As we continue to hear God’s warning against false teachers from 2 Peter, it’s important for us to keep in mind what a false teacher actually is. A false teacher is not merely someone who proclaims something false or in error, for, under such a broad definition, all of us growing Christians would qualify as false teachers at some point in our lives! Rather, a false teacher is someone who, by his message or by his lifestyle, contradicts the core teaching about Christ and his salvation. In other words, if someone teaches a false gospel or proclaims the true gospel but actually lives a life enslaved to sin, he is the kind of hell-bound herald that Peter furiously condemns and warns us against.
We need to appreciate this definition of “false teacher” so that we do not inadvertently treat as enemies of Christ those who actually belong to him and his church. Our Lord himself established an amazing principle of charity toward fellow Christ-followers in Mark 9:38-41,
John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.”
This exchange is fascinating because Jesus affirms as on his side—and his people’s side—someone who is probably in error. We don’t know much about this traveling exorcist, but he would seem to be in the wrong for not following Jesus more closely. The disciples, therefore, felt justified in closing down this exorcist’s entire ministry. But Jesus rebuked the disciples for this, affirmed this man as his own follower, and confirmed that such will receive reward from Christ for even the smallest acts of ministry to God’s people.
This demeanor of looking to regard as friend in Christ rather than condemn as enemy plays out elsewhere in the NT. Consider how differently Paul treats the Corinthian church, full of division, sin struggles, and even aberrant theology, and the Galatian church. Paul opens his letter to the Corinthians full of thanks for them to God, even as Paul seeks to instruct and reprove (1 Cor 1:4-10). But Paul gives no thanks for the Galatians, rather expresses great alarm and warning over their apparent abandonment of the true gospel (Gal 1:6-9; 3:1-4). Consider also the difference Paul articulates between true brethren whose unprofitable works will be burnt up and false brethren who themselves will be destroyed by God for attempting to destroy God’s church (1 Cor 3:9-17).
To be sure, Christ’s friends can still propagate dangerous errors and become involved in unprofitable causes, and God’s people must remain ready to vigorously contend for the truth and bring brethren back (e.g. Gal 2:11-14; James 5:19-20). But let us not go overboard and regard as enemies those who Christ has made our friends, even our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Questions to Consider:
1. How does Mk 9:40 harmonize with Mt 12:30?
2. Considering today’s many controversies in the church, who that you disagree with is still on your side in Christ?
3. Have you been regarding true brethren as enemies? Conversely, have you been treating some of Christ’s enemies as your allies (compare 2 Cor 6:14-18)?