How do we know? How can we sure that a Christian communicator whose words we hear or read is truly faithful to God and His Word?
The answer to this question is not easy, and may even be disturbing. We cannot know, that is, we cannot be abolutely sure. We do not possess the capacity to look into the heart of another human being with absolute assurance that authenticity dwells therein. Of course, the Lord Jesus Christ declared that we can gauge the nature of preachers and teachers by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-17). He did not mean, however, that we will possess perfect discernment as we test the spirits. I'm sure we'd all admit to having been fooled at times by imposters who quote Scripture, name the name of Christ, and seem for all the world to be the genuine article of faith and faithfulness. Just as artificial fruit may look exactly like the real thing, artificial preachers, teachers, and writers may delude our eyes and ears, and most importantly, our hearts and minds. "Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore, it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed into ministers of righteousness" (II Corinthians 11:14-15).
A great challenge presents itself to us as we seek to hear, read, and respond to those whom we hope are genuine ministers of righteousness. Again, we cannot look into their hearts. We must rather seek to follow our Lord's mandate to discern their fruits. What do we look for? To whom shall we listen, and whose words shall we read? Many Biblical answers provide illumination, more than we can presently offer in this essay. A few stand at the forefront of Truth, however, including those that follow.
1. Absolute devotion to the person and work of the Savior. God's eternal purpose centers in the Son of His love who must be the Savior of our love (Ephesians 3:11). The Father emphasizes His Son, the Holy Spirit glorifies Him, and the Scriptures, all of them, exist to reveal Him (Matthew 17:5; John 16:14; John 15:26). Thus, any Christian communicator who does not constantly communicate (both directly and implicitly) such love for the "Beloved Son" is either not actually Christian, or has been distracted from the only reason to serve as a preacher, teacher, or writer. The Apostle Paul proclaimed the Lord Jesus as preeminent in all things (Colossians 1:18). All things. Only a heart thrilled, enraptured, and utterly fascinated by the glory, person, and redeeming work of the Lord Jesus can lead to lips or a pen worthy of our attention.
2. Absolute devotion to the Scriptures. Love for Christ cannot exist apart from love for the Bible. "He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38; emphasis added). Personally, and I know you share this conviction, I have no interest in exposing myself to any supposed Christian communicator whose words do not give evidence to much time spent in the Book. Indeed, any proclamation of the Lord Jesus or any explanation of Truth that does originate and proceed in accordance with the "Thus saith the Lord" of Biblical revelation must be viewed as false, even if it seems true. We either expose ourselves to the oracles of God, or the opinions of man and devil. There is no alternative, and Scripture serves as the heart and the test of this most vital of matters. "Thy Word is truth" declared the Lord Jesus who consistently and constantly quoted the "Thus saith the Lord" of the written Word (John 17:17).
3. Absolute devotion to the saints. The Apostle Paul expressed such love to the Corinthians: "I will not be burdensome to you, for I seek not yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children" (II Corinthians 12:14). Those whom God truly calls to communicate His Word will give strong evidence to the upward, outward, and away attitude that characterizes the nature of the Christ who declared, "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). The Holy Spirit forms in such ones a disaffected disinterest in reception, and a determined devotion to distribution. Thus, any preacher, teacher, or writer who gives indication to self interest concerning ministry must be viewed with caution and even suspicion. "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17-18).
Many other Biblical parameters exist that help to us "discern both good and evil" regarding those who communicate the Gospel (Hebrews 5:14). Indeed, as we consistently read and ponder the Scriptures, one of the most important issues to keep in mind involves our being personally prepared to evaluate those to whom we listen and read. The challenge is great, and the dangers are real. "Many false prophets are gone out into the world" warned the Apostle John (I John 4:1). "Many." Let this be a splash of cold water in our faces that clears our eyes, increases our awareness, and prepares us to discern the true from the false, the real from the phony, and the Light from the darkness. On guard!
"As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him: rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
Weekly Memory Verse
His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue.
(II Peter 1:3)