Today is an ignominious day in history.
It was on this date in 1978 that 909 people died during a murder-suicide in a remote part of the South American nation of Guyana. The commune consisting of followers of Jim Jones, the founder of the Peoples Temple persuaded many “to willingly ingest a poison-laced punch while others were forced to do so at gunpoint.”
Jones, the charismatic religious leader, established the sect in Indianapolis during the 1950s. In 1965 he moved the group to Northern California. Following accusations of financial fraud in his church, Jones invited his congregation to move to Guyana to a tiny tract of land that would become known as Jonestown.
Jones pledged to build a socialist utopia. However, his promises fell far short. As some of his followers grew disgruntled, and others defected, the US government began to investigate the rouge religious leader. It was then that Jones, described as paranoid and declining both physically and mentally, commanded his followers to commit what he called a “revolutionary act.”
The next day Guyanese officials discovered hundreds of dead bodies, many in each other’s arms. A third of those who perished were children.
it is said that the negative connection of “drinking the kool-aid” originated from this ignoble event.
The sad, sordid story reminds us of the Bible’s warning against false teachers. The apostle Peter expressed it with this sobering admonition.
“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber” (2 Pet. 2:1-3).
While not as extreme as Jim Jones, there have been many false teachers through the years who have deceived people with doctrines that are spiritually detrimental and eternally disastrous.
Their common denominator is “destructive words.” One version translates this “smooth talk.” Another renders it “feigned words.” Barclay calls it “forged arguments.” Interestingly, the Greek word is plastois, which means “fabricated.” From it we derived the English word “plastic.”
Think about it. Plastic words fabricated by smooth-talking false teachers who forge arguments based on a feigned doctrine to delude and deceive their disciples.
For this reason, we are encouraged to be like those first Christians to “search the Scriptures” to see if the things being taught are true (Ax. 17:11). To diligently study the Bible for ourselves to be approved of God (2 Tim. 2:15). And to even test those claiming to speak for God, when in reality they may be false prophets (1 Jn. 4:1-3).
Another quality of these false teachers is greed. Peter warns that their covetousness will cause them to “exploit you.”
We ought to be suspicious of religious leaders who live in mansions, some owning several homes, drive luxury automobiles, fly in private jets, and preach a health and wealth gospel. They promise if you will send them money, you will be rewarded. Sadly many are drinking that kool-aid to their own destruction.
Warren Wiersbe said it well when he wrote, “Religion can be a tremendous tool for exploiting weak people, and these false teachers use religion just to get what they can. They are not ministers; they are merchandisers.”
As gospel preachers, may we follow Paul’s admonition: “We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2).
As disciples of Christ, this exhortation of Scripture is always appropriate: “Be not deceived.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman