The Sleight of Men

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That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. Eph. 4:14

This verse begins with the word "that" or, "in order that" - which means it follows from a previous fact. This fact is the reality that Christ has given teaching gifts to the church (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers) for the edification of the church in order that we are no longer children, etc. The apostle does not want the saints at Ephesus to be like children in the sense of being gullible to teaching which sounds so right and true but which is in reality wrong and false. The way you arm yourself against this is by paying attention to the teaching gifts God has given to the church.

But the thing I want to highlight here is to guard us against the mistaken notion that the difference between truth and error will always be clear and distinct. We need to be ready to think hard and carefully about things. I fear that some Christians make themselves needlessly vulnerable to wicked and wrong ideas because they have never been willing to be put to too much work when it comes to thinking about religion and the teaching of the Bible. The reality is that sometimes error can seem and look like truth and even feel like truth.

The way the apostle emphasizes this here is with the phrases "the sleight of men" and "cunning craftiness." The former phrase literally means "dice-playing" and refers to the trickery of men who play those games of chance. One thinks of having "an ace up the sleeve," and indeed false prophets often do just that. They will not speak honestly, while claiming to be the most honest. They will profess to be guardians of reason when in reality they are making arguments that are at best question-begging and emotion-driven. But you have to be on the look-out, or you will miss the stacking of the deck. If you don't heed the words of the apostle, you will end up being people who "never seem to know their own mind or come to settled convictions. Instead, their opinions tend to be those of the last preacher they heard or the last book they read, and they fall prey to each new theological fad" (John Stott).

And this is not done in isolation from others, either. Read the whole passage (Eph. 4:11-16). All this is done in the context of the church: "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith (12-13). The culmination of the passage comes in verse 16, where the apostle writes, "from whom [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (ESV).

So, brothers and sisters, build each other up in the faith. Think carefully and be willing to think hard. Don't be afraid of questions, but pursue their answers in the context of the church. Listen to your pastors and read your Bible. Above all, walk with the Lord in obedience and faith. Don't fall prey to those who deceive but be grounded in the truth.

By: Jeremiah Bass