We’ve all been there, waiting in line to check out, and the person ahead of us questions the price of something that was just rung up. I remember one lady ahead of me complaining that one item was a whole 18 cents more than the advertised price! She argued with the cashier and extended our wait time by an extra five minutes because she was intent on not paying one cent more than what the advertised price was. “Can I get a price check in aisle 10?”
Now, come on. I get the matter of principle and all. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. I get that. I definitely have those standards and principles that I’m sure have annoyed others. This one time at Christian summer camp, some kid tore the cover off my notepad because it had symbols on it that he decided were anti-Christian. He never asked me about it. He just did it. Then he handed it back to me with a smile and something about saving my soul. I stood on principle when I demanded that he pay the whole 18 cents that the notepad had cost to buy at Wally World during some crazy sale. It might have been silly, but it was the principle of the matter. I never have appreciated being used as someone's salvation project.
Anyway, snap back to the checkout line. While I’m standing in this line waiting for the price check to come back, I’ve finally had enough. I fished around in my pocket, but couldn’t find any change so I pulled a crumpled dollar bill from my wallet and held it out to the lady. “Here, let me pay for that candle so we can get this line moving again,” I offered. She looked at me like I was the devil and snarled back, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” Okay, so that’s not quite what she actually said. I believe her exact words were, “It’s not about the money. It’s about the principle of the matter, sonny.” Yep. I get that. I can even respect that principled stand on 18 cents. Been there, done that. Maybe she had been seriously ripped off or scammed in the past. I get the sentiment to never want to allow that to happen again.
It sucks being stolen from. The bike I bought my wife some years ago was stolen one night awhile back. Someone just walked up onto our porch and walked off with a $500 bicycle. If that was you and you’re reading this, I hope you enjoy it. It was a nice bike. While I hate losing the bike, I hate it more when I’m robbed blind in broad daylight. I hate being swindled or scammed. It’s as if a pickpocket has just walked up to you and asked you to hold your pocket open so they can pick it, and you do it! You not only lose your money, but you feel like a fool. Maybe something like that happened to this lady before.
It’s easier to prevent being scammed than to have to report it later. Think about it. We all have our pride. What would you rather do? Embarrass yourself by admitting you were duped, or take the extra moment to prevent yourself from being made a fool of in the first place? After having been tricked into playing the fool more than a few times, I’d much rather take a few moments of extra effort to ensure I’m not being played with. It’s why I try to get both sides of the story. I want the truth. It’s why I ask someone to explain that ambiguous term in the small print before I sign my John Hancock. It’s why I want to get a second opinion. It’s why I count my cash back and my change. It’s why I make sure I know where the exits are in a new building. And, it’s especially why I always want to compare what people are saying about the Word of God to the actual Word of God.
I’ve been making a practice of being discerning for so long that I guess I don’t even really think about it anymore. I can’t shut it off. It just sort of happens automatically now. I try to never miss an opportunity to encourage others to do the same. I find that people are a little shocked by my assertion that you shouldn’t trust anyone, but always test what they are saying.
“That’s a little harsh, isn’t it?” some ask. “If you can’t trust anyone, who and what are you going to trust? Doesn’t that mentality encourage a kind of pessimistic, skeptical questioning of everything? Doesn’t that imply that distrust of everyone is some kind of virtue? I don’t know if that’s very godly, Christian, or biblical…” And you know what? I love the way they are thinking. They are questioning. They aren’t immediately trusting me. It’s exactly the response I was hoping to elicit. They are unfamiliar with this concept and unsure of whether it’s right or wrong. All this just seems to be common sense to me now. But, as a wiser man than I once told me, common sense is just sense until it’s been made common. So allow me to do what I am asserting you should do and let’s test my assertions! What does the Bible say? Don’t take my word for it. “Just take a look, it’s in a book…” I’ll let you finish the song.
"Let God be true though everyone were a liar," says Paul in Romans 3:4. In John 8:26 Jesus says, "I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” And many other times Jesus says He only says what the Father has told Him. So when it comes to trusting a Bible teacher, we trust them only insofar as they are teaching, or accurately speaking about, the Word of God. Jesus even held Himself to this standard. Again and again, He said, “It is written…” I’m not saying Jesus didn’t say anything that wasn’t already written in the Scriptures, but He constantly pointed people to the Scriptures and quoted from them. All He said came from His Father, even though He was God incarnate. He willingly submitted Himself to His Father’s Word.
According to 1 Thessalonians 5:21 and 1 John 4:1 we are to test everything and everyone. In Acts 17:11 we are told that the Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians because they even tested Paul's words by comparing them to the Scriptures to see if he was speaking the truth. Over and again, throughout the Old and New Testaments, we are warned about false teachers spreading false teachings. In Acts 20:29-30 we see Paul warn the Ephesian elders that from outside, as well as from within the church, there would come deceivers. That’s right, just because you hear it in a church doesn’t mean it’s automatically the truth. Finally, Paul says to the Galatians that if an angel or even if he himself were to preach to them any different Gospel than the one they originally heard from him (the Scriptural Gospel), they were to consider that angel or even him accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9).
Harsh, right? Well, maybe by human standards. But it’s necessary because it is the Word of God, not man's opinion. But don't take my word for it. Check it out for yourself. I'm just a man and every word I say about the Word of God is subject to be tested against the inspired, inerrant Word of God itself. He said it, not me. See for yourself.
Test everything anyone says. No one gets a pass. We are not to place our confidence in how certain a person is, but in the certain and sure Word of God. You never know when your favorite teacher might decide to turn on a dime and contradict the very Word of God they were just teaching.
Jesus told His disciples, in Matthew 7:15-20, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
The fruit that Jesus speaks of is not only the fruit of their works. Look at the Mormon missionary. If outward deeds and good works are the only way to know them by their fruits, you would have to conclude that they were indeed teachers of the truth. But this fruit also refers to their teaching, which is in fact the work which teachers toil in, isn’t it? Jesus asks, are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? What He asks here is, do true, biblical teachers teach that which is foreign to the Bible? Will they contradict the Word of God if they claim to be teaching it? The answer is a resounding, “No! Of course not!”
Finally, you will recognize one of Christ’s teachers when the fruit they bear in their teaching is Christ for you, the greatest fruit. Where this fruit is present, so is Christ and the forgiveness, life, and freedom offered in His Name. The whole point of all of this is what Paul says in Galatians 5:1: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” God, having set us completely free in Christ, does not want us to once again submit to a yoke of slavery, to deceit, to false belief. But your eyes have been opened by the light of the Holy Word of God, the Logos, the very Word of God wrapped in flesh. The point now is to walk in that freedom and light. And you do this as a Christian most naturally when your eyes are not on your own two feet, trying to avoid every pothole, crack, and puddle, but when they are firmly fixed on Christ. Surround yourself with teachers who continue to redirect your eyes from yourself to your Savior. These teachers and preachers are those whom I gladly submit to, because I know they will ever direct me to the lamp that lights my path, instead of my feet which are prone to stumble. David praises God, and we too are free to exult and say, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105) We know that lamp is Christ and that light is His Word.
All we teachers and preachers of the Word are mere vessels, broken and cracked, weak and blemished. My prayer is that, though we are weak and prone to stumble and make mistakes, the brilliant light of God’s Word would yet shine forth in spite of us. And please, in patient love, keep us accountable to the Word of God. Never be afraid to ask, “Can I get a fruit check?” No human teacher should ever get a pass. The truth is not found in men, but in the Word of God—the Way, the Truth, the Life—Jesus the Christ. Only they who are willing to be held to that standard deserve to be called Christian teachers and pastors.
If you, like me, have failed at this in some way, either by teaching falsely or believing falsely, that’s a sin. It’s a serious sin. The solution is very simple, though. Repent. Christ died for that sin, too. You are forgiven in Christ. Believe it.