A pastor friend of mine once confessed, “I do some of my worst sinning when I am right!” I have found this insightful comment to be all too true at times in my life. Often during my personal time with Jesus, He has had to reprove me for the way I have treated someone as I tried to correct his or her wrong behavior or beliefs. He lets me know that, while I may have been right about the facts, I was wrong in the un-Christlike spirit and tone of my warnings or the way I spread rumors without checking with the source to ensure the facts were true.
When Satan sends a false teaching into the midst of God’s people, he has several strategies to lead us outside of the Lord’s will.
1. The false teaching. Satan’s first strategy is to mislead people with the teaching itself. It is often a close counterfeit, designed with much truth but it includes a devastating error. Our only safety is not to trust other’s opinions but to prayerfully study the inspired writings for ourselves. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20).1 God has promised the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth (John 16:13).
2. Overreaction to the false teaching. A secondary strategy accompanying the false teaching is one that can lead an even larger group of conscientious believers astray. They become so afraid of the false that they miss the great truths being counterfeited that are essential to their spiritual growth in the Lord. As they seek to intensely warn others of the false, they lead others to miss the vital truths God wishes to share with them. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).
3. A harmful approach in warning about false teachings. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Even if we are right about the facts, if we are wrong in spirit, we can cause great harm as we warn others of a false teaching. Ellen White presents a needed balance:
Precious truth must be presented in its native force. The deceptive errors that are widespread, and that are leading the world captive, are to be unveiled. Every effort possible is being made to ensnare souls with subtle reasonings, to turn them from the truth to fables, and to prepare them to be deceived by strong delusions. But while these deceived souls turn from the truth to error, do not speak to them one word of censure. Seek to show these poor, deluded souls their danger, and to reveal to them how grievous is their course of action toward Jesus Christ; but let it all be done in pitying tenderness. By a proper manner of labor some of the souls who are ensnared by Satan may be recovered from his power. But do not blame and condemn them. To ridicule the position held by those who are in error, will not open their blind eyes, nor attract them to the truth.
When men lose sight of Christ’s example, and do not pattern after His manner of teaching, they become self-sufficient, and go forth to meet Satan with his own manner of weapons.2
4. Bearing false witness about false teachers. In our zeal to expose false teachings, many of us break the ninth commandment (Exod. 20:16). Many find it easy to pass along the latest rumor or supposed fact that labels someone as a false teacher when we have not followed the counsel of Matthew 18 and gone to the source first.
5. Playing it safe by not speaking up. Whenever a false teaching is sent, one danger is for all of us to shy away from speaking up about it because of the controversy and because we don’t want to be labeled or attacked. However, it remains our responsibility as Christians, and especially as pastoral leaders, to love our people enough to warn them of the dangers that could ruin their souls.
Christ will help us warn of false teachings—but always with His agape love.
1 Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New King James Version.
2 Ellen G. White, Counsels to Writers and Editors (Nashville, TN: Southern Pub. Assn., 1946), 62.