Robert Wurtz II
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matthew 7:15–20 NKJV)
A close examination of our passage demonstrates a contrast between a person who is filled with the Holy Spirit and yielding the fruit of the Spirit and one who “comes to you in sheep’s clothing” and feigning to be a prophet. Simply put, if the fruit of the Spirit is not present in the life of a person who prophesies — they are not a prophet — they are a ravenous wolf. Obviously, they are not a shepherd (pastor) either. The Greek word for ravenous is harpax. The late great Greek scholar A.T. Robertson defines the word as being greedy for power, money, and self. The word is generally translated as an extortioner in the KJV (Luke 18:11, 1 Cor. 5:10, 6:10) and a swindler in the ESV (Luke 18:11, 1 Cor. 5:10, 6:10). In other words, they are always designing ways to turn a profit, seize power, and exalt themselves.
Again Jesus said in our text, Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. They take on the appearance of a nice person and may even employ what is termed a “Jimmy Carter smile.” However, they are not smiling at you because they are filled with the love of God — they are smiling because it is a necessary part of the facade they are wearing in order to turn a profit, seize power, and exalt themselves. Our Greek word for beware is proseichon and it is often translated in the ESV as “pay attention!” Be cautious and alert, because if you are in the presence of a false prophet; (i.e. a person who is always designing ways to turn a profit, seize power, and exalt themselves) — you are in danger. You are as a sheep in the presence of a wolf.
Some people come in like Satan — as an angel of light. Even seasoned saints can be fooled by these people. Keep in mind that the age of the Old Testament (OT) prophets had passed with John the Baptist. Prophets had a much more forward place in the OT. That is not to say that prophets ceased to exist in the — because they did not. Generally, New Testament (NT) prophets such as Agabus foretold of disasters and such (Acts 11:27, 21:10). However, many false prophets have gone out into the land as well (1 John 4:1). Paul dealt with one Barjesus (in Acts 13:6 by smiting him with blindness. Yet some are not nearly as obvious and easy to discern as Barjesus.
Identifying a False Prophet (Ravening Wolf)
The first thing that has to happen before we can accurately discern a false prophet is that we take the blinders (blinkers) off. Horses and other animals wear these to narrow their vision. This is figurative when dealing with people. Blinders (blinkers) cause (someone) to have a narrow or limited outlook on a situation. There is another idiom we sometimes use in America of wearing “rose colored glasses.” This expression means that we have an optimistic perception of something or a positive opinion in spite of indicators to the contrary. In other words, we are thinking of something or someone better than they actually are. The expression is often used for people who are in denial. They refuse to see the truth. And if they see it… they refuse to say or do anything about it.
In this crisis hour, we cannot afford to have the blinders on. We must view everything and everyone through the lens of God’s holy word. Instead of rubber stamping people — especially potential leaders within the churches — we need to examine them in the light of God’s holy word. “Rubber stamping” is an expression that means that we approve of something without proper consideration. Rather, we need to ask some tough questions and be prepared to act based on our findings. We cannot afford to “rubber stamp” friends and family into leadership positions when we have watched for years as they demonstrated behaviors that were contrary to God’s holy word.
Overlooking wolfish behavior in people who aspire to leadership will have devastating consequences down the road. Keep in mind what we have already learned. What is a false prophet? What is a wolf? One who is always designing ways to turn a profit, seize power, and exalt themselves. They are ravenous. They consume. This is the opposite of a person who is moving in the fruit of the Spirit. A wolf is looking to devour the sheep in order to gratify his/her ambitions. He is a “taker.” A shepherd will give everything he has — including his own life for the sheep. He is a “giver.” A shepherd will leave the 99 and go after the 1. A wolf views the sheep as a means to his/her own ends. Sheep are a resource to a wolf.
Even unbelievers can tell the difference between a saint and a fraud. In fact, Paul said that leaders in the churches should be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:7 ESV) Obviously, sinners generally dislike the saints. However, a Christian should never have a reputation as a crook, shyster, or a person who takes advantage of people. This is especially true if the person is known to have means and are too greedy to deal fairly in business. Jesus has already told us that we cannot serve God and riches at the same time. Love will always do business differently than greed. And this is one of the litmus tests. Does the leader love with their money or do they cause hard feelings over money? A fraud will say things like, “that’s business” or “I’m just being a good steward.” Hogwash. Take the blinders off and let God’s word shine the light on the persons’ behavior before it’s too late.
There is an incredible amount of chaos and destruction going on within many churches today. Why? they never properly vetted the leadership and now they are paying a horrific price. Churches are splitting or emptying out. Many saints are disillusioned by the ravenous behaviors of their leaders. Sheep are being scattered all over the place and their leaders scratch their heads like they have no idea what is happening. Some double down on their heavy handedness making the situation ten times worse. I’m surprised God has not struck many of these people dead for their careless antics.
The times of overlooking patterns of bad fruit among leaders are over with. In fact, it should have never started in the first place. The time would fail to describe the carnage caused by refusing to properly vet leaders. We need to view people through the lens of God word and if they don’t pass muster, they don’t get in. Scripture warns us saying, “Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure.” (1 Timothy 5:22 NKJV) We are in one sense responsible to God for who we lay hands on and thereby sanction for ministry. So it behooves us to make sure that we prayerfully examine people before crowning them as leaders. The principal is simple: A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Being willing to recognize and identify “bad trees” (especially before they can move into ministry and cause havoc) must be a top priority within the churches. We cannot afford another round of unvetted leaders.