THE MESSAGE OR THE MESSENGER?
A friend recently shared with me what he was told by one who claimed to be a minister of God: ‘Indeed, correct doctrine is vital if one is to be born again. There is only one Gospel and if that Gospel is not believed in, then there is nothing but Hell that awaits. But,’ the person added, ‘it is equally important that we hear the truth from God’s appointed messengers. Who it is we hear doctrine taught by is vitally important’ he said. ‘They must be ordained ministers of God and church approved’ etc. According to this reasoning, we have before us a case of judging the Truth, not by what is presented to us as truth, but by the person doing the presenting! Who the person is that is delivering the message, according to this man’s reasoning and that of many others in mainstream religion today who believe that the only reliable and trustworthy and legitimate religious leaders are those ‘ordained ministers’ who stand adorned with robes or who wave their special Bible College degrees and doctorates at us and who are part of established and respected religious institutions, is the main criteria for judging what is truth or not. At the very least, according to the mind-set of such people, this criteria is one that must not be ignored when deciding whether or not one is hearing the truth preached. In other words, we can know that what is being taught is Scriptural, the very Truth of God, if the one doing the teaching is one of these so-called ordained ministers. It is a throwback to the days of ignorance when the people did not have access to the Scriptures and were programmed to believe that ‘the priest or minister must be right or else he would not be a priest or minister, after all, he is the one who has done all the studying, an amiable man who is respected in the community and who does much for it, a family man who has such a loving and kind nature and whom all the people find so agreeable.'
The natural religious mind-set of lost man insists that one can be assured that one is hearing the truth if words are being uttered forth from the lips of renowned teachers and preachers, well known men who have a vast reputation and who the majority, even the secular world, recognize as ‘men of God’. But is this what Scripture teaches? Does the Word of God encourage blind belief and trust to be exercised when one comes to us allegedly speaking from the Bible, merely because he is a man officially recognized by a religious body of men as an ordained ‘minister of God’? Do the Scriptures encourage taking religious leaders at face value and what they say as incontestable truth? Is that the sort of message the Lord Jesus Christ gave and led His followers to believe? Did He say, ‘If one comes to you in My name with the full backing of a local body of religious men you must, of necessity, presume that he is sent of Me and you must believe all that he says and not dare to question his words’? Hardly! Did not the Lord Jesus commend the apostles in Revelation 2:2 for having tested and tried those men who came claiming to be apostles themselves and were not and found them to be liars? "...thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars." Now how do you think these false apostles appeared unto these people at Ephesus? Do you think they came with horns on their heads and looking like the ravenous wolves that they were (see Matt. 7:15)? Of course not. These false apostles came looking just like true apostles, no horns, no wolfish attire, no badge declaring them to be members of the union of false apostles, nothing but a sweet countenance and Jesus’ name on their lips, who "...by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" (Rom. 16:18). The people of Ephesus had nothing personal against these men when they first appeared on the scene. The Ephesians did just as those noble-minded people of Berea did who, despite being approached by men of the calibre of Paul and Silas with teachings they claimed to be the very Word of God, "...searched the Scriptures daily, (to see) whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11). They incurred no rebuke for making sure what they were hearing was in fact the Word of God. Does not the apostle John, in 1 John 4:1, implore every believer to "...believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world"? And does not Paul the apostle, in his opening remarks to the Galatians, warn that if any came to them, no matter their reputation, even if it was one who is mighty in appearance such as an angel from heaven, bringing any gospel other than that great and mighty Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation that Paul had preached to them, they were to let them be accursed! "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach ANY OTHER GOSPEL unto you than that which WE have preached unto you, let him be accursed." As if that wasn’t clear enough, and so that there would be no way his words could possibly be misinterpreted, Paul immediately repeated this warning to the Galatians in the following verse, thus emphasizing how vitally important this rule was that he was seeking to establish in their minds: "As we said before, so say I now again, if ANY MAN preach ANY OTHER GOSPEL unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8,9).
This statement alone shatters the assertion made to my friend by a ‘minister’, that the messenger is the key to truth and not so much the message. In his statement to the Galatians, Paul made the Message of the utmost importance far above anything or anyone else. ‘If the message is not the message I have brought you,’ says Paul, ‘then it shows that the one who brings it, no matter who he is, no matter his reputation, status in the religious community or how much truth he has mixed in with his false gospel, DO NOT RECEIVE HIM OR BELIEVE WHAT HE IS SAYING. They are accursed people who speak a cursed gospel.’ Paul was not saying that if any man who came preaching any other gospel than the one they had heard from the mouth of Paul was a true believer who just needed a little correcting, for was it not Paul who also warned the Galatians that "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (Gal. 5:9)? If the whole lump be leavened, so too is the one who brings it. He who speaks a false gospel has not been made free by the Truth, but is still in bondage to a lie. He is not a man of God who brings a gospel that is not of God. Paul told the Galatians that it did not matter who it was, not even if he himself or those with him were to return at a later date to Galatia saying that what they had preached to them previously was wrong and what they were now going to preach was the real Gospel, or even if an angel was to come down from heaven, they were not to be listened to if their gospel differed in any way, to any degree, from that single definitive message they had heard. Contrary to one misguided man’s opinion that "Nobody knows the Gospel", Paul was so absolutely sure that his message was the only Gospel message he was ever given by God and the only one God declared to be "...the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth..." (Rom. 1:16 cf. 1 Cor. 1:18). The situation was, and still is, so serious that if a man brings a gospel differing from that great and only Gospel of God that reveals the true Savior and His Righteousness, he shows himself to be an accursed man, that is, a man who is in a lost state, a man who has never heard from God, for he does not teach God’s Gospel. Likewise is the situation for any who believe a gospel other than the one Paul the apostle preached. He who preaches and/or believes a false Gospel, according to the apostle Paul, shows that he is a man under the curse of God. According to Paul, "The great system of salvation had been taught; and no other was to be admitted—no matter who preached it, no matter what the character or rank of the preacher, and no matter with what imposing claims he came. It follows from this, that the mere rank, character, talent, eloquence, or piety of a preacher, does not of necessity give his doctrine a claim to our belief, or prove that his gospel is true. Great talents may be prostituted; and great sanctity of manner, and even holiness of character, may be in error; and no matter what may be the rank, and talents, and eloquence, and piety of the preacher, if he does not accord with the Gospel which was first preached, he is to be held accursed....The object of Paul is to express the greatest possible abhorrence of any other doctrine than that which he had himself preached. So great was his detestation of it, that ‘He casteth out very flames of fire; and his zeal is so fervent, that he beginneth to almost curse the angels.’ It follows from this (1) that any other doctrine than that which is proclaimed in the Bible on the subject of justification, is to be rejected and treated with abhorrence, no matter what the rank, talent or eloquence of him who defends it. (2) That we are not to patronise or countenance such preachers. No matter what their zeal, or their apparent sincerity, or their apparent sanctity, or their apparent success, or their real boldness in rebuking vice, we are to withdraw from them. "Cease my son," said Solomon, "to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge" (Prov. 19:27). Especially are we to withdraw wholly from that instruction which goes to deny the great doctrines of salvation—that pure Gospel which the Lord Jesus and the apostle taught. If Paul would regard even an angel as doomed to destruction, and as held accursed, should he preach any other doctrine, assuredly we should not be found to lend our countenance to it, nor should we patronise it by attending on such a ministry. Who would desire to attend on the ministry of even an angel, if he was to be held accursed? How much less the ministry of a man preaching the same doctrine! It does not follow from this, however, that we are to treat others with severity of language or cursing (2 Tim 2:24,25). They must answer to God. We are to withdraw from their teaching; we are to regard the doctrines with abhorrence; and we are not to lend our countenance to them."
One thing that the writer of the above passage in italics either did not see, or did not have the courage to say was, the following: Notice Paul did not say if an angel from Hell, a demon or even Satan himself dripping with evil intent were to come bringing another gospel for they would all be readily recognized as not possibly bringing with them the true Gospel. What Paul warned is that even if an angel, radiant and fresh from the Presence of God, were sent bringing another gospel do not believe him. Look closely at verse 8 of Galatians 1. We know from Scripture that any time an angel of God came to the earth he was actually sent by God for various reasons and often to speak His very words. Gabriel in particular is often viewed as a messenger of God, or spoken of as being sent from God (Daniel 8:15-26; Luke 1:11-38). In light of this, the gravity of what Paul is actually saying here is quite startling, even shocking. Paul is saying that even if an angel sent by God relays a different gospel than the one Paul had preached to them let him be accursed. So sure was the apostle that he had heard, believed in and subsequently preached God's one and only Gospel to the Galatians that Paul was essentially saying that even if God Himself brought to you a gospel which differed from the one he had preached to them let him be accursed! This is not said lightly. There is no clearer way that Paul could have communicated the certainty that what he had preached to the Galatians was the Gospel, God's Gospel, and that they were never saved before it and that no one can possibly be saved without it, or whilst believing in another. Paul was sure that the Gospel God had given him was His one and only complete Gospel. There are no additions to be made, no alterations or corrections, no changes whatsoever to suit coming generations. Paul showed that the Gospel he had been taught and in turn taught the Galatians is God's Gospel and would always be God's Gospel. Anyone, even if God Himself came bringing a gospel that differed in the slightest way to Paul's Gospel evidenced that they and their gospel were accursed! God does not change and His Gospel does not change. No one believing in anything different will be saved. This should and does assure all those who believe the Gospel and are saved that the Gospel they believe is the very same one Paul preached.
The Christian is not to allow himself to be intimidated, influenced or swayed by a man’s teachings simply because he comes to us with a reputation or with a grand appearance, claiming to be a man from God. Principally, and it is clear from Paul’s reasoning in Galatians 1, the only way we can discern whether or not an individual or a religious organization is from God is whether or not the only Gospel of God is taught. Anyone can appear righteous, as we see from Jesus’ own words concerning the religious leaders of His day: " ...ye also appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matt. 23:28). Obviously these men, though righteous in appearance and in manner and considered to be ‘men of God’ by the public at large, were not saved men and thus could not have known the God of the Gospel nor His Son. A false gospel will always be preached and promoted by false ministers, men who might appear righteous but who are judged accursed by God, for they speak not His Word (cf. Matt. 7:22,23). If a man does not abide in the Gospel of God he does not have God, so how could such a one be considered a man of God, a follower of God? "Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, HATH NOT GOD. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son" (2 Jn. 9). And, echoing Paul’s warning in the first chapter of Galatians, John the apostle continues his proclamation: "If there come any unto you, and bring not THIS doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds" (2 Jn. 10,11). The Holy Spirit of God is the Spirit of Truth and He inspires His ministers to teach His Gospel and no other. It is the Message by which we can ascertain whether or not a man speaks the truth of God, or speaking his own words. Even when it is established that a man is speaking the true Gospel, never are we to cease our examination of what he teaches. Never believe something based on the fact that a certain individual said it. BELIEVE IT ONLY IF IT IS THE TRUTH, only if it is in accord with the Scriptures. The message should never be judged as truth simply because of the one who is preaching it. No matter who is doing the preaching, or how great their reputation, or how many books they have written, or how many years they have been teaching, this must never be the Christian’s standard whereby we judge what we hear to be the truth or not. There is absolutely no room for a cult of personality to exist within the realm of Christianity. Only truth and the One Who gives it is what is to be worshipped and trusted. It is what you believe that shows whether the true God has revealed Himself to you or whether a false god, spouted from the lips of lost men and in whom there is no salvation, is the one you have embraced. Repent and believe the Gospel and thou shalt be saved; believe it not and thou shalt perish! (See Mark. 16:16). "...the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God and that OBEY NOT THE GOSPEL of our Lord Jesus Christ..." (2 Thess. 1:7,8).
This article is also available on request in the Philippino 'Tagalog' language.