Lord willing, we will start the fourth chapter of First John and the second chapter of Second Peter in our Wednesday night and Sunday Night services. Both portions of Scripture deal with false teachers. John tells us to “try the spirits” because not everyone who says they are of Christ is truthful about it. Every heretic has a Bible verse and has something to say about Jesus. It’s the job of Christians to be discerning and judge what people are saying, in God’s name, about God. Along those same lines, Peter tells us that we are to heed the Scriptures because it’s the Word of God given to us “as holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” But just as there were true prophets, there were also false prophets. Likewise, there are true teachers of the Bible today as well as false teachers. Peter spends most of the rest of the epistle warning against the dangers of false teaching. It’s destructive and leads to destruction. And that’s why discernment is essential; eternity is at stake.
There is a balance that Christians must try to hold. On the one hand, we must be diligent in keeping to the faith once delivered, but also love the brethren and not destroy another Christian because of a difference of opinion (Romans 14-15). There are some matters that Christians may disagree on and still be within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. At the same time, there are some doctrines in which there can be no compromise (Galatians 2:5). For Paul, he could bear with Christians with weak faith, who thought they had to follow Old Testament dietary laws, but he wouldn’t put up with someone adding to the gospel, for even an hour. John could patiently teach the truth to believers, bear with the “little children” who knew that Jesus loved them, and then turn around and call false teachers liars and antichrists. Peter fulfilled his divine mission to strengthen the brethren but also condemned false teachers with emphatic and fiery judgments. What made the difference?
First, John, Peter, and Paul condemn teachers, those who should know better and have taken to instruct other people. It’s bad enough to believe bad doctrine, but it’s much worse to teach it. There is a difference between a Christian who doesn’t know any better or who hasn’t yet learned the truth and one who speaks in God’s name, telling other people what God says in His Word. The other distinction is that John, Peter, and Paul dealt with gospel issues — adding to the gospel, denying future judgment, or teaching unorthodox thoughts about the person of Jesus Christ. There is no room for those teaching people doctrines that will lead to Hell.
We’ll all have to stand before Jesus and answer for how and where we drew the line. God help us to never compromise on vital doctrines and never destroy a brother or sister over differing opinions and the wisdom to know the difference.