I ponder the often repeated warning of our Lord to not be led astray by false prophets. Although this warning is abundant, many today are falling prey. My thoughts fly to the question, “What makes a prophet false?” If we fail to grasp this fundamental distinction, we have little chance of escaping the gravitational pull of error.
False prophets can fall into two camps. Those who are false from conception, meaning they do not know Jesus at all. They teach false doctrine about the Person and Work of Jesus Christ and deny Him outright. The second group arises from within the Church. These individuals are often born again yet carry a “falseness” to them. Perhaps it is wrong to call them “false prophets” since I consider many of them to be redeemed individuals, but bear with this term and thought. It is not important to have agreement on this (in this blog), but it is vital to grasp the distinction.
Today there is a cacophony of voices ringing in our ears day and night. We hear people on TV, on the radio, Facebook posts, Twitter, Youtube, in our Churches as well as many other locations. These voices descend upon us like a plague of locust and the result is that we have to tune them out. We get accustomed to tuning people and voices out. It is the natural and predictable result. Yet we tune out because of fatigue rather than because of discernment. Thus a true voice of God passes by and we pay little attention. We are like the inn keeper failing to recognize Mary who was great with child. He missed his opportunity because the abundance of visitors to Bethlehem kicked into gear, his need to tune out and ignore.
The best way to assess a “voice” or someone speaking on behalf of God (for this, in essence is what a prophet does) is to not merely examine their “predictions” or “prophecies” but to examine their life. It is said of Jesus that He Himself is and has eternally been the Word of God (John 1:1). Furthermore the great apostle states in John 1:14 “…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” The Word of God is the thought of God, the expression of God. Jesus as the Word came and fully expressed all that God the Father is (John 14:9 “he who has seen Me has seen the Father...”; Hebrews 1:3 the Son is the full expression of the nature and character of God). Jesus lived life congruent with the Word and therefore looking at Him you see the full expression of God. In other words, true prophets, like Jesus, will have their lives and their words in alignment.
How do the lives of the voices that you hear (the “prophets”) align with the Word? This is where the compass called “discernment” finds it’s true north. It seems that on a monthly basis, revelations come public of another servant of God falling into shame. These men are sons of God (usually), but disgraced. The reality is that those of us doing the listening to great preachers, have little access to their personal lives. This is an unfortunate reality. If someone is going to be a voice in my ear, I want to know the fruit and character of their life. Is the Word manifest in their actions in their private lives?
I speak from over 40 years of close and careful observation. I have witnessed many “false prophets” of this second category both evangelical and charismatic. The people of God are like teenage girls at a rock concert. She is enamored by every word and “in love.” When a preacher arises and is either super eloquent, has a highly attractive personality or builds a dynamic and large ministry, we universally assume that this preacher is fully from God. One need only to Google fallen ministers of the last 30 years to gain insight that there is little to no correlation between eloquence or size of ministry and character.
The apostle John in 2 John 1:7-8 speaks of this. In these two verses, he warns of false voices and reminds the true followers that it is altogether possible that they enter heaven having lost a “full reward” because of such influences. So much hangs in the balance yet we pay slight attention to details. We will stand before Jesus one day. The outcome of that moment will be greatly shaped by those to whom we yielded our ears. Jesus said in Luke 8:18 “So take care how you listen….” Remember that the apostle Paul was not eloquent (2 Corinthians 10:10 and 11:6). “True voices of God bear good fruit in their lives” (Jesus Christ, Matthew 7:16-20)
author’s note: in this writing, I use the term “prophet” in a general sense to mean one who speaks on behalf of God. They may never make a prediction or prophecy.