Story of the New Testament - Lesson 12

By Curt Niccum

The Best Defense

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. The student can describe in general terms how false teaching can appear in a church.
  2. The student can articulate at least one important reason for the teaching roles in the church.


  1. Each student will need to have a New Testament.
  2. A chalkboard or overhead projector may be desired.
  3. The teacher may want an elder or two to attend this class (see under Applications).


Unfortunately, the story of the New Testament includes stories of human error. Despite the best intentions, some churches succumbed to the influence of false teachers. Church history is filled with numerous additional examples of this problem. Part of the story of the New Testament, then, includes instructions on how to identify and combat error. In general, the New Testament suggests that the best defense is a good offense. False teaching is combated best by having strong leadership and well grounded members.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Introduction: (5-7 minutes)

  1. Organizational matters (taking roll, etc.)
  2. Prayer and/or song: Songs like "How Shall the Young," "Thy Word is a Lamp unto My Feet," or "Break Thou the Bread of Life" would be appropriate to the theme. The prayer should include requests for us to grow towards the full stature of Christ so that we will not be misled by false teaching.

Learning Experiences: (about 25 minutes)

  1. Have the class discuss how a false teacher is identified. All of the answers (which the teacher may wish to tally on a chalkboard or overhead) can probably be placed into two categories: 1) the content of the teaching does not match that of the Bible (i.e., the teacher clearly contradicts the Bible), and 2) the actions of the teacher are not consistent with the biblical teachings (i.e., the teacher is immoral).
  2. Q: Which of these two is easiest to identify? A: (The class will probably be evenly divided on this. You might allow the discussion to get lively and to go on for a while.) Both groups could be right, but it is likely that immorality will reveal the false teacher first. (You do not necessarily have to give the answer immediately. Instead, you could move on to the scriptures below and then ask the class what the best answer is.)
    1. Have the class read 2 Timothy 3:1-9 and 4:3-4. Here we see that their actions will identify them (3:9) whereas their false teaching is not so easily identified because the teachers "talk the talk" (3:5) and offer lessons that are attractive to the listeners (4:3).
    2. The class was assigned Jude to read during the previous week. Q: How does Jude support this conclusion? A: As for the false teaching, they "secretly crept in" (verse 4). On the other hand, their immorality is apparent to all (verses 8-19).
    3. Think about it. No one ever applies for a ministry position or seeks to be a church leader by advertising his error. No one would enter "false teacher" for a job description on a resumé. All false teachers initially look and sound good. In addition, all false teaching in Christianity is based in some sense on the biblical text. Since all Christians grant some authority to the Bible as God's revelation, false teachers must find ways to twist what the Bible says. This is how it can be said so often that false teachers have "secretly" crept in. They will look and sound like strong Christians. Only slowly will they introduce perverse teachings, and even then the teachings will look biblical and sound attractive.
  3. So what is the church to do about false teachers?
    1. The students were assigned to make a list of actions that Jude wants the church to take against false teachers. Have the class now discuss them.
      1. Because of how the assignment was worded, the students will try to identify several things in Jude as actions to be taken against the false teachers. The most likely answer will be verse 3, "contend for the faith." In fact, though, Jude does not give any instructions for action against the false teachers. He describes them, but basically ignores them. His concern is for the church. Should the students identify verse 3 as an action against the false teachers, you might want to pursue the following: Q: Ask the students what Jude means by "contend for the faith." Where does Jude explain what he means? A: His definition of contending for the faith is found in verses 20-25. To contend for the faith is to ground oneself in one's faith and to actively seek to retrieve those who have fallen away. Most of the rest of the letter describes how to identify false teachers and states that God will take care of them at the Judgment.
      2. This same approach appears throughout the New Testament. In almost every case, the false teachers are ignored and the strengthening of the church is most important. (The teacher, because of time constraints, can quickly summarize all the examples below or choose a couple to look at more in depth.)
        1. In 2 Corinthians, Paul dealing with the presence of false apostles in the church, merely describes them, makes a defense for his own apostleship, and ends up charging the Corinthians to examine whether they are in the faith (chapters 10-13, see especially 13:5).
        2. In Galatians Paul writes to a church clearly misled by false teachers. Still, his admonition is for the church to accurately understand the gospel of Christ and to be involved in retrieving those who have fallen away (see especially 6:1). The fate of the false teachers he leaves in God's hands (1:8-9; 5:10; and 6:7-8)
        3. In 2 Timothy Paul admonishes Timothy to avoid being like the false teachers Hymenaeus and Philetus. Instead, he is to be grounded in the Word (4:14-18). If any action is taken, it is to be gentle instruction (4:23-26).
        4. Titus is told to give a couple of warnings to anyone who chooses to be divisive. If that does not work, he is to avoid that person (Titus 3:9).
        5. In 2 Peter, Peter, much like Jude, spends a good deal of time describing false teachers, but writes to strengthen the faith of the true Christians and leaves action against the false teachers to God on Judgment Day.
        6. John writes to Gaius about problems with a false teacher. Although John hopes to come and confront the problem, his command to Gaius is to imitate the good and not the evil (3 John 11).
        7. In Revelation those in Thyatira who do not follow the false prophetess "Jezebel" are told to "hold on to what you have" (3:25)
    2. Does this mean that false teachers are to just be ignored? The answer is yes and no.
      1. For most Christians that answer is yes. The best defense is a good offense. False teaching can find no place where the truth is firmly entrenched. A church that is reading and living the Word of God will have no fear. The church, in a sense, is to be proactive to false teaching, not reactive. Read 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5.
      2. Still, there is a place for rebuking false teaching. It is primarily the job of the eldership, those who are chosen by God to defend the flock. Read Titus 1:5-11. (Even then, the rebuking would likely be done with kindness and concern for the lost soul.)
  4. The church should focus on creating a good offense. God has equipped the church with leaders for that very purpose. Read Ephesians 4:11-16. Christ has placed teaching ministries in the church in order for the church to mature to the full stature of Christ and to be involved in good works. Doing so will create a (super)natural defense against false teaching. The church should seek every opportunity to take advantage of the learning and wisdom of these leaders. The teaching roles of the church are designed by God to get the entire community to heaven. Although concern about false teaching is good, our main focus should be on the truth. It is feasible that so much time could be spent on fighting false teaching that not enough time would be given toward learning sound doctrine.

Applications: (10-15 minutes)

  1. If a false teacher is more easily identified through immorality, it follows then that our own maturity can also be measured by our morals and ethics. Teaching and action are inextricably combined.
    1. Jesus himself stated that a person is known by the fruits one produces.
    2. Every use of the phrase "sound doctrine" in the New Testament concerns moral and ethical behavior (1 Timothy 1:9-11; 6:3-10; 2 Timothy 1:8-14; 4:2-5; Titus 1:5-11; and 2:1-10).
  2. Therefore, the goal of Christian education must be much more than teaching the facts of the Bible. (Those are extremely important, for when you find yourself in trouble, you will be more likely to look at God's Word for answers because you will know that others have struggled with similar situations and were victorious.) We must focus not just on "book smarts" but "(golden)street smarts." We must be shaped by the message of Christ and live as heavenly citizens rather than earthly ones. It must be a part of who we are. Christian education equips us for works of service (Ephesians 4:12, see also 2:10). We meet together to hold each other accountable, to spur one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25).
  3. Have the students reflect on their own morality. Does it reflect maturity in Christ? If not, what are they going to do about it? They need to be firmly grounded in their faith. This is something that they cannot do alone. Some of this will take time. Education is a process and the church will help in that. Other problems might need to be addressed immediately. The answers to both short term and long term growth are the same.
    1. Pray.
    2. Study God's Word.
    3. Look toward the leaders, those in the teaching ministries of the church, for help and guidance.
  4. At this point the teacher should offer to help anyone that is in need of immediate assistance. (If the teacher feels uncomfortable with this, then perhaps one or more elders can attend the class and they can offer themselves as leaders concerned for the spiritual growth of each member in the class.) Specific means should be given that would allow the class members to have private and personal access either to the teacher or the elders (including immediately after the class, since one is more likely to act when convicted rather than after a period of time). Offer phone numbers, private studies, personal prayer sessions, or any other avenues of providing intense spiritual help and guidance to any who are struggling.

Assignment: (about 1 minute)

Have the students read Revelation 21:1-22:5. Have them list parallels they find with the description of creation and the Garden of Eden found in Genesis 1-3.

Evaluation: (next class meeting)

Ask the students to spend at least 30 minutes each day in prayer and Bible study, preferably with at least one other Christian, as an experiment to see how they might grow spiritually. (Remember, Christians are called to a corporate existence. Many of the Christian practices were intended to be practiced communally rather than individually - this includes the reading of scripture. You may even want to offer to have a session each day at your house, the local school, or the church building.)

Further Resources:

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