It is critical that we do not make decisions about truth based on how nice the teacher is, how warm the personality is, how “mightily” they speak or how many good things are being done. We are not even to judge based on how we feel while the message is preached (whether we “sense” the anointing). We are primarily distinguishing between truth and error as it relates to doctrine. We compare what is being said against the whole counsel of God, realizing that someone who is sent of God to be a shepherd, a teacher, an evangelist, or a prophet, will speak according to His word:
Isa_8:20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
Act 20:27 For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
Comparing what is said to the whole counsel of the word of God is a tall order. Obviously this is something we grow in. But if we are lovers of truth , we will be growing, and our ability to discern will grow with our genuine knowledge of the Lord through His word. None of us come close to the clarity we will have when we see the Lord. He knows our limits and our potential and he knows whether we’re being stewards of the time and grace He’s given us.
We should be familiarizing ourselves with the basics of the faith – the essentials as previously mentioned. If we are in a position where we simply don’t know whether what is being preached from the pulpit measures up to God’s word (rightly divided), its an indicator that it’s time to do our homework.
If you’ve read this far, you’re concerned enough and hungry enough to seek the truth. In that case, the Holy Spirit will make sure the right resources cross your path. We just need to pray to Him for wisdom and guidance, and trust our Shepherd!
We should also discern the difference between someone who is mistaken on a few things and someone who is an “enemy of the truth.” Someone who is in the role of a teacher should be easy to be entreated and approachable. This means they listen. We should be concerned if a leader or a teacher cannot be approached, or does all the talking when we do approach them. We walk away feeling like we were never even able to get a word in edge-wise, or we feel like somehow they directed the conversation and dictated its content and limits. We feel “handled”. This is a sign of manipulation and control, which is not spiritual leadership but a form of subtle “witchcraft.” A consistent pattern of this kind of behavior along with a consistent contradiction of truth from the pulpit should be a red flag. Many people are pastors because they chose it as a vocation, went to school, and had a gift of speaking well and “handling people”.This is not what qualifies spiritual leadership according to the New Testament.
Paul encountered issues because of this. He had to compete for the attention of the churches with those who were calling themselves “super-apostles”. They seemed very spiritual and could speak powerfully. They could present themselves in a very persuasive manner yet were what he called “false apostles” and “ministers of Satan” (2 cor 11:13 ). However Paul did not come across this way. In fact people said that his writings were weighty, but his bodily presence was “weak and contemptable.”:
2Co_10:10 For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.
God has chosen the foolish things of the world and the weak things of this world to confound the wise and the strong. (1 Cor 1:27) He will deliberately hide himself sometimes in what we would consider to be a “light weight” or “unimpressive” package. He wants all the glory, and God also knows that spiritual truth is spiritually discerned 1 Cor 2:14). The flesh does not profit anything when it comes to spiritual truth.
God uses those who can preach mightily. Yet this does not excuse them from the need to be easy to entreat and approach. There is a good example in the book of Acts, Apollos was preaching mightily. Aquila and Priscilla had just been instructed by Paul. They heard Apollos and afterwards took him aside:
Act 18:26 And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.
I like how the word deals with Apollos very graciously here. They simply expounded the way “more perfectly.” This means he was already headed in the right direction concerning truth, but there were some points (whatever they were we don’t know) that needed adjustment. It is a testimony to Apollos, because he’s “easy to be entreated” – to receive this couple that he did not know and listen to them. It is also a testimony to them because they were willing to take the time and the risk of rejection from someone who was “preaching mightily.” Sometimes when we hear someone preaching “mightily” we are more intimidated and will not approach them with truth. I pray the Lord sets us free from these kinds of considerations. In some situations we may be the only ones the Lord has to reach someone.