Peninsula Community Church
August 21, 2011
Sermon on the Mount – Fruit and False Prophets
Matthew 7:15-20 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
It is interesting to note that in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus dealt with the issue of judging others motives and judging others wrongly. But, in this passage we see that Jesus deals with an issue that requires us to judge another’s fruit and actions.
Once again Jesus uses hyperbole to draw a comparison and to get his hearers attention. He describes a group of people that is in the church as false prophets and he paints a picture of them as being sheep in wolves clothing. He is saying that outwardly they look inviting and harmless but inwardly they are like ravenous wolves that have come to destroy rather than bring life.
This passage is a passage of warning to the body of Christ today. For one we have become an emotionally driven society. We make decisions most often on emotion or a whim rather than on fact and on the rightness of the decision. We elect people to office because they look good and can present themselves well but have few credentials to back up what they are saying. I have seen this in churches where a pastor is hired because he might be a great orator but that is the extent of their ability. While they are great speakers they fall short in an understanding of how to run the church, their people skills and a basic understanding of a pastor’s role.
Jesus and the early believers knew that there would be false prophets that would arise when see this is a number of passages:
- Matthew 24:11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.
- Matthew 24:23 -24 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. It is interesting to note that Jesus in verse 14 of Matthew 24 exerts that the Kingdom of Heaven will not be revealed until the whole world has heard the message of Christ’s love.
- Mark 13:21-23 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.
- 2Peter 2:1-3 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
- 1 John 4:1-3 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
If this is an issue for the church then the question is begged, “How can you spot a wolf in sheep’s clothing?” How do we do this without falsely accusing or judging in a way that is condemned by God in the earlier passage? Let me give you a couple of characteristics of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I must issue a disclaimer and a warning at this stage that we need to be careful in judging others as all of us have foible and shortcomings that may fit into these categories but that does not on its own mean that we are a false prophet or a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
- The first sign a wolf in sheep’s clothing is that while they appear humble and others oriented they are really self-centered and they are in ministry or a part of a church for their own profit and gain. This works something like this. You have a person who volunteers for things around the church but it is only those things where people will see them working. They will usually make a point of doing or saying something that will attract attention to what they are doing. In their minds they are “running for office” so people will see how great they are. Their motivation is to get a position in the church so that they can change things or get things done because they believe nothing can happen without their talents and gifts to the body.
- The second sign of a wolf in sheep’s clothing is that they will twist scripture to fit their needs and to accomplish their purposes. It is interesting to note that folks that fall into this category will have some strange interpretations of key scriptures that always seem to support what they are doing rather than what God desires. They are not interested in the truth but only twisting the scriptures to justify their ways or to manipulate others for their benefit. But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 4:1-7).
- The third sign of a wolf in sheep’s clothing is that they are men exalters and people pleasers. Someone early in ministry made a statement that I have seen worked out in my life many times. He said beware of those that hug you the hardest because they often have a knife in the other hand. Wolves are men pleasers and they love to give an inordinate amount of praise to those around them.
- A fourth sign of a wolf in sheep’s clothing is that there will be inconsistencies in what they preach/say and what they do. Wolves are often trying to bring division and disunity into the body so that they can destroy their prey. They will talk about the need for unity but in fact will be an instrument of disunity because they spread gossip and false accusations most often toward the leadership or pastor.
In this passage on two occasions Jesus stated that you will recognize them by their fruit. Give them time and the real person will be revealed. Another saying that has proven to be helpful to me has been “Give people enough rope and they will hang themselves.” In others give some time and people will show their true colors. If the heart is wrong it will not take long before the evil of the heart will be revealed.
Now that we know what a wolf in sheep’s clothing looks like we must then as the question of “How do you deal with a false prophet?”
- This may sound like it is counter to the passage we read but we begin by attempting to bring repentance and you speak the truth in love. I believe this is what is meant by John when he said “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). If you are suspect test the spirit by seeking to bring repentance and restoration to the person and watch how they respond and act.
- You administer great grace. Paul said that grace will cover sin and where there is great sin there will be great grace but that does not allow one to continue in their sin or ways of doing things that brings hurt and pain to others (Rom 5:20-21). Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
- You must remove them for the health of the body. When every room for repentance and the administering of grace have been advanced and there is evidence that they are in fact a wolf in sheep’s clothing we must remove them so that they cannot bring injury or more woundedness to the body.
While it is easy to point a finger at others we must also look at our own heart for we all have the propensity to act this way in our lives and walk. So how do we counter this for us personally?
- We walk in the Spirit. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:13-26).
- We live in the word. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32).
- We exhibit an obedient and repentant lifestyle. We must be approachable and willing to repent when someone points out a sin our life. We must walk in humility and in a prayerful attitude.