The Choice of Influences
‘MY FRIEND ATE DOG FOOD ONE EVENING,’ writes Chuck Swindoll in his insights for living newsletter. His friend was at an elegant student reception in a posh physician’s home in Miami, Florida. The dog food was served on delicate crackers with a wedge of imported cheese, bacon chips, an olive, and a sliver of pimento on top. ‘It was hors d’oeuvres a la Alpo,’ noted Swindoll.
Here’s the thing; the deed wasn’t executed by an enemy; it was by a friend. The hostess, just graduated from a gourmet cooking course, decided to put her skill to the ultimate test. Did she ever! After doctoring up those miserable morsels and putting them on silver trays, with a sly grin she watched them disappear. In fact, Swindoll’s friend couldn’t get enough and kept coming back for more. Swindoll doesn’t recall how they broke the news to his friend, but he certainly must have gagged a little.
Since hearing that story, I’ve thought about how it illustrates what transpires daily in another realm: the religious realm. At this very moment, there are professional Christians, false teachers, standing in the pulpit, their shiny platters decorated in such a way that the people do not know what they are eating. The dishes are topped with language of religious orthodoxy. They have all the clichés and all the buzzwords, and people eagerly consume it.
In Matthew 7:15-23, Jesus warned us about counterfeit Christian leaders marketing their wares on shiny platters decorated with tasty persuasion; delectable dishes camouflaged by logical-sounding phrases. Such counterfeits are especially dangerous to the body of Christ. That is why at the end of the Sermon on the Mount he warns us about these false teachers. After teaching about the broad path and the narrow path, it is as though Jesus stands at the fork in the road and says, ‘Beware of the false prophets; those who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves’ (15).
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul underscores for us the Satanic nature of these teachers:
These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
These false teachers are not only dangerous, but they are also deceptive. Toward the end of his ministry, Paul explained to the elders of the church at Ephesus one of the reasons why these wolves are so difficult to detect. ‘Even from your own number [from among the elders and pastors of the church at Ephesus, which had known Paul’s profound biblical teaching over two or three years of ministry] men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!’ (Acts 20:30-31).
The Christian life is one of spiritual conflict. And no believer ever escapes from Satan without him seeking either to recapture him, or to have vengeance on Christ by hindering his spiritual progress. One of the ways in which he does this is through the influence of ‘false prophets’ (15). We must watch out for the wolves. How can we recognize these wolves and escape from their harmful influences? In our passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 7:15-23, Jesus sets before us several important principles, which we will look at this Sunday.