Far-Away False Christians

By David Servant

Paul’s description of his many hardships in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 includes a list of eight “dangers” that he faced because of his “frequent journeys”:

I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren (2 Cor. 11:26).

It is easy to see how the first seven—swelling rivers, ambushing robbers, stormy seas, foreign cities, remote wildernesses, and hostile Jews and Gentiles—could be dangers related to Paul’s frequent travels. The eighth one he lists, however—”false brethren”—is not so obvious regarding how it is related to his frequent journeys.

It leads me to think that during his journeys, Paul encountered strangers who professed to be Christians—in order to gain his trust and take advantage of him in some way. If that was the case, it teaches us a very valuable lesson: When you live among people and interact with them every day, their true character is much more difficult to hide than when you encounter a stranger who professes to be a Christian and whose everyday behavior is hidden from you.

There are hordes of such people on Facebook. I receive friend requests from them all the time. They are professional criminals who prey on gullible Christians. They have false Facebook identities. They post photos of their non-existent ministries, orphanages and churches in far-away countries. They post Bible verses. Their entire goal is to enrich themselves at the expense of good-hearted people.

Having worked in international Christian ministry for more than four decades and having traveled in at least 80 nations, I would venture to guess that, every year, tens of millions, and perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars, is acquired every year by false Christians who prey on real Christians.

Some of those false Christians send out monthly newsletters. If you ask them for receipts for expenses for which you sent them money, they can provide them for you, because they can easily purchase any kind of receipt they need for anything. (In the developing world, you can walk into any hospital and for less than a dollar, obtain a receipt for any surgery or medical procedure.)

They can show you the papers that “prove” that their ministry is registered and approved by the federal government of their nation. They can produce photos of “the poor people whom you are helping.” They can produce hand-written testimonials of the many people who are being blessed by your books they’ve “printed and distributed” for you or from the people who have been listening to the radio broadcasts they are allegedly facilitating of your recorded sermons. I could write a small book on the rip-offs I’ve experienced or heard of over the years.

The fact is, unless you are interacting with people every day, you have no idea about their true character or what they are actually doing every day. Even if you visit them on a “short-term mission trip,” you can easily be set up. I have visited “orphanages” in both Pakistan and Kenya that didn’t exist the day before I visited them. One was run by a bona-fide pastor with a church and congregation (who died not long after, by the way).

The moral? Don’t send money to people whom you don’t know. If you want to help the overseas poor, do it through a reputable Western missionary who hopefully will not be tempted to steal the relatively-small amount you send, and who is living “on the ground” among the poor whom you want to help. Even then, every experienced missionary can tell you tales of being taken advantage of by “false brethren.” I know of major Christian ministries that have worked in developing countries for years that eventually discovered that they had been ripped off of millions of dollars by people whom they trusted who turned out to be “false brethren.”

But will not the Holy Spirit warn us of false brethren? Yes, but not usually through an audible voice, but by the inward witness, which may explain why so many of us have been taken advantage of by selfish and designing people. And the fact remains that Paul, a man full of the Holy Spirit, labeled “false brethren” as a “danger.” If Paul had a perfect record of never missing the Spirit’s subtle warnings, it would seem “false brethren” would not have presented any danger to him.

In any case, God doesn’t just want us to use our hearts, but also our heads. Remember, “The Lord thy God hath given thee a brain”! If you can’t say “Amen!” say “Oh me!”