Jesus told us to beware of false prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
I have a reasonable knowledge of the people who attend my Church and even though I cannot see their hearts, I have confidence that there is not a wolf among us. Even so, Jesus told his disciples to “Beware” of wolves and gave them guidelines to recognize them (Matthew 7:15-20).
The description of false prophets being wolves in sheep’s clothing should help us to discern that false prophets often look and sound just like sheep. Often when evangelical Christians have thought of the description of false prophets, we have pictured the tele-evangelists who have fleeced millions of dollars out of people to buy their new personal jet. They are most definitely wolves, and they do use Christian rhetoric and biblical text as their tools. For most believers, the mega star wolves are easy to detect, but the fact that Jesus has to inform us of how to recognize them leads us to believe that they can be very subtle and not so easy to detect. Jesus says that we are to know them by their fruit. This is not restricted to what they say, but also how they live, their allegiance to Christ, their attitude of repentance, and their pursuit of holiness. Sheep should have fruit that reflects a regenerate nature. If a wolf can be that subtle, how can a church be on alert without raising suspicion and pointing fingers at every single action or statement that does not match up with the regenerate nature of a sheep? If we cannot take every sheep at face value, how do we live together without being everyone’s personal policeman? How do we acknowledge that sometimes even sheep sin, even grievously, in their pursuit of holiness?
The beautiful thing about God’s Word is that it is always authoritative in both truth for orthodoxy and orthopraxy. That is, we have Scripture for both the truth we uphold and the way we uphold it. This includes the way we live out being alert for wolves. Let’s think about some factors to consider.
1. While in Matthew 7:15 Jesus tells us to be alert for wolves, we should remember that Jesus has already told us not to be defined by a condemning spirit (Matthew 7:1). The grace of God we have received generally helps us to realize that we are not to walk around with a judgmental attitude. If we see a wolf like characteristic in someone, we will be careful to watch and listen more before we pounce.
2. Paul’s genuine love for the church at Corinth caused him to have a “divine jealousy” for them. He did not warn them of the “super apostles” from a desire to be right in exposing their error. His motivation was the love of the church. If we have this type of love for the church, we will act out of protection of something we hold dear rather than exposing something we simply know to be wrong. (2 Corinthians 11).
3. In 2 Timothy 2, Paul warns Timothy of some false teaching among them in Ephesus. In the instruction he tells Timothy not to be quarrelsome, but to make sure he can teach truth and correct with gentleness. Paul also says that God may give grace to help them see the error of their ways and lead them to repentance. If this actually happens, we are obviously not dealing with a wolf. (2 Tim 2:24-26).
4. In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus tells his disciples how the church is to deal with sin and error by approaching a brother or sister one to one with a view to win them. We should see this as the goal of our approach. If someone might be won personally or even if it takes two or three witnesses, the goal of winning a brother or sister defuses the pride of correcting or judging for our own personal motives.
5. Love! In the beautiful love passage of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul tells us that we can have all the oratory gifts and even speak in the language of the angels but if we do not have love we are just a clanging gong. This means that even if we do detect a true wolf, we cannot expect that person to hear us if we just sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Without love, our words of correction will be useless.
6. Most of all, we should acknowledge that Jesus gives this command to his disciples. Throughout the New Testament, we see that the church as a body, particularly in its local context, is responsible for upholding doctrine and protecting purity under the headship of Christ. It is only in the local church context where correction and discipline can happen in a way that there is real concern for the soul and an ability to reinstate where repentance is a reality. The church has something that non-church ministries and blogging can never accomplish no matter how helpful and good they are. The local church is able to carry out good judgment in the active truth and love of inclusion and exclusion in the protection of purity.
Wolves are real, and Jesus says that they are seriously dangerous. We do have to beware and realize that there is a great history of churches being ravaged by wolves. From Roman Catholicism to Liberalism to prosperity doctrines, practices and propagation of heretical ideas have first formed in the minds and mouths of individuals in churches who looked and sounded just like us. We do have to beware. We do have to be on alert. In doing so, we apply a biblical balance of grace and the right motivation to please Christ and love his bride.