Dishonesty and distrust are intimately associated with sin. For as long as Man has existed, there has been someone trying to hide from God. For instance, Adam and Eve tried to hide from God when they ate of the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:8). Like his father, Cain feigned ignorance after murdering his brother by asking God, “am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). Despite these attempts, no sin can be hid from God.
God’s inspired Prophets and Apostles have commented for generations about the pointlessness of trying to hide from Him. Jeremiah wrote, “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:24). The author of Hebrews wrote, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13).
So, why would someone still try to hide from God? There are a number of reasons. Since we do not see him, it is easy to rationalize our actions as if He did not see them. We also might convince ourselves over time that our sinful actions are not actually sin, and therefore we carry them out thinking that God approves of them. Both of these possibilities are hurtful for our influence toward others, but an even more damaging and dangerous influence is wielded when we are working against God’s Truth with an agenda.
Further, we might not even try to hide from God, but rather hide from our own brothers and sisters in Christ. Many can secretly hold to false doctrine, courting support within the membership, and then unleashing this deceit publicly upon a congregation of members who may, in general, have little or no idea as to what is truly going on. We see local congregations split apart often because of this very kind of situation.
God has warned us of these things from the very beginning. Jesus said of false teachers, “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matt. 7:16). Paul told the elders at Ephesus, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30). This is not some new problem arising within God’s Kingdom.
False doctrine of any sort within a congregation is a serious matter. If we try to trivialize the Truth as “a matter of opinion,” we will have a conflict on our hands and no peaceful resolution in sight. Some might bring up the fact that many of us hold differing views on subjects, and of course, such is true. Brethren hold differing views on the nature of the Head Covering, and yet are able to fellowship each other. However, when someone is actively trying to get others to change their views, and spreading their doctrine around in subversive ways, it creates an atmosphere of dishonesty and insincerity.
The Apostle Peter had much to say about this in his second letter, declaring in 2 Peter 2:1 that, “false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.” These teachers would not be brought in by some evil outside force, but be “among” them. These teachers would not be honest or trustworthy, but would “secretly bring in destructive heresies,” teachings that would undermine the faith of those who were listening to them. In this, they would be “bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”
When a brother approaches us privately, and begins to talk to us about something that we might not immediately understand, we should not refuse to study with them. On the contrary, we should be more than willing to do so! However, we must be grounded in the Scriptures, properly motivated for the true benefit of their soul, and we must be willing to show them the truth if they are found to be in error. If they are in error and eventually refuse to change, we must recognize that they are a danger to anyone under their influence. Shouldn’t we warn others about such danger?
Paul apparently did so, because he told the elders at Ephesus: “Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears” (Acts 20:31). Even though this warning might “stir up trouble,” we know that in cases of false doctrine being taught, trouble must sometimes be “stirred up” in order to prevent greater problems from manifesting. Should we hold back from warning the flock about a possible wolf among us? Peter writes, “And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep” (2 Peter 2:2-3). Dare we sit back when such things are going on among the LORD’s faithful?
We have to be willing to go through troubling times to see God’s Truth as victorious. If there are some who are divisive and contentious among us, we must deal with that error, but not by ignoring it. We face error openly and honestly with the Truth. Jude wrote, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 3-4). Are we willing to contend (literally, AGONIZE) for the Faith? Or will we allow it to be excommunicated from our midst? Jude writes further, “These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage [...] It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 16, 19).
In contrast, Jude exhorts his audience to “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 1:21). No matter who turns away from the LORD, we can be confident and assured that our faith, if placed in God, will endure to the end.
Finally, no two situations will be absolutely the same. Jude advises, “But pity some, making distinction. But save others with fear, snatching them out of the fire; hating even the garment having been stained from the flesh” (Jude 1:22-23). Some who spread false doctrine are doing so out of a sincere motive to be faithful to God, and simply need to be patiently led out of error and into truth. Others might require a firmer hand, to be “shocked” into a proper understanding.
We must always remember, as well, that it could be ourselves who are failing in understanding. Let the Bible be the barometer for such consideration. Again, to the Ephesian elders, Paul said: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).
Holding error in secret will do nothing but create discord, disunity and heartbreak, not only for us, but also for God. Remember that we are able to fool our fellow man, but “be sure your sin will find you out.” (Numbers 32:23). God knows our hearts, and He will be the one to judge us in the end. God expects us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Ephesians 5:11)
Let us be as Jesus was, teaching everything openly before all, and not saying a word in secret (John 18:20). Let us also work to find evil wherever it is and expose it for what it is. -Steven McCrary