Jesus referred to his disciples as sheep in John 10. Like sheep, we as are easily led astray if we do not recognize the voice of our shepherd. Jesus said in verse 14 that he is the good shepherd who knows his sheep and whose sheep know him. However, it can be confusing when there are so many voices demanding our attention.
We most commonly hear the voices of God, our enemy, ourselves and others. Therefore, not every voice is from God. We have to distinguish between truth and error. The only way to know truth, our shepherd’s voice, is by studying the Bible. Sadly, we are easily led astray when we do not study the Bible.
A spiritual diet
Many people depend on church sermons, devotionals and input from others as their source of spiritual nourishment. However, the Bible claims to be our source of nourishment. In Jeremiah 15:16, the prophet said, “When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.” King David said in Psalm 119:103-104, “How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey. Your commandments give me understanding; no wonder I hate every false way of life.”
Sermons, devotionals and input from others are like dietary supplements whereas the Bible is our main course — to skip Bible study is to skip meals, leading to malnourishment. Spiritual malnourishment could also result from feeding on false doctrine. So with the sword of the Spirit sharpened and in-hand, let us use it to discern between truth and error from any and every source.
Search the Scriptures
Did you know that the apostle Paul’s words were tested daily against the word of God? After visiting Thessalonica, Paul traveled with Silas to Berea where they preached in the synagogue. “And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men” (Acts 17:11-12).
The word “open-minded” in Greek is “eugenes” which means “noble-minded.” So the Bereans were noble-minded, listened eagerly, searched the scriptures daily and believed according to their findings. This sounds a lot like us except that we often believe without searching the scriptures. It is fair to give the speaker a fighting chance, but we can also be charmed by the presentation when the message is actually in error. Search the scriptures and believe according to the truth.
Be prepared to go the distance
Study the scripture references beforehand whenever possible. For sermons, take good notes, especially when you don’t know the references beforehand. Remember to let the Bible speak for itself. Cross-reference unclear scriptures. Look up the original Greek and Hebrew definitions. Read the larger context. Do a topical search on the relevant people and places. Read reliable commentaries. Above all, pray for God’s Holy Spirit to fill you, humble you and teach you.
Identify the fruit
Examine the overall result of the message. Did it exalt Christ? Jesus said in John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…” To what extent did you sense love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? (Galatians 5:22-23). Compare it to God’s love described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Was it patient, kind, steadfast, faithful, hopeful and enduring? Or was it jealous, boastful, proud, rude, demanding, irritable and unforgiving?
Do a self-check
Also, examine your emotions, thoughts and physical effects. Did the message bring you peace and rest, or did it make you anxious and uneasy? Did it humble you or puff up your pride? Such is the fruit of the Spirit of truth versus the spirit of error. You might even ask yourself the hard questions. For example, Am I seeking God with all my heart or am I just looking to be entertained? Do I really want to know the truth or do I just want a feel-good message?
Paul reminds Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.”
Tragedy has a way of putting life and its purpose into perspective. In light of recent events, our “life is like the morning fog — it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14b) May we live out the Greatest Commandment: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). May we fulfill the Great Commission: to preach the gospel and to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
Sasha Richardson is a freelance writer for the Good News and can be reached at [email protected].