One of the most difficult and terrifying roles of a pastor is to battle against wolves who seek to infiltrate the church. The Apostle Paul exhorts the elders (pastors) in Ephesus with the following, “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29-30)
These “wolves” are false teachers who creep into the church and seek to mislead the people of God with false doctrine.
The short letter of Jude is a warning to all Christians – especially pastors – to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).” This small but powerful epistle is a grave warning that false teachers WILL seek to infiltrate our congregations and we must be on our guard against them.
In Jude 1:12-13, the Holy Spirit through Jude gives us four descriptions of these false teachers:
1. They Promise Life but Lead to Death.
Jude writes that false teachers are, “clouds without water, carried about by the winds.” This condemnation is two-fold. First, clouds in the first century often brought the promise of rain during a drought. Likewise, false teachers give the appearance of godliness, wisdom, and sound teaching but there is no true life found in their teaching. Instead of building up the Body of Christ, false teachers use flattery to build their own platforms and draw believers away from the Church.
Second, Jude’s statement that they are “carried about by the winds” means that the false teachers are driven by their own appetites and fleshly desires. They refuse to submit their teaching to the Bible or their authority to a local church; instead, they drift from church to church and are carried along by the false “spirits” of this world.
2. They Appear to be Alive but are Dead.
The second description Jude gives for these false teachers is that they are, “late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots.” From a distance, it is difficult to discern whether a tree is alive or dead. As you get closer to the tree, it becomes apparent that it has no fruit and the root system has been removed from the ground. In the same way, from a distance, false teacher appear to be spiritually alive and worth following. Upon closer inspection, it will become apparent that the false teacher does not display the fruit of the Spirit, is spiritually dead, and has been removed from the root of Christ.
3. They Boast In Their Shame.
Third, Jude writes that these false teachers are, “raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame.” During a storm or a strong wind, waves create foam on the surface of the water for all to see. In the same way, false teachers boast in their shame rather than pursuing holiness. They refer to evil behaviors as good and call good behaviors evil. False teachers applaud and accept such sinful behavior as abortion, homosexual activity, sex outside of marriage, divorce, gossip, and various other sins. In the process, they confuse genuine believers and cause divisions in the church.
4. They Refuse Stability and Community.
Fourth, Jude describes these false teachers as, “wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” Once again, this has two implications. First, as I mentioned in the first point, false teachers do not submit to church authority or commit themselves to a local church. Instead, they wander from fellowship to fellowship – often avoiding the accountability and discipline of a church body.
Second, just like a shooting star, the teaching of a false teacher is short-lived. It seems remarkable when it comes forth but under closer examination and through a length of time, it quickly dissipates. This has proven true for all of the ancient heresies throughout church history and will continue to be true for all “new” teachings. As a rule of thumb, if a person claims to have a “new” revelation from God, run as far as you can!
What are some other descriptions you would add for false teachers? I’d love to hear and learn from you. Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!