Episode 202 - What's Worse: False Teaching or Physical Harm?

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Today, I want to talk about a surprising way we often value the physical over the spiritual. How we often value, in some ways, the temporary over the eternal. And you might be thinking, "I don't do that, I'm a Christian. I don't do that, I don't think my friends do that." But I actually think there's an issue that kind of runs throughout ages and different denominations. And there's definitely an issue we have today in how we prioritize one thing inappropriately over the other.

And let me tell you a hypothetical story just to kind of kick us off here. Hypothetically, let's say I know a person who is going to shoot up a school. He's going to commit a school shooting. He's done it before, okay? And your kids go to a school in my community. And you ask me for this person's name, you ask me to report him to the police. And I say, "Well, I don't think we should use names. That might be unchristian. It might cause division. It might hurt that person's reputation. It might make him or his family or other people uncomfortable."

That sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? It is ridiculous. I mean, there's someone out there who's going to harm a lot of people and I won't even use their name? In the context where it could save people's lives? Where it could prevent suffering and harm, I'm not going to use a name? You don't even probably have a mental category for that.

Now I do want to reiterate, this is incredibly hypothetical. This is not true, it's just a thought exercise. Okay, I do not know such a person.

But I think it's a helpful kind of mind or thought experiment for us. I mean, if I knew someone who was going to harm a lot of people, I would have a moral responsibility to tell other people, to warn them, to save them, to plead with them to leave whatever area where this guy was going to go, to tell the authorities. Right?

Well, why don't we respond that way when it comes to false teaching? I think the reason why is is we implicitly, unwarily perhaps, prioritize the physical, life in front of us, things in front of us, over the eternal state of people's souls. And that might sound kind of religious and pious and stuffy, but I think that's what it is. Because what's more important here? The physical state of someone, their health, or their eternal state? Well, both are really important and in different areas of culture today, both are actually under assault. But what's more important is a person's eternal destiny. What's more important, what's of more value is what they believe about God. Who they trust in for salvation.

Now, you could go too far with that and say that it doesn't matter how people live today, that we don't have to be concerned with issues of injustice and things like that. Now that's not what I'm saying, but I'm saying in how we address false teaching, how we think of that category, we prioritize one thing over another inappropriately. Because we respond more strongly to physical threats than we do spiritual threats. And this shows that we value the physical more than the eternal.

I want to give you two passages to support this point I'm making, that we shouldn't value them in this way. Consider Matthew 10:28, Jesus says, "Don't be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." He's saying here that one thing has primacy over the other. The soul, the one who can judge the soul, that matters. He's saying so your physical health, yes, you may sacrifice that, you may lose that. But what we really need to be concerned with is not the person on this earth, in a temporary sense, who could harm us physically. We need to be concerned with the one who will judge us at the end of time.

Well if we need, as individuals, to be concerned with the state of our souls because there is a judgment coming, doesn't that mean everyone else needs to be concerned with their souls because there's a judgment coming? Yes! And in the same way, Jesus should be telling us, we should be very concerned with the eternal state of every single person with whom we have influence. That our actions have eternal consequences. And in as much as they have positive consequences, that's good, but we need to really care about the extent of our actions today, that we take here, in the responsibility and realms we have, that have eternal consequences.

We need to be fearful because a judgment is coming for how we use our influence. How do we lead people that will ultimately stand before God? And I don't mean lead like officially, like in a church setting or as a pastor. I mean, we have influence over people on social media and friends and family and small groups. We need to take seriously the influence we have. We need to take our own spiritual state seriously.

And that's what Jesus is directly addressing, but this obviously has ramifications for how we think about false teaching and the stakes, eternal stakes, outside of that.

Let's also look at Mark 9:42, this is a passage which I think is often misunderstood. But Jesus says, "If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a huge millstone tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea." There's that loving Jesus that we love to see quoted in flowers on Instagram, right? Let this person have a millstone hung around their neck and be tossed into the sea.

But what's he saying? If anyone causes one of these little ones, who believe in me. Now, people often just relegate this to Jesus talking about children, but he's not. He's talking about his followers, at least, also. And he's saying if someone is going to make a follower of his stumble, lead them into sin, then that person, it would be better for them to have a millstone hung around their neck and be tossed into a lake. In other words, it would be better for that person to drown. Now you might say, "Well, that's just poetic language, it's just figurative language." In some ways it might be, but why is he using such strong language? Because he wants to make a weak point? No, we use strong language to make a strong point.

And Jesus is saying that it would be better for them to have a physical consequence for this thing they've done, because the eternal consequence is very high. And yet, how do we think about false teaching? "Well, you know, it might be okay to listen to such and such a teacher, but just watch out for this thing they say." Or, "It's okay if you go to this other religion, or listen to a teacher that has a different understanding of the Gospel on essentials, because they're encouraging. They say other things that are helpful, or they agree with us on morality or politics or certain things." Why would we ever say that? If we're encouraging people to walk into a mine field, why would we ever recommend a teacher if the other things they teach, besides the things we're recommending them for, could harm someone's soul? Could cause a little one to stumble into sin?

Now, what I'm not talking about here, to be clear, is people who just disagree on different doctrinal points. I'm not talking about people who disagree on spiritual gifts or the end times and stuff like that. I'm talking about disagreements on the nature of the Gospel and who God is and who Jesus is. Like essentials to the Christian faith and orthodoxy. Why would we ever recommend or tolerate someone who disagrees on those things? Who teaches contrary to those things? Why would we speak of the things that they say that are encouraging if they have all of these other things?

I'm not going to talk about a school shooter in a way that's positive and say, "Well, he's got a great sense of humor. You know, he's said some things, he helped me plant a garden in my backyard." No! He's a school shooter! Right? So I'm going to take that seriously. And if you think that this is an extreme comparison, I guarantee you it's not. Because the school shooter who stands before God will have a less severe punishment than the false teacher who has perverted the Gospel and led people astray.

And if you disagree with that, or you know people that disagree with that, just sit in some of these passages. Listen to what Jesus says here. It's better for that person to be drowned. Now, he's not saying we should go do it, it's God's job to judge. But if you lead someone into sin, it's better that this other fate would befall you. Don't be afraid of the one who can kill the body. Be afraid of the one who will judge the soul. Do we actually believe this? Is our moral compass, is our spiritual compass and conscience aligned to this? Or have we been affected by our culture?

Almost every one of Paul's and Peter's letters address false teaching. John's too, they use names. They explicitly talk about issues. They are warning people. Why? Because their eternal destiny is at stake. They plead with people. And yet, if we say something perhaps on social media about teaching, not about the person, but about the person's teaching, and yes, it is appropriate to use a name, we just cited the fact that the inspired apostles used names. Jesus uses names. If we do that often, it's like, "Well, why are you being divisive? Why are you causing disunity? That's not probably fitting for Christians to act, that's not nice."

Well, what do you do if you apply all of those criteria that you just tossed out as a criticism against what the inspired apostles and Jesus do? They don't fit. Hey, and just as an aside, if you criticize someone publicly for criticizing someone else publicly, you're doing the same thing that you're condemning them of doing. It's kind of hypocritical, but that's a different point.

My point here is simply, we would be much more up in arms about someone who is endangering people's physical lives than their spiritual lives. And our moral compasses there are backwards, they're not formed by what we read in scripture.

Now, there is a spectrum of issues we could be talking about, right? All the way from someone who preaches a different Gospel, or a religion that preaches a different Gospel, to simply bad teaching. Some people just don't handle the Bible well. They're not heretics, we should not just throw that term around. They might explain things differently than us.

And then there's the other end of the spectrum, right? Which is just like, we just disagree. It's not that they are a bad teacher, it's that they looked at this passage, they applied good principles of biblical interpretation, and they tried to understand how all of the different passages fit together and they came to a different conclusion. I might disagree, but they're not necessarily a bad teacher. You have this spectrum, and we have to be clear on who we're talking about.

So, I'll recommend books to people when I disagree with the author, because I think that the way that they come to their conclusions, I can respect that. And we can learn from that. But there are other people who are just bad Bible teachers. We shouldn't listen to those people. And then there are people that teach a different Gospel. And we should be very clear about warning those in our life when they are close to them, when they might be influenced by their teaching. We certainly shouldn't recommend their teaching to anyone. We should warn people about it if we actually believe that teaching matters.

Now, I will say if we don't think teaching matters, why would we recommend a teacher? We implicitly are affirming that teaching matters when we recommend anyone. And if teaching matters, then good teaching matters. So why would we ever recommend a bad teacher? Life is too short and the stakes are too high to listen to bad teachers, to listen to teachers who teach false Gospels, or don't handle the scriptures well. It's like I've just gotten in the habit of saying life's too short to read bad books. Don't read a bad book. Don't listen to a bad teacher.

It would be much better for us, as a friend of mine has started recommending, Hunter Levine, he's been on the podcast before, instead of telling everyone what they shouldn't read, he just recommends things that they should read. I think that's great. I think we could stand to have a lot more people reading a lot of the same sorts of books so we have a common vocabulary and way of seeing problems. It won't mean we all agree, but we can have different things in common to approach issues from a common standpoint. I think that would be great.

So recommend good things for people if you have influence. Don't tolerate bad teaching. Don't just share something because it's encouraging, if it could lead people to the teacher, who is a bad teacher. And yes, bad teachers often say things that are true. False prophets, false teachers often say things that are at least partially true. God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick, but that doesn't mean we should recommend that crooked stick. Find the teaching on the lips of someone who is a straight stick, so to speak. And that metaphor is kind of falling apart, so I'm going to move on.

Now, maybe you're tracking with me. This is not a problem you have. Maybe you don't misbalance and misvalue the spiritual and the physical. But I guarantee you know people who do. Every time I have preached and addressed false teaching when appropriate in the passage that has modern day equivalents and I've addressed it by name, people are bothered. It has always confused me that this is the case.

One, it's the pattern of the scripture that this is what you do. You are warning people about the dangers out there that have influence. Now, anyone can find an example of someone to harp on when they're giving a sermon or a talk. My point is, when it's appropriate, when people you believe in our congregation, or small group, or friends circle are being influenced by someone, you should address it.

I've also had people tell me, I've had one person say to me, "I don't know why you address the prosperity Gospel so much. Do you think that's actually a problem in our circles?" And I said, "Yeah, I do." And by the end of that conversation, the person actually admitted that they find encouraging a prosperity teacher. So it's like, yes! I actually think it's an issue. I think it's probably an issue in this conversation too. We have to take seriously teaching.

So if teaching is important enough to listen to and recommend, it's certainly important enough to get right. Most people would use force if someone broke into their home. They would protect their family with whatever they could. They would warn other people if the intruder that threatened their lives ran out and was not captured. Why would we not prioritize all the more what we say and how we think about teaching? We need to constantly be discerning with what we listen to, how we hear other people, including me. You should always be evaluating what I say in light of scripture. Take every thought captive to the knowledge of Christ. Compare it to what the scriptures say. See if it makes sense and accords with the Bible.

But at the end of the day, we need to have our moral compasses informed by and formed by what the scriptures say. We should not be afraid of those who simply can harm the body. We should be much more afraid that we will stand before God and be responsible for what we believe and what we teach and what we recommend and what we laugh at. And the list can go on. But that's why we should take false teaching seriously, because people's eternal lives are at stake. People who believe false teaching will justly fall under the punishment of God in hell. And it's not a laughing matter. It's worth dividing over. It's worth using names over. Because people's eternal destinies are at stake.

And as Jesus says, "Woe to anyone who causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble." We should take seriously what we teach and what we recommend.

Well, I hope this has been helpful and I'll talk with you next week on Unapologetic.