(Matthew Chapter 7, Verses 15-20)
One of the greatest challenges all Christians face when trying to seek out the truth is…who do you believe. Jesus warned us in this section about being careful to spot and avoid false prophets or false teachers. If we choose to follow the wrong teachings from one of these people then we may be taking in information that is not aligned with the truth or even put ourselves in a position where we are being taken advantage of by unscrupulous people ministering lies for profit.
Many people have been hurt by false teachers and false prophets through accepting false teaching. I recall an instance where at a church one time a speaker made an altar call at the end of the service for people to come up who had been hurt in some way by the church. With the exception of just a handful of people, the whole church of several hundred people stood and went forward. Such a situation is an absolute travesty and speaks much about the extent of corruption that can exist in Christianity today through false teaching and false prophets.
But what can you do about it? Well Jesus also provided some good information in this section of scripture on how to spot these frauds and what to do.
Firstly we need to understand that they may be hard to see. He talks of wolves in sheep’s clothing, meaning that these false prophets will look as if they are good and will be well disguised and camouflaged. They will have all the appearances of being good teachers and doing what is right. But like all liars, they will not be able to hold onto their lies and evidence will begin to show up that shows them for what they truly are. In order to perpetrate a lie, a liar must tell more lies to cover the original lie. They must then continue this path and weave a web that they will eventually be caught in as inconsistencies arise. Jesus said, you will know them by their fruit. The fruit is the teachings and the things they do. Fruit does not immediately appear on a tree but must go through a process of pollination, germination and growth before it is ripe and ready for picking. So too these people will take time to show their true colours.
Next we see that Jesus shows that they will not be able to help going down this path for the evil will bear evil fruit, but good people will do good. It’s like the old saying that a leopard can’t change it’s spots. These false teachers or false prophets are exactly the same.
Finally it is important that when you come into contact with Christians you need to do two main things. Firstly, you must have an understanding of the truth in the Bible and weigh up all that they say or do against that knowledge. And secondly, you need to spend time to watch these people and see what they do over time, for Jesus says when their fruit ripens you will know them by their fruits. Over time there will be a pattern from these people. If the pattern is to help, assist, speak good things aligned with Bible truth and respecting others, then they may be true prophets teaching truth. But if their words and actions are self-serving, seeking to get gain from those around them and using people to get advantage, especially when falsely using the teachings in the Bible to get power over others, then their fruits can be considered bad.
These are the wolves Jesus is talking about. They feed their own appetites and do nothing unless it is to their own gain or advantage. They are proud and arrogant, but at the same time will disguise themselves well with cunning and deception. As individuals we need to learn from the Bible, seek the truth, and ask Jesus to give us understanding so that we can spot these false teachers when they come along. For as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, they will come. There are many people who see Christianity as a means of gain and will use it to further their own devices and designs. While there is gain through Christianity in godliness, as the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:3-6, the gain comes through contentment, not material gain. And these false prophets are not seeking contentment but rather are seeking material gain or power. This is not of God and as Jesus said, we must beware.
In due course they will be seen for what they are, and even if their disguises are very good, they will be cut down by the Lord. He will protect his church from these people, but it is important for us to likewise recognise them and take action so that we are not hindered through false teaching.