By Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller
What is the most dangerous thing in the world? I suspect each person would have a different answer; what do you think? Lions, tigers, bears (or snakes, I'm not a fan of snakes)? Do you think different diseases like cancer or diabetes? Perhaps Islamic terrorists or communist dictators top your list. If you're a farmer locusts or drought might be the most dangerous thing. What do you think is the most dangerous thing in the world?
While all the answers listed above are different, they all have something in common: they kill. The thing lions and cancer and terrorists have in common is that they murder, and the more they kill the more dangerous they seem. But what does the Bible say about this? What does Jesus say is the most dangerous thing in the world?
First, Jesus tells us not to fear physical death. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” [Matthew 10:28] Physical death is not the most dangerous thing. There is something worse: judgment and condemnation. This is to be feared.
This is why Jesus teaches us the most dangerous thing in all the world is false teaching. That's right: false doctrine. I'm sure that if I did a survey of a thousand people, asking them the question: "What's the most dangerous thing in the world?" that the answer 'false doctrine' would never show up; that is, unless we ask Jesus.
Just about every time Jesus (and in fact the entire New Testament) uses the word 'Beware' He is using it to warn against false teaching and false doctrine.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” [Matthew 7:15]
False teachers are dangerous because they come to kill and destroy, not our bodies but our souls. Every false teaching strikes at Jesus; every false doctrine obscures the clarity of the Gospel. And false teachers are made even more dangerous because they are hidden under outward righteousness; these wolves dress as cute cuddly lambs.
Jesus said to them, "Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." [Matthew 16:6]
Jesus gives this warning to His disciples as they were on the sea of Galilee, soon after feeding the five thousand and then the four thousand men (with their families). The disciples think that Jesus is criticizing them because they forgot bread. To this Jesus responds:
8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, "O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. [Matthew 16:8-12]
Jesus warns against the false teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and what is their false teaching? First, the Pharisees and Sadducees rejected Jesus. They saw that He was the promised Messiah, and knowingly rejected Him and plotted His death. Second, the Pharisees and Sadducees sought to achieve a righteousness by their own works and efforts. They needed no forgiveness, no Savior, because, in their own eyes, they had no sin. Such false teaching destroys people eternally.
The Lord's apostles also repeat this warning. From His jail cell St Paul writes to the church in Philipi:
“Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation.” [Philippians 3:2]
The 'mutilation' are those false teachers who required Gentiles to be circumcised before they could join the church. Such false teaching displaced the truth of the free grace of God with the lie that works are needed for salvation. Paul repeats this warning to the Colossians:
“Beware that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” [Colossians 2:8]
The false teachers in Colosse tried to draw the Lord's Church away from her Jesus by tempting them to philosophy, human traditions, the so-called wisdom of the world. Again, this false teaching is dangerous because it pulls our faith away from Jesus and the promise of our forgiveness.
Like St Paul, St Peter also warns the church about the most dangerous thing: false teaching.
"You therefore, beloved, seeing that you know these things before, beware that you also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness." [2 Peter 3:17]
Peter's warning stands alongside the warnings of Paul and our Lord Jesus: Beware of error; beware of evil workers; beware of false prophets. With these commands the Lord's church is put on constant vigilance against any error or false teaching that would threaten the simplicity of Christ, the words of the Scriptures, and the comfort of the Gospel's promise of the forgiveness of all sins.
What's the most dangerous thing in the world? According to the Lord's word it is false teaching. May His church continue to pray that the Lord would keep His church in the purity of His Word, that knowing the truth we would know the freedom of the forgiveness of all sins and the sure hope of eternal life. Amen.
Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word;
Curb those who fain by craft and sword
Would wrest the Kingdom from Thy Son
And set at naught all He hath done.
Lord Jesus Christ, Thy power make known,
For Thou art Lord of lords alone;
Defend Thy Christendom that we
May evermore sing praise to Thee.
O Comforter of priceless worth.
Send peace and unity on earth.
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life. Amen.
Bryan Wolfmueller is the pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Aurora, CO