There are three Old Testament texts that mention wolves, and four New Testament. Two of the Old Testament passages use the wolf to describe unfaithful leaders in Israel. One text uses the wolf to describe the Assyrians.
In the New Testament, two texts use the wolf to describe those the Christians were sent out to evangelize. Two other texts use the wolf to describe the deception of false teachers. Today, we will look at these latter two passages.
First, Acts 20:28-30:
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
Paul is giving one of his last messages, and he warns his hearers. In particular, he is warning church leaders. They are to pay close attention to their own faithfulness, and to help the flock over which God has made them faithful overseers, to be faithful. They are to be faithful in feeding the church of God, which God has paid for by the price of the life of Jesus.
Paul has a prophetic word for these leaders. He warns them that after he has left, grievous wolves will enter into the congregation. They will have a negative effect on the flock. In KJV you have "Also" in the next sentence, but a better translation would be "even." In other words, there are not two groups under discussion but one. Even from among your own selves, he says to the congregation, shall men arise. These are the wolves that will enter in and not spare the flock. He expands the description. Persons will arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after themselves.
That is, Paul warns that from within the church itself, teachers will rise up. They will have many words. They will teach error. They will attempt to gather disciples to themselves.
This is an inspired warning. It was a warning directly for the congregation to whom Paul was speaking, but it has a general and future application as well. We need to be watchful so that teachers of error do not rise from our own midst and try to draw away disciples after themselves. The reason this warning is coming is because one of the three divine persons, the Holy Spirit, has made them overseers over the flock. Obviously the elders have a key responsibility to deal with any false teachers that rise up from that congregation. They would have to remove them from any teaching positions they might have crept into, or even guide the church so that these persons are removed from the congregation itself.
We would prefer to not have to deal with these kinds of things. We would prefer to just stand aside and say, don't worry, these things will come to nothing. They will pass. But the Scripture warns your church leaders to be faithful. You need to be ready to support them.
Does what we teach matter? Does who teaches under the authority of God and His church make a difference? The Bible claims that God's church is the pillar and ground of the truth. Then its teaching is an issue, the rightness, the accuracy of that teaching, cannot be anything else but an imperative concern. We cannot permit false teachers to teach false things in the name of the church.
Consider the situation in our communities today. By many people, the church is considered irrelevant. One reason for this is that it often refuses to stand for anything. It is easier to be false leaders, to turn and look the other way and ignore open sin.
I know of one man who attended a different church in a different denomination. His mother also attended that church, and left home and began to live with her lesbian partner. The pastor of the church told this man to stop being so judgmental. In another case, a man went away to live with a homosexual priest and that church turned a blind eye. Friends, we cannot become this way. We will be true to God and receive His blessing, or we will be unfaithful to God and we will place ourselves where he cannot bless us or His church here in this city. What will we choose?
Do we realize that false teaching is classed as a work of the flesh? Consider what Paul writes in Galatians 5:19-23:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told [you] in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Heresy, specifically false teaching, is classed side-by-side with idolatry, sexual sin, and murder. Teaching heresy is engaging in a work of the flesh. There is no way around this. A church that permits the teaching of heresy is promoting fleshly behavior.
Well, that was the apostle Paul. What about Jesus? Did Jesus care about false teaching?
He addressed it in one of His most striking teaching events, the sermon on the mount. Look at Matthew 7:15-23:
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Jesus says that His way is confined but there is another way that is wide. The confined way leads to life, but the wide way leads to death. It is important to see that it is right after this warning about the wider way that the warning about false prophets comes. Consider the description of the false prophet.
First, they are deceptive. They come to you. The false prophet finds you. He comes to you. He seeks you out. He has a message, a teaching, for you. We may be sure that when his message is viewed in its totality, it will be a wide-road message. But in order to gain a hearing from you, he will have fashioned a message which on the surface appears to be a narrow road teaching.
Notice also that he is a false prophet, that is, one who presents himself as coming to you bearing a message from God, because that is the essence of the work of a prophet; he brings a message from God to God's people. The kind of person we are thinking of today is a false prophet, a false speaker for God. He does not actually speak on God's behalf but on his own behalf. God has not sent him.
Next, notice not only that the false prophet is looking for disciples, but that he is dressed as a sheep. He presents himself to you as if he is a fellow believer. He presents himself as being harmless, just a fellow sheep, a fellow learner. But the description of Jesus continues. He says that such a one inwardly, that is, he has hidden the fact, but that underneath his deception, he is actually a hungry wolf. His purpose is to eat the sheep.
But what would it mean to eat the sheep in this context? Remember, the false teacher has a goal, to raise up disciples to his own private teachings. To eat a sheep is to convert him to a disciple of your teaching. A false teacher who guides others to embrace his teachings is a wolf eating sheep--sheep under the care and protection of the elders and of the Jesus Chief-shepherd.
How do we know the false teacher? By his fruits.
- Is his behavior deceptive in any manner?
- Is his teaching distinct from and in opposition to the biblical teaching of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?
- How does the teacher interact with the leaders of the local church?
- Does the false prophet try to raise up disciples to his own teachings?
- Does he linger in parking lots and hallways?
- Does he have a history of behavior that is problematic?
His fruit, when we see the actual fruit and perceive it aright, is seen to be either good or bad. The false teacher may claim to be on God's side of the question, but in the end it will be seen that he has been committed to sin and, notwithstanding his false teachings, God will work things out such that he is separated from God's church.
We must be discerning. There are false teachers trying to teach false things in God's church although they are at odds with or have even been removed from membership in the church. It is no mark of gentleness or kindness to give the false teacher a hearing. It only encourages him, lends a sense of credibility to his teaching and position, and exposes others less discerning to his error.
Jesus warned us against false teachers for a reason. Jesus loves us. He knew many would come and in order to destroy souls would claim to be in support of God's church. Church membership is very important. Find out where people are from. Find out how they interact with the church where they have a membership--if they have a membership. Do not assume because they give the right quotations that they are sound. The command of Scripture is test all things and then embrace only those things which are good. May this be a discerning church and may the shepherds and the sheep work together to follow the true Shepherd, our lord Jesus Christ. May we discern whom is whom's agent, and understand who is here to teach the Third Angel's Message and who is here to pick-off disciples for their own purposes. May we learn enough discernment to become undistracted and offer a clear witness for Jesus' Present Truth to those who come through these doors.
Clark Fork ID SDA 2012-08-25