Never Talk To Strangers! By the 1980’s it increasingly became a refrain chanted into the ears of children. Parents and teachers often read a book by that title to the younger kids.
Nobody wants kids to grow up afraid of everyone around them, but they need to know that it’s not always easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Even a bad guy can smile, speak kindly, offer them candy, or ask them to help him find his lost puppy.
Paul spoke to the Christians at Corinth as his spiritual children. “In Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel,” is how he put it. Paul was the first one to bring the gospel to the Corinthians. He preached pure doctrine. He “brought them up right,” as folks say.
But strangers moved into the neighborhood. Sometimes strangers seem nicer than your parents, or smarter, or more understanding, or at least cooler.
That’s what happened in Corinth. The strangers who blew into town claimed to be preachers of the gospel too. Paul sarcastically called them “super-apostles.” That’s how they thought of themselves. They seemed nicer, smoother, even smarter with their talk of a fuller gospel which insisted on adding the works of the law to faith in Christ for salvation. But they were not the good guys. They were the bad guys.
Satan and his servants wear a mask, sport a disguise, impersonate the real apostles, masquerade as angels of light. In Paul’s day, Satan came robed in all the officious ceremony of Judaism. In Luther’s day he came carrying a crucifix and beads while announcing that Christ’s sacrifice for sin was not quite enough. In our day of “Don’t you judge me!” and legalized sodomy, he comes as the sweet angel of tolerance, proclaiming there is no sin and thus no need of a Savior either.
If you are a regular Bible reader, then you know that large portions – the prophets in the Old Testament – Paul, Peter, John, Jude in the New Testament – sound the alarm about false teachers, false prophets. Jesus did the same: “Watch out for false prophets,” He said. “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” The false prophet does not wear a sign on his chest that says, “Danger! False prophet!”
The impersonator starts secretly, slowly, incrementally, in stages. Maybe it begins by questioning the Genesis creation account, or by imposing a feminist culture on passages of the Bible which speak of God’s design for men and women, or by looking for loopholes in God’s moral will regarding divorce, living together without marriage, or the murder of the unborn.
In many cases, the sheep applaud as they see their shepherds easing up on the teachings of the Bible, trampling the green pastures and befouling the still waters of the Good Shepherd. They like the new back-slapping, glad-handing, whatever feels right for you approach. They are glad when their preachers stop talking about sin, confession, Christ crucified. Who in these churches, 30 or 40 years ago, could have imagined where it would all lead?
Our Good Shepherd comes to the defense of His sheep. “What kind of Shepherd would I be to you…what kind of love would it be for your souls,” says the Good Shepherd, “if I did not cry out in love, ‘Never talk to strangers?’ ” A mother’s warning to her child not to talk to strangers may one day save that child’s very life. Our Savior’s warning about false prophets, impersonators, may one day save our very souls. That’s called love, the kind of love carved with nails and written in blood, the kind of love you won’t get from a stranger.