15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:15-23 (ESV)
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruit.”
The image is startling. Wolves dressed as sheep. People who are not Christians, but act like them, dress like them, talk like them. Of course there are false prophets who make no pretense at being Christian. They don’t bother to dress up like sheep. They come in the name of other gods, and are relatively easy to avoid, or evangelize as the case may be. But then there are those who come dressed up like sheep, and these can be quite dangerous. They are not easy to spot. They use scripture. Their talk sounds pious. They seem so Christian. Sheep tend to listen to them thinking they are doing something good, something God pleasing. And slowly, but slowly they are being slaughtered, led astray, away from the shepherd, away from the water, away from the bread of life. You will know them by their fruit.
This is a tough one. Discerning the sheep from the wolves based on the fruit they produce. Trees don’t produce fruit year round. And of course, you can always tell an apple tree from a cherry tree, even in the dead of winter by looking at its bark. That is if you know what the bark of each tree looks like. But you have to wait for the fruit to show. And what is good fruit? What is bad fruit? And this question is easily complicated by the fact that we are all saints and sinners. So there are a number of things we are going to do in a day that can indicate we are wolves, even as there are many things we do that will indicate that we are sheep, and most of those can be imitated by a wolf too. We tend to think of good fruit as so called good works. And bad fruit as sin. This is the common approach to the text. Are they producing good works? Are they feeding the poor, clothing the homeless? Are they abstaining from sexual immorality? Are they avoiding drunkenness and crude language? The assumption is that this is the kind of fruit that Jesus is talking about, and this is the kind of fruit he desires to see. And it is generally true that God would have us feeding the poor and clothing the homeless. He wants us to avoid sexual immorality, and sensuality, pornography and the like. He would have us being faithful lovers of our spouses. Teach the young women to love their husbands, Paul tells Titus. Evidently their were family troubles among Christians even in the first century. Husbands were perhaps not always easy to love. Added to this was the arrangement of marriage, often out of the control of a young woman. And yet to love a husband was something that could be taught. And today you can here pastors rant and rail against pornography, which tends to be a man’s problem. But you rarely hear much about the other side, and books and t.v. shows filling young women with ideas of romance that are often unrealistic, but have the effect of making a young girl despise her husband who doesn’t live up to that ideal. Teach the young women to love their husbands. Nothing could be more God pleasing than a young Christian woman forgiving her husband as she has been forgiven, for all his failings and loving him. It was through such love and forgiveness that many young women modeled Christ for their unbelieving husbands and often led them to Christ, that they would become Christian themselves. God indeed is pleased by these things, but even the heathen can love their husbands. This can’t be the fruit he is speaking of.
You will know them by their fruit. Yes, as I said, sometimes it takes a bit for the fruit to develop. On the one hand it is pretty easy to see the fruit for what it is when a church is endorsing sexual immorality. At that point you know the ravenous wolves have had their way with the sheep of that fold. I mean I have to scratch my head when I hear of churches lobbying for gay rights and performing same sex marriage rites as is common now in so called Lutheran churches throughout Europe and next door in the ELCA. One does have to be careful, there. It is just as easy and sinful to go about on a gay bashing enterprise, and treat the homosexual with disdain. That too is an evil fruit. The Westboro Baptists are not Christian either. And that is the other danger. That is another fruit that shows a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a self-righteous disdain for fellow sinners.
There is no place for that in the Christian church. This is the product of those who lay on the law and do not lift a finger to help the children of God with the heavy burden, or free them of it. It is unseemly. Christ died and shed his blood for you and I, our sins so terrible that it cost the author of life his own life. He shed his blood to atone for our sins. He did this too for the wife who has trouble forgiving and loving her husband. For the husband who can’t seem to get his act together and hold down a steady job, and can’t seem to steer clear of porn. He has done this for the men and women who struggle with same sex attraction. He has done this for the adulterer. He has done this for the teenage couple that went too far on Friday night, and again on Monday afternoon, in a society that looks askance at marriage before 25. Yes, we are sinners, and Jesus had to die for us. He showed us mercy, because his father in heaven desired it, and this is the will of the Father. Mercy. And this is the fruit by which you will know the true prophets from the false, forgiveness, because it was for your forgiveness that the Prophet of prophets, The very son of God himself came down from heaven and died for you. And this alone produces a clean conscience and a good heart which he desires you to have.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.