False teachers have an agenda: to benefit themselves through religion. (Ro 16:18) They may be covetous (1Pe 2:3), looking for an easy living, or seeking prestige, respect and admiration (3Jn 1:9); generally, it’s both. Whereever Christianity abounds we’re sure to find impostors. (Ac 20:29) How do we identify them?
One easy litmus test is to listen as if we’re one-on-one and they’re speaking to us as an individual, by name. Do their words make us feel uneasy, pressured or manipulated? Are they speaking down to us? Or are they preaching to someone they love and honor? (1Pe 2:7a)
If it’s the former, the teaching springs from corruption, not the love of Christ, friend to friend. (Jn 15:15) These are feigned words: crafted, fabricated and engineered to impress and/or manipulate. (1Pe 2:3) They wound our souls in ways that are difficult to perceive, whereas the tongue of the wise heals and edifies. (Pr 12:18)
Pastors may not realize they’re doing this, trained to speak to no one in particular and everyone in general, in superficial, elevated, arrogant or even condescending tones. So what if they’re speaking truth, and very helpful truth: this is expected from false teachers (2Co 11:15); if they were always lying and deceiving, we’d dismiss them much more readily. Yet it’s as they model ungodly behavior that they do the most harm (1Co 15:33), enticing others to emulate them. (1Pe 5:3) An insincere, unhealthy spirit inevitably corrupts the divine message. (2Co 2:17)
We may indeed train ourselves to listen to disconnected, inauthentic speech in a disconnected, inauthentic manner, as if these sermons are directed at others; we may enjoy the beat down even if it would be harmful and offensive if delivered in person, solely at ourselves. Agreeing with such corruption pollutes our own spirit, feeding our religious pride and deepening our bondage. (2Ti 3:13)
It should not surprise us then to find that in public speech the Apostle Paul deliberately presented himself in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. (1Co 2:3) He was earnestly trying to avoid impressing or controlling anyone (4); he wasn’t promoting Paul, trying to please men (Ga 1:10) – he was uplifting Christ that all might know and love Him more. (1Co 2:2)
If a pastor or a teacher desires to be respected and admired (Ga 5:26), above a common brother (Mt 23:8), this will inevitably bleed through in his teaching, exalting himself, putting down others and poisoning the flock. (2Co 11:20) This isn’t love (1Co 13:4-5), so it’s worthless. (1Co 13:2) Only men of godly character qualify as church leaders (1Ti 3:2-3), and they must have the kind of extensive life experience that keeps men humble in praise. (1Ti 3:6)
When someone’s genuinely trying to help from a place of humility, to edify by proclaiming truth, they may address difficult topics (1Ti 4:2), but they won’t strive (2Ti 2:24), they’ll be meek and gentle (1Th 2:7) like Christ (2Co 10:1); their message won’t be condescending, patronizing or offensive, even if we’re the only one present and the speaker’s addressing us personally by name: love works no ill to anyone. (Ro 13:10)