The Testing of Your Faith:
Over the last couple of years I have been horrified to observe seemingly strong Christians, even some who were supposed to be leaders, utterly fail in their spiritual discernment, critical thinking, and commitment to stand on God’s truth alone regardless of personal cost. I have watched men whom I respected as able teachers of the Word set aside the Word, and instead become passionate evangelists for this or that conspiracy theory. Facebook pages that used to contain Scriptures, spiritual observations, and encouragement to run the race set before us with endurance, now regurgitate political propaganda and dubious “science” (sometimes outright quackery) which they cannot objectively prove, with hardly a word about our God, His Son, and the Blessed Hope. I have observed some who used to stand for certain truths of God’s Word, which are extremely unpopular in our modern culture, cast God’s words behind their backs (Psalm 50:16-17) and become men/women-pleasers instead of God-pleasers. I have watched personal finance, maintenance of lifestyle, and propping up self-image overtake and replace the former commitment to “preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). I have seen men dismiss biblical commands as unimportant and optional in order to patronize their wives and extended families or the flock of God under their care because they were resisting God’s Word (Matt. 10:21-22, 34-39). All of these men deceived themselves into thinking that what they were doing was right and acceptable. It is not right, and it is unacceptable as leaders of the flock of God. The depth of the deception and the severity of its stronghold which I have witnessed has been a real surprise and wake-up call for me. I fear how such men will fare when it really matters, in life and death situations, or when it will mean the difference between overcoming and apostasy. I fear for such men who have so little fear of God and so little commitment to His Word. But I fear even more-so for those who willfully follow them because they tell them what they want to hear.
Just before Jesus returns, there is to be the most severe time of tribulation and testing for all who dwell upon the earth (Matt. 24:15-22; 2 Thess. 2:1-12; Rev. 3:10). That time is very, very near. Trying times are called “trying times” because they test what we are really made of. They peel away the layers of façade and pretention and reveal what truly motivates each person by how they react to the difficulty and exposes their real priorities. When Jesus came as Man the first time and encountered the religious leaders, it was so “that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk. 2:35 NKJ). The time of tribulation and testing will serve the same purpose.
The severe testing and purging begins with the house of God (1 Pet. 4:12-19). It has already begun and many are already failing the test even before the severity of the storm arrives (1 Pet. 1:6-9). Those already failing and justifying their failure by deflection certainly will not stand when the full weight of tribulation and its flood of deception is bearing down on us. “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10 NKJ). When spiritual leaders fail, what is to become of those whom they are charged with leading? The “hireling” protects himself, his finances, his status, his ego, his reputation, and whatever else he holds more dear than the fear of the Lord. So he sacrifices the sheep under his care for his own personal, short-term gain and benefit. He is the “unjust steward” described by Jesus in Luke 16:1-12. But a “good shepherd” stands firm on God’s Word alone, telling the inconvenient and unpopular truth to correct and protect the flock even at great personal cost, even death (John 10:11-13).
Paul had the following stern warning for his fellow “shepherds” using the analogy of constructing a building.
1 Cor. 3:9-15 NKJ
9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Many suppose that “fire” and “the Day” in this passage refer to the judgement. Not so. They refer to the tribulation and testing which precedes the Lord’s arrival. The “fire” of adversity, tribulation, and especially deception will reveal how each shepherd’s work in building up the local body will be tested. The sad reality is that the “sheep” who were led astray, who did not have both sound teaching and a good example to follow, will suffer the consequences along with their leaders. For some shepherds (and those who followed them), the disaster will be catastrophic.
35 “Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; 36 “and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. 37 “Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. 38 “And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. 39 “But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 40 “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” 41 Then Peter said to Him, “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? 43 “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 “Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. 45 “But if that servant says in his heart, `My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, 46 “the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. 47 “And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48 “But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. 49 “I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 “But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! 51 “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.
The fact is, the unsound reasoning, reliance on sources of truth other than the Word of God, the excuses and rationalizations of unfaithful shepherds are not going to spare them when they stand before God and face the “harsher judgement” as teachers of God’s Word (James 3:1-2). They are not going to be able to tell God to just watch some YouTube video in order to defend themselves.
A big part of the failures linked to deception that I have witnessed concerns the reliance on dubious sources, failing to “prove all things, hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21), and by leaning on their own understanding instead of trusting in the Lord with all their heart. Why? because they are “wise in their own eyes” (Prov. 3:5-7). They use the thinking of this world and are not led by the holy Breath of God.
There is only one reliable Truth, the written Word of God illuminated by the holy Breath of God that can guide us safely through the impending storm to the safety of the harbor. Those who navigate the end-time storm based on their own personal interests, patronizing the sheep, or who rely on any source of “truth” other than God’s Word rightly divided will not only shipwreck themselves and their own families, but also all those who look to them for spiritual guidance. The duty of shepherds is to feed the sheep with appropriate food at the proper time (Luke 12:42), to be “accurately apportioning the Word of Truth,” to use both the “rod” and “staff” to protect the sheep under their care from the wolf. The wolf uses deception as his primary tool to seduce the sheep off of the “difficult path” over to seemingly easier paths and greener pastures. How can a shepherd warn and protect the flock under his care if he is deceived himself and justifying himself? When the shepherd has been seduced by the wolf, what hope is there for the sheep?
Those charged with shepherding others, who do not address each question that arises in every difficult situation directly from God’s Word alone – the only trustworthy source of Truth – (either from specific commandments of God or from rightly applying precedent from the faithful men and women in the Bible), are not being faithful shepherds or living up to their charge. “Be earnest to present yourself qualified to God, an unashamed worker, accurately apportioning the Word of Truth” (2 Tim. 2:15 LGV). “I charge you then, before God, and [before] the Master Jesus Anointed, the one about to judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His Kingdom: Proclaim the Word! Stand upon [it] when convenient and [when] inconvenient. Admonish, rebuke, plead with all patience and instruction. For the appointed time will come when they will not tolerate sound teaching, but according to their own desires, they will accumulate teachers [for] massaging their ears and they will turn away their ears from the truth and be turned aside to fabrications. But you be sober in everything, endure hardship, perform the function of a good-news messenger, fully perform your duty” (2 Tim. 4:1-5 LGV).
The Son of God has this final warning for the faltering shepherds:
Prov. 1:23-33 NKJ
23 Turn at my rebuke; Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you. 24 Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, 25 Because you disdained all my counsel, And would have none of my rebuke, 26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes, 27 When your terror comes like a storm, And your destruction comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you. 28 “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me. 29 Because they hated knowledge And did not choose the fear of the LORD, 30 They would have none of my counsel And despised my every rebuke. 31 Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, And be filled to the full with their own fancies. 32 For the turning away of the simple will slay them, And the complacency of fools will destroy them; 33 But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, And will be secure, without fear of evil.”