You search through the long history of the Christian church and you’ll see that false teachers have been present at every time and present at every era. They were in the early church, they were in the medieval church, they were in the Reformation church, they were in the Puritan church and of course, they’re in today’s church. False teachers have been a plague since the very beginning. They are a plague in our day. But what’s interesting to me is that while the times change and while the circumstances change, the methods of these false teachers really don’t change very much. Whether you’re looking at the first century or you’re looking at the 21st century, you’ll pretty quickly spot seven sure marks of a false teacher.
Today we’re looking at seven sure marks of a false teacher. And here is the first one. False teachers are man pleasers. At heart, these false teachers, they’re not interested in looking good in the eyes of God. They’re really only interested at looking good in the eyes of men. They’re what the apostle Paul referred to as ear ticklers. Teachers whose great skill is learning what other people want to hear and then just giving it to them, just regurgitating what people already want to hear. Instead of challenging them, they flatter them. Instead of exposing sin, they affirm sin and they coddle sin. Listen to what the Bible says about a true teacher. “But just as we had been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” False teachers speak to please man.
Second, false teachers bring their harshest criticism against God’s most faithful servants. And I’m sure you’ve seen this before. False teachers, they always save their most brutal attacks for the people who love God the most and serve God the best. Just think of the apostle Paul. All right, his whole ministry was constantly threatened by people. His letters are weighty and strong they said, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech is of no account. Right? Even more so, you can think of Jesus Christ who suffered constant attacks, from who? From the religious authorities. Religious teachers continue today to rebuke and to belittle God’s most faithful servants.
Third, false teachers teach their own wisdom rather than God’s wisdom. False teachers always teach their own foolishness instead of divine wisdom. This means then, that the ultimate source of their teaching is their own minds. It’s their own hearts, it’s their own sinful desires. Listen to what God said through the prophet Jeremiah. He said, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I commend them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.” That was true in Jeremiah’s day, it’s just as true in our day.
Fourth mark of a false teacher. False teachers ignore what is of greatest importance to focus instead on what’s of lesser importance. False teachers, they always place great emphasis on small commandments, while they blatantly ignore the great ones, the important ones. They skip over what the Bible emphasizes the most, to focus instead on these little verses and these minor characters. Think again of Jesus when he spoke against the religious authorities, the religious leaders of his day. He said, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” That’s from Matthew 23. You can tell a false teacher when he governs godliness by keeping the smallest rules even while he gladly and blatantly breaks the big ones.
The fifth mark of a false teacher. False teachers mask their false doctrine with eloquent speech and impressive logic. You see a false teacher can’t bring a consistent interpretation of the Bible. So what does he do? He hides blasphemy and he hides dangerous doctrine behind what seems to be a powerful argument. Behind this eloquent use of the language, he offers to his listeners the spiritual equivalent of this beautiful attractive piece of candy that’s laced with deadly poison. It appears scrumptious, valuable, delicious but it will still kill you dead. Paul had to remind the church in Corinth. He said, “when I came to you brothers, I did not come to you proclaiming the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.” Paul came with a simple message that had all the power of God behind it.
Sixth mark of a false teacher. False teachers are far more concerned with winning others to their own opinions than in actually helping people and bettering people. Honestly, they don’t care about you, they care about themselves. They want your loyalty, they want your money, they want your body, they want something, anything. Jesus said, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” See false teachers, they’re ultimately not in the business of bettering lives and saving souls. They’re ultimately in the business of winning followers and then gaining power, gaining authority for themselves.
The seventh, the final mark of a false teacher. False teachers exploit their followers. False teachers, they take advantage of people. They take advantage of their ignorance, advantage of their greed, advantage of their lust or immaturity or anything, something so that they can exploit them. They find people who long for money, they promise them money. They find people who are consumed with lust, they promise, you can fulfill those lusts. That’s exactly why Peter warns, listen to what he said. He said, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.” What will they do? “who will secretly bring in destructive heresies… and in their greed, they will exploit you with false words.” See, false teachers, they’re concerned with your goods, not with your good. They don’t want to save the lost, they want to serve themselves. These false teachers they are perfectly content for Satan to have your soul, as long as they can have your stuff.
False teachers, they’ve always been a plague in the church. They always will be a plague in the church until the day the Lord returns. But we know their methods. Even better, we know the scripture, which always exposes them, for who they are. Always exposes them for what they are. See our best defense against false teachers is to know the Word of God so well, that we immediately spot and we can immediately shut down any deviation from that precious truth, that is the Word of God.