Summary: God charges the church with the responsibility to avoid those who cause division and create obstacles. It is the responsibility of the entire assembly, and not that of the elders alone.
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve.”
Some professing Christians are to be avoided! To the spiritually astute, it is immediately obvious that despite protestations to the contrary, some supposed saints do not serve the Lord Christ; rather, they are utterly focused on gratifying their own desires. Consequently, though they may be unconscious of their own motives, it is nevertheless the case that their speech, though plausibly reasonable, is geared to deceive the naïve. We have no business entertaining any thoughts that we honour Christ through tolerating such individuals either in our assemblies or in our homes! It is not godly to tolerate deception—it is wicked.
The Apostle of Love has warned believers of the danger in entertaining such deceivers. “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works” [2 JOHN 7-11].
It is important to note that John did not say they were deceivers and opposed to God, though that would be a true statement. Rather, the Apostle uses the definite article, saying that such an individual is “the deceiver and the antichrist.” It is as though John is saying that the motivating spirit behind such individuals who are often resident within our assemblies is that of the coming antichrist. Such individuals stand opposed to truth; and through their teaching and actions they supplant the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps you recoil from speaking so forcefully about those who wander from the Faith, but the Apostle of Love was not at all reticent about labelling such people as individuals who deceive and thus as people who are opposed to the cause of Christ.
There exists a woeful lack of discernment among the saints in this day so late in this dispensation. Trained by our culture to avoid becoming involved, we hold back from investing our lives in one another. Church discipline is unheard of. Should a congregation attempt to hold its members accountable, the courts seem eager to jump in to ensure that wayward members maintain their “rights.” In our rush to gain members, we are loath to hold those same members accountable for their lifestyle—for their words and for their actions.
We who are followers of the Risen Son of God are not called to engage in a witch hunt, searching for doctrinal deviation; however, when we observe professed believers turning aside from the path of righteousness, we are responsible to halt the error before it contaminates the assembly. Christians must bear in mind the apostolic maxim that “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” [1 CORINTHIANS 5:6]; a little error destroys the work of God.
Before going farther in our study this day, I must pause to point out a significant truth. Churches are not kept safe by a doctrinal review committee, or by learned scholars pouring over the writings that flood the market; churches are kept safe because the people of God have committed themselves to the written Word of God. Christians in this Dispensation of Grace are not dependent on “prophets” purporting to have a “word from God.” We have the written Word of God, the completed canon of Scripture. Moreover, the Spirit of God resides in each believer and He thus guides us as a congregation! This is John’s meaning when he writes, “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him” [1 JOHN 2:26, 27].
It is not that we do not need teachers among the assemblies—the ascended Master Himself gives teachers to the churches [EPHESIANS 4:11-14]; rather, it is the Spirit of Christ resident within the congregation who guides us, watching over us to deliver us from evil. So long as the congregations walk in the Spirit—seeking the will of the Master and endeavouring always to do those things which honour Him—we should anticipate that we will be able to discern the will of God. Should a congregation become self-centred, seeking their own comfort rather than seeking the will of the Father, that congregation will be susceptible to every sort of evil and incapable of distinguishing between their own desires and the will of the Spirit. In fact, such people will impose their will on the congregation, all the while insisting that they are doing the will of God!