Daily Readings: Numbers 15-16, Romans 16
I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.
Early on in church history there were all kinds of false prophets popping up teaching a twisted version of the gospel. Paul addresses these preachers head on at the tail end of his letter to the Romans in today’s reading. This is a warning that rings true all the way up to this day.
As marketplace missionaries one of the most critical things we need to be effective reaching others for the Kingdom is God is having our own feet on solid ground when it comes to what Jesus actually taught. If we are off chasing false images of Christ given to us by these conmen that Paul describes, then the Jesus we are introducing others to will be not be Jesus at all.
So how can we tell if we are being deceived?
An unfortunately popular phrase commonly uttered when it comes to certain celebrity pastors in our society is, “Only God can judge the heart. Who am I to say that they are leading people astray for their own profit?” While I completely agree with the statement that we will never know for sure what is in the heart of another person and it is not our place to judge them, it is absolutely our duty to make sure that we are following a gospel message that is based on what Jesus actually taught.
To that end it is our moral imperative to look carefully at the version of the gospel that smooth, charismatic, likable preachers are giving to us and ask if it is in line with the overall gospel message.
One of the most common popular messages taught from the pulpit today is the health and wealth gospel. Believe in Jesus and he is going to make you rich, healthy, and without a care in the world! You just have to believe strongly enough!
There were many points throughout Jesus’ time on earth where he encouraged his followers to not stress so much about meeting their basic needs because God would provide. However, turning that message into, “God is going to pour out financial blessing over your life if you follow him to the point where you can get that car you always dreamed of, that house you have been picturing, etc.” is simply not what Jesus spoke of. In fact, he spent a great deal of time talking about how people that have been blessed financially should be turning around and giving it all away.
This does not mean that God will never bless some people financially that are following his will for their lives. I think oftentimes he does. However, when he does, it is in hopes that they will turn around and be an incredible blessing to others. When it comes to celebrity preachers, or pastors in general, I try not to spend time judging what they do with their money because I do not have the full picture of their motives or their entire checkbook. They might appear to have a massive house, larger than they need, but when you dig deeper they give away over half their income to help those in need and they go out of their way to use their house as a blessing to others in different ways.
Without seeing the full picture, judging lifestyle is dangerous.
However, judging the message they preach is an absolute necessity.
Paul warns us to be careful. There will always be people who look to profit personally instead of seeking to serve others. Their will always be leaders who seek to lead their flock astray. Sometimes they might genuinely believe that what they are saying is actually true. In my estimation that makes them even more dangerous. We have all told ourselves some type of lie in our lives long enough that we began to believe it. Whether intentionally leading their followers astray or merely by accident, the result is the same.
To be a marketplace missionary begins with putting our own personal faith in the correct place. It begins with seeking out the genuine nature of Christ and ensuring that we are personally living out the commands that Jesus laid out for us. It starts with following Paul’s advice and desperately seeking after wisdom of what is good!
Thought to ponder
How well do I feel that I know the message that Jesus gave to his followers in his time on earth? Do I feel like I have spent enough time with the words of Jesus to detect false teachers who may sound appealing to follow, but would ultimately lead me astray?