About 30 years ago I started a Bible study that I ordered through the mail. At the time I wasn’t sure about the beliefs of this particular group and assumed they could be trusted to teach me Biblically sound doctrine Each lesson included a pamphlet with the actual lesson, an outline I was to fill in, and verses from the Bible I was to read. One week something about the lesson didn’t ring true to me. I had never studied the Bible so it wasn’t that I read it and knew it wasn’t Biblical. The more I compared the lesson to what I was reading in the Bible, the more it bothered me. At some point it said something that very clearly misinterpreted the Scripture it referenced and I knew I was being led down the wrong path. I threw the lessons away and requested the organization stop sending the lessons.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
Several years ago I committed my life to Jesus and began listening to preachers on the radio and TV. One morning I heard a message from Joel Osteen. At the time I was struggling with managing my money, had a large amount of debt and only a seasonal job. What Joel was saying was so inspiring because, according to him, all I had to do was believe God would provide me with more money and He would. Joel Osteen was telling me something I really wanted to believe and I was buying it hook, line and sinker. I was in real danger of going back to the Santa Claus god I had believed in.
When I told my daughter how encouraged I was by what Mr. Osteen said, she warned me about the prosperity preachers that were becoming popular. I had never heard of them. I listened more closely to his sermons and finally realized that he wanted me to believe in the power of my faith rather than trusting God. I’m sure if Mr. Osteen knew about my financial situation he would have blamed my insufficient faith but my faith in God was very strong! I was learning how to lean on God more each day instead of trusting in things of this world. Through my trial I was discovering God’s commands and how doing things His way was bringing much better results than doing them my way. The things Mr. Osteen claimed all Christians should do often left me feeling confused (a sure sign something is amiss!). One example was a story about his wife asking him to run to the grocery store so she could finish dinner. By the time he showered, shaved and put on good clothes, he was too late to get the things she needed so “he enjoyed his TV dinner that night.” His point in the story was that Christians should always appear in public neatly dressed because of the impression we might leave on others. It bothered me on various levels: his wife’s need for his help was secondary to how he was going to look to other people; he didn’t seem to have any regard for the work she had put into their dinner; he could have quickly washed and put on clean clothes and met his standard while helping his wife; he must judge others by their appearance if he puts that much importance on his own. The story was like a rock in my shoe. It just kept coming to my mind and troubled me.
Now, I’m sure this incident bothers me a lot more than it bothered Mrs. Osteen and they were most likely in agreement that Mr. Osteen did the right thing. It just seems to me he’s got his priorities a little mixed up and I can’t determine what negative message we send when we’re out in public not perfectly dressed. In addition to that confusion, I was disturbed by the minimal amount of time he spent talking specifically about Jesus and sin. I knew God’s message to His children isn’t about how we can all get rich. At that point in my life I needed to hear about God’s forgiveness and mercy but wasn’t hearing about either of those things from Joel Osteen.
Colossians 2:8 “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
One author said that the theology Mr. Osteen presents is like feeding our spiritual life with nothing but candy. Hearing only the “good” things about God is not a sufficient spiritual diet. Learning about how Christians have suffered helps me understand its role in my life and prepares me for those times I’m tested or experiencing the consequences of sin, whether my own or from living in a fallen world. I have learned that God’s plan for my life is better than whatever plans I have ever had, even when His plans don’t include comfort, wealth or perfect health. Learning about all of God’s attributes allows me to get to really know Him and have a meaningful relationship with Him. Even with my limited Bible knowledge, I knew God never promised that every believer would be wealthy and healthy, no matter how much we want to be. I have learned how I can trust God to help me through whatever troubles I experience in life. He allows trials to make me stronger and help me become the person He needs me to be. I would never have learned any of these things if I had been given everything my heart desires nor would I have learned about them from Mr. Osteen.
Acts 17:11 “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so”
I had also been listening to Joyce Meyer. At first, her uplifting, encouraging sermons appealed to me. Even the name of her TV ministry relieved my itching ears: Enjoying Everyday Life. For a long time, I didn’t detect much error in Joyce’s sermons. Then I heard Hank Hanegraaff talking on his radio program “The Bible Answer Man” about one of her sermons and learned that in this particular sermon she changed a word in Scripture so that it meant something entirely different. I looked up the verse and saw Mrs. Meyer’s lie. I learned the importance of checking the Scriptures after listening to any preacher or teacher.
Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
In another sermon, Joyce expresses no compassion for the paralytic by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-47). In her interpretation, he just lay there suffering for 38 years, doing nothing to help himself. She questions why, in the span of 38 years, he did not inch his way to the pool so he could roll into it and be healed! Like Joyce’s analysis of the paralytic, faith preachers would have us believe if we’re suffering in any way our faith simply isn’t strong enough – we’re at fault! What they’re telling us is we have to have faith in our faith instead of having faith in God. I stopped listening to her because I don’t want to support someone who misleads believers.
2 John 1:11 – “Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.”
A few years ago, I was made aware of the belief that Jesus and His family were actually very wealthy. According to proponents they gained their wealth from the magi that visited Jesus shortly after His birth. Their theory goes that there had to have been a large number of magi who came to see Jesus after learning of His birth all of whom would have brought expensive gifts to present to the family leaving them very wealthy. They further the argument by pointing to the fact that Jesus and His disciples had a treasurer (Judas), which, according to them, tells us the group needed someone to manage their large pot of money. Yet another argument used to support this distortion is based on John 1:39. Proponents conclude that Jesus invited a large group of followers referred to in previous verses in the chapter to His own home, which would have had to be large to accommodate all of them. A friend once presented me with some of these points but at the time I couldn’t defend what I believed and realized I had, in fact, simply taken others’ word for it, never taking time to research Scripture to insure I could defend the truth. I did the research, using Biblically-sound teachers, websites and my concordance to find Scripture to support what I had always believed about Jesus’ poverty. Take a minute and look up John 1:39 and you will read that Jesus invites only two followers, Andrew and another, possibly John, to follow him to “where He is staying” (not His home). A cross-reference would include Matthew 8:20 where Jesus tells us He had no place to lay His head. Luke 2:24 can also be used to confirm Jesus’ family was not wealthy. This verse tells us about Mary’s sacrifice of a pair of doves or two young pigeons required after the birth of a child. The cross-reference verses in my Bible include Leviticus 12:6-8 which tells us a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons can be offered by those who cannot afford a lamb sacrifice. Here are four Bible stories I can use to defend the truth of Jesus’ poverty.
Revelation 22:18-19 “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
False teachers understand that the majority of Christians are not reading their Bibles nor taking the time to compare verses and look up background information, impeding their ability to discern truth from lies. It’s much easier to let them do all the work. They do not deserve this level of trust. We have to start holding them accountable and stop using excuses for not being equipped to call them out on their lies. Any confusion we might experience when studying the Bible will be dispelled if we ask questions, read the notes contained in most Bibles, and look up related verses. Contradictions disappear when we consider the context of the verses and gain an understanding of the Bible as a whole.
“Context! Context! Context! That’s the antidote to the compromise and to the confusion and to the contradiction of Christ and the Canon. We as Christians need to read the Bible for all its worth, otherwise we are going to be misled by a cacophony of voices that have a siren call that is leading us not towards biblical truth but rather away from biblical truth.” The Bible Answer Man with Hank Hanegraaff, 6/24/2010
It’s important to pray for guidance as we read Scripture and allow the Spirit to show us things in His time. When I first started studying the Bible, I wanted to immediately understand everything I was reading. But I took it at God’s pace and allowed Him to show me things in His time. At first He revealed simple things but with each read-through, I learn more and God reveals deeper truths.
Regular Bible study, researching Scripture, listening to the Spirit, discussing Scripture with other Christians, and reading Biblically sound Christian authors are tools God has provided to help us discern between solid Biblical doctrine and false teaching. Use a concordance and make use of all the wonderful internet sites that help you find passages based on topics or keywords. Be sure to check the accuracy of each resource with trusted Christian friends.
Allistair Begg often says “The main things are the plain things.” There are certainly ideas in the Bible that can be debated, but the main doctrinal points are very clear and non-debatable. These include original sin; Jesus’s virgin birth, His sinlessness, deity, and humanity; the Trinity; our need for God’s grace; the necessity of faith; Christ’s atoning death, His bodily resurrection and ascension; Christ’s intercessory work for us; and His second coming, final judgment, and reign. (From The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), Christian Research Institute, Article ID: JAE100-1, By: Norman L. Geisler.)
Discernment takes time, but it is time well spent. We must spend sufficient time in His Word to be able to discern the truth from the lies. It is no longer an option.
1 Timothy 6:3-5 “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”