Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” What a dire warning. No one wants to think that there are people hiding within the Church who would seek to lead astray the sheep of our Good Shepherd’s flock. No one wants to believe that there are preachers who call themselves Christians, but they teach and practice contrary to the Word of God. But at one time or another, we have all encountered them within so-called Christian congregations. These preachers have told the Church that it is okay to murder babies in the womb in the name of convenience and empowerment. They have said that it is okay to live in unrepentant sexual immorality, whether by living together, homosexuality, promiscuity, or pornography. They have told you that even those who believe falsely about Jesus should be welcomed to receive the body and blood of Jesus. They have told you that a truly faithful Christian will be healthy and wealthy and successful, because Jesus gives earthly prosperity to those who have strong faith.
It’s bad enough that these false prophets exist. But the truth is, they would be powerless without our desire to hear their blasphemous sermons. In speaking to the young pastor Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote, “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” There is a market for the Joel Osteens and Joyce Meyers of the world because there are people who want to believe their false teachings, because there are people who would pick and choose what they want to believe instead of clinging to God’s Word, because there are people who hunger for worldly wealth rather than the body and blood of Jesus.
When our children are holding something poisonous or dangerous in their hands, don’t we swat it away? Don’t we warn them of the danger? Why do we not defend the doctrine of the Church with that kind of zeal? This is a First Commandment issue. This same sin entangled Adam and Eve. They were not content with God’s Word. They wanted more than what God promised them. They coveted the forbidden fruit. That is our way too. False doctrine is not looked upon as bad anymore. We tolerate it because we think everyone is entitled to their opinion. We would rather be comfortable and turn a blind eye to sin rather than confront it and root it out.
Why does God permit false teachers to come among His faithful? Is He not able to prevent it? Of course He could! But like all the suffering that our Lord allows afflict us, the presence of the false teacher works to our good. As St. Paul wrote, “There must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.” By allowing factions and divisions in His Church, the Lord reveals those who belong to Him.
Do not treat the Word carelessly. This Word you have in your ears is not the mere word of a man; it is the holy Word of God Himself, the Maker of heaven and earth. This Word in our ears is the Word made flesh, the Word who dwells among us, the Word who comes into our ear and into our mouths—not to give us mere early blessings, though He does generously give us our daily bread. He comes to give us the Bread of Life, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life with Him. This is a precious Word, and it satisfies more than anything our itching ears and selfish hearts can devise.
There are very few who stand steadfast anymore. Denominations outside the Lutheran church and divisions within it abound. There are few who contend against error and preserve the true doctrine. May it not be so among us. God grant us faith to cling to His promise, courage to confess it before the world, strength to persevere and contend for the truth, and love to serve both Him and our neighbor.
“Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word! In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.