Sound vs. Noise
“Hey Lisa, will you show us some tap dance?”
I had just arrived home from dance class and was greeted by my sister and a friend. Being the younger sister means that you become a show monkey every now and then. I obliged and slipped on my tap shoes to show off some new tap combination I learned that evening. After I finished, my sister decided to join in on the fun and give it a go.
With more confidence than I’ve ever seen, she took off wildly across my parent’s hardwood floor—her feet and arms flailing and making quite the ruckus. I’m assuming she was attempting “flaps,” but we will never know.
Her tapping: completely unrecognizable. Her stage presence: convincing. She even recently told me regarding another artistic endeavor, “what I lack in talent I make up for in performance quality.” She’s not wrong.
After both performances were concluded we looked at our audience for the verdict. Her friend was persuaded and simply offered a shrug. “Both sound good to me!”
Rude. I made clear, percussive tap sounds, while my sister made noise paired with spastic arm motions!
What her friend lacked was a personal knowledge of tap dance. Even a basic familiarity of tap would allow an audience member to distinguish between genuine tap steps and the clamor made by someone merely imitating them. Just because both of our performances involved noise, did not mean that they were both sound.
The way you distinguish between genuine tap dancing and imitation is the same way you distinguish between sound doctrine and false doctrine in the teaching of the Word: personal knowledge of it. The simplest way to gain that is to read it consistently. No commentaries, study Bibles, knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, or seminary courses are required to understand the Word of God. While these can be great tools, we have everything we need in the Holy Spirit. We, as believers, never read the Word alone. We have the ultimate Teacher within us. For everything we read, we are supernaturally helped by the Spirit to understand it (Luke 24:45), remember it (John 14:26), and share it (Acts 4:31). But, there will be nothing to understand, remember, or share if you have not opened it. The Spirit does not give us discernment of the Scriptures out of thin air. Without our own practice of feasting on the Word, we will not be able to practice the skills needed to discern what we are hearing when others teach it or talk about it. If I have never read any of C. S. Lewis’s work, how will I know if someone quotes him accurately or inaccurately?
We are instructed to test all teaching that we hear. Every sermon, podcast, article, video, commentary should be scrutinized by the Spirit and compared to the Word of God in its entirety. John instructs us:
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” - 1 John 4:1
Not only do they exist, but they are also deceptive:
“And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.” - Matthew 24:11
Not only are they deceptive, but they are also welcomed.
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” - 2 Timothy 4:3
If your frequency of Bible reading is few and far between, then the ability to test what you’ve heard will prove a challenge. This will be especially difficult if what is being taught wrongly is widely received by many.
There are two groups that Paul mentions in the New Testament who were sitting under consistent teaching, but not growing in the faith. One group he mentions in 2 Timothy—an appropriately themed letter about faithfully teaching sound doctrine. Paul mentions a group of women that were often being deceived by godless men. He calls these women “weak,” and describes them as “always learning and never able to arrive at truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7)
Always learning, but never arriving. Yikes.
Another group is the unbelieving Jews, who he debated regularly. Paul addresses believing Jews in Acts 13, but is speaking about unbelieving Jews who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion:
“They did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath” - Acts 13:27, emphasis mine
Both of these groups were learning regularly, but not able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. The women weren’t able to discern when they were being deceived. The Jews were not able to discern when God was fulfilling prophecy in their midst. In short, when we don’t understand the Scriptures, we will miss out on the things that God is doing, but we will fall for the things that the enemy is doing. However, Christ tells us the secret to recognizing them:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” - Matthew 7:15-16
How do we know what good and bad fruit look like? The Word of God. We have examples of both, teaching on both (Colossians 3), and even lists of both (Galatians 5:19-23). When we take in God’s word daily, we become equipped to practice discerning between the two. The author of Hebrews says that this practice produces mature Christians:
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” - Hebrews 5:14
I deeply want this to be true of me, don’t you? Let’s end with this encouragement from John. The beginning of 1 John 4 gives us the challenge of testing the spirits, but the end of that paragraph gives us this assurance:
“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” - 1 John 4:4-6