Lesson 112—May 1, 2016
Looks Can be Deceiving, Dangerous and Destructive
Scripture: Matthew 7:16-20
Lesson Goal: To better understand how to recognize the false prophet/teacher as a ravenous wolf.
Introduction: Many years ago, I came across this simplified version of a quotation from an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Who you are thunders so loudly I can’t hear what you say.” I have remembered this quote many times through the years. And it is a truth worthy of remembrance.
What does the above quote mean to you? Please write your own personal interpretation.
In verse 15, Jesus warned His followers concerning false prophets. In verses 16-20, He gives words of instruction to help them recognize and identify these false prophets.
We must be alert and on guard against false prophets and teachers. They are masters of disguise on a mission of deception and destruction. They appear as sheep, but in reality are ferocious wolves. We are instructed by Jesus to be on constant watch and alert for these false prophets and teachers.
As shepherds, pastors have been given a special responsibility and trust to be alert and mindful of those who would infiltrate the flock with dangerous ideas and deceptive motives. The pastors at Mars Hill Baptist Church are constantly alert for those who would harm the flock. Each of our pastors serves as a shepherd of this flock and understands his sacred responsibility to protect the flock from the ravenous wolves that would hurt, harm and destroy. None are more dangerous than the deceptive and cunning wolf in sheep’s clothing.
I have often said and taught that “time is the great prover.” Time has a way of making truth known. The evidences of the genuine are presented by the test of time; thus, I have noticed through the years that the ravenous wolves do not want to face the test of time. These individuals quickly seek to impress, most often with seemingly high levels of knowledge and seemingly impressive religious credentials. They cleverly maneuver themselves into positions of leadership in an attempt to gain power and authority. They deceptively make their move upon unsuspecting individuals and families. Most often, they do this under the disguise of friendship and fellowship, seeming to genuinely care about others. Once they feel comfortable with those whom they have cleverly deceived, they begin planting seeds of doubt and discord among the unsuspecting sheep. This doubt may be directed toward the doctrines of the church, the programs, the ministry of the church, the mission of the church, or the church leadership. The ultimate purpose and goal of false prophets/teachers is to fulfill their own selfish natures at the expense and harm of others. They often wear false garments of humility, appearing humble and gracious. This false humility is a part of the “sheep’s clothing,” which is the attire of the ravenous wolves.
(V16) Time is not an ally or friend to such false prophets and teachers. The words of Jesus, recorded in verse 16, tell us that the real character and the motives of such individuals will be revealed by the truth of time as it shines the light of the truth upon their lives. “You will know them by their fruits.”
John Phillips writes:
The ultimate test of a false prophet is not the attractiveness of his personality, the persuasiveness of his eloquence, or the size of his following, but his doctrine and manner of life. We do not see the fruit of the Spirit in false prophets. As Paul reminded the Ephesians: “The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9).
The Life Application Bible Commentary explains:
“Fruit” is a Jewish metaphor for both character and conduct. The evil character and conduct of these false teachers would reveal that they were no more than wolves in sheep’s clothing. No matter what a person claims to be, his or her true character will eventually reveal itself.
(V16b) The fruit which the tree bears reveals the type and nature of the tree. Again I wish to emphasize the test of time as it relates to the production of fruit on a tree. I t takes time for the fruit to be made known. Fruit is not produced quickly or hurriedly. It takes time for the fruit to be evidenced on the tree. When a fruit tree is just a sapling, it is hard to distinguish the kind of tree it is, so it is easy to get the different kinds of fruit trees mixed up.
In nurseries or garden centers, why are young fruit trees (saplings) always clearly marked with a tag of identification of type and kind?
Why is it much easier to walk into an orchard with fully loaded, mature fruit trees and distinguish what kind of tree one is looking at?
We don’t find apples growing on peach trees or peaches growing on pear trees!
(VV17-18) Jesus tells His followers that we can distinguish trees by their fruit. A tree cannot mask or hide its fruit, so it cannot hide its identity for long. The fruit will reveal the tree.
In false prophets and teachers, the works of the flesh, not the true fruits of the Spirit, are manifested over time.
How important is it to examine a Bible teacher’s credentials by examining both his/her message as well as character?
“Bishop Ryle summed it up well when he said, ‘Sound doctrine and holy living are the marks of true prophets’” (Stott).
We must remember that fruit takes time to grow. We may make bad judgements, with catastrophic consequences, when we rush headlong into decisions without the test of time and wisdom. Bad trees do not produce good fruit, witnessed by the test of time.
“Truth matters. For it is God’s truth and it builds up God’s church; whereas, error is devilish and destructive. If we care for God’s truth and for God’s church, we must take Christ’s warning seriously” (Stott).
The responsibility for the church’s doctrinal integrity, as well as the church’s missions and ministries, lies upon the integrity of the shepherds who lead, guide, guard, and protect the flock.
Personal Testimony Allowed by the Test of Time
I do not write these lessons as a young pastor-teacher-shepherd. I also clearly understand that age, or the passing of time, does not automatically equate to wisdom. The very words I write must be graded both by the test of time and the doctrinal soundness revealed by study under the light of the Holy Spirit.
Concerning the people of God (the sheep), no greater responsibility has been placed upon anyone than that of shepherd to God’s flock. The shepherd’s role is not always understood by the sheep. Nor is his protection and guidance always wanted or welcomed by the sheep. The shepherd’s work is often done on dangerous cliffs and slopes of personalities and temperaments. The shepherd must be willing to fight for sheep that won’t even fight for themselves. The shepherd sees the harm of the visible wolf and the invisible wolf as well. Most sheep don’t see the dangers of the visible wolf, let alone the invisible, hidden wolf that lurks, stalking every family, individual, teenager and child.
The most cherished honor bestowed upon my life in ministry is when someone simply understands and calls me “Pastor.” For in that one word I find my calling and fulfillment in His church (Mars Hill Baptist Church)—Shepherd.
How is preaching The Word a part of being a Shepherd?
How is it possible not to see the danger of the approaching wolf?