False teaching

Gullible? (1 John 4:1-6)

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Gullibility is a liability! Not everything that ‘sounds’ spiritual or deep is Godly or helpful. We live in an age of information overload, the access to options or alternate thought positions has never been easier.  

Therefore being able to discern right from wrong, good from evil is an important life skill. The apostle John writes warning believers affectionately; “Beloved, do not believe every spirit” (1 John 4:1) or as the NLT puts it; “Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit.”

In our day in the name of God, church leaders are sadly often in the news for telling those who follow them to perform all manner of crazy acts, claiming this is what God wants or torturing Scripture to say that what they are teaching is what Scripture commands!

Discernment, therefore, is a vital aspect of faith for all Christ-followers. But how does one discern orthodoxy from heresy?

1. Listen to God’s Holy Spirit!

 God’s Holy Spirit will always make much of Jesus, who He is and what He has done for us. So listen to the content and the focus of someone’s teaching and if Jesus is not the BIG IDEA, if anyone, anything is, then tune out! Remember that;

  • The Holy Spirit will teach us and will remind us of everything Jesus said. (John 14:26)
  • The Holy Spirit will testify about Jesus (John 15:26)
  • The Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth (John 16:13)
  • The Holy Spirit will bring glory to Jesus (John 16:14)

Hearing from the Holy Spirit is not for some elite group of Christians. Adam and Eve used to walk and talk with God in the Garden. Now that you have been reconciled to God through Jesus, you too can walk and talk every day with God. This is your joy and your privilege as a believer!  

Try this: As you read, or listen to anything/anyone – ask the Holy Spirit to confirm in your Spirit whether this is helpful or unhelpful in your spiritual walk.

2. Use the Weapon of Scripture

One of the primary ways God has put on display His will for our lives is in Holy Scripture. The more you read and internalise Scripture, the better equipped you will be to discern spiritual nonsense from the good stuff.  

So, if some teaching doesn’t line up with Scripture – toss it out! Our LORD did this when He was tested in the desert by the devil, and yet Jesus resisted him, Jesus exposed the falsehood through quoting Scripture to the enemy.

So read your Bible daily, commit to that discipline, and it will protect you in ways you cannot begin to imagine. Internalise Scripture, memorise Scripture – doing so is that arming yourself with the sword of the Spirit, taking the sword out of its sheath to protect yourself from enemy attacks (Ephesians 6:17).

3. Be in intentional Christian Community

Being on your own, isolated with your thoughts, leaves one vulnerable to false teaching and potentially being persuaded or lead astray. The people John was writing to had a relationship with the apostle John, and that relationship helped them to remain strong in the face of false teaching as they could ask John for his opinion. 

Who are you in intentional Christian Community with? Is the Bible and listening to the Holy Spirit a key aspect of that friendship? In Reconciliation Road Church we urge every believer to be in a TRIO or a COMMUNITY GROUP or to be in both if possible. Why? Because Community protects one, keeps us from the pain of being diverted from the path God has for us.  

Do you have an intentional Christian Community? If not, take a step and reach out to some other people.

May we, may you be fortified against gullibility. May you obey the Holy Spirit daily, devote yourself to Scripture daily and may you have an authentic and intentional Christian Community around you to protect you from dangerous spiritual gullibility.

A Plan for the new year: Love God & People (1 John 1:1-4)

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[This month in our church’s Bible Reading Plan we are reading the letters of the apostle John – 1-3 John]

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Happy New Year! May your year be filled with the presence & power of Jesus in your everyday life. May you listen to Him and His promptings by His Spirit and through His word, so that you may glorify Him with your every moment and advance His kingdom rule and reign while you can.

Last night I was asked by a friend; ‘What’s the plan for our church (www.recroadchurch.co.za) for 2020?’ 

I have pondered that question many times, and I always come back to the same answer essentially…  

Which brings me to the focus of our devotions in January – the final letters from the apostle John to the believers (1 John, 2 John & 3 John).

The historian Jerome tells us that when the aged and last surviving apostle (John) had become so weak that he could no longer preach, he used to be carried into the congregation at Ephesus. Weak and unable to contribute much to the assembly of believers, John would then content himself with bringing but a single short word of exhortation each time.

‘Little children,’ he would always say, ‘love one another.’ 

When his hearers grew tired of this message and asked him why he so frequently repeated it, he would respond, 

‘Because it is the Lord’s command, and if this is all you do, it is enough…’ (David Jackman, The Message of John’s Letters)

As the last of the apostles of Christ who was an eyewitness of the events we read about in the gospels, John would have had exceptional authority, and these letters of 1-3 John were probably the last Scripture written.

The apostle John wrote his letters from the pagan city of Ephesus in a time when the authentic Gospel was under attack from false Gnostic teachings.  

These teachings claimed special knowledge that leading their proponents to deny the reality of Christ’s incarnation, atoning death and bodily resurrection, and with that to redefine sin and redirect Christian behaviour! (David Jackman, The Message of John’s Letters)

The errors of John’s day, which challenged the church, were a result of accommodation of the Christian faith to the prevailing ideas of the secular culture – and a resultant loss of the Gospel.  

Every generation has to face up to this same challenge – holding on to faithfulness and relevance. Every generation needs to choose to either stand and lovingly confront or to be conformed to the culture of its day. The danger is no different for us today.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)

John begins his letter wasting no time in establishing his core foundational belief – who Jesus is.  

  • Jesus is the eternal God (‘from the beginning’ vs1). This opening line reminds one of Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 (look them up).
  • Jesus, as God, took on flesh, became a man. John testifies that he knew personally. He heard Jesus speak, and He saw Jesus, He touched Jesus’ real body (vs1-2).
  • This is John’s eyewitness testimony! Jesus Christ is and was God incarnate, divine & human (vs2).

John starts his letter with this focus on the divinity and humanity of Jesus because most theological error starts with an undermining of who Jesus is and what Jesus did for us in his incarnation, life, death & resurrection.

Every person on the planet will ultimately have to answer two questions and these two questions are answered in John’s letters we will be reading; ‘Who is Jesus?’‘What does this mean for how I live my life?’

CS Lewis famously said of Jesus;

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. – CS Lewis

So what do you believe? Who is Jesus? Is He God incarnate? Is He LORD of your life? Does the pattern of your life, do your life rhythms and choices reflect what you say you believe?

As we will see again and again in John’s letters, loving Jesus is connected to loving people.  When we love Jesus and seek to obey His leading in our lives, we will end up loving people too!

So, do you want to be happy in 2020? John wanted those who read his letter to have their joy made complete (vs4). Joy is a stated purpose in his writing to them. Joy is a hallmark of Christ’s kingdom (Rom 14:17) and yet needs to be fought for sometimes and is only found in a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ as your LORD, obeying His word and His Spirit.

Back to my friend’s question about 2020…  In Mark’s gospel it’s recorded that a person asked Jesus;

28… “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

So let’s make that our goal in 2020. To love God more deeply, to obey Him more fully so that we will, in turn, love people more clearly.

Marks of Godly Leadership 2 (1 Timothy 6:11-21)

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Throughout the book of 1 Timothy, we have regularly encountered Paul’s commentary on both good and bad leadership; as well as the central theme of holiness. He maintains a determined passion to oppose bad leadership (which we looked at yesterday) and to encourage true leadership that flows from holiness. At this stage, we can all see the inseparable connection of leadership and holiness.

Remember before Timothy arrives, the existing leadership of the church in Ephesus had plunged the church into crisis. These leaders lacked the moral character, godly desires and competent gifts required to lead God’s people (1:6-7, 19-20, 3:6-8, 4:1-3, 6:4-5). However, through the words of Paul, we can see leaders who inspire trust because of holy character (3:2-12), who build the church to fulfill its purpose (3:15), who sacrificially serve the people God has entrusted to them (5:17) and who are wholeheartedly committed to a radical pursuit of holiness (2:2, 8, 10, 3:2-13, 4:6-10, 16, 6:6-7, 11-16).

As we have already seen from this chapter, leadership flows from the heart. Yesterday we saw that bad leadership comes from a heart full of ‘evil roots’. Contrastingly, Paul now goes on to describe & encourage Timothy towards godly leadership, which flows from a heart that has been radically transformed by the power of the gospel. Let us consider three characteristics of godly leadership:

Firstly, godly leadership flows from a leaders identity in Christ. “But as for you, O man of God…” Paul describes Timothy as a man belonging to God. It is such a simple phrase, so easy to overlook in a chapter with so much being discussed, and yet it might possibly be the most powerful statement! That is because there is power in knowing that we belong to another. God had to change us, redeem us, remove our sins, pardon us in His court, reconcile us to Himself and transform our hearts from stone to flesh. It is a fundamental change of our entire identity, which inevitably leads to a change in how we live. This simple, powerful statement is the foundation of all good and godly leadership. Our belonging to God enables our living for God.

Secondly, godly leadership involves a proactive participation in a relationship with God and a pursuit of personal holiness. If leaders belong to God, they are therefore empowered to “flee” and to “pursue” (verse 11), to “fight” and to “take hold” (verse 12), “to keep the commandment” (verse 14), to “charge” (verse 17), to “guard” and finally to “avoid” (verse 20). This passage is full of verbs and commands, clearly communicating that the life of a leader involves a lot of action! This is a summary of a central theme in the whole book: believers must actively pursue and train themselves in godliness. Leadership flows out of who God has made us to be and how He is empowering us to live.

Finally, godly leadership looks to the future. Leaders regularly recall the eternal reality of Jesus’ victory and our glorious future with him. “…until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see.” Paul here is breaking out into another moment of doxology (praise) as he is himself amazed at who God is – its like he can’t contain himself! However Paul also has a deeply theological foundation that he is communicating here. This future when the victorious King Jesus comes back for His church is a certain reality that we are all moving towards. This is our certain hope. This will be the fruit of our labour. It motivates and preserves all that leaders do now.

These marks of godly leadership summarise the central themes of leadership and holiness throughout the book, and they form Paul’s concluding remarks. They will keep us in the love of God, embolden us to keep serving His mission in the world and stir us to keep pursuing a deep and transformative relationship with Him. What a powerful encouragement for us all.

Grace be with you.

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

  1. As we have reached the end of the book, what concluding thoughts do you have on good and bad leadership?
  2. How is your life characterized by the kind of intentional pursuit of holiness that we read in 1 Tim 6?
  3. How does a gospel shaped certainty in the future encourage us to live and lead for Jesus now?  

Showdown (1 Kings 18)

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It’s been three years since Elijah told Ahab and Israel that there would be no rain until he said so… God tells Elijah to go to king Ahab.

On seeing him Ahab exclaims; “Is it you, you troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17) This is an important little moment – who is responsible for the suffering in the land? Is it Elijah’s fault because he spoke and the rain stopped? Or is it Ahab’s fault because of his sin?

Elijah greets Ahab back with the following retort; “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.” (1 Kings 18:18). Scripture makes it clear, the famine is the result of God’s judgement on the gross sin and idol-worship of Ahab, his foreign wife Jezebel and his predecessor’s.

Ahab might be king, but Elijah is calling all the shots! Elijah instructs Ahab to gather all of Israel and the 950 prophets of Baal and Asherah who eat at his wife’s table (1 Kings 18:19) at Mount Carmel. Elijah inspired by God, wants a showdown to help Israel choose whom they will worship.

Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. (1 Kings 18:21)

Compromise and double-mindedness is massively offensive to God. The Ten Commands start; “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments…” (Exodus 20:1-6)

God wants His people to choose. Either God is God, or Baal is God but they can’t both be God, because God makes an exclusive claim on being God and so makes a rightful jealous call for devoted and exclusive worship and trust. Elijah asks the people to choose therefore, but they remain silent, they say nothing, refuse to choose (1 Kings 18:21).

The stage is set and Elijah (still calling the shots and making demands on the king) tells the 450 prophets of Baal to make an altar, place an offering on it and then to pray for fire… The prophets of Baal cry out for Baal to answer them for hours from ‘morning to noon’ for Baal to send fire.

“But there was no voice, and no one answered” (1 Kings 18:26) “And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation (evening sacrifice), but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.” (1 Kings 18:29)

Poignant! No reply, nothing because Baal like all other false-gods is nothing, man made nonsense that can say and do nothing.

Then Elijah makes an altar like theirs, but does even more than them by dousing his altar and offering with copious amounts of water to underline the sign and wonder that’s about to happen.

Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”

38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” (1 Kings 18:36-39)

The One true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Israel and Elijah is personal, He speaks and guides and instructs and answers prayer – He alone is God and worthy of trust & worship. He is the God they should have chosen when Elijah challenged them to make up their minds. Now, on the evidence before them, with this contrasting display of power and God’s responding to the prayer of his servant – the nation fell on their faces proclaiming the truth about God.

Baal worship has been exposed as futile, Baal’s ‘prophets’ exposed as charlatan’s and therefore executed.

What relevance does this have for your life and mine?

Confidence – God alone is Almighty God awesome in power & majesty and ready to respond to prayer!

Consider – Am I in any way compromising by being double-minded effectively, putting my trust in anything or anyone other than God?

Repent – If you’ve doubted God in any way or been dabbling with the worship/trust of anything other than God, repent and turn back to exclusive worship of God alone.

Warning: Don’t get taken in… (Colossians 2:8-12)

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As believers we need to be on our guard, careful not to be distracted or distorted by every wind of teaching that blows through town, or the internet or social media…

We as believers need to ensure we aren’t gullible, aren’t easily impressed, impacted or taken along with teachings or ideas that have their basis in the empty thinking of our age.  Such philosophies can sound so persuasive (certain issues pertaining to gender, sexuality, freedom, life’s purpose…), so clever, but in the end they are devoid of God’s eternal truth as they don’t line up with Scripture and they aren’t centred around the biblical revelation of Jesus Christ and the Gospel!

We on the other hand are to look to, to focus on the man Jesus, the One in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in bodily form.  Focusing on Jesus, trusting His ways for our lives regardless of whether such ways seem popular or are even despised by our popular culture has a resultant effect.  Our lives become filled to the brim – no lack at all.  Jesus + nothing is what you and I need.  There is no lack in Him and there will be no lack in us as we look to Him and trust Him and His ways as revealed in Scripture for ALL of life.

So, is there anything?  Any worldly thinking that’s actually at odds with the revealed will of God in Scripture, with which you might have been taken captive or allured by?  Ask God to reveal anything like that, that’s in play in your life or your thinking…  And if God shows you anything I urge you to repent of such empty thinking that has its foundation in the emptiness of the world’s thinking and choose now to place Scripture over all other philosophies and to fix your eyes on Jesus + nothing.

False teaching (2 Thessalonians 2:1-17)

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The Thessalonian church faced persecution from those outside of the faith, which the apostle has addressed in chapter 1.  Now in chapter 2 he turns his attention to another form of opposition that can be even more difficult to withstand: false teaching.

Some had been claiming that Jesus had already returned, and that the Thessalonians had somehow missed it (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3)!  Sadly this sort of stuff still happens today.  Just the other day the world was supposed to have ended – ooooops did you miss that!

Did you know that according to some, the so-called “Rapture” was supposed to have happened on Sep 23rd 2017.  Some doomsday so-called Christians who seem more focused more on crazy number patterns & astronomy than on the Bible itself put together a Youtube clip watched by 4.5million people in under 2months claiming such.  

And yet, no surprise really, but we are still all here.  Or did Jesus come back and we  somehow missed; ‘Jesus’ shout of command’, ‘the voice of the archangel’, the trumpet blast of God’ ‘and dead people rising up everywhere’ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-16)…? 

Friend, “Let no one deceive you in any way” (vs3), “we ask you brothers not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed” (vs2).  Jesus is coming back, he will destroy the anti-Christ with just the breath of his mouth (vs8) – no contest!  There will be displays of power and false signs and wicked deception from Satan himself (vs9-10) but we are all called to ‘love the truth and so be saved’ (vs10)

And Jesus Christ Himself is the way and the truth, and so believing in Him, trusting in Him is the only way to life eternal.  So do it, trust Him, believe in Him, and call all you know to do the same.

And, if you have already believed in Jesus, stand firm (vs15) and hold to what you know from Scripture and may Jesus Himself comfort your hearts and cause you to do great good works in the world because of Him (vs16).