It’s always nice to talk about love and tolerance. We know that God loved the world. He loves His Son. We are told to love each other, that is how they will know us (John 13:35). But sometimes love is not appropriate or warranted. Do I mean this, really? Well, we know we are supposed to hate sin. We know there are six things, no, seven, that the Lord hates. (Proverbs 6:16-19). We hate sin so much we’re supposed to kill the old man in us. (Colossians 3:5). We don’t endlessly give the Gospel to those who hurl it back, those hurlers are called swine. So when it comes to love, we know we don’t ‘love’ everyone or everything, at least not according to the romantic or secular definition of love. So here is the question: are we supposed to love false teachers?
At The Berean Call, the question is posed:
To the world it might appear that all is well in the Christian realm. Much-beloved speakers hold forth from the pulpits of some of the largest churches in the world. Believers and nonbelievers alike buy their books, avail themselves of their programs, and utilize their methodologies. One might come to the conclusion that Peter must not have been referring to the church in our day regarding false teachers. Tolerance is the word of the day. We hear admonitions on a regular basis to “just get along” with those of opposing faiths. “Love” reigns supreme.
But what is this “love” of which they speak? What about those who identify a false gospel or a false teacher among some of the popular speakers these days? Does this “love” still apply to those who expose the ones who are actually deceivers among the flock?
A dear sister in the faith posed the question to me. To love those who are deluded and cannot understand the Word and care for them and not be critical. I thought about it for a long time, because I love poorly and I’m always appealing to the Lord to teach me love better.
So I began to think hard, should we love false teachers? Are they to be pitied? I decided, no. Though I value the opinions offered and they DO make me think, I don’t necessarily always agree. I’d like to offer an alternate view about how far not to go in pursuing love, and to offer a different perspective of what love actually is.
If we read Jeremiah 14:16, there is not even a hapless non-believer who accidentally can’t understand God’s truth and accidentally follows false prophets because they don’t know better. They DO know better. God said He will pour out their evil upon them because they knew better but followed false prophets anyway. 2 Timothy 4:3 also puts the blame on those who choose to follow false teachers because they wanted their ears tickled, so they went out and accumulated for themselves false teachers who told them what they wanted to hear.
But back to the false teachers themselves. I reserve my highest caring in this situation- for Jesus. We do care for the state of our neighbor’s souls, and we do care for brethren, but in all this let us not forget caring about Jesus.
I care about His name and what people do in His name. The harshest criticism in the Bible from everyone, (Jesus, Paul, Peter, John the Baptist, John, James, Jude, etc) was aimed at those who pervert God’s word. It is not a situation where we say “poor, poor false teachers. Let’s understand them and open our hearts to them and care.” I do hope they are saved someday, but beyond that they get no caring from me. I am highly CRITICAL of them in righteous indignation. Here is why-
The Bible tells us they do it on purpose. They disguise themselves- that isn’t an accident. (2 Cor 1:13). They do it for greed. (1 Timothy 6:5). They do it to put us in bondage again. (Gal 2:4). They do it because they hate Jesus and love themselves. (1 Tim 6:4). They do it because they enjoy lying. (2 Peter 2:1).
These false teachers are already cursed and destined for hell. In the essay “The Pathology of False Teachers” we read,
Unfortunately, their prognosis is not hopeful. Their spiritual condition is terminal. Those who are deprived of the truth are headed for judgment. Hebrews 6:6 solemnly warns of such men that “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.” Peter says that they bring “swift destruction upon themselves” (2 Peter 2:1). The severest hell will be reserved for those who, having been exposed to the truth, turned away from it (cf. Hebrews 10:26–31).
You notice they don’t pervert Buddha’s words. They don’t pervert Allah’s words. They don’t pervert Shiva’s words. They choose to pervert Jesus’ swords for gain, for fame, for an audience, and all the other reasons. I am critical of that because I care about Jesus.
The Berean Call again:
Every epistle in the New Testament was written to correct error in the church. Did Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude not understand that to correct those who were in error was in truth a failure to love them? Did they believe that it was none of their business to bring correction to the false teaching? Do we consider them divisive for confronting error and holding fast to the truth? No! They boldly addressed the error and at times even named the offenders.
No, I do not love false teachers. I do not care about false teachers. I care about Jesus. I love His followers. Tim Challies said in his essay 7 Marks of a False Teacher,
False teachers are concerned with your goods, not your good; they want to serve themselves more than save the lost; they are content for Satan to have your soul as long as they can have your stuff.
Jesus called false teachers broods of vipers and hypocrites. (Mt 23:33)
So did John the Baptist in Mt 3:7
Paul said they were cursed. Twice in 2 sentences. (Gal 1:8,9)
Paul said their talk is gangrenous. (2 Tim 2:17)
Jesus called them ravenous wolves (Mt 7:15)
John called them deceivers (2 John 1:7)
Jude calls them ungodly perverters (Jude 1:4)
Peter called them depraved, disobedient, and destined for hell (1 Peter 2:8, 2 Peter 2:1,2)
John called them antichrists (1 John 2:22)
Never mind the harsh language from God in the OT against false prophets.
So. Were they wrong not to “love” the false teachers?
Indeed, we are told repeatedly we are to mark them, avoid them, not listen to them, close the hospitable door on them, put them out, warn them, keep away from them, give them to satan, but nowhere does it say to love them, care for them, or pity them.
Indeed, John advises the elder lady and her children not to even allow false teachers into their house NOR give them a greeting! If we do, God considers that we are participating in their evil deeds. (2 John 1:10). The John MacArthur Commentary on 2 John 1:10 says this-
Irenaeus relates that the church father Polycarp, when asked by the notorious heretic Marcion, “Do you know me?” replied, “I do know you, the firstborn of satan.” (Against Heresies, 3.3.4)
John himself once encountered Cerinthus (another notorious heretic) in a public bathhouse in Ephesus. Instead of greeting him, however, John turned and fled, exclaiming to those with him, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of truth, is within.” (Against Heresies, 3.3.4)
Charein, (greeting) means ‘Rejoice’ It was a common Christian greeting, conveying the joy believers had in one another’s presence. But it is an affirmation of solidarity that is totally inappropriate for false teachers, who have no part in the truth of genuine Christian fellowship.Such emissaries of satan must be exposed and shunned, not affirmed and welcomed.
False teachers like to decry such treatment as harsh, intolerant, or unloving. But love forbids dangerous spiritual deception to gain a foothold among Christians. John’s pastoral admonition is perfectly consistent with Jesus’ denunciation of false teachers as ravenous wolves, thieves and robbers, whose only purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy. The church cannot aid or abet such spiritual outlaws by doing anything that would acknowledge them as Christians. The one who does so, even by doing something as seemingly innocuous as greeting them, participates in their evil deeds by helping them to further their deception.
I reserve all my criticism, judgment, and righteous indignation for the false teachers, and all my love for Jesus the Man-God, His people, and His revealed word. During the few times I’ve had opportunity to engage directly with a few of the false teachers I’ve written about, I hope I was lovingly showing them the error of their ways. THAT also is love, though the world doesn’t call it love. Love is to admonish and correct so hopefully they do not persist in their tragic path, or worse, taking others with them.
Here are two resources on the subject:
The Danger Facing the Church
Love also comes out of sincere faith, not the hypocritical faith manifested by false teachers. Faith that has no pretense creates love. A false teacher has a dirty heart because it’s never been cleansed by the true gospel of faith in Christ. A false teacher has a guilty conscience because his impure heart triggers it. But his conscience may have reached the point where it’s so scarred that it’s lost its sensitivity. And a false teacher has hypocritical faith. He’s a phony–he wears a mask. That kind of life will never produce the love of God. The goal of the false teacher is not to create an environment of love, but to feed his ego and fill his pockets.
Lesson 107: A Final Warning: Beware of False Teachers! (Romans 16:17-20)
Years ago, a seminary professor told his class at the beginning of the semester that they would work together on one major project during that semester. They would move systematically through the New Testament to categorize every area of truth and determine how many times each area is addressed. Their goal was to find what one thing is emphasized more than any other in the New Testament. When they completed the project, they were amazed to see that warning against false doctrine is emphasized more than any other thing, even more than love, unity, and experience (Renald Showers, in “Israel My Glory,” [April/May, 1995], pp. 24-25). I have not verified their conclusion, but they’re probably right. …
J. C. Ryle was a champion for the truth in the Church of England during the 19th century. I’d recommend that you read him. In Warnings to the Churches ([Banner of Truth], p. 110), he wrote about how difficult yet necessary controversy in the church is. Then he added, “But there is one thing which is even worse than controversy, and that is false doctrine tolerated, allowed, and permitted without protest or molestation.” After acknowledging that many would view what he writes as exceedingly distasteful, he states (p. 111), “Three things there are which men never ought to trifle with—a little poison, a little false doctrine, and a little sin.”