This is one of the first articles I wrote about 18 years ago. No one paid attention to it then and probably no one will listen today, but I felt strongly to republish it:
Christians have been confused by the fact that there are Christian ministers and teachers who, in spite of serious sin, continue to teach the word in a doctrinally correct way. We understand that none of us is perfect and that we all sin. What I am referring to here is ongoing sin which has not been repented of. This is often glossed over with terms such as “character flaws” or “weaknesses”. Often a vile temper is excused as “righteous anger”. Hatred, an unforgiving spirit, bitterness, strife etc. is often brushed aside by the claim to righteous zeal. A judgmental and critical attitude is justified under the term “discernment”. The fact remains that sin is sin and wrong can never be called right.
Isaiah 5:20; “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”
The question then is how is it that such people can continue to preach right and live wrong? What does the Bible say about it, and can I continue to receive ministry from such men?
First remember that apparent doctrinal correctness does not prove God’s blessing:
- The Devil quoted Scripture when tempting Jesus.
- On at least two occasions the Scriptures record that demons preached the truth (Luke 4:41, Acts 16:17).
- Balaam four times prophesied the Word of God correctly and yet, because he was driven by greed, brought the people of Israel into idolatry and judgment (Numbers 22-24).
- Solomon had a real gift of wisdom from the Lord and wrote three of the books of the Bible and yet in the end worshipped idols.
- Jesus judged the church of Ephesus as being fallen (Revelation 2:5), not because they had the wrong doctrine, in fact, their doctrine was 100%, but because they had left their first love. They were not even guilty of a sin of commission, but simply one of omission!
God does not excuse a life which does not back the teaching. Is this not the essence of hypocrisy? The right outside, but the wrong inside, appearing to be religious and yet denying the very essence of the message?
1Corinthians 13 makes it very clear that one can have the greatest gifts, and make the greatest sacrifices, but if it is not motivated by love, it is a waste of time. Many preach because they love themselves, the acclaim of people, the influence it brings, or the money. Some preach because they love being right while others do so because they want to feel superior. According to Paul they are wasting their time. The only motivator that is acceptable is a love for God and, as a consequence, a love for people. This chapter teaches that unless we are driven by Agape love, we are just performing dead works. This issue was so real to Paul that he saw it as possible that having preached to others, he himself could become cast away (reprobate)! (1Corinthians 9:27).
Jesus warns of those who, although they had preached and performed miracles in His name, were not known by Him (Matthew 7:21-23). Although they were doing all these wonderful things, they were practicing lawlessness/iniquity. Notice that he does not question their doctrine or the validity of their miracles. He does question their relationship with Himself and their lifestyle.
Paul admonished the Ephesian Elders to take heed to themselves and to the flock (Acts 20:28). To Timothy he says, “take heed to yourself and the doctrine” (1Timothy 4:16 – emphasis mine). He writes as much to Timothy about right conduct as he does about right doctrine. Thus taking heed to the flock and the doctrine without the minister taking heed to himself will disqualify him for the ministry and worse.
If sound doctrine is not the only measure of a preacher / teacher / minister, how then, will I recognize the true shepherds from the false?
- Obviously his doctrine must be correct. Nothing we have said thus far can be taken to mean that doctrine is not important. He may be the most loving, kind, caring and sacrificial brother, but if his doctrine is wrong, he will lead you into error. Avoid him and find a true man of God. If he really loved the Lord and His people, he would be much more careful about his doctrine! True shepherds and teachers study and agonize about rightly dividing the word of truth.
- Does he operate from a basis of love? Does he love the Lord, His people and His Word. Even if the order is reversed in that he loves the word or people more than the Lord, avoid him.
- Is he in submission to a local fellowship? The question is not whether he attends or even holds office in a local fellowship. The question is whether he is truly in submission to other godly men (Ephesians 5:21).
- How does he respond to correction? Does he repent or does he lash out with counter-accusation or by discrediting the one who dared bring correction to him?
- Is he broken before the Lord? No man in the Bible ever became a man of God without being broken first. Think of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, Peter, Paul, John and every other man who was truly a man of God. If your favorite preacher is not broken he will be imparting himself and his ideas to you. If he is broken it will be evident and he will impart Jesus.
- What is the fruit of his life? Jesus presents this as the ultimate test (Matthew 7:15-23). Some point to the correctness of their doctrine or miracles or their devotion to Christian works as fruit. The question is not about the fruit of their ministry, the question is about the fruit of their lives. In this analogy the tree is not the ministry, it is the man. So, what fruit does he bear through the whole of his life? How does he treat his wife and children? Can he control his temper? Does he exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). What testimony does he have before the world etc. The requirements of a preacher are no less than that of an elder. Is he blameless (1Timothy 3:12)? If not, we may not appoint him as an elder, much less allow him to occupy our ears and minds as a preacher.
Now you may say that it is impossible to judge all these things because you do not know him well enough. Maybe you have never met him or seen him in his home context. That is exactly why you should not be opening your mind to him. Unless you can personally, or on good testimony, verify every one of the above six points, can you afford to build your eternal life on someone you do not know or who fails some of these tests? I think not. No wonder when people moved from one town to another in the New Testament, they did so with letters of commendation from their local fellowships. (Acts 18:27, 2Corinthians 3:1, 1Corinthians 16:3). These days anyone can preach on the internet and people follow them, not knowing they are pied pipers leading to ungodliness.
In 1Timothy 5:22, in the context of appointing elders, Paul commands Timothy not to lay hands on someone hastily, nor share in their sins. When you support, listen to, and promote a preacher without thoroughly checking him out first, you are, in a sense, laying hands hastily on him, and if his life is not right, you are sharing in his sins by encouraging him in his ministry while he continues in sin.
If believers were obedient to these principles fewer would be deceived and hurt by false preachers. If you don’t know me well enough, you should be asking for contact details of other ministers and folk in my local fellowship. You should be contacting them for a report on my life before reading another word I write or listening to another recording I produce. I urge you to apply this to me and to every other preacher you listen to or read.
It is high time that Christians become more discerning and preachers more accountable.