“I Never Knew You”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I have to admit that I can’t stand to watch Joel Osteen for very long. Whenever I’m flipping through the channels and come across one of his shows, I try to watch as he preaches. But it doesn’t take very long for me to get so angry that I have to change the channel—because if I don’t change the channel, it won’t be long before I want to throw the television through a window. His teaching that God gives wealth and power to Christians as rewards for greater faith is one of the great false teachings of this or any time, one that misleads many, even many Christians.
The Bible has plenty to say about false teachers. False teaching helped bring about the fall into sin, and false teachers have sought to do their work ever since. It began when the serpent said to Eve, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Adam and Eve did eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but the serpent had misled them. Though they did not immediately keel over, these people who were not supposed to be able to die were suddenly subject to illness and injury, suffering, and finally death. This problem has plagued the Church throughout its history. The Preface to The Book of Concord tells us, “Just as while the holy apostles were still alive, it happened that false teachers insinuated perverted teachings into the churches in which the apostles themselves had planted the pure, unadulterated Word of God, so such false teachers were also inflicted on our churches because of our own and the ungrateful world's impenitence and sin.”
False teaching is so dangerous because these false teachers tell us exactly what we want to hear. Paul diagnoses the problem for us in his second letter to Timothy: “They will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” We’re not content to hear the Word of God as Spirit breathed it; we want to pick and choose what suits us. “Oh, she’s so pretty. So what if we’re both married?” Whooop! So much for the Sixth Commandment. “I’m pregnant, but I don’t want to be.” Zap! There goes the Fifth Commandment. “The Bible calls homosexuality ‘shameless’ and ‘an abomination’; but that’s just the product of a repressive society. We know better today.” Yet another bit of Scripture done away with.
The Church Militant is especially guilty of ignoring the Word of God. In fact, it is in the Church where false preachers do the most damage, because these false teachers claim to be speaking with the authority of Christ. A church body accepts Muslims and homosexuals and women as pastors and choose them to be bishops; pastors deny that Jesus rose from the dead; denominations ignore the Word of God by saying that Jesus is only spiritually present in the Lord’s Supper rather than taking Jesus at His word and confessing his true, physical present. These are the ones who will say to the Lord on the Last Day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name?” These are the ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing, seeking to consume the faithful, to lead them away from the truth, down the broad path that leads to the wide gate of destruction. And why are these false preachers successful in the Church? It’s because they’re saying exactly what we want to hear. We want to believe in a god who will reward a strong faith by making us healthy, wealthy and wise. We want to believe that all people are basically good. We want to believe that we can earn our way to heaven.
We are in that dark time when men will not tolerate the truth of God’s Word. False teachers have been so pervasive that these false teachings are seen as near-universal truth. Believers are misled by these teachings, and the faithless are confirmed in their errors. For these false teachers the Lord has only one response. He says to them, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”
But the Lord doesn’t leave us in the midst of these false teachings without any recourse. He tells us, “You will know [false prophets] by their fruits.” These words of Jesus come near the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Up to this point He had taught His hearers about true righteousness, about faithfulness, prayer, and daily bread. After this he continued to teach the disciples about Scripture, and then He commanded them to baptize and to teach all nations “to observe everything I have commanded you”. He spent three years teaching the disciples how to recognize good fruit, and He commanded them to teach everyone else how to recognize it, too. False teachers are caught in their own web of lies. They have reason to doubt their eternal salvation. But you have been taught the truth. You have been taught by faithful pastors to recognize what is true, what is right, what is profitable for your salvation. You were given faith in your baptism, and that faith clings to the Word of God, allowing you to recognize and shun error and to confess the truth.
As you confess Jesus Christ who has come in the flesh, you do so as one in whom Christ dwells through your baptism, as one who belongs to Him. Because He has made you His own, these false teachers and their bad fruit have no power over you. The Holy Supper in which you will soon partake is good fruit, edifying for body and soul, and it feeds faithful sheep.
I’ve said this before from this pulpit, but it bears repeating. You know how to recognize the fruits of anyone who claims to be preaching of God. Does his teaching confess Christ as Savior? Does it confess Christ as both God and Man? Does it confess Christ as the One sent in the flesh to bear our sin and be our Savior? Does it confess that Christ died to bear our sins and rose again to bring us newness of life? If so, trust that teaching. Embrace it. Hold fast to it. And if not, then get rid of it. Flee from it. Run the false teacher out of your sanctuary and out of your life. The false teacher has no fruit that is edifying for you. He can only poison you.
Beware of false prophets. Test what they say, and flee from their teachings. Confess the truth as faithful parents, faithful teachers, and faithful pastors have taught it to you. What they have taught you is good fruit and is edifying for your soul. When you stand before Christ on the judgment day, He will recognize that good fruit in you as His own and will not send you away. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.