Danger from False Brothers
Robert Wurtz II
Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;
2Co 11:26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, risk at sea, danger from false brothers (2 Corinthians 11:26-27)
Paul recounts for the Corinthian church a summary of the near-death experiences he suffered up to that date. The presumption is that all of these dangers put his life at risk. My goal with this article is to focus on the threat of false brothers and to ask ourselves if we are filling the churches with them.
Paul uses a word that combines pseudo and adelphos to describe the dangerous people who put his life at risk. Translators render these words as “false brothers.” Pseudo means fake or false and is the opposite of authentic. Adelphos means brother, as with a sibling or a brother in the faith. There are many times in the New Testament when the word adelphos includes sisters or females (Matthew 5:22,23,27,47 etc.), so it stands to reason Paul’s use of pseudadelphos intends male and female.
A careful examination of the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles’ preaching reveals intentionality in ensuring people had genuinely turned to follow Christ. Jesus deliberately set forth the expectations regardings His followers and made no effort to coddle people when they had second thoughts. Why? He wanted genuine faith. The objective was to make sure people truly turn in repentance, not build a huge list of followers. What good is it to have people coming to meetings who aren’t saved and don’t plan to be?
Jesus didn’t beg people to follow Him. On the contrary, he gave them plenty of chances to turn back and frequently put their dedication and devotion to the test. His ministry was like a threshing floor separating the wheat from the chaff.
False Brothers and Sisters
In their writings, Paul and the other Apostles taught us to protect the churches from wicked people. The first way to do this is to preach until you are free from the blood of all men (Acts 20:26). Paul kept nothing back that the people needed to hear just to keep them from being offended or walking away. Everywhere he went, Paul strongly emphasized repentance, in which people turn to God and bring forth fruits worthy of repentance (Acts 26:20). By the time it was over, they were the real deal.
However, Paul knew, that, like grievous wolves, unbelievers would infiltrate the Ephesian church after he left and wreak havoc. He seemed to know that the leadership he left behind didn’t have the heart to preach the Gospel in the way it needed to be preached. This is a common problem, even more so today. The implication is that many ministers are likely to have blood on their hands (Acts 20:26) because they were afraid to preach the truth.
Indeed, Paul spoke of “grievous wolves” and John of “that woman Jezebel” to describe dangerous false brothers (and sisters). The imagery of wolves and Jezebel is insightful and pointed. The commonality between the two is that they did damage because they were allowed to do it. It could have been prevented if men would have acted. Most people know wolves prey on sheep and tear them to bits unless shepherds protect them. Jesus said hired shepherds run when they see the wolf rather than protecting the flock. They don’t care about the flock; they are only in it for the money.
God expects pastors (shepherds) to protect His sheep from wolves and dogs. First, understand that wolves and dogs aren’t people we simply disagree with but people sent or used by the enemy to destroy a church. They are false believers who were never born again. We mustn’t assign destructive labels to people merely because they dissent from our opinion(s). Instead, Paul warned the Ephesians with tears that grievous wolves would later come to attack the flock mercilessly (Acts 20:29).
Paul warned the Philippians to guard against dogs, evil workers, and the Circumcision (Philippians 3:2). The use of the term dogs was symbolic and referred to people of bad behavior. In those days, dogs were generally not pets but ran wild in the streets with no master and were often a menace to society. The Greek word for dog was also a technical term for a male prostitute (NIBC). As a metaphor for people, the term “dog” implies one who repents of their repentance (turns back to their vomit, i.e., 2 Peter 2:22; Proverbs 26:11) and is barred from the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:13-15). These are people who count themselves saints but behave like sinners.
How to Spot Wolves and Dogs
Jesus said that we would know people by their fruits. The Holy Spirit works in people to make them Christ-like. If the Spirit is present, His attributes will be present. We know these attributes as the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.). On the contrary, Jesus spoke of people who beat their fellow servants (Matthew 24:49). If we see a pattern of harsh, abusive behavior or mean-spiritedness, we are witnessing a child of the Devil. Paul said to mark such people and have no fellowship with them (Romans 16:17-18).
Before Paul became a follower of Christ, he beat people in the synagogues seemingly with no pain of conscience. This behavior can happen when people are oblivious to what they are doing because their minds have never been changed, transformed, or renewed (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23). Carnal people are often difficult people who don’t have Paul’s tenderness (1 Thessalonians 2:7).
The Most Dangerous People
The most dangerous people in the world are those who believe they are a child of God but are a child of Satan. If a person never repented, received Christ, was baptized in water, and received the Holy Spirit, how can they agree with or understand biblical doctrine? How will they, in their own strength, believe and behave like Christians? Instead, they think and behave like the world as naturally as a dog behaves like a dog.
I have a cartoon on my wall of a wolf with big teeth covered in a sheep outfit with a caption that reads, “who ran the background check on this one.” False believers are dangerous to the churches because they remain in a carnal state of mind that is at enmity with God (Romans 8:7). They trust their carnal instincts, not knowing that they don’t have the Spirit of God; they have Satan’s spirit of disobedience (Ephesians 2:1f). This is why they act up and misbehave rather than reflecting Christ. The unchanged carnal mind makes them an agent of the enemy who is capable of anything. As a result, some teach false doctrine, while others, such as Paul encountered, worked with the civil authorities to have him arrested, tried, beaten, or killed.
In the early days of the Church, it was easier to keep such persons out than today because persecution dissuaded people from associating with Christians. However, as Christianity became accepted, the ungodly knocked at the doors. Knowing that we all are capable of sin, the doorkeepers, under the constraint of their own frailness, have often allowed all but the vilest of sinners to fellowship with the Saints.
For example, in 303 AD, a Roman Emperor named Diocletian came to power and sorely persecuted the churches. Some Christians renounced Christ as a result, and some handed over names of other Christians, as well as sacred writings to be burned. These people were traditors (Latin meaning “to turn over”), not to be confused with traitors. What happened? They were carnal and were never born again. Instead, they were children of the Devil.
The enemy entered many churches through these false brethren and caused utter destruction. We risk repeating these past dangers in modern times because we welcome Saint and sinners into our fellowships without expecting people to be born again. This is what Constantine did in the early 300s AD. In a matter of years, people were no longer born-again Christians but BORN Christians. Do you see the difference? no one is a Christian because they were born to Christian parents or in a country that is Christianized. What amplifies the risk is when these unsaved persons are placed in leadership roles.
When we refuse to preach repentance and fruits worthy of repentance, we risk opening the door to people who will turn us into the authorities when persecution comes. It’s been happening since Paul was ministering. What can we do? Preach so that your ministry is like a threshing floor separating the wheat from the chaff. Don’t add to or take away from God’s word; it will do the threshing. Give time for the Holy Spirit to deal with people, and He will convince them of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come. This is the biblical approach and will significantly reduce the number of dangerous false brethren in the churches as we progress toward the coming of the Lord.