“Watch out for false prophets who come to you in sheeps’ clothing but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.
16 By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?
17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
20 Thus by their fruit you will recognise them.”
Be careful who you follow!
As a child I remember with fondness a Disney cartoon devoted to the inventive but unsuccessful attempts of a wolf to catch and eat some sheep guarded by a sheep dog named Ralph. The wolf would do everything conceivable to try and steal the sheep from the sheep dog. Often there would be a scene where a sheep would be moving suspiciously towards another sheep and those watching would realize it was actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing. At the last minute the sheep dog would realize, intervene and send the wolf flying through the air away from the flock. This cartoon highlighted the significance of the old saying, “Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing”.
In Matthew 7 Jesus is outlining the pathway to God – entry through Christ himself, walking the long, challenging road of discipleship. He also warns that there are false prophets – wolves in sheep’s clothing – people who profess to know and teach the truth that leads to life but really they are teaching lies that lead to destruction.
How do we know the difference? Jesus tells us that it’s actually not that difficult. Look at their lives. False prophets are more interested in themselves than others. False prophets are greedy, self-indulgent, self-obsessed and power hungry. Teachers of truth, followers of Christ are becoming like Jesus.
Tim Costello once described Jesus as a carpenter from Nazareth who died without any money, no estate and only the clothes on his back. Teachers of the truth are committed to the gospel of peace – loving God and loving others. Leaders who follow Christ have lives that are marked by humility, selflessness, commitment to Jesus, and commitment to serve others. These are the unmistakable qualities of the spiritual gift of leadership.
False teachers are committed to controversies, exclusive behaviors, power structures, personal wealth accumulation, withholding permission and self-centered ministry models. Beware of them, don’t follow them and don’t give them a cent.
Brad Buchanan works in the magazine publishing industry, and is a former church pastor.