Warnings in the New Testament of Harmful People in the Church

Updated: Oct 2, 2019

I’ve been sitting on this unfinished study for a while, and sensed this morning that it is too important to let it gather dust. And who knows when I will finish it, as I’m always having to dive into other studies, sermons, lessons, etc. It was striking as I began to gather these passages that almost every book in the New Testament has at least one. Ephesians is one of the few exceptions, which very possibly is because it was meant to be more of a circular letter than a specific one to specific problems.


May this study especially help the leaders of Christ’s church effectively shepherd and watch over the sheep entrusted to us.


Matthew 16:6,11, 12 “And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” “How is that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”


Characteristics/Actions of: (false) “teaching” that “leavens” (spreads) and affects others negatively.


Our Responsibility: “Watch out”; “beware of the leaven”; “beware of the leaven”


Matthew 24:23,24 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.”


Characteristics/Actions of: “false” “mislead”


Our Responsibility: Don’t believe them


Mark 12:38-40 “In His teaching He was saying; “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.”


Characteristics/Actions of: live and minister to be seen, noticed, respected, admired; devour widows’ houses


God’s response: they will “receive greater condemnation”


Our/Their Responsibility: Beware of the scribes


Mark 13:5,6 “And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many.”


Characteristics/Actions of: “mislead”


Our Responsibility: See to it that no one misleads us


Mark 13:21-23 “And then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ’; or, ‘Behold, He is there’; do not believe him; for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible the elect. But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.”


Characteristics/Actions of: “false” “lead astray”


Our Responsibility: “do not believe him/them”; “take heed”;


John 13:21-27 Jesus telling the 12 that one of them will betray Him. No one knew who. But it could be said because they were not filled with the Spirit and mature yet.


Characteristics/Actions of: “will betray Jesus”


Their Responsibility: n/a


Acts 20:28-30 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”


Characteristics/Actions of: “savage”; “not sparing (or having mercy on); “speaking perverse things”; “draw away the disciples after them”


Their/Our Responsibility: “Be on guard for ourselves and our/His flock”;


Romans 16:17,18 “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.”


Characteristics/Actions of: “cause dissensions and hindrances…”; “slaves of their own appetities”; “smooth and flattering speech”


Our Responsibility: “keep our eye on them”; “turn away from them”


I Corinthians 5:7, 11 “Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed….. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler – not even to eat with such a one.”


Characteristics/Actions of: “immoral, covetous, idolater, reviler, drunkard, swindler”


Our Responsibility: “clean out”; “not to associate with”; “not even to eat with such a one”


II Corinthians 11:12-15 “But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.”


Characteristics/Actions of: “…desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are/as their leaders”; “false” “deceitful” “disguising themselves as apostles of Christ”;


Our Responsibility: n/a


Galatians 2:4 “But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.”


Characteristics/Actions of: “false brethren”; “sneaked in….to spy…to bring us into bondage”


Our Responsibility: n/a


Galatians 4:17 “They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them.”


Characteristics/Actions of: “They..seek you…so that you will seek them”


Our Responsibility: N/A


Galatians 5:12 “I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.”


Characteristics/Actions of: “troubling you”


Our Responsibility: n/a/


Galatians 6:12,13 “Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh.”


Characteristics/Actions of: They “..desire to make a good showing in the flesh”

Motivation: “so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ”; “…so that they may boast in your flesh”


Our Responsibility: n/a


Philippians 3:2 “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision;”


Characteristics/Actions of: “dogs, …evil workers…false circumcision”


Our Responsibility: “Beware”


Philippians 3:18, 19 “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.”


Characteristics/Actions of: “enemies of the cross of Christ”; their “god is their appetite”; their “glory is in their shame”; they “set their minds on earthly things”


Our Responsibility: n/a


Colossians 2:16-19 “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.”


Characteristics/Actions of: They “judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or new moon or Sabbath day”; they “defraud (believers) of their prize by delighting in self abasement and the worship of the angels, taking (their) stand on visions (they) have seen; they are “inflated without cause by (their) fleshly minds”; they do not “hold fast to the head”;


Our Responsibility: we are not to allow them to do these things to us (vs. 16)


II Thess. 3:2,6,14 “and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith…. Now we command you, brethren in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.”


Characteristics/Actions of: they are “perverse and evil men”; they do not “have faith”; they (“brother”)“lead unruly lives, not according to the tradition (laid down from the apostles)”;


Our Responsibility: “keep away from these men” “brothers”


I Tim. 6:3-5 “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.”


Characteristics/Actions of: They “advocate a different doctrine and do not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness”; They are “conceited and understand nothing”; They have “a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.”


Our Responsibility: n/a


II Tim. 3:1-9 This description is clearly of lost men, who most likely are involved in cults or quasi religious groups or liberal churches. The command is to “avoid such men as these.” The promise is, “…their folly will be obvious to all.”


II Tim. 4:3,4 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”


Characteristics/Actions of: “they will not endure sound doctrine”; they “want to have their ears tickled”; “they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires”; they “will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths”.


Our Responsibility: n/a


II Tim. 4:10a, 14,15 “for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica… Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching.”


Characteristics/Actions of: Demas “loved this present world”; he “deserted (him)”;

Alexander “did (Paul) much harm”; “vigorously opposed our teaching”


Our/Their Responsibility: “Be on guard against him”


Titus 1:10-16 “For there are many rebellious men….”


Characteristics/Actions of: “rebellious”, “empty talkers”, “deceivers”, they “upset whole families”, they “teach things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain”, they “pay attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth”, “defiled”, “unbelieving”, “both their mind and their conscience are defiled”, “they profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him”, they are “destetable”, “disobedient”, “and worthless for any good deed”.


Our Responsibility: “they must be silenced”; “reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith.”


Titus 3:9-11 “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.”


Characteristics/Actions of: They engage in “foolish controversies”, “genealogies”, “strife”, and “disputes about the Law”. They are “factious”, “perverted”, “sinning”, “self-condemned”.


Our Responsibility: “Avoid” such conversations. “Reject” a “factious man after a first and second warning” – – (so we must provide the warnings first).


II Peter 2:1-22 “But false prophets also arose among the people…”


Characteristics/Actions of: “false”; “will secretly introduce destructive heresies”; will “deny the Master who bought them”; “in their greed they will exploit you with false words”;


Results of: “bringing swift destruction upon themselves.”; “many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be maligned”;


Our Responsibility: n/a


Promise of God’s Response: “their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep”;


II Peter 3:3,4, 17


I John 2:4, 9, 11, 18, 19, 22, 23, 26


I John 3:7,8, 10


I John 4:1-6, 20


II John 7, 9-11


III John 9, 10


Jude 4-16, 18-19,


Revelation 2:2, 14, 15, 20


Overall Observations:


- Jesus affirmed/commended the church in Ephesus for how they heeded these warnings: “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;” Revelation 2:2


- Jesus rebuked the church in Pergamum because of the opposite: “But I have a few things against you, because you have there (in the church) some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some (in the church) who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” Revelation 2:14,15


- Jesus rebuked the church in Thyatira in a similar way: “But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” Revelation 2:20


Please note that in each instance where Jesus rebukes these churches He promises to deal with the problem Himself if they do not adequately and fully repent.


Why would church leaders not heed these warnings?

  1. We haven’t had eyes to see them. We tend to focus on the more positive and encouraging passages in scripture. Also lack of systematic reading through the Bible keeps us from seeing re-ocurring themes.

  2. We don’t want to be judgmental. Jesus and Paul often warn against unrighteously judging others (e.g. Matt. 7:1f & Rom. 14:4, etc.)

3. In charismatic/pentecostal churches, the gifts of the Spirit are valued. Thus when people appear to be anointed to prophesy or heal the sick, we tend to overlook unrighteousness or ungodliness in their lives. (see Matt. 7:21-23; 24:24)

So how should we respond to these warnings:

  1. Pray for growth in discernment and loving others with God’s love and in God’s way. Phil. 1:9-11 (see also Proverbs 2:1-10)

  2. Pray for courage to speak the truth in love regardless of the initial consequences. Fear of man is a significant obstacle herein.

  3. Give time for the Lord to make things clear. Motives are hard to discern, and ultimately only God knows the heart. ( I Sam. 16:7; Matt. 13:29,30; )

I Cor. 4:5 “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”


I Cor. 11:19 “For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.” Sometimes when there is dissension and factions, God uses it to help us see who is truly with us and of us by the mature way we respond to these things.

  1. Pray for the purity and cleansing of the church and that holiness will be pursued with more passion. The more holy she is, the more discerning she will be.

  2. Keep in mind the balance or overall perspective in each of the books that these warnings come in. We must never lose sight of the power and glory and faithfulness of our God and of the church’s Head – Jesus Christ.

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