Making Merchandise of Brethren
Glen Burnie, Maryland
"There shall be false teachers among you . . . and many shall follow their pernicious ways: by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: Whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not" (2 Pet. 2: 1-3).
It is a fact many would like to ignore or "pooh-pooh" away, but Peter assured us that there are those among us who think of their brethren as baggage to be moved about and manipulated at will. Though the intent may not be verbalized, or even realized, when we talk of "saving the brotherhood," "reaching the brotherhood," "moving the brotherhood" we unintentionally give substance to Peter's warnings. Not that teaching truth, or intending to influence large masses of brethren is evil in itself, but often the intent is. We have a tendency as individuals to look at the black or the white, and not notice that we might be gray. Jesus sharply rebuked men at times not for sitting at meat, greeting friends in the market, wearing phylacteries, making public prayer, or building sepulchures, but for the spirit that accompanied such actions (Matt. 23). A right action accompanied with a wrong motive is just as damning as a wrong action (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
Too often we look at one "greedy for gain" as a black figure, easily recognized, but hardly realizable. After all, how many brethren do you know who are caricatures of Dicken's Scrooge? We see the "false teacher" as a black quantity, and fail to realize that one can be a passive false teacher by failing to teach the truth that is needed, or by giving encouragement to that which is not approved of God (Eph. 5:11; 2 Jno. 11).
"Covetousness," "greed for gain," "evil ambitions" are all proper definitions of the Greek word pleonexia, translated by Barclay as meaning literally "The desire to possess more." This word, translated "covetousness" in the KJV, gives us the cause for false teaching. Covetousness is not just a strong burning desire for material wealth, but any driving influence to possess something that a Christian has no right to. Jesus said, "Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: But whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be great among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom /or many" (Matt. 20:25-28). Ungodly ambition for honor, prestige, and power among brethren is repugnant to the law of Christ. We are all one in Him, partakers of his flesh, his blood, his bones. No part of his body has precedence over another. Indeed, those parts that are humblest, and have the most common function are given the greatest honor by the rest of the body. So it should be among the saints: 'For I have given you an example. that ye should do as I have done unto you. Verily. verily I say unto you. The servant is not greater than his Lord. neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him" (Jno. 13:15, 16).
We, as brethren, need to cease looking upon God's people as a mass - a brotherhood - to manipulate, motivate, and make merchandise of. Look upon them as a people to provoke unto love and good works - to esteem highly for the Kingdom's sake - to reprove, rebuke, and exhort - yes; but as children of God, Priests and Kings, and brethren of Jesus in the family of God. To use the church as a private audience for our own carnal needs is wrong. To use the church as a captive and ready source of income for our private schemes is abhorrent. One has but to look in the mailbox daily at the constant stream of appeals by the "brotherhood" institutions to see that some only view God's people as a mass to use. What have we ever gotten from such that we did not pay for - and pay dearly - in broken churches. homes, and friendships?
The scriptures tell us the method by which those petty and selfish men would take advantage of brethren: "With feigned words." The elect are enticed away from the simplicity which is in Christ by very skillfully prepared arguments. We have nothing to fear from a lie that announces itself to be a fraud. It is the beast hidden beneath the calm, wooly exterior of a lamb that is a threat. The deceiver cunningly disguises the lie to look like truth. The motivation is gain, the method is deception by skillful argumentation.
In contending for the faith we must guard that we do not permit charisma or skill to substitute for the sword of the Spirit. A debater once told me that he was able to argue for error and make it believable. There are those that do that very thing, the only difference being that they believe their lies to be truth. Paul made it a point in converting the Corinthians not to use "excellency of speech or of wisdom" (2:1). His action was motivated by the desire "that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (2:5). Therefore he preached "Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling" (2:3). His methods drove away the Jew who wanted a sign from heaven, and offended the Greek who wanted worldly wisdom, but "unto them who are called, whether Jew or Greek, (it was) the power of God, and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:22-24).
Peter further tells us what the effect would be of such false teaching: "and many shall follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of." When men are encouraged to do evil by the silence of their fellows, eventually they no longer feel any guilt or reason to hide their shame. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Eccl. 8:11). We see the result of no-teaching, in the dress of our women - provoking lust in their movements and deeds - some having given themselves over to all uncleanness. We see no-teaching, in a church divided and corrupted by the rebellious rejection of the eternal purpose of God. We see brethren clinging to matters of no consequence while neglecting the important issues of life. The effect of false teaching is that it encourages men to be lost; it cares nothing for the judgment of men or of God, but is totally self centered.
Such teaching, and its fruits, not only destroy those who do such, but drags down what is good into its own level of ineffectuality. The false teachers of today 'do not see they are despised by the world. They do not transform the people;. they are transformed by the people. They do not raise the moral level of the world; they descend to society's own level and congratulate themselves that they have scored a victory because the world is smilingly accepting their surrender! When the world sees squabbles, selfishness, worldliness, and indifference to truth among brethren, it says, "If this is Christianity, I don't want it!" In a conversation with an Islamic elder in Washington D.C. this writer was told, "What do we gain from embracing your Christianity? I see your young women come into .our mosque, defiling it by their lewd dress. Your men stub their cigarettes out in our courtyards, and tell their filthy jokes by our doors. If I become a Christian, do I go up, or do I go down?"
The ultimate end of false teaching is destruction: "Whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not." The law has already been given: "That prophet . . . shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God . . . to thrust you out of the way which the Lord thy God commanded thee to walk in" (Deut. 13:5). God's will has not changed except that; "vengeance belongeth to me, I will recompense saith the Lord." No man leads others towards damnation who will escape damnation himself.
Yes, brethren, there are false teachers, and they are among us. By charisma and skillful oratory they manipulate .people to gain their own ends. The result of their teaching is an ineffectual and sin hardened church. Their sure damnation awaits the final judgment of God where none shall escape. "Therefore watch, and remember that . . . I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears" (Acts 20:31).
Truth Magazine, XVIII:32, p. 6-7