We live in a day and an age when “open-mindedness” is the motto, even in the church of Jesus Christ. Many people cannot quote John 3:16 but almost everyone can quote Matthew 7:1 (even if they do not know the reference). The problem with this mentality is that people are open to every form of teaching under the sun. Not everything that is spoken from a pulpit is from the Bible. Not everything that you see on a “Christian” television station is sound doctrine. We must learn to discern good teaching from heretical teaching. The thing about heretical teaching is that it is presented in a positive way and seems to be correct, especially if you do not have a firm grasp on the Scriptures. Satan used that tactic with Eve and was victorious. He tried the same tactic with Jesus Christ and failed miserably. A major heresy that the Church faces today is the Prosperity Gospel and Word of Faith teachers. God is taken out of the heart of worship and man is placed there. You must feel well, live well, and look good if you are a child of God. It is all about you. You become the god of your life. That is how Satan deceived Eve, “you will be like God” if you just do what I say. He tried the same tactic with Jesus, “just worship me” yet Jesus did not fall for it. So, what do you do if you have been influenced by false doctrine or you have a friend who has been turned away by false doctrine? In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 18, we will find the answer.
I. We have to discover the process of deception so that we can see if we have been deceived ourselves, before we try to help others. In verses 6, 8-9, and 12 we see the process of deception.
but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?
- In verse 6, the he is deceived and led to stumble by another person. It could be by a book he read or a television program or from visiting a church that does not have sound doctrine. Whatever the reason, the deception comes from without, another’s false teaching is the root of the deception.
- In verses 8-9 we see that the deception from without has turned into self-deception. The false teaching has taken root and now the person believes because of some experience that he/she had. At this point, the person believes that he or she is correct no matter what the Bible actually teaches because of an experience and self delusion.
- Verse 12 uses an example to show how the person has gone astray.
Do you find yourself at any of these stages of the process? Do you know someone who is in the middle of this process? Please do not lose heart because there is hope. Look at verses 11 and 13.
“For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 13 “If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray.
Jesus has come to save those who have gone astray, and those who have gone astray can be found. If you have started down the road of straying, Jesus is here to find you. If you know someone who has already walked down this road then he/she can be found and brought back.
II. Do not be a stumbling block for the one who is going or has gone astray. From the context of Matthew 18, there are several ways that you could cause others to stumble. One would be by promoting false doctrines such as the Prosperity Gospel or Word of Faith movement. Another way to be a stumbling block would be to see someone heading down the path of false doctrine and being led astray and doing nothing about it. The passage commands that confront those who have/are gone/going astray. If we close a blind eye to the situation because we want to avoid confrontation then we allow the person to walk freely down the path of deception. The final way that we could be a stumbling block is if we do not follow the Biblical process of confronting the one who has gone astray. If we confront in an arrogant way or if we make judgments before knowing all of the information then we will become a stumbling block. If we talk to others instead of the person then we will become a stumbling block for the person.
III. Value the life of the one who has gone astray. We should value that person because God values that person. In verses 6-7, we see that the one who causes the person to go astray is condemned by God. The fact that the person is led astray leads God to anger and wrath. If we value the person’s life the way that God does then we will step in and get involved in the process of bringing that person back. It may be hard for us to do, causing us to step out of our comfort zones by having to confront yet it is necessary. Do you value the life of the believer who has gone astray enough to seek that person out and discuss the situation the way that the Bible teaches? Do you say you value the person’s life yet turn a blind eye in order to avoid confrontation?
IV. Do not defame the person who has gone astray. This is a temptation for all of us because it does not require much effort on our parts. All that we have to do is hear the news about the person going astray and instead of going to that person and finding out what is going on, we go to others and begin to spread what we have “heard” as facts of the situation. It is like a journalist who takes a sources word without actually checking the facts for him/herself.
The word despise in verse 10 could also be translated as “defame” or spread false information about. When you know that a brother is being led astray, instead of passing on and enjoying the juicy “gossip” about that person, go to the source, the person himself, and discuss it with him.
V. In order to avoid defaming the person who has gone astray, seek to bring him back to sound doctrine. This involves activity on your part. You must initiate the meeting and the process of helping the person. Do not wait for the person to come to you. God says that you are to go to the person.
12 “What do you think ? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying ? 13 “If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. 14 “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.
Do not write the person off by saying, “it must have been God’s will”. That is a “holy” excuse for apathy or fear on your part. It is not God’s will that anyone should go astray so when you see it happening then you must immediately take action. Doing this may (probably) lead to confrontation, which is a scary thought for many but it is necessary. Do not be passive or apathetic. Take the appropriate action. You have God’s permission and command.
VI. You must confront the person who has gone astray. This is hard for most of us to agree with because we like to avoid confrontation at all costs. That is our nature, but for the good of the person who has gone astray, we must confront him. The good part about the Word of God is that It tells us what to do and also how to do it. Let’s see how we are to confront.
15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private ; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. 17 “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church ; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
When you go to confront, do not be arrogant because the roles may be reversed next time. Galatians 6:1 say that we are to confront with a spirit of gentleness. You are doing this for the good of the one who has gone astray. Do it with the purpose of winning him back to sound doctrine. If he listens to you and repents, then forgive him and accept him back. If he does not listen to you and will not repent, then do not forgive and forget, but instead, go and take witnesses from the church (people in leadership positions) and go to confront once again (not just you but also the people with you). If the person listens to you and repents, then forgive him and accept him. If he still chooses not to listen then take the case before the church. If he listens and repents, then forgive him and accept him back. If he does not listen then you are to exclude him from the church. If he repents and asks for forgiveness after being excluded, then you forgive him and accept him back. If he still refuses to admit his fault then you are not to have anything to do with him. I Corinthians 5 says that you should not even eat with that person. He has been given over to the hand of Satan so that he will come to his senses and repent.
VII. You should be motivated to take action because “a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough”. In other words, if the smallest sin is tolerated then it will spread through the entire church. If the smallest heresy is tolerated then the entire church will be influenced in a negative way by it. I do not know if you have ever seen leaven spread through a lump of dough or not. If you have not then it is an amazing process to see. If you have never seen it then I would like to use another illustration; a computer virus. If one fragment of one file has a virus and that virus is let loose in your computer then every single file on your computer will be infected with it. It is amazing how fast and efficient it works. The same thing happens with sin. Once it starts, if not confronted, then it spreads like wild fire. You must confront in order to protect yourself and the others of the church.
VIII. There are 2 things that will always protect you from heresy and being led astray; faith in the Word of God and God’s Word Itself (sound doctrine). In the context of Matthew 18, the key to successfully avoiding being led astray is child like faith in God. Believe the Word of God the way a small child believes every word that comes out of his parent’s mouth as the Gospel Truth. In the epistle of Jude, the author writes to a group of believers who were facing heresy that was leading many astray. Some were teaching that the grace of God covers all sin so the more you sin the bigger and better you make God’s grace look, therefore it is better to sin more to make God look better. Jude writes to them and gives them the secret to successfully defeating the heresy by saying;
Remember the Word of God that was taught to you. Continue studying that Word so that you can impress It in your mind and remember It. Build up your most holy faith by knowing and living by the Word of God.
My dear friend, do you play around with false doctrines by listening to sermons by people who preach a prosperity gospel or by reading their books? Maybe you think you can eat the meat and spit out the bones. You cannot because their books and sermons are written in such a way as to deceive you. Have you witnessed a brother who went astray? How did you respond? Did you close a blind eye in order not to have to confront the person? Do you value that person? If so, maybe you need to repent of your apathy and holy excuses and go to that person the way that God commands in order to win him back to the Lord and sound doctrine. Let’s always be ready to admit when we have failed and repent coming back to God to ask for another chance. When God does give you the chance, take action right away. May God help us be obedient to Him.