The Targets of the False Prophets (The Wicked One)
In the natural world, it is unlikely for a wild beast to target the strongest animal in a pack all the time for food. The obvious choice would be the weakest, the disabled or the wounded. Likewise, the wicked one adopts a similar strategy to sneak into the church and to desolate her. This is a situation that Jesus told us of old, warning us of the ever-lurking danger posed by the wicked one (Jn. 10:10). Today, the church must work on sealing up all her cracks, strengthening her believers spiritually, as evil men and imposters grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived (2 Tim. 3:13f).
Paul once said that Christians must not be like children when it comes to understanding, but must be like babes in malice and mature in understanding (1 Cor. 14:20). Moreover, it is tough for a child to do the work of an adult. This is particularly so with work that requires great knowledge, it and comes with accountability. In such a case, the naivety of a child puts him at a disadvantage, to be easily fooled. Similarly, an immature believer will be prone to falling for deceptions. Because of his newness in faith, he may not have been given the spiritual foresight to spot dangers before him.
Immaturity stems from not being equipped with the word of God. Since understanding originates from God’s word, there is one probable reason for a long time convert to remain immature, i.e. the word that he hears is always snatched away by the wicked one (Mt. 13:19; Lk. 8:12). This is a risky position to be in, as such a believer could well be tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine and by the trickery of men (Eph. 4:14). To his own detriment, this kind of believer will be unable to know the deceitful plotting of the wicked one.
Immaturity also stems from a heart of unwillingness to pursue after Christ and His word. There could be a false sense of confidence on one’s part, and such a believer might think that he does not need to improve or is not that bad a Christian. In reality, he may be utterly wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked in the eyes of God (cf. Rev. 3:17). He might even be unsure of fundamental truths such as keeping the Sabbath or practicing the Law after conversion. An immature believer in this state will not be able to exercise his senses, in order to discern true or false teachings (Heb. 5:14).
When one’s focus is not on establishing a truly Christian heart, one will easily become a prey for the wicked one to be carried about by various and strange doctrines (Heb. 13:9a). A person’s heart is firmed up on God when the truth is kept within. He will not move out of the boundary of God’s grace, and his life will always revolve around God’s salvation, a top priority in his life’s endeavours. In his existence, he will pursue a life free from the corruption of the world and seek to keep himself in the grace of God (Heb. 13:9b).
Without taking root, a plant quickly withers away when the sun comes out. Likewise, a plant can be uprooted by a gale force if its root has not grown deep into the ground. The world that we are in is one experiencing an unprecedented increase in strange and debased ideas.This situation can be likened to the increase of wind speed according to the Beaufort scale. Strong winds can blow anything that is in its way off course, out of its cycle or normalcy, and bring about great confusion and uncertainty in the hearts of people. As a result, humanity will no longer have the understanding to make sense of its existence.
Sometimes, we find that people are often unaware of their disjointed relationship with God. The senses to discern, for some reason, have been seared. Perhaps a life that is detached from God is a reason for this dulling of the senses and it may be due to behaviouralinconsistencies with the word of God. As Isaiah has stated, coming before God to right one’s life and make peace with Him is a requisite for taking root in Him (Isa. 27:5f).
It is required for one to walk in Christ if one has received Him (Col. 2:6). Working towards emulating Christ in every aspect of life is essential for rooting in Him. Whenever one is determined to do the will of God, the Spirit within is given the space to work for the good of the person (Phil. 2:13). His life is always centred upon figuring out what the will of the Lord is for him (Rm. 12:2). Consciously, he allows God to strengthen him and ground him on His word. Gradually, he is sharper in discernment of right from wrong.
Having the understanding of God’s word in your heart is a constant motivation for further searching. Being able to see the word of God in relation to His salvation in a holistic perspective will be a constant source of joy. Putting it to good use brings about thanksgiving. These two elements signal the close relationship that one can have with God. A believer with this heart and mindset will surely not give in to any lies and heresies because his heart is in the right place (Col. 2:7f). On the contrary, without a thankful heart to God, one will be open to the danger of being tricked into believing twisted teachings. When the pure word of God cannot satisfy a person, he will tend to embrace ideas other than the truth.
Spiritually Unrefined Believers
Spiritual cultivation is one thing that cannot be overlooked. It is the basis on which the word of God can grow within individuals, and the basis on which the church can reach perfection as the Lord requires. Lacking refinement poses great difficulties in seeing what the good and noble will of the Lord is. Standing firm in the Lord enables the church, and individual believers alike, to faithfully stand against the widespread deception Satan employs to destroy the work of God.
The message from James states the importance of resisting the devil. Ways to resist the devil are found in submitting to God (Jas. 4:7); there are two issues here that require immediate solutions. One relates to fighting and warfare (Jas. 4:2). The other relates to severing all ‘friendship’ with the world (Jas. 4:4). The former often creates an entry point for falsehood and deception. To stop Satan from working through this point, the church and believers must draw close to God. This will thrash out any differences and mend any mutually broken relationships.
The latter is really about one’s mode of life. For one to befriend the world means committing spiritual adultery; this will make one an enemy to God (Jas. 4:4). At times, falsehoods are introduced to the church by the mouth of one who has befriended the world. What good can an enemy of God provide for the church? The lesson here is clear. Understanding the will of the Spirit and yielding to Him (Jas. 4:5) is the primary task of the church. In both cases, humility is required to change the community for the better (Jas. 4:8), thus stopping the work of Satan.
Humility, in this case, must be shown by our mutual submission (Eph. 5:21) in fear of the Lord. The easiest way Satan exploits the church, to its utter detriment, is when members lack respect for one another. For that reason, the church must humble herself under the mighty hand of God (1 Pet 5:6). This will only be possible when each and every believer is willing to adhere to the teachings of God, to submit to one another. When the whole church is clothed with humility, the Lord shall abide with her with a will to direct her.
Another major concern that relates to deception and falsehood is what is known as the gullibility of women in the church. These kinds of women are not able to discern right from wrong, and they eventually allow their senses to dictate their beliefs (2 Tim. 3:6). The trueness of a teaching, to them, is based on the charm of a worker. Though they may have learned the word over a long period of time, they greatly lack any understanding of it. They are tossed here and there by the word of deception, and they are unable to root themselves in the Lord. Most sadly, they end up becoming instruments to those who exploit them, hurting themselves, and at the expense of the church herself.
False prophets are very good at using, and working on, these women to their own advantage. In most cases, if not all, women in the church who are deceived are often unruly, and they are unable to control themselves. They only tend to seek to gratify themselves more than anything else, rather than practise what is for the good of the church. In addition, they often reveal their foolishness in the way they behave. They are rumour-mongers; nothing good ever comes from their mouths. Indeed, nothing can because of their wickedness. Whatever is uttered by them reveals their shame and wildness.
Paul quoted the Fall Incident to warn against these kinds of women who tried to usurp authority from men. Satan tempted Eve and she failed to obey God’s commands (1 Tim. 2:12f). Warnings were issued specially to those who were disrespectful to their husbands, and who had instigated disruptions regarding the running of the church (1 Cor. 14:34ff). Instead of showing characteristics of inner beauty such as gentleness, submissiveness and kindness, they allowed the ugly side of their characters to dominate their lives. However, it must be stressed that Paul’s intentions, when he issued this warning, is not of chauvinism or misogyny. Rather, it is one of caution, to set order in the church and to prevent the wicked one working through these spiritually unrefined women.
In a nutshell
The word of the Bible is always true to us who are faithful to God. For us to believe that failures in the Bible will not repeat themselves on us today is too simplistic a view. OT examples used in the NT to warn against the believers (1 Cor. 10:5ff) directly contradict these naive assumptions. The only way to know the tricks of deception is through the revelations given in the Bible. Furthermore, we should not even think that we might not be targets, and that only those who are weak in the Lord or have wandered away from the right path are. This mindset will only induce us to drop our guard against the sweeping influence of Satan.
Prevention is better than cure. How can prevention from being attacked by the wicked one be carried out when we are reluctant to pursue after God? One thing that is inescapably essential for us as Christians is to honour the teachings of God. In reality, every story or event documented in the Bible can be beneficial to us when learned well. These examples have been written for our learning upon which we can build our faith, and begin to root ourselves in Christ. In doing so, we will be much better equipped to sense deceptions and clearly identify Satan’s tricks.