I was reading in Matthew 7 this morning and ran across Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount on false prophets. Verses 15-20:
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
Instantly, my mind went to people we in the evangelical subculture love to label as false teachers: Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, etc. And, to be fair, sometimes those guys, whether intentionally or unintentionally, paint themselves as such. One of the big items in the news recently was Creflo Dollar asking his flock for $65 million to buy a new plane, a fundraiser that was recently halted after backlash over the idea. Some people just can’t help themselves, can they?
Oh, I would know. Because often in my own life, I am the worst kind of false teacher I could ever listen to.
A King Knows The Best Way, Right?
2 Chronicles 14-16 is one of my favorite Bible stories because it shows me just how weak I am, just how little I know how to handle situations that come my way. It tells the story of King Asa of Judah, a king who initially is all about serving the Lord. His army of 580,000 dudes came up against an Ethiopian force of a million men, and Asa got the victory. How? He sought God to give him the victory.
His life was marked by submission to God, destruction of idols, leading the people to worship the Lord. He even kicked his mom out of being queen mother because she built a false idol! Asa was all about cleaning up the streets and leading people to worship God.
Then chapter 16 comes around. The king of Israel leads an army to build a city to make sure nothing could come in or out of Judah. Insurmountable odds? Maybe, maybe not. But not nearly as difficult, at least in my limited understanding, as defeating a million men in war with a significantly smaller force. But what does Asa do? He goes to Ben-hadad, the king of Syria. Syria and Judah have NEVER got along. Asa says to Ben-hadad, “There is a covenant between me and you, as there was between my father and your father. Behold, I am sending to you silver and gold. Go, break your covenant with Baasha king of Israel, that he may withdraw from me” (v. 3).
Ben-hadad broke the covenant, attacking Israeli cities, which distracted Baasha to stop building the city, which ended the threat against Judah. Done deal! Judah is safe, all is well, King Asa once again saves his people from being defeated by their enemies.
But wait. A seer named Hanani comes to Asa and tells him off. Verses 7-9:
7 At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. 8 Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand. 9 For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.”
Asa is chastised for his lack of reliance on God and his full weight of reliance on his enemy, the king of Syria. But one might argue: things got done! The task was accomplished! But was it really? The end result, as Hanani said, was wars that lasted throughout the rest of Asa’s reign.
What happened here? Asa trusted himself and his own decision-making over God, and in that, he was the worst kind of false teacher.
We Lead Ourselves Astray
It’s so easy for us to pick on the false teachers of our day, whether it’s those that are straight-up heretics or those that get one or two non-salvation things wrong. Joel Osteen, for instance, believes that salvation comes when you place your faith in Jesus.
But here’s where I got stuck this morning. How often do I lead myself astray? How often do I tell myself that I have the right way figured out and that I don’t need God to tell me what to do? I mean, that’s what I do every time I sin. I say God’s way is not good enough for me and that I’ve got it figured out.
When I sin, I act just like Asa: I expect my enemy (sin) to take care of needs. And perhaps it does, for a moment. But that action of sin displeases God because I’m not trusting God in that moment. God is there for me to lean on, but I tell myself that I don’t need him. In that way, I am exactly as Jesus describes in Matthew 7, walking around in sheep’s clothing but actually a ravenous wolf ready to devour any kind of consistent obedience I’ve built up. I am the worst kind of false teacher. I teach myself falsehoods every day.
Why do I listen to myself in those moments? Because I think I’ve got it all figured out. I think I know how to solve the problems that present themselves before me. I think I know what to do. I think I’m capable, when in reality I am far less capable than anyone. In those moments, I need the God of grace whose eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose hearts are blameless before Him.
And this is where the Gospel comes in. The only way my heart is blameless before God is because Jesus died on the cross, because He was not swayed by false teaching while He was on earth, because He did everything He was supposed to, because He fulfilled the law. He was perfectly obedient so I didn’t have to be. I have the opportunity to be forgiven for every time I choose myself over God because Jesus chose God every time.
I am the worst kind of false teacher.
Can I be honest with you? So are you.