it’s not a Jesus who died that we might be reconciled to a holy God. It’s a Jesus who gives benefits of healing and prosperity to anyone without repentance, without having to give our hearts to Him completely, and above all, a Jesus who does not call us to suffer. And that is a false Jesus.
I want you to know today, from my heart to yours, that the Jesus that we want is not always the Jesus that we need. And people want a Jesus today to give them what they want. They don’t want the Jesus of the cross. Notice Paul says, “You are carried away with another Jesus, and you receive, in fact, another spirit.” I don’t know whether he’s speaking metaphorically here or speaking of the devil. And Paul says, “Number one, they have a false Jesus.” Now listen. Because of this series, I was watching television yesterday. A man was talking about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, miracles in the name of Jesus, everything, but no cross, no repentance.
Number two, they have a false gospel. It says in verse 4 (We’re still in verse 4), “a different gospel from the one that you received.” What is the Gospel then? If you have a different Jesus, obviously you have a different Gospel, don’t you?
Let me very briefly tell you what these people preached. First of all, they were very much into money. You say, “How do you know that?” Listen, they were ridiculing Paul because he preached for free. They were into rhetoric and they were charging huge fees for their speeches. And they were saying to the people, “If you really believed that Paul was up to us, he wouldn’t be doing it freely. He’d be charging money just like we are.”
Notice what Paul says in verse 7: “Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the Gospel of God to you free of charge?” He said, “I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you, and when I was with you and needed something I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came to me from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way and will continue to do so.” And you see, they were ridiculing him because they were saying, “We’re into money and he’s not. He’s not legit.”
What you find when you find another gospel is usually, and I don’t want to be repetitive, but usually it’s the gospel of prosperity. It’s the gospel that God will bless you. God will give you whatever you want. You can be as greedy as you like. It’s your inheritance. After all, God has chosen to prosper you. It’s a gospel full of miracles.
I don’t know whether or not these false teachers did miracles, but I’ll tell you, we are in a miraculous age when people are doing miracles in all kinds of different ways, even such books as “A Course in Miracles,” based on the occult. All of that has come into the Christian church and people are enamored with these miracles. I want to be very clear today. Have I been clear so far, by the way? I have just been told that one of the leading teachers, whom I believe to be a false prophet, with a wide television ministry...I’ve been told (maybe it’s hearsay) that he’s going to begin to raise the dead. And so let it be said from this pulpit, so no one misunderstands, if someone does not preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and repentance unto eternal life, I will not follow him even if he can raise the dead. (applause)
Now we get to the question that I asked the young man who said that he had received this prophecy which was an accurate prophecy about his leukemia. Standing there waiting for our car, I said something like this to him, I said, “Could you please tell me as to what the Gospel is and how this man who made this prediction understood the Gospel?” And basically what the young man did was just give me a “works” answer. We have to become better people. We have to come closer to God. Well, if that’s an accurate reflection of the man’s theology, I do not care whether he makes predictions that come true. If we had taken the time to spend more time in the book of Deuteronomy we wouldhave discovered that God said that even when a prophecy comes true, you should not follow it. If he asks you to follow a different God, and this is asking us to follow a different gospel, and then the Lord said, “I am laying this upon you to test you to know whether or not you follow me with your whole heart.” That’s why false prophets are among us. It’s to test us to see whether we are discerning and whether we love the Lord so much and we love the cross so much that we say, “No matter what else somebody can do, if he does not preach Christ and Him crucified, we will not follow him.”
First of all, they have their own Jesus. And they do miracles in the name of Jesus. Jesus said, “Many will say to me, ‘Have we not prophesied in your name? Have we not in your name cast out demons, and have done marvelous works?’ and I will say to them, ‘Depart from me. I never knew you, you workers of iniquity, those of you who are preaching Jesus.’” But it’s anotherJesus.
Third, they have their own source of power (verse 13 and following). And by the way, if somebody fails tests one and two they are a false prophet even if they don’t have the other characteristics. Remember that. They don’t have to do miracles and stuff, but notice here... Many of them, in today’s world especially, in our spiritual age, they have their own power.
Verse 13: “For such men are false apostles.” You know, he called them in verse 5 super apostles. Here he calls them false apostles, deceitful workmen masquerading as apostles of Christ, and no wonder, for Satan himself, masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising then if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness.
I was reading that the other day and I said, “This is shocking.” You’ll notice he does not say, “It is not surprising if his servants masquerade as servants of unrighteousness, but servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” Wow!
You want to look for the devil, you go to Skid Row. You say, “The devil is there.” Yeah, the devil is there, but that’s not really where he is. You know what the devil wants more than ensnaring somebody in some sin? What he wants is to duplicate the Holy Spirit, and so the way in which he does it is, first of all, he knows that the Holy Spirit is the revealer of truth, so the devil wants to reveal things to people. And I will not even bore you with the things that I could quote that people have said supposedly under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but we know that it comes from a differentspirit.
And then, of course, he’s a miracle worker, and as I pointed out that the Egyptian occultist during the time of Moses... The Egyptian occultist... Do you remember how they were able to do all of the miracles that Moses was able to do, miracle for miracle for miracle, until they got to a certain point, and then they couldn’t? And so that’s what he [Satan] wants to do. And many false teachers today believe that the New Testament does not define the limits and the pattern of miracles. They want to say that God is doing a new thing. That’s why this series of messages has to be listened to as a whole because you remember last time I spoke to you about that “new thing” that has led people into so much error. And so what they are saying to themselves is, “We want to see something new,” and so they have tremendous power. They do things that Jesus didn’t do. Jesus didn’t touch people and have them collapse on the platform. They can.
Somebody told me that one of these men now not only even has to touch them. He just blows on them and they fall down. (laughter) Can you imagine that power? By the way, not all charismatics agree with what is happening, and you have to make distinctions here.
I will not take time to give you a quote that I read this week from the book entitled “Blessing the Church?” by four charismatics who are very critical of their movement. And one of them says that he has known people before they were “slain in the spirit” after they have been “slain by the spirit,” and I quote now, “The fundamental changes attributed to this simply did not happen.” That’s so American. We want power. Well, why don’t you want holiness more than power? That’s number one.
But we want power, and we want it right now, and we don’t want to have to study and submit to God and learn the disciplines of the Christian life. Let some prophet touch me so that I get zapped with power. Wow. Isn’t that attractive? They have their own power.
Third, they have their own means of control. I’m picking it up now at verse 20. You have to read the intervening verses on your own. Paul is very sarcastic here as he’s speaking about them. But notice he says in verse 20: “In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you, or pushes himself forward or slaps you on the face, and you are still taking it.”
Now, I want you to know today that false cults have their own means of exploitation, their own means of control.
That’s the fourth characteristic. Not all have it. I’ve already told you that if a person is wrong on the Gospel, that’s all that is necessary, but there are many today who fall into this category. And how do they exploit you and slap people on the face? First of all, if you belong to a false cult they will isolate you. They’ll tell you that nobody else can talk to you. “You can talk only to us.” Beware of anyone who says that. What they want is demonic control. “We’ll tell you what you believe, and if you have any questions, you come to us. Don’t go anywhere else.” They cut you off from your family, cut you off from your church. That’s a mark of a false cult. That’s the way they slap you in the face.
It may be isolation. It may be intimidation. Here in the Chicago area, a man left a church and took many people with him, and he was such a false prophet. He was so demonic it was unbelievable the control that he had on people. I mean he controlled their finances and everything, and he met with me because of a certain issue, and he wanted me to bow at his coffee table and to pray and to confess my sins and
basically come under his authority. And when I said I would not he said, “I already see you fall.” He said, “I already see you fall.” Wow. What power. Imagine what God revealed to him, that because I would not submit to him he would see me fall. The Bible says, “Don’t be intimidated by these false prophets who say God has spoken,” but God has not spoken by him.
So there is intimidation. There is exploitation. “Send me your credit cards. Send me your debts. We will have a bon fire. We will burn them, and then after they are burned, God will miraculously pay your mortgages.” I was watching this one time and I couldn’t believe it. They said that we have testimonies of mortgages being paid. The people sent their check to the mortgage company, and the mortgage company sent back and said, “Maybe you don’t realize it, but your house is already paid off. All that you need to do is to send some seed money to me, and then all this prosperity will hit you.”
Have you ever noticed that some of these people, in their large audiences, have you ever noticed that oftentimes they have a lot of poor people? You have to understand why. It’s because the poor people are there saying, “If I just had as much faith as this teacher, if I just had as much faith, if I walked as closely with God as he did, then I could have his wealth too, and his health. And God would prosper me.
And I wouldn’t have to watch my budget because God would come along and just pay.” I mean, what a deal.
“They exploit you,” Paul says. What I find very interesting is that in the early church there were long discussions as to whether or not a rich person could even be saved because of the words of Jesus. They said, “Can a rich person be saved or not?” because Christ said, “It is very difficult, like going through the eye of a needle.” And today we have preachers telling us that everybody should be wealthy.
Couldn’t you imagine that when we go to Belarus this afternoon (We won’t get there this afternoon but in a few days.) and I go to that pastors’ conference, me preaching that God wants everybody to be wealthy and “What’s wrong with you folks sitting in your grubby old clothes here?”
This is a message that you can only get away with it in America where it’s combined with capitalism and wealth, and yet it is preached, and people come, and they bring their notebooks to find some new way to get wealth that they think that God has in store for them if only this teacher helps them know how to do it.
Number five, he has his own way of self-exaltation. I’m thinking here of the phrase, yes, he enslaves you, he exploits you... “He takes advantage of you,” Paul says, “and pushes himself forward.” That’s the phrase, and then he slaps you on the face. How do they do it? They do it by control. Now, every false teacher wants control. Now, if he can control the people directly, of course, that’s best, but if he has a television audience, he still wants control. And he wants to set himself up as one with awesome power.
Believe me, folks, I saw this with my own eyes. A woman came forward in one of these meetings and she said, “I am childless. My husband and I have tried to have children, and we have not been able to have children.” And the evangelist, if we call him such, said, “What do you want, a boy or a girl?” She said, “A boy!” He said, “It will be a boy.” “What color eyes do you want?” “I want blue eyes.” “He’ll have blue eyes.” “Do you want a spring baby or a fall baby?” “I want a baby born in the spring.” “He’ll be born in the spring.” And then he said, “If you had asked for twins you’d have gotten them.” Wow. Imagine somebody who can command God. “God, it’s going to be a boy. It’s going to have blue eyes. It’s going to be exactly like the mail order catalog that we have sent up to the sky, and God will do it for you.” And everybody says, “Oh, the power of this man. Oh, if we could just touch him.”
Here’s the interesting thing. Suppose there is no boy, or suppose it’s a girl with brown eyes. Are the people going to say, “You know, we have just been duped by a false prophet?” No, because the false prophets have thought of all of these things. What the people are being trained to say is, “Oh, if only we had had more faith. If only we had trusted God more, God would have done it. It’s not His fault.” They probably are sending him money next month.
Amazing. Amazing. Heartbreaking.
Another way they do it is by the way in which they speak. That’s how these people did it. Now they contrasted themselves with Paul, and I want you to know that in chapter 10, verse 10, this is what they said about Paul. “For some say his letters are weighty and forceful. He’s a pretty good writer, but in person he’s unimpressive and his speech amounts to nothing.” That’s what they were saying.
They said, “Paul doesn’t know rhetoric like we do. He can’t manage it.” In fact, there’s one early report (We don’t know if it’s true or not.) that Paul was short, bald, and bowlegged. Imagine him for an evangelist on television.
Just imagine him. Ah, who wants to bother with this guy? Give us the people who know how to speak. Give us the people who, when they go into the pulpit, change their voice and begin that nasal response to work the crowd. Give us somebody like that, and not this boring speaker over here who has nothing to share except Jesus and Him crucified.
Well, how do you think Paul stacked up with these super apostles? Pretty badly. Look at what he said in verse 21. He said, “To my shame I admit that we’re too weak for that.” See, they were saying, “Paul is weak in comparison to us.” He said, “You’re absolutely right. We’re so weak.” He’s being sarcastic. “We’re too weak to slap you in the face and to exploit you and to use you, and to do it for money. Yeah, that’s right.”
What he was saying is, “I am pretty impressive in comparison to these people.” Imagine. Some of us who preach the Gospel. I mean there’s no comparison. We don’t get the crowds. We can’t touch people and have them collapse on the platform so that ushers have to catch them. We’re just preaching Jesus in great weakness and humility and brokenness and tears. That’s all we’re doing. That’s all we have to offer.
But do you see the decision that the Corinthians had to make here? The decision that the Corinthians had to make is this. They said, “Who are we going to follow? Are we going to follow Paul who made tents and earned his living and didn’t know where his next month’s rent was coming from? Do we want to follow him, or do we want to follow the people who have the gold chains and the Rolex watches and the beautiful cars and the lovely homes? Who do we want to be like?” That was the decision.
And what Paul says is this. He says, “If you’re going to be like me you’re going to have to suffer,” and that’s why the rest of the chapter, beginning in verse 16 (I will not take time to read it.) talks about Paul suffering, how that he was in prison, and whipped and beaten and the whole bit, and he’s saying that is the mark of a true apostle. It is not the gold chains. It is not the ability to speak. It is not the ability to command crowds and getmoney.
What’s the bottom line here? First of all, number one, whenever you add to the Gospel you subtract from it. If you say you have to be baptized to be saved, you diminish the cross. If you say, “Well, I have to be a good person to be saved,” you totally misunderstand the cross. If you are saying that our main message is not Jesus and Him crucified (It’s “get healed and get money”.), you’ve got another Jesus. You’ve got another Gospel. You’re in a totally different arena—something else, because the Gospel is that Jesus died for sinners to reconcile us to a holy God, because we are miserable sinners who need His grace. And that message is not going over as well as “Send your cards to me and we’ll burn your mortgage and it’ll be paid for you.” It’s just not where people are at. So, you know, what are we? We are unimpressive and we don’t have the money. We don’t have the wherewithal. We’re not the good communicators like those others guys—the super apostles.
Secondly, the mark of a true prophet is suffering. I want to say this to you. When you are sitting there watching television, and you are seeing these guys parade their stuff... And I’m not talking about all of them. I’m sure that there are many of them who are true prophets, who are true ministers of the Gospel. In fact, I know there are some. But ask yourself this question. Is he calling me to suffer in this world, or is he telling me that I can have it all now—heaven right now with all the health and with all the wealth? Now, that’s the mark because in the rest of this chapter Paul is saying, “I’m sorry, but if you’re looking for a message from me that does not include suffering, you’re listening to the wrong guy. Talk to those other guys who have got it all figured out, who can command God to give them wealth, but don’t talk to me.”
And so at the end of the day, folks, in this world of so much confusion, what we need to do is to ask ourselves the question, “Are the people whom we are listening to, are the people whom we are supporting with our money, do they have a right Jesus, a right Gospel? Are they filled with the Spirit rather than the confusion of demonic spirits to be able to do such wonderful and such marvelous things? Are they exploiters, making promises that not even God has chosen to give?” Because our world is full of it.
I end where I began. Beware of false prophets, for outwardly they appear like sheep and lambs, but inwardly they are ravenous, greedy, controlling wolves, and they are out there to get you and to get me all under the guise of preaching Bible, Bible, Bible, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. But they are false to the core.
Father, grant today, oh God, and make us a discerning people we pray. Oh Father, in this era of confusion, help us to love Jesus and Him crucified. And even if nobody comes to hear the message, we pray that me might never tailor it because we are not giving what people want to hear. Grant a love for the cross, a love of the Gospel, a love of sharing it that burns within our hearts.
And now you talk to God. If you’ve never received Christ as Savior, you can’t be saved by being good. You can’t be saved by being wealthy or healthy. You can only be saved by coming to the cross and saying, “Jesus, I accept you as my sin bearer.” Would you talk to Him?
Oh Father, we are so prone to deception. Help us, we pray, and may the grace of Christ accompany us because we are so needy. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.