I have always admired people who are good at swimming. I admire how they control themselves in the water as if walking on dry ground. Mostly I admire their confidence in the water. A good swimmer appears totally comfortable in the water, seemingly without even a thought toward the ever-present risk of danger. So, to all the good swimmers out there, I admire you.
The reason I admire good swimmers so much is that unlike them I am not comfortable in the water. Although I took swimming lessons at school, the frequency of these lessons and my lack of extra practice left my skills underdeveloped. Thus, as an adult I am admittedly a very poor swimmer. My performance in the open water starkly contrasts with an experienced swimmer’s. The experienced swimmer appears relaxed, I feel panicked. The experienced swimmer seems confident, I am completely unsure. The experienced swimmer feels safe, whereas I feel the constant looming prospect of a life-threatening emergency. Swimming for the experienced swimmer is enjoyable; for me, it is rather something I try to avoid. As we will see through this reflection, being a Christian can at times resemble a person’s relationship to water depending on their experience and ability in the water.
For those curious about Christianity, for new Christians, or for those who have claimed Christianity for years, there are always times when we need people to help us along the way. As Christians we accept that there is no higher power than God to help us in our need, however, Jesus himself reinforced the concept of fellowship and the strength of his disciples together. Christians need each other, we exist for God as well as for the encouragement and support of other Christians. But when we are in need, whom shall we approach for fellowship? How should we approach them for “good advice?” Perhaps one seeks or receives council in a church, perhaps in a Christian friend or mentor. Regardless of the source of assistance, it is important for a Christian to be wise and thoughtful in this process so as not to be misled. That can be very difficult to do, as anyone who has needed wise counsel but not known where to find it can confirm. It is this helpless feeling that best highlights this idea of swimming without confidence, completely at the mercy of the great body of water. James commented on this state of Christian life when he said:
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
Before I had fully given my life to the Lord or learned anything about him, I heard Christians say certain things that used to make my judgmental eyes roll. One idea that I often heard but never believed was that, “the Bible has the answers to everything.” However, it must be confessed that this snap-judgment of mine was made without any inquiry into the Bible itself. While the Bible does not answer every question literally (for example you will not find how long you need to preheat the oven when cooking a turkey), the Bible reveals the source of every challenge that stands in the way of our progress as human beings and a collective community. But in regards to the issue of spiritual counsel and whom we should seek and avoid for said counsel, the Bible actually answers this question rather specifically.
While Jesus did himself address the problem of false teachers or advisers, let’s look at what the apostle Peter had to say about it:
1But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them —bringing swift destruction on themselves…
3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories…
12 But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. 13 They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. 14 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed —an accursed brood!
17 These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”
For the next few weeks, our Thursday reflections will lead us in examining these hallmarks of the false teacher. These passages in Peter’s epistles teach us of certain qualities that false teachers or dangerous spiritual leaders possess. A dangerous spiritual leader can be identified mainly by looking at the relationship of their teaching to Jesus. We can deduce that a spiritual leader is dangerous by examining their:
Motivation and Jesus
Power and Jesus
Purpose and Jesus
We hope that as this series helps illuminate the dangers of false teachers, it also reminds us of our need for true spiritual leadership, and the certainty of finding it in Jesus Christ.