The Lord Jesus gives us a general warning against false teachers in the church. If we would keep clear of the 'broad way' (v. 13) we must beware of false prophets. They will arise. They began in the days of the apostles. Even then the seeds of error were sown. They have appeared continually since. We must be prepared for them and be on our guard.
This is a warning that is much needed. There thousands who seem to believe anything in religion if they hear it from an ordained minister [or a 'believer' gone astray]. They forget that ministers may err as others. They are not infallible. Their teaching must be weighed in the balance of Holy Scripture. They are to be followed and believed as long as their doctrine agrees with the Bible, and not a minute longer. We are to try them by their fruits (v. 20). Sound doctrine and holy living are the marks of true prophets. Let us remember this. Our minister's mistakes will not excuse our own.
What is the best safeguard against false teaching? Beyond all doubt the regular study of God's Word with prayer for the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The Bible was given to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105). The man who reads it aright will never be allowed greatly to err. It is our personal neglect of the Bible which makes so many a prey to the first false teacher whom they hear. They would have us believe that they are not learned and do not pretend to have decided opinions. The plain truth is that they are lazy and idle about reading the Bible and do not like the trouble of thinking for themselves. Nothing supplies false prophets with followers so much as spiritual sloth under a cloak of humility.
The world, the flesh and the devil are not the only dangers the Christian faces. There remains another yet, and that is the false prophet, the wolf in sheep's clothing. happy is he who prays over his Bible and knows the difference between truth and error in religion. There is a difference, and we are meant to know it and use our knowledge.
Are you an easy prey for error?
~J. C. Ryle~