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.
She had almost given up on her quest to find a new church when she reconnected with an acquaintance and decided to visit hers. It seemed like an instant connection not only because she happened to know other people there but because the pastor was much closer to her age and just seemed like a great teacher and leader. He was very charming and charismatic, always having a smile on his face. His messages were uplifting, and he appeared to be a devoted family man. It was not until she began to meet with him one-on-one to discuss her questions and struggles that she realized things were not as they seemed. When that office door closed, the shepherd became a wolf, a predator who tried to use subtle advances over time to lead others not toward sanctification but toward sin.
Today’s scripture gives us instruction to take an affirmative step. Just like the sign that says “beware of dog”, we must have a proactive posture with respect to the wolves that will try to infiltrate the church. The serious Christian must not only be aware that these wolves exist but must test the fruit of others regularly to make sure to spot this danger when it appears. This takes not only a vigilant eye that is regularly testing the fruit others produce, but it takes a person who can discern the good fruit from the bad. Thus, the instruction here is twofold. We cannot be on the lookout for these wolves if we do not know how to distinguish them from the true shepherds and sheep. Vigilance without discernment does not yield results. We must be intentional about keeping watch, and we must know what we are looking for.
The crux of this instruction is that we must be careful to correctly test all fruit. We cannot simply accept the words or actions of another because that person holds a certain position of power or authority. We must hold all things up against the word of God so that we can be sure that the fruit is good and holy. When we start to forget that there certainly will be wolves within the church, then we make ourselves vulnerable to their attack. We should never be so comfortable that we think that the body is impervious to this problem. We must remain on the lookout for wolves not only for the sake of the individual but for the sake of the body. Father, give us the discernment necessary to distinguish the bad fruit from the good, and keep us watchful and critical to spot the wolves among us.