"As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming." (Ephesians 4:14)One of the hallmarks of maturity is stability. The full-grown man and woman of Christ is one who is not quickly shaken, not given to every impulse or new idea, one who maintains a straight path in their walk with the Lord. Children follow their whims are are easily lead astray from what they ought to do, but adults live by principal, reason, and accumulated wisdom; ignoring the fanciful thoughts and suggestions of others that they might live a life that is true, upright, and worthy of their calling in Christ.
The picture Paul paints for us is of a ship drifting upon the ocean, tossed by the waves and blown about by the wind; not given to any real direction or steerage by the pilot, but being left to the capriciousness of the wind and waves. Such a person may feel safe in their boat, but their final destination is no longer up to them as they are driven by forces external to themselves, driven to destinations unknown and undesirable. This is no way to live a Christian life.
In describing the forces that seek to drive us from our stated destination, Paul lists three prime actors. First is the "every wind of doctrine." Paul speaks of the Athenians saying, "Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new." (Acts 17:21) Some, not content with what they have or know, are always looking for something new; some new revelation, some new and exciting teaching, some new ministry that is promising new freedom in Christ. Such people are like those who chase the wind; always searching and never finding. The problem with chasing the wind is that we never arrive at a firm foundation upon which to build our lives. Furthermore, we never establish the sure faith of God in our hearts and minds that would allow us to judge and discern each new wind of doctrine as to whether it be from God or from men. Jesus told us that the best defense against the winds of this world is a sure foundation. "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock." (Matthew 7:24-25) We should give our priority to that which is true rather than that which is new.
The second actor seeing to derail us from our consistency in Christ is the "trickery of men." This Greek word had at its root the word for dice and can imply gambling or trickery. It is like the common shell game where a ball is hidden under one of three cups. Then the cups are moved around and the passer by is asked to pick which cup the ball is under. However, the gamed is rigged and the guesser always looses. Peter writes of such men, "For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved." (2 Peter 2:18-19) The secret to any good trick is misdirection. Having the audience look in one direction while the truth of the trick is performed in another direction. Peter writes of those who promise people freedom, yet if you looked closely at their own life you would see that they themselves are also"salves of corruption." A mature man or woman looks not only to the doctrine someone brings but to the fruit that doctrine has born in their lives, for it is by their fruit that we will know them.
Third is the "deceitful scheming" of men. Darby translates this as, "in unprincipled cunning with a view to systematized error." (Ephesians 4:14 Darby) There are two ideas that Paul brings forth here. First is the idea that these are "cunning" men. This Greek word can be translated as "adroitness" and means to be cleaver and skillful, especially with one's hands and words. Here Paul is not speaking of the garden variety heretic or some simple charlatan. These are men who appear wise, confident, and certain of their beliefs. They are skilled orators and command attention when they speak. They have a natural ability to convince and win over their opponents with their words. The appear polish, professional, and learned. They draw people through their personal magnetism and the show they perform as they spew their own brand of heresy. Many are they who are drawn in by such a show.
The second idea is that of a "systematized error" or "deceitful scheming". The Greek word translated here as "systematized" and "scheming" is the same word from which we get our word for "method" and the Greek word for "error" and "deceiving" means to be lead astray. These teachers have built up a complete theology, but not one that leads to Christ but one that leads to destruction. They have their methods, they have their systematic theology, but they do not have life. This is why sound doctrine is so important. Life is a long journey and requires accurate navigation to make it safely home. Even the smallest of deviations can, over a long period of time, lead us to where we do not want to go. The problem with systematized error is that it is made up of many small deviations from the truth; none of which in their own right appear to be too erroneous or too harmful in the immediate, but when taken together and lived over a life time they will bring us to a place of loss. One small error may not seem too bad, but its compounding effect on our life can be disastrous. This is why we must be sure of our foundation and sure of what we build upon that foundation. Paul writes, "Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work." (1 Corinthians 3:12-13) We must be careful not to build our lives upon the latest method or teaching of men, but upon what we know to bee true; building with gold and silver not wood, hay, and stubble.