Not every man's motives for serving God are as pure as they pretend to be. Recently, Luke and I did an episode on Sound Tradition about spiritual abuse and are currently working on an episode dealing with the Sexual abuse scandal in the SBC. With so many things present in churches, we have to ask ourselves, "How did we get here?" Shouldn't every servant of God have the growth and protection of the flock they shepherd at heart? Why is it we don't notice these "Wolves" sooner?
Jesus told us exactly why we don't notice the wolves as often as we should: Matt 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. The reason we aren't always aware of their presence is because they come in sheep's clothing. I have to think that the fact that they are hiding their true identity shows malicious motives behind their actions. This isn't someone who just happens to be wrong in an area of theology. It isn't someone who just happens to do something wrong in their ministry. This is someone who premeditates the harm they inflict and conceals their true identity. But because they look like one of us, we don't see them for who they are.
Maybe though part of the problem is us being blind or even willingly blind. Maybe they are so charismatic or God seems to be blessing their ministry or they are too big to fall and so we turn a blind eye to what is really happening. Jesus followed up his description of the false teachers by telling us how we can know a wolf in sheep's clothing: by their fruits Matt 7:18.
Paul in his second letter to Timothy gives us a list of things to look for in a false teacher. These are the fruits that you can see in their lives that will help us identify them sooner:
Paul gives us a long list of things to look for; so I have tried to break them down into different categories to make it a little easier for us. The list in 2 Tim 3:1-9 begins with a description of these false teachers in relation to their own identity and desires.
Lovers of their own selves- Wolves in sheep clothing do not care about the sheep. The sheep are merely food to satisfy their own needs and desires. Ministry to these men is about themselves, how it makes them look and what they can get out of it. These men are focused on their reputation above all else.
Covetous- Being focused on themselves also pushes them to desire more for themselves. Maybe they are constantly concerned about how much they are going to be paid? Will they be reimbursed for expenses? I remember being in a church where the pastor actually preached that the people should give him a new car every year. This should have been a sign that that man was not a man of God. Now don't get me wrong, a pastor is worthy of getting paid for the work that he puts into the ministry. the Bible teaches this and Paul defended his right to receive payment, but as 1 Peter 5: 2 says, his motivation should not be money.
Boasters- One clear sign that a man is stuck on himself is how much he talks about himself. How often does he exalt himself instead of exalting God or the people working underneath him?
Highminded- This does not mean that they have heavenly thoughts; rather, it is speaking of a man who is puffed up, arrogant and proud. Where boasting is an action, high-minded is an attitude. He has an air about him. He presents himself as better than everyone else.
Without natural affection- The affections and feelings of brotherhood that should exist between a pastor and his people are mysteriously absent. When you look at the letters of Paul and Peter in the New Testament, we see men who cared about their people. Paul even thought of Timothy as his son. Being disconnected and uncaring for the flock is a sign of a false teacher. As a balance here, there are many men who have been burned out by ministry and being disconnected may just be a sign that they are hurting.
The next category of fruits deal with how they relate to others in authority over them. False teachers cannot handle accountability or someone else being in charge.
Blasphemers- Blasphemy here speaks of an irreverence towards the holy. This speaks of a disdain for God's authority as found in God's word. Their thinking is not regulated by God's thoughts but by their own thoughts. If what God says doesn't make sense to them, they will disparage the Bible, excuse sin or rationalize the meaning of the Bible away. This is not the same thing as someone who honestly comes to a position different than you would. This is someone who comes with disrespectful and malicious intent.
Disobedient to parents- One sign of their view of authority is how they relate to their own authority figures in their lives. Clearly we ought to obey God rather than men, but these men never could submit themselves to any outside source of authority. Usually, they will have story after story of how leadership everywhere they have ever been was just wrong, but the one common denominator is themselves. This pattern often starts as a child in the home and they don't grow out of it.
Unthankful- They do not appreciate what others have done for them. They can't give thanks for what others have invested in their own lives.
Immorality is often hidden in their lives, but it will be there. Some of these signs are areas of immorality in the lives of false teachers:
Unholy- They are not living lives of godliness and holiness, but moral impurity.
Trucebreakers- These men are constantly at war with everyone. They cannot make peace or find resolution to conflicts. This is the attitude of "its my way or the highway." There is no discussion, no working together with other people.
False accusers- It is interesting that the word here is literally "devils." They are like their father the devil in that they tell lies. Usually, the lies are politically motivated. They have to tare others down in order to lift themselves up.
Incontinent- uncontrolled. They have no moderation in their lives.
Fierce- It isn't enough for them to be right; they must destroy their enemies. They are brutal, and savage in the way they deal with those who oppose them.
Despisers of those that are good- They are not concerned with the benefit of others; what is good for the group.
Traitors- You cannot depend on them unless it is in their own self-interest. They will turn on you when it is to their advantage. If it means losing political clout in their circles, they will not defend you.
Lovers of pleasure- They are consumed with hedonism, making themselves happy.
Lacking God's Power
2 Tim 3:5 says that they seem to have God's blessings in their lives, but they deny the power of God. The best example I can think of this is a church that has tons of people but the majority of them are weak, nominal christians. They have the form of godliness and God's blessings, but they do not experience it in reality.
Another aspect where this happens is when outward conformity is pushed without an emphasis on the indwelling Holy Spirit and love for God in our lives. We adopt an external appearance of godliness, but we have never truly experienced the transforming power of God.
2 Tim 3:6 says that they creep into houses and lead away silly women. The main emphasis here though is the sneakiness of these men. An essential characteristic of a wolf in sheep's clothing is that they conceal what they are doing. They conceal what they believe or they sneak about committing sins. As believer's we are called to walk as children of light Ephesians 5:8. One thing that is true about light is that it reveals. Children of light have no need to hide, sneak and conceal what they are doing before God's people.
Vs 7 says that they are ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. They are tossed about by different doctrinal positions and can never be settled on the truth of God's word. I find this usually comes because they lack an understanding of how to study God's word, the don't like what God's word says or they follow blindly the teachings of other men.
It saddens me when I see younger christians who wander from theological truth to theological truth. Everything is unsure to them. God is not some mysterious wizard seeking to conceal the meaning of His word. Obviously, there are somethings that are "hard to be understood" in scripture, but the bulk of it is not that difficult with the leading of the Spirit to discern. I challenge younger believers, don't leave yourself open to disception. Study the word. Determine what you believe. Know why you believe it. Be Grounded.