Snakes around the Water

Editor's note: We mentioned in May that Wayne has decided to bring His "Following God" column to an end after 15 faithful years. We are pleased to announce that we should have a new columnist to introduce to you beginning with the August issue. Stay tuned!

Originally published in Pulpit Helps, September 2008.

Years ago I was asked to speak at a youth retreat held in late spring at a campground in Mississippi. While I was there the leaders of the retreat told me that they wanted me to help them get rid of the "cottonmouth water moccasins" that infested the lake that would be used by children and youth coming for summer camp. Three of us got into a canoe after dark one night and set out to wage war against the cottonmouths.

I am six feet and seven inches tall and weigh a good 270 pounds. They put me into the middle of the canoe and the other two men, neither of whom was small, took the front and the rear of the canoe respectively. We were a comical sight. I had a twenty gauge double barrel shotgun and the man who sat behind me had a pistol (which I wished he had told me he had) and the man in the front just had a paddle and prayer.

We sat very still about ten feet from the bank in the shallow water. After about fifteen minutes we turned on a spotlight and what we saw put chills up my spine. You see, the cottonmouth is not very long, but is about the size of a tea glass in the middle. When its mouth is open, it is cotton white and you can't mistake its vengeful and poisonous attitude. We saw in the light of the spotlight cottonmouths everywhere we looked. They were in the bushes; swimming around the edge of the lake; and lying on the shore near the water. I used to fish at night from the bank on these lakes and what I saw changed my mind forever.

When they saw us they immediately came toward us, as they are not timid creatures. We killed 14 of these poisonous snakes in about 45 minutes. I remember one of these snakes swimming towards us and I couldn't see the end of the barrel of the shotgun to get a shot. Both men were saying "Shoot! Shoot!" and finally the man behind me fired his pistol and killed the snake just before it entered our canoe. My ears are still ringing from the unexpected noise.

I want to use this as an illustration. You see, false teachers, like these snakes, prey on believers who will not go into the deep waters of God's Word. They lurk around so-called Christians who do not live in God's Word and who play games with Christianity. They could be parents who think that soccer is more important to their child than teaching them God's Word. They might be husbands who would rather hunt or fish than give God's Word the time of day, etc. Jude, in his little epistle warns believers of these dangerous false teachers who were out to steal the minds of those who were not willing to go deeper into God's Word.

Their character, or should I say the lack of it, that Jude describes tells us the whole story of who these false teachers really are, even though they parade as teachers of Truth. Someone told me years ago that we should read a person's life before we read his book. This would apply certainly to these false teachers. In Jude 4-11, he describes them as ungodly persons; who turned the grace of God into licentiousness; who refused Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior; who based their false doctrine on dreams and visions instead of the Word of God; who defiled their flesh in sinful living; who rejected any authority in their lives; who blatantly reviled even angelic majesties; who did not understand the seriousness of what they were doing; and who lived as animals with no limits to their immoral sinful behavior. He compared them to Cain, who thought and cared only for himself; to Balaam who did what he did for profit; and to Korah who knew no authority but his own.

Jude's imagery, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit, pictures their total ineptness in verses 12 and 13. Let's look at how void they are of anything that would have any substance to it. He says in verse 12 that "these are the men who are hidden reefs" ["spots," KJV; "blemishes," NIV] in the church's love feasts. The word is spils, in the Greek. It refers to a rock or sandbank hidden beneath the surface of the water which can cause sea vessels to be shipwrecked. When it is used figuratively, as it is here, it refers to these men's false message that can cause one's faith in our Lord Jesus Christ to end up shipwrecked. Paul seemed to have this in mind when he said to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:19: "keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith."

Obviously, these hidden reefs are not seen at first glance. "These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves" (Jude 12). The term "love feasts" comes from the root word for love, agpe. These love feasts seem to refer to the evening meal that the believers in the early church would eat before they actually celebrated the Lord's Supper. These immoral and corrupt false teachers had no fear when they showed up for these sacred celebrations and involved themselves with the people. They stained the whole time together for the believers and had no fear of anyone in what they did. These false teachers only fed themselves at the expense of others.

We must be so careful of these false teachers and understand that they have nothing of any substance in their messages. How susceptible are you?

Wayne Barber is senior pastor of Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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