"Welcome, friends and neighbors, ladies and gents. Step right up. I have a miracle cure for you. You won’t be able to live without it…"
Back in the 1800’s, "snake oil salesmen" were notorious scam artists.
Their history is quite interesting.
When the Transcontinental Railroad was being built (the railroad that would eventually span North America from coast to coast), labor gangs gave snake oil to the Europeans they worked with. The snake oil was supposed to relieve joint pain. Rubbed on the painful site, snake oil claimed to bring much-needed relief.
Rival medicine salesmen, especially those selling patent medicines, ridiculed the claims. Eventually, "snake oil" became a catch-all term for many compounds marketed as miraculous remedies.
Since the FDA did not exist at this time, it was often impossible to analyze the contents of snake oil, and so the term came to symbolize a hoax, a swindle, a trick – a clever attempt to "pull the wool over somebody’s eyes."
The travelling salesman, often called "doctor," had dubious credentials. But what a great actor he was! His boisterous claims were often supported by an accomplice in the crowd – a "plant" who would attest to the value of the product in an effort to provoke enthusiastic buying.
Were these poor innocent people simply ignorant and naïve? Or were these "snake oil"salesmen simply VERY good at deception?
Things are different, and yet so very much the same, in today’s world. God’s Word warns against false teachers and prophets. It implores God’s children to be wary – to "test the spirit" of those proclaiming to speak the "truth."
Today’s "Bible Pick ‘Ems" is one of those warnings:
"Dear Friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world…But you belong to God…You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world." (1 John 4:1, 4)
What is being said here?
That we should not believe everything we hear just because someone says it’s a message from God.
False teaching is nothing new. The early Church had to guard itself against, and sometimes cleanse itself of, those who spoke something other than the true message of the Gospel.
We are particularly susceptible to false teaching these days because of the prevalence of instant media access for virtually every message anyone wants to speak. You can watch or read or listen to just about anything you can find.
False teachers are popular with the world because they tell people what they want to hear. And that’s why we are warned against them…and asked to test them.
So, how can we test the message and the messenger?
1) Check to see if their words line up with what GOD says in His Word – are
they speaking God’s truth?
2) Evaluate their commitment to the body of believers – are they working
for the good and spiritual growth of the community of Christians, or for
their own goals?
3) Look at their life-style – is it pure and righteous and above reproach?
4) Observe the fruit of their ministries – are they loved by the world (a
false teacher will be well-received by non-believers)?
And is their message "easy on the ears?" No one wants to hear their sins denounced. They don’t want to listen to demands that they change their behavior. People want a comfortable message that makes them "feel good." They want a "good word" that makes them happy. They want to be entertained. And never ever mention sin, or judgment, or punishment, or hell…
But, here's what MOST IMPORTANT of all – What do they believe about JESUS CHRIST? Do they teach that He is fully God and fully man?
False teachers - false messages.
It's easy to be overwhelmed – but have hope!
Our verses today hold a promise. We belong to God. We have won a victory through His Truth. God’s Spirit, living within us, is greater than the spirit of the enemy. God will give us the wisdom and discernment we need. He will guide us into all truth.
Just ask Him.
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.”
“When in doubt, search God out!”