You may be wondering if you’ve read the title whether this post will be about a diet or a matter related to physical health. Right up front, let me relieve you of that concern. This post, though, will address a very important subject, one that the Apostle Paul wrote of when penning an epistle to his son in the faith, Titus, concerning first-century false religious teachers. They were present almost from the birth of the New Testament Church that Christ, its Head, founded and they are present still today.
Paul had been preceded by the Lord Jesus Himself in warning about wolves who would be disguised as sheep, Paul calling them angels of light. (Matt.7:15-20; 2 Cor. 11:14) They pawn themselves off deceivingly as “preachers” or “teachers,” but they produce not a people grounded in truth but a flock destroyed by error. They can be detected by their unwillingness to say anything offensive to the “natural man” (unsaved), the avoidance of presenting the way to God as a “narrow way,” their majoring on a gospel that is all about “health” and “wealth” for its adherents,” their ability to speak for any amount of time while saying nothing that would make their hearers uncomfortable; their avoidance of doctrinal teaching; their out of balance emphasis on a God that is loving and not a God that also exacts judgement; their absence of “sermons” on Hell or sin or man’s total depravity; their unwillingness to call sinners to repentance and their majoring on external acts rather than internal, spiritual attitudes.
In his letter to Titus whom Paul calls “mine own son after the common faith,” Paul describes these false teachers in Titus 1:10 as “unruly and vain talkers and deceivers….” He said that even then, a few decades into “church history,” there were many of these false teachers on the scene. The Didache (a.100 A.D.), an early Christian document, gave some pointers as to how “wandering prophets” should be tested for genuineness:
- He shall remain one day, and, if necessary, another day also; but if he remain three days, he is a false prophet;
- He must never ask for anything but bread. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet.
- By their characters a true and a false prophet shall be known;
- Every prophet that teacheth the truth, if he does not what he teacheth, is a false prophet;
- If a prophet, claiming to speak in the Spirit, orders a table and meal to be set before him, he is a false prophet;
- Whosoever shall say in the Spirit: “Give me money” or any other things, ye shall not hear him; but if he tells you to give in the matter of others who have need, let no one judge him;
- If a wanderer comes to a congregation and wishes to settle there, if he has a trade let him work and eat. If he has no trade consider in your wisdom how he may not live with you a Christian in idleness…but if he will not do this, he is a trafficker in Christ. Beware of such.”
(Granted that was 1st century and time has changed the effect of some of these warnings, but the above injunctions early on in the history of the church will give us insight into the severity of the danger of which Paul was warning Titus.)
The wolves disguised as sheep were subverting whole houses, teaching false things merely for “filthy lucre’s sake,” Paul warned. (Titus 1:11)
Their methods were that of infiltrating and undermining (2 Tim.3:6) and their motives were to get rich at the expense of unsuspecting victims who accepted them in good faith as true teachers.
In his letters to another protégé, Timothy, Paul spoke of these same devils when warning Timothy that they spoke in fables (I Tim.1:4), employing “old wives’ fables” (I Tim.4:7), eventually turning men to fables (2 Tim.4:4). Peter strikes the same serious alert in 2 Pet. 1:16 when he reminds his audience of scattered saints that “we have not followed cunningly devised fables….”
Again, in Titus 1:15 Paul says that these false teachers have minds that are impure and unbelieving so that “even their mind and conscience is defiled.”
They are, Paul concludes, men who only profess that they know God, but in actuality they in works deny Him being abominable and disobedient and “unto every good work reprobate.” (1:16)
What to do in the light of such stern alarm? Rebuke anyone who fits these descriptions; see to it that their mouths are stopped; do not give heed to them and remember that people like this early on in the infancy of the Church were generally known as “liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.” (Titus 1:12) Not a characterization you would lightly hang onto anyone, yet Paul did not hesitate to use the strongest language he had in his vast vocabulary in warning about these conscience-defiled professors who were not sound in faith. Titus 1 was inscripturated for our learning and admonition. These deceivers did not die out with the passing of the first century. They are with us still. Believer, beware.