The Dangers of Variant Viruses… and Teaching
The news going into this new year has not been good.
I’ve been reading with great concern recent reports about new variant strains of the Covid-19 virus emerging in different parts of the world. Not only have at least four strains been detected, but these mutations are apparently also more infectious and faster-spreading than the “first generation” of the coronavirus.
Even more worrying, the new strains are spreading to Asia; some reports indicate that the mutations could have reached at least 45 countries, which could mean the return of yet more waves of infections.
While Singapore has so far been doing well to contain the spread of Covid-19, the latest news of mutations come just as we are racing to vaccinate people against the unseen enemy. Will the vaccines be just as effective against these variant strains of Covid-19? Will there be even more mutations, that will make us even more vulnerable, and render the vaccines even less effective?
As I pondered over these worrying questions, I was struck by a similarity to an equivalent danger in our understanding of God’s Word and His ways: “variant” teachings that seem to be biblical, but are not.
Ever since the time of the early church, followers of Christ have had to deal with “mutated” teachings that attempt to lead believers astray by distorting the teachings of God’s Word. Jesus himself warned us that false teachers would come to us, disguised like wolves wearing sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). Their teachings seek to twist the gospel of Christ by offering, as Paul put it, what listeners are “itching… to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3).
Protecting Ourselves Against Variant Teaching
I have learnt that the only way to know right teaching from wrong is to emulate what one group of people did when they heard the preaching of God’s Word. These were the Bereans, who having received the message, “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). While Paul’s teaching thrilled these people, it did not stop them from double-checking what he taught against what the Bible actually said.
So I have learnt to take in sermons in the same manner. After hearing them, I make sure to search the Bible to verify what is taught. I review the notes I take down and reflect on them later. And if the sermons are made available online, I might listen to them one more time, to make sure I understand the context of the Bible verses quoted, and their application.
While all this takes time, it helps me to absorb more deeply the essence of the messages, and to verify the speaker’s interpretation of the Bible and his application.
The other thing that struck me was this: the Bereans focused their time and effort on what they heard, and not on who said it.
The apostle Paul must have been a passionate and possibly even persuasive speaker. After all, he was well-known as a learned teacher. Yet this did not sway the Bereans: they were not so enamoured by Paul so as to believe that whatever he preached had to be true.
I must confess that at times, I can easily fall into thinking that a well-known pastor or Bible teacher’s messages should be always accurate and reliable. But this may not always be the case.
As with Covid-19, we may not know what new variant teachings will emerge in the coming days. But God’s Word itself can protect us and provide us with the necessary spiritual immunisation against false teachers and false teachings. May we allow God’s living Word to work in us and help us discern and to hold firmly to what is true (Hebrews 4:12). —C.H. Tan
Lord, help me to spend more time in Your Word,
and grant me a deeper understanding
of Your Word and ways,
that I might be able to discern
what is true and what is false teaching.
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