Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them.
Matthew 7:15-20 (NIV)
Read: Matthew 7
Consider: Jesus warned the people in Matthew 7 about the need to be watchful and to be discerning about those who claim to be God’s representatives. When he says that false teachers will come ‘… in sheep’s clothing …’, he is saying that outwardly they will appear gentle and convincing, but inside their motives will be malicious. The interest of the false teacher is either selfish (to focus on themselves and their ministry), to garner financial wealth, or to lead people away from the truth.
Jesus warns the people (including his disciples) not to be fooled by outward appearance, but to judge the person on the basis of the fruit that they bear. The analogy of the tree is a useful one. In my garden I have a number of apple trees. They don’t all produce fruit of the same type or even the same quality. While I wouldn’t call any of them bad trees, I have to be aware of the differences in them. My parents, however, had a number of plum trees in their garden and during the many years we lived in that house they never produced fruit at all. In this case the trees, while being nice to look at, weren’t worth having in the garden. It wasn’t the quality of the fruit that differentiated these trees, but the lack of it.
Remember that while Jesus talked about false prophets and the fruit that they bear, he was also saying ‘Judge me by the fruit that I bear’. Jesus didn’t want to be judged purely on what he said, but also on what he did and the effect (fruit) that he had on people’s lives.
While Jesus was talking directly to the people in his time about false prophets, we who are his disciples today must be equally aware of the need to be vigilant and discerning about those who present themselves as teachers in Christ’s name. Unfortunately even in the Christian church there are those whose motives are questionable and who by false teaching lead people astray, or who seek to amass personal wealth and status. The test must always be the fruit that they bear.
Pray: Father, give us discernment in dealing with people who claim allegiance to you and purport to teach the truth. May we not be fooled by outward appearance, or even gentle and soft words, but let us look at the fruit these people produce in their own life and the lives of others. Amen