Having said that we should major on studying Scripture rather than focusing on educating ourselves on every false teacher, I also recognize that sometimes Christians really need to speak out against those who distort the Word of God. Plenty of Bible verses instruct us to do just that. Take, for instance, Paul’s closing directive to the Roman church:
17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. 19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. ~~Romans 16:17-20 (NASB95)
Obviously, we can’t avoid false teachers and doctrinal error without some idea of who and what to avoid. As I said Friday, immersing ourselves in studying false teachers holds serious dangers, but totally ignoring them also violates Scripture. And when we find it necessary to speak out against those people and trends that undermine doctrinal purity, it helps to remember the importance of speaking the truth in love.
Speaking the truth in love, however, doesn’t always mean modifying the truth into what people want to hear. Nor does it mean always saying things gently and sweetly. Like it or not, calling out false teachers usually demands a harsh tone. Consider some of the blistering words Jesus let loose in His confrontations with the Pharisees:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. ~~Matthew 23:15 (NASB95)
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. ~~Matthew 23:27-28 (NASB95)
You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. ~~John 8:44 (NASB95)
People in our day and age would most assuredly accuse Jesus of being unloving. Surely, they’d reason, He could have phrased His corrections with more gentleness. Better yet, He could have found ways to compromise with their belief system. Did He really need to associate them with the devil?
Similarly, His half-brother Jude wrote some pretty scathing things about false teachers. I won’t quote his entire rant here, but let me give you a sample:
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. 12 These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. ~~Jude 11-13 (NASB95)
Did Jude just say that false teachers are doomed to eternal damnation? That declaration may be true, but it certainly doesn’t sound loving!
Yet how could it be loving to allow even a false teacher to think that their error won’t keep them from salvation? Patting them on the head while they persist in leading their followers into deception is anything but loving! These people are, at best, deceived themselves and at worst intentionally leading others into damning falsehood. Just as love compels a mom to yell at her child when he runs out into a busy street, so love ought to compel us to harshly warn false teachers that hell awaits them.
But false teachers rarely care about receiving correction. There’s a point at which we must withdraw our love from them and redirect our love to their followers. These followers are victims, needing us to show them the deception that false teachers perpetuate. Thankfully, the same Jude who wrote such scalding indictments against heretics also provided helpful instructions on ministering to those they deceive.
22 And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. ~~Jude 22-23 (NASB95)
Speaking the truth in love usually comes from an attitude of mercy. It breaks our hearts to see people who really want to follow the Lord become swept up in distortions of the Gospel. Therefore we deal as gently with them as we possibly can, wanting the Holy Spirit to rescue them from the lies of false teachers.
Helping our sisters move from error to truth is actually a way of functioning within the body of Christ. We want each other to grow with us into Christian maturity, and they can’t reach that maturity if they are mesmerized by someone who is twisting God’s Word and lacing it with humanistic philosophies and mysticism.
God has arranged His church precisely so that we can steer each other away from false teachers and towards the sound teaching of His Word.
11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. ~~Ephesians 4:11-16 (NASB95)
We speak the truth in love when we guide people away from deception and towards the truth of God’s Word. We may not always need to say a lot about a given false teacher, but when doing so becomes necessary, we can rest in the knowledge that we speak truth because we love them.