For the last few days, reading straight through the New Testament has led us to the topic of holding firm to our faith and guarding the simplicity and purity of the gospel against false teaching. We could almost see these five letters (1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John) as an overview, followed by a more detailed accounting on the same subject in the letter entitled, Jude. Peter and John gave us the big picture of what was coming; now Jude explains specifically that what they warned against is now occurring – the apostasy and heresy infiltrating the church that threatens to undermine the message of the gospel.
Jude identifies himself not as the half-brother of Jesus (which he was), but as a bondservant of the Savior. He wastes no time in revealing his reason for writing. He had initially purposed to write an uplifting encouragement on the joys of the common faith he shared with his readers, but the Holy Spirit had impressed upon him a more important topic. He saw the church being deceived by false teachers who had “crept in unnoticed.” This letter became an urgent warning exposing those who would pervert the faith.
Jude uses a lot of Old Testament examples to illustrate the character and behavior of false teachers – examples with which his readers were very familiar. I just want to look at three, because they are insightful for us. Human nature hasn’t changed, and the motivations of false teachers are the same today as they were two thousand years ago.
Jude 1:11 – Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.
- False teachers appear religious but are disobedient and self-willed.
Cain’s story is found in Genesis 4:1-15. He and his brother, Abel, both brought a sacrifice to God, but Cain’s was rejected. It is clear in the story that Cain knew what God expected but decided to go with his own ideas of worship. He was self-willed, self-styled, and angry when God rebuked him. Instead of repenting, he justified himself. False teachers do not take criticism well; they may appear religious but instead are proud and defensive.
- False teachers are motivated by wealth and prestige.
Balaam was a false prophet hired by the king of Moab to curse Israel (Numbers 22-24). God prevented Balaam from accomplishing this, but being paid well by the king, he was able to lure the children of Israel into idolatry and immorality. False teachers are exposed by their desire for money; they accumulate worldly wealth in the name of religion, deceiving gullible followers into supporting lavish lifestyles.
- False teachers reject biblical authority and love to build a following.
Korah was a Levite who had responsibilities in the Tabernacle but wasn’t satisfied with his status (Numbers 16). He felt he should be a priest, a duty that God had given to others. In his jealousy, Korah enlisted a following and led a rebellion against Moses’ leadership. As John MacArthur says, “Korah disputed the idea that the people need a leader and mediator, someone who could speak for God and teach them His truth. He openly rebelled against the authority that God had given Moses, and he actively rallied others to support his spiritual mutiny.” An unwillingness to submit to authority and a desire to have a great following are red flags that you might be dealing with a false teacher.
Think about your spiritual leaders. How do they measure up in the areas of humility and integrity? Does their lifestyle represent good stewardship for the kingdom or personal pursuit of wealth? Do they seek a following, or point to Christ? What is their attitude when challenged or confronted with personal sin or an examination of their teaching? Are they accountable to spiritual mentorship and authority?
While I don’t believe pastors and teachers should live in “glass houses” or be put on a pedestal and expected to be perfect, they are accountable to a higher standard as leaders in the faith. If your pastor is a godly, humble, honest man, encourage him. And if you see red flags in those you are following, ask God for discernment. False teachers can destroy a church from within, and if we are unaware or ignorant of scripture, we may never see it coming.