Reaction to Heresy
"Heresy must needs come" (I Corinthians 11: 19). Paul said, "I know this," when he warned the elders that wolves would enter the flock (Acts 20:29-32). Peter said, "There shall be false teachers among you" (II Peter 2:1-3). John said, "Many false prophets are gone out into the world"(I John 4:1). What are we to do?
Prevalence of Heretics
It is not so easy to detect the false, to distinguish from the true. It is very easy to be deceived. The Lord knows this, so He has warned more often in the New Testament concerning the sin and danger of heresy than He has of the sine of lying, drunkenness, murders and stealing combined. It must be serious! Are we awake to the danger?
"Many shall follow their pernicious ways" (II Peter 2:1-3). Will the time ever come when you will stand with a factious man in his evil way? Are you sure? Maybe you have stood there already! Paul knew that good people (disciples) might be led away by these grievous wolves, so he warned night and day with tears at Ephesus (Acts 20:29-32). He commended them to the word and warned them, but later he was leaving Timothy at this very place (Ephesus) to "charge some that they teach no other doctrine" (I Timothy 1:3). The grievous wolves would speak perverse things to draw away disciples after them, he said. The perverse things may not have been believed by these heretics. They would speak them to get a following "to draw away disciples after them." Believe this! Men may be found who will "speak things which they ought not for filthy lucre's sake" (Titus 1:11). They will make merchandise of the souls of men. This is true but many follow their pernicious ways. Diotrephes had a following.
Skill of Heretics
Do not minimize the skill of some heretics. Paul marveled at how soon the churches of Galatia were disturbed and how seriously by the perverters. They ran well for a time, and had treated Paul is if he were an angel, but the time soon came when those who "desired to make a fair shew in the flesh" and to avoid persecution were turning them back to the weak and beggarly elements (Galatians 6:12). Watch for the ulterior motives in heretics. If it happened to the churches of Galatia, it can happen to us. "Beware of false prophets."
The apostle to the gentiles had occasion to warn the good church at Philippi. In their case, he reminded them of his example, and warned them with tears as he mentioned these enemies of the cross of Christ who minded earthly things. Their appetites were their god. They gloried in the things of which they should have been ashamed. Are there people like that now? The answer is an emphatic yes! (Philippians 3:17-19).
Some at Ephesus said they were apostles, but they were liars. This blunt word is found in the Lord's special message to the Ephesian church after He was in heaven (Revelation 2:2). Such men are called false teachers, grievous wolves, enemies, of the cross, heretics, and deceitful workers. These are not pretty words. No wonder He asked that we withdraw ourselves from every brother that walks disorderly (II Thessalonians 3:6). Even the deceived man who is in error must not be allowed to lead the church into error. The "disorderly" were those who manifested an insubordinate spirit. (See definition in Vine's Dictionary of New Testament Words.)
Heretics are not good people. There are good and honest hearts that need teaching. These are not the heretics. There are deceived men in error that can learn. These are not the grievous wolves of which we are so often warned. All should know of the "sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" (Ephesians 4-14). These men are given to trickery and unscrupulous conduct. Having their conscience seared, they speak lies in hypocrisy (I Timothy 4:2). Preachers have not said enough of this evil group.
Precautions to Take
The deceitful workers were of the contrary part, watching through their desire to find occasion against Paul (II Corinthians 11:12). The Lord's servants need to be as harmless as doves so that those of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say (Matthew 10:16; Titus 2:7; Philippians 2:15). It is evident that all need the whole armor and the skill in discernment to fight the good fight (Hebrews 5:12-14; Ephesians 6:10-17; II Corinthians 10:3-6). "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works" (II Corinthians 11:13-15).
Many follow their pernicious ways, but if the blind lead the blind both shall fall. Some who know the truth may lack self-control, so these who are using cunning craftiness may set on fire the whole course of nature and provoke them to railing. The heretic may cause men who mean well to behave so as to destroy their good influence.
Churches that have gone through great struggles in fighting errors of doctrine may then be destroyed by men who sow discord. The root of bitterness brings the envy and strife which can lead men to bite and devour one another. Faithful brethren are often falsely accused and abused by men who plan division for personal advantage. Heresies must come so we should do all that is possible to be prepared to stand. The heretics may use "good words and fair speech," and appear as ministers of righteousness. Are you prepared to recognize the factious man, and are you willing to take the proper steps to stop his mouth?