Just as Believers are in danger from false prophets, teachers, and preachers, they too are ‘in danger from false brothers’ (2 Corinthians 11:26). Among the hardships that Paul mentions in his ministry such as ‘being exposed to death again and again’ (v23), ‘beaten with rods’ (v25), and being ‘shipwrecked’ (v25), false brothers feature. In this present age, false brothers/brethren (Christians) rank as the top obstacle in our Christian walk. Many purport to be Christians, and no wonder it is considered one of the world’s largest ‘religion’. However, before God’s eyes, ‘many are called but few are chosen’ (Matthew 22:14). Since it is not our duty to judge who is true and who is false, God allows false Christians to be in the assembly of true Believers, just like He allows the weeds and the wheat to ‘grow together until the harvest’ (13:v30). This, therefore, calls for discernment on the Believer’s part to ensure that they guard (not judge), against such. Paul notices that ‘some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves’ (Galatians 2:4). Paul was able to discern the false brothers, and their motive which was to turn many away from the faith and enslave them in traditions of men. Paul was able to take action to guard against them and says, ‘We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain in you’ (v5). Thus, to ensure that the truth remains in us, we have to guard against such false brothers. Failure to do so causes one to be deceived, doubt their beliefs, label all Christians as hypocrites, and worse, reject the faith in totality.
Those who have not encountered false brothers are bound to sooner or later. They are everywhere, especially in the house of God. David will tell you that, ‘Destructive forces are at work in the city; threats and lies never leave its streets’ (Psalm 55:11). Often times, these destructive forces that cause us harm are not outsiders, but rather those who are in-house. Thus, David continues, ‘If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God’ (v12-14). Paul was also open about expressing his disappointments about those he considered as brothers in Christ, but proved to be false brothers. When he faced hardships, some false brothers revealed their true colours. So Paul writes to Timothy, a true brother, ‘Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica . . . Alexander the metal worker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message’ (2 Timothy 4:9,14-15). Paul wrote this to Timothy not as gossip or to defame anyone, but to ensure Timothy guarded himself against such false and conniving brothers who plot and work harm.
Nearing his death, Paul realized that there are many false brothers than he would have liked to imagine. He says, ‘At my first defence, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them’ (v16). Paul did not hold any grudge against such because he knew that such things are bound to happen, and it is only God’s place to judge. Paul’s focus on God also made him keep his head up, for he realized that, ‘the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth’ (v17). It is only by focusing on Christ (not Christians) that one can hold on to faith till the end. A focus on the purpose God has given one will cause them to keep their head in all situations. No wonder Jesus says, ‘I do not accept praise from men’ (John 5:41), because He knew how volatile, fickle, unreliable, unstable, and weak-willed humans are. Thus, a strong faith in God and a focus on His mission is a must for every Believer. These are what helps one overcome opposition, betrayal, and malice from false brothers. They also guard one against being ensnared by anger, gossip, revenge, hatred, bitterness, judgemental mentality, and other vices that may lead them to become just like the false brothers.
‘I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery, they deceive the minds of naïve people’ (Romans 16:17-18). False brothers are not Believers who may happen to offend or misunderstand us in some way, as is common with all humans. Rather, they are those who intentionally and maliciously cause harm and divisions. They have learnt ‘Christianese’ and so can easily fit in a Church set up. They put on masks, knowing full well they do not ascribe or believe in Biblical principles (that is why it is easy for them to cause harm without true remorse). They target the weak in faith in order to put obstacles in their way. The religious, who are close kin with these false brothers, are also caught in their trap because they judge ‘by mere appearances’ (John 7:24) and lack discernment. They are naïve and so are easily used to propagate rumours and false accusations, as they relish in passing judgement. It is only those with the Spirit that have discernment and can see beyond false brothers’ charismatic, religious, and pious façades. John writes, ‘They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth’ (1 John 2:19-20).
God who shepherds His flock (the Church) knows full well that among the herd, there are all sorts of people. He says, ‘I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?’ (Ezekiel 34:17-19). This goes to show that judgement which begins ‘from the house of God’ (1 Peter 4:17) makes all those who call themselves Christians to be hoarded up and judged in relation to how they treat other Believers and people in general. Those who purport to be Believers and yet look down on the weak in faith, the less fortunate, and those different from them instead of encouraging and helping them will be condemned heftily. That is why God says, ‘See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away’ (Ezekiel 34:20-21). Jesus also repeats this when He says, ‘All the nations will be gathered before him (Jesus), and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left’ (Matthew 25:32-33). Those on the right will be welcomed to ‘take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world’ (v34), while those on the left ‘will go away to eternal punishment’ (v46).
‘Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the king’ ~ 1 Peter 2:17
‘Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God’ ~ 3 John 1:11
‘. . . a man’s enemies are the members of his own household. But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me‘ ~ Micah 7:6-7