It’s fall and the leaves are turning. Fall comes late to Georgia, and gently. The daytime temperatures decrease slowly by one degree or two, lower and lower until you notice that you need a sweater if you’re going to be outside for any length of time. You barely need the heat turned on inside, and if so, only to take out a chill. I love this about Georgia.
The one thing that is different than in the northern climates where I’m from, is that the leaves do not turn as vividly red, orange, or yellow here as they do up north. They turn, but it’s a duller kind of foliage. It brightens when the strong sunlight streams through, but overall, foliage down here is ho-hum.
That’s why I was surprised when I walked out of the church doors Wednesday night after prayer meeting, and spotted on the ground a twig with several very red leaves attached. I love leaves, especially if they are large (fig leaves) or unusually shaped, (maple!) or a great color (bright red!). I take photos of them, look at them, put them in art collages, press them, enjoy them. The ones I saw on the ground were a great color red, deep and bright. I stooped down and picked them up immediately.
I had a few things in my hands as I entered my front door, including the twig with leaves, so I dumped them all on the table and then went to the other room to finish unpacking. Excited, I returned to the kitchen and looked at the twig with red leaves in the better light than I had seen them in the gloaming when I first picked them up.
I’d been totally taken in by the extreme resemblance they had to real leaves. Fake!
I thought about this for a long time. It’s like false teachers. I was faked out because I’d made two mistakes.
The first was the obvious one: I hadn’t looked at the item carefully enough. I only made a quick glance, and picked up the twig with leaves and brought it home because it looked close enough to the real thing. A surface glance, though, won’t do when sitting under a teacher of the bible.
In Acts 17:11 we learn that the Bereans were called ‘noble’ because after listening to Paul, they “searched the scriptures” to see if what Paul said was so. They did not skim the scriptures. They did not glance at the scriptures. The word ‘searched’ indicates they spent some time comparing the words of God to the words of Paul. After a period of time doing this, one would know that the words of God were indeed emanating from Paul. But it takes time to search and compare and make a determination.
It also takes effort. Admittedly it was easier for me to simply stumble over the item and pick it up. If I really wanted cool leaves to play with, I’d have to walk, and go, and look, and maybe climb. But no, I walked up to a spot on the ground and with minimal effort on my part, I stooped down and thought I’d gotten myself a prize. In the end what I had was a pale imitation of the real thing, and I was disappointed. Minimal effort usually means maximum disappointment.
The second mistake I’d made was more subtle. It is about context and expectation. If it had been summertime, I would not have expected a twig with several leaves attached to be on the ground. Fall winds make this a common sight. Summer’s gentle air doesn’t. If it had been summer, the red leaves would have stuck out like a sore thumb. Leaves aren’t red in summer. They’re green. They’re red in fall. The context I had for seeing these leaves was appropriate and the expectation I had matched what I thought was the reality. Fall leaves on the ground in fall. This expectation formed a preconceived notion in my mind and I didn’t stop to investigate. I just went with it. I had not expected them to be fake.
In church, one expects a pastor or teacher or deacon to be many things. Because of the context of the place in which they appear, one would expect them to be saved. One would expect them to be qualified. One would expect them to behave in the way the bible says they must. One would expect them to handle the word rightly. One has a preconceived expectation of all these things due to the context in which the teacher labors: church. This expectation means we tend to extend trust to the teacher in great amounts and almost immediately.
Trust is different from respect. I respect my elders as the bible says we should. And I do extend more trust to a guest speaker or a teacher that the pastor brings in, because I trust him to make good decisions on behalf of his sheep. But it isn’t a blind trust. It isn’t a mindless trust. I listen respectfully, but alertly. I go back and compare what has been said to the bible.
If the situation is that a teacher of the bible hasn’t been introduced by my pastor and is a television or celebrity personality without a church (and it seems there are more and more of those lately) then the context is a bit different and thus my expectation is different. My immediate trust level is lower. It doesn’t border on skeptical, that would be rude I think, but I do listen with all discernment cylinders firing. I put a higher guard on my heart and mind while listening to this itinerant teacher or celebrity pastor etc., and then I go back and check it out. All of this of course is bathed in prayer.
My point is that one should look deeply and carefully at a teacher you’re going to sit under, and look hard. Do your research beforehand. Don’t relax your guard just because they are a teacher of the bible. We know from scripture that the church isn’t safe from predators. Wolves will come in and they have come in, not sparing the sheep. What a false teacher brings is death, so the stakes are high.
As for our expectations in the context, I am sure that the Bereans had an expectation that Paul would teach rightly. He was famous, had studied under famous teachers, and was known to be brilliant. However, they still searched. Their searching did not mean they didn’t respect him, they likely did. However, they respected God more. They wanted to be sure what they were hearing was not contradictory to His word.
One last piece of discernment advice: just because you searched out a teacher and found them to be sound 20 years ago, doesn’t mean you stop comparing what they say to the word. Over time, teachers fall prey to false doctrines or twisted interpretations, or fads. Over time, the teachers (being human like us!) stop being vigilant, and they teach wrongly instead of rightly. Just because they were great three years ago doesn’t mean they are great now. Keep searching the scriptures to see if the things they say are so. There is no rest for the weary soldier, not yet anyway. Not yet. But soon? Dearest Lord, I hope soon. Won’t it be wonderful to sit under the greatest Teacher of all? We will never have to check what He is saying against the Word, because He IS THE WORD!!