By Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.
After being awakened several times during the night by his cat, a man, seeing the critter by the dim light of the moon sneaks up and gives it a good swift kick. It was not the cat who screamed this time, but the man as he broke his toe. You see, the “cat” that he thought he saw was really an old fashioned smoothing iron. The good man learned quickly that things are not always what they appear to be at first glance. If he had only turned on the light before he kicked!
All too frequently there are news items about people being victims of some scam. An elderly couple in our area was robbed recently by men posing as social security investigators. Several people have been relieved of their life’s savings by investment schemes that were really too good to be true. It is easy for us to ask rhetorically, “How could they have been so gullible?” After the fact, the victims themselves are likely asking the same question. It is so easy to be deceived and we are all apt to be from time to time. Sometimes there is no real harm done, but it is often very painful or expensive.
Jacob was deceived by doctored evidence – Joseph’s bloody coat. Isaac was deceived by the hairy arms of Jacob into thinking he was dealing with Esau — though the voice was Jacob’s.
People may set themselves up for deception by their need for a thing to be so. Fortunes have been wasted on the “miracle cures” of quackery because people badly wanted it to be so. Then, there are those who believe strong delusions because they had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thess. 2:10-12).
Whether the deception is kindled by others, or fueled by self-deception, one can get hurt badly by it. We must constantly watch lest we become victims of some cruel deception.
Perhaps the greatest spiritual danger that we face is our own gullibility. Paul speaks of simple (naive – NIV) brethren who are deceived by certain smooth talkers (Rom. 16:19). It matters not whether the deceiver is honest or dishonest, the effect on naive brethren is the same. Therefore, there are many scriptural warnings against being deceived. Among these are the specific words of Paul: “Be not deceived”(1 Cor. 6:9; 15:33; Gal. 6:7).
1. Do not be deceived about who is going to heaven. “. . .Do not be decieved. Neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9). It does say that these are the only one who will not make it, but it does say these will not make it. They may gain social approval, legal sanction, and even brotherhood acceptance on earth, but they still will not inherit the kingdom of God – unless they repent and turn from their sin. God said so.
I have friends who tell me that they believe just what I do about what Matthew 19:9 teaches: “. . whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” It is a mystery to me how they, at the same time, can take is so lightly when it happens – even urging brethren to continue to fellowship those guilty. They also urge us to keep on using, as preachers and teachers, brethren who teach and encourage brethren to remain in those second marriages. Remember, my friends say they believe just what I do on divorce and remarriage. Now I believe that one who enters a second marriage without having divorced the first companion for fornication is an adulterer. Is this not what Jesus said? If one is really an adulterer, then he cannot inherit the kingdom of God if one is to believe what Paul wrote.
Oh, they say, we just leave it up to each individual and his conscience, just like we do the head covering, military service, and other individual matters about which good brethren have held and taught different views for years and still maintained fellowship. Now, that seems to be a simple solution doesn’t it? But is it really that simple? Hardly.
If the Scriptures were as explicit on the results of covering or not covering the head in worship, or the results of military service, or any other similar matter as it is on marriage and divorce, then I think I would have to take a different approach to it. If it expressly said they commit adultery, murder or another sin mentioned by Paul, then that would be a different matter, don’t you think? I think I would have to take it out of that realm where each may do his thing and still indefinitely maintain fellowship.
Shall we add homosexuality, murder, drunkenness, stealing, extortion, and sodomy to the list of matters of individual conscience? How long will it be before brethren will be willing to accept these into their fellowlisip with those whom they say they believe are committing adultery. Now, come on, brethren, either quit saying you believe that those in unscriptural marriages are in adultery or quit trying to get brethren to continue to fellowship them. You cannot have it both ways.
If you doubt that such marriages are adulterous then be honest enough to say so. We may need to study it further. If you believe it is right to indefinitely fellowship brethren who are committing adultery then say so. If you believe we should openly support and use preachers who teach a doctrine that, if practiced, results in adultery, by your admission, then say so. At least brethren will know where you stand.
2. Do not be deceived about the influence of bad company. “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits'” (1 Cor. 15:33). While we cannot avoid all company with evil folks and still live in this world (1 Cor. 5:10), we need to be very careful about choosing our closest friends and associates. We have all known good brethren whose faithfulness has either been destroyed or weakened by the influence of those with whom they have been become bosom pals.
Paul’s warning goes beyond morally and ethically evil company. It is a general maxim that applies to all evil company. Paul had earlier warned that if the church did not deal with the immoral brother that the “little leaven” would “leaven the whole lump.” In 1 Corinthians 15:33, he invokes the principle while discussing a doctrinal subject the resurrection of the dead. One needs to watch who he “runs with” doctrinally as well as morally. It is hard to remain strong for truth on any subject while one’s closest friends and associates are teaching error. It is hard to stay sound in the faith, if the bulk of what he hears and reads comes from those steeped in error. I suspect that many of the young men who were caught up in the Calvinistic concept of grace a few years ago got it from spending more time reading from writers with a Calvinistic slant than they did reading other sources.
Let’s be careful about constantly associating with those who teach the opposite of what we say we believe the Bible teaches on vital doctrinal matters. We can easily allow such closeness to keep us from boldly speaking as we ought to speak (cf. Eph. 6:19,20). Too, if we are not careful, we will let those close ties cause us to become agitated when others expose the errors our friends. I know brethren, who’l am sure believe the truth, but are very timid and weak about proclaiming and defending their convictions because of the effect it would have on their closest friendships and associations.
Brethren, we all need to watch who we ” run with” doctrinally as well as morally. It can affect our influence for good and maybe our own faithfulness to the Lord and his truth.
3. Do not be deceived about God’s harvest law. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7). The harvest will either come in this life or the life to come and maybe in both.
Some seem to have deceived themselves into believing that this rule does not apply to them, but it does. One cannot neglect family responsibilities and not reap problems. One cannot live a worldly life day by day without paying for it eventually. One cannot live a life of misplaced priorities and expect good from it.
One need not expect to have friends if he is not a friend (Prov. 18:24). Jesus warns against harsh and severe judgment of others, “for with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matt. 7:1-2). Again one reaps what he sows.
Some seem to have deceived themselves into believing that the full harvest is immediate. So, if there is no immediate reward from their godliness, they give up and quit. Or, if they do not experience any immediate harm from their sin, they think they are getting by with it.
We must remember that reaping comes “in due season” (Gal. 6:9). We will reap a token harvest in this life for sowing – good or bad. One may have good things added to him, here and now, as the result of seeking first the kingdom of God (Mk. 10:29,30; Matt. 6:33). One may receive shame, guilt, fear, disease, etc., here and now, as a direct result of his sins. Still, the full harvest will come after death. If we have sown to the flesh we will reap corruption; if we have sown to the Spirit we will reap everlasting life (Gal. 6:8). Don’t let anyone or anything convince you otherwise. God’s law of harvest will not be broken – not even for you.
Brethren, “Do not be deceived.”
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 22, pp. 686-687
November 15, 1990