Have you ever heard something that sounds really smart, but is totally wrong (or useless). A former co-worker of mine used to say, “Nothing difficult is ever easy.” While that may be a nice tautology, it doesn’t really give me any new information. Several people throughout history (including Benjamin Franklin) have said, “God helps those who help themselves” (and, the Bible suggests that God expects us to take actions as we are able), but I’m pretty sure that we can find examples of God helping people who couldn’t help themselves (see Luke 5:18-26, Acts 3:1-11).
In my country, philosophical statements (whether from philosophers or scientists), claims about society (whether from aspiring politicians or pundits), and opinions (from the wisest of us to the most foolish) are presented as fact. Those who are more clever (or have better speechwriters) often manage to sound really convincing, as if what they are presenting is clearly correct. When their points are analyzed, though, the gaps become visible.
Regrettably, in this fallen world, sometimes the smoothest-sounding sound-bite is patently false. In some cases, it is a lie (whether willful, or out of ignorance), and in others, it is an intentional trick to bypass the part of our minds that thinks critically, and try to inject a harmful (or marketable) idea directly into our psyche.
All wrong things are bad, but some are even worse: failed ideas that corrupt the soul, rot one’s character, and lead to actions (from an individual, or from a society) that destroy others.
I like how this translation describes false teachings:
Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.
Colossians 2:8 NLT
In our day, there is much “high-sounding nonsense”, but without a strong understanding of God’s truth, it takes some work to sift out the nonsense from reality.
There are two risks that – in my opinion – are possible, here:
The first is in relying too much on “human thinking”. Throughout history, many of us have made life choices based on what seemed logical to us. We attribute our basis of decisions to “common sense”, and select what we think is right, without considering the background of God’s word or His leading.
Certainly, God’s instructions are often consistent with what is best for individuals, communities, and even entire nations. It has been pointed out that His instructions for the Hebrew people to avoid pork would protect them from certain illnesses, and practices of ceremonial cleanness had the benefit of limiting the transmission of communicable diseases (like leprosy). Beyond that, instructions to limit interactions with other nearby nations was meant to protect the spiritual integrity of this nation, lest they be carried away to idol worship and pagan practices.
On the other hand, Jesus’ kingdom is sometimes completely “upside down” from what human tendencies would imagine. The last will be first, and the first will be last, after all. It might seem like common sense to defend one’s honor and well-being, but Jesus told His disciples to “turn the other cheek” (see Matthew 5:39, as well as Lamentations 3:30). Self-preservation might suggest doing only the minimum obligation to someone who is forcing us to do something against our will, but Jesus calls us to go above and beyond in serving others (see Matthew 5:40-42). I’m not refuting all forms of self-defense, nor am I suggesting that helping others must come at the expense of caring for one’s family (for instance). However, when following Jesus, there are times when we should set aside our pride and our desire for comfort, and instead give generously beyond what we are required.
Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people.
Romans 16:18 NLT
God gave us minds for a reason, but He did not give us His omniscience, nor have our sinful decisions left our character fully aligned with His unblemished love and selfless wisdom. There are times (probably every day) when we must intentionally rely on His guidance and His promises, trusting that His love is sufficient to guide us on a better path than the one our frail, limited human knowledge would suggest.
So, try trusting God today, even when it doesn’t immediately make sense to you. Jesus taught some pretty challenging things, but His followers can vouch for their wisdom in the long run.
In the second part of this article, let’s take a look at another source of false teaching.