“Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:16 ESV)
These same prophets are described earlier in Jeremiah as offering up “false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds” (14:14). This assures a future in which people will have nothing solid on which to stand (16:19); nothing of substance on which to build their faith.
The chief motivation of these false prophets must be the desire to give the people what they want. They desire the acclaim of the crowds, and the illusion of success that this brings. This may bring to the prophets the benefits of personal peace, power and prosperity. But the Bible so clearly warns against such behavior, both in the Old Testament (so often in Jeremiah) and in the New Testament (e.g., “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,” (2Timothy 4:3 ESV).
Is it true that every preacher with a big crowd is a false prophet? No, thank the Lord, we cannot and will not make that claim. But should we be careful to examine why there is such public appeal – is it because he is giving people a taste of the crystal-clear water of the Word of God? Perhaps. But both Scripture and experience teach us that the crowds prefer the syrupy-sweet as opposed to the crystal-clear.
So what are we to do? In the general context of Jeremiah, there is an interesting phrase that gives the singular, suffering prophet some advice: “if you extract the precious from the worthless” (Jer 15:19). Preach the truth. Agree that there are shards of truth contained in the drivel of popular preaching. But let the truth shine in its proper context. Remove the sugar-coating.
Preach not to the response of crowds, but rather to the repentance of souls.