“For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. “Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Acts 20:29-30 NKJV
I think something many believers struggle with at times is how to decide if something someone within the body says or tries to teach as coming from God is in fact, the truth? Oftentimes we hear or read of individuals teaching a position either on doctrine or possibly prophecy which might seem to us to be in error, or at the very least contrary to what we may have already been taught. The question then becomes do we believe whatever we hear or do we examine and study the point in question in order to determine if it is truth or falsehood?
Most of us would, I am sure, agree that it is God’s intention that we study and apply ourselves to learning His Word in order to understand what it is He might be trying to teach us. Yet we also understand that there is definitely a warning being given in this passage, and elsewhere in the Word which cautions us that we will experience deceit coming from within the body from those who would do us harm. I think it very revealing that God chooses to use the illustration of wolves coming into a flock of sheep in order to make the point of what will happen at these times.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. Matthew 7:15 NKJV
The first thing I notice from both the passage from Acts, and this one from Matthew, is just how these wolves are described. Did you notice that it is not enough to just say that they are wolves, but rather we are told they possess a “savage” and “ravenous” attitude? Many of us may have had the opportunity to watch programs on television which document the personality of wolves living in the wild, and it goes without saying that they are nothing like domesticated dogs. I did, in fact, have a sheep dog at one time and I can assure you he was the most gentle, kind dog I have ever had. Wolves, however, are as different from he was as night and day.
What strikes me from these passages is that it seems we are not only being warned about the fact that they will come, but also what they will look like if we watch them closely. A wolf who is savage and ravenous could probably also be characterized as overly aggressive. I believe what we are being told here is that one of the ways we can decide if someone within the body who is trying to teach something we might not agree with should be listened to or not is by looking closely at their character, and how they present their message. Look at what Jesus goes on to say about them in the passage from Matthew.
“You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Matthew 7:15-20 NKJV
Now I’m not sure what these passages may tell you, but what they tell me is that if I have questions concerning the message, maybe I should look closely at the messenger. Having said that, let me ask you a question. Have you ever had the opportunity to hear, or in this day and age follow on the internet, a disagreement over something the Bible says? Personally, I have not just been surprised, but often appalled at the tone some of these disagreements have taken on. As I have observed the responses of those whose messages have been rejected, I can’t help but wonder; “where are the fruits of the Spirit?”
If wolves are described as savage and ravenous, I believe everyone would agree that sheep are best described as “meek”. As Jesus so often called His believers sheep, is it any wonder that we are told in His Word to be meek as well? Meekness in the Greek is defined as mildness of disposition and gentleness of spirit, and it is repeated quite often in the New Testament as a necessary attribute of the true believer. If we are truly His sheep, and we hear and listen to His voice, shouldn’t others be able to look at us and see that our words and actions reflect the same meekness that Jesus exhibited during His ministry?
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. Colossians 3:12-13 NKJV
Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:21 NKJV
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. James 3:13 NKJV
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 1 Peter 3:15-16 NKJV
If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. James 1:26 NKJV
Have you ever considered that one of the reasons so many people chose to follow Jesus was that along with the message He shared, He also chose to share it with meekness and love? We should always evaluate the message by comparing it to what has already been revealed to us in the Word of God, but I believe in these passages we are also told that looking closely at the messenger can give us a clue as well. Meekness and love, or savage and ravenous? It can often help us evaluate the message by closely examining the messenger.