When you shop for fruits and vegetables at a grocery store, I’m sure you are very careful which ones you choose. You don’t just grab what is closest and put it in the shopping cart. Instead, you examine the color and firmness of peaches and plums. You check the size and appearance of grapes and oranges. You scan the bananas to make sure that they are neither too brown nor too green. You examine the strawberries to make sure there are no brown spots or mold. You might even knock on a cantaloupe or watermelon to see if it is ripe. No one wants to take home bad fruits or vegetables.
Since we are very careful how we choose produce at the grocery store, how much more careful should we be when we choose what religious leaders to follow! At Bethel Chapel Church I have been teaching through the book of Titus in the Bible. One of the purposes of this book is to teach us how to tell which religious leaders are good.
Here are a couple of the things we have learned from the book of Titus.
We should avoid religious leaders who talk a lot about money because they are “… teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid [shameful] gain.” (Titus 1:11). The New Living Translation puts it very bluntly: “Such teachers only want your money.” Some religious teachers talk as if getting rich is a good spiritual goal.
Money is not necessarily a bad thing, “but those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:9–10).
Maybe you have heard a religious leader teach that if you have enough faith to sacrificially send him money, then God will reward you by giving you back even more money than you send in. I have often wondered why they don’t flip that around and say, “Since I have a lot of faith, I’m going to send you some money. I’ll be trusting God to send me more than I’m sending you.” I’m not holding my breath expecting them to say that any time soon.
Here is the ugly truth about false teachers who focus on material things. Their “… god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, [i.e., they brag about what they should be ashamed of] who set their minds on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19).
The Bible also warns us not to follow religious teachers who talk very little (or not at all) about Jesus Christ and His work on the Cross. There are false teachers who promote various traditions and ceremonies that are nothing more than “… myths and commandments of men….” (Titus 1:14).
The Apostle Paul is an excellent example of what good teachers should talk about. He told the believers in Corinth, “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:1–4).
Notice how the 19th Century British pastor, Charles Spurgeon, summed up the main problem with false teachers: “In this world we see too much of salvation without Christ—I mean we meet with many who believe that they are saved because they have been baptized, or confirmed, or passed through the ceremonies of the church to which they belong. They have not looked to the precious blood. They are not depending simply upon the finished work of the Redeemer, but something else than Christ has become their confidence.”
Even a careful fruit inspector can be fooled at first. I remember times when I brought home a delicious-looking peach, only to cut into it and discover that it was not edible. Misleading religious teachers often sound good at first, too. We need to carefully compare what they are teaching with the truth of the Bible. I have told the congregation here at Bethel Chapel that if they hear me say anything that is not taught in the Bible, then I am wrong.
The Apostle Paul said something similar. “… if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you [have already] received, he is to be accursed! For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:9–10).
You wouldn’t knowingly bring rotten fruit into your home. I hope you will be even more careful not to allow bad religious teaching in your life either.