Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Matthew 7:15-16 NLT
In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates this passage vividly, writing: Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.
Unfortunately, whenever people are involved in anything, there are bound to be those with mixed motives. And this is as true in the church as it is in business or social groups, there will, usually, be people in it for all the wrong reasons. Selfish people looking to advance their own position, either for financial gain, title or authority. They have charisma without character. People who talk a good game using other people’s words but who, themselves, are shallow and vacant.
But how can identifying false prophets help to weatherproof our lives? Help to keep us on the narrow road, walking in obedience to Jesus; teaching?
- Because they will lead you away from the Lord.
Suppose there are prophets among you or those who dream dreams about the future, and they promise you signs or miracles, and the predicted signs or miracles occur. If they then say, ‘Come, let us worship other gods’—gods you have not known before— do not listen to them. The Lord your God is testing you to see if you truly love him with all your heart and soul. Serve only the Lord your God and fear him alone. Obey his commands, listen to his voice, and cling to him. Deuteronomy 13:1-4 NLT
We are responsible to know the commandments of the Lord well enough to discern what is not of the Lord. The Holy Spirit, abiding in your heart and mind, will give you that discernment if you are in regular communion with the Lord, in prayer and meditation in His Word. Red and yellow flags with buzzers and alarms will sound off in your head when someone tries to sneak in a different gospel—and, like Jesus, when tempted by Satan just before His public ministry, you will be able to confidently respond with the precepts and principles of Jesus, and stand your ground.
- Because they will tell people what they want to hear.
Then I said, “O Sovereign Lord, their prophets are telling them, ‘All is well—no war or famine will come. The Lord will surely send you peace.’”
Then the Lord said, “These prophets are telling lies in my name. I did not send them or tell them to speak. I did not give them any messages. They prophesy of visions and revelations they have never seen or heard. They speak foolishness made up in their own lying hearts. Therefore, this is what the Lord says: I will punish these lying prophets, for they have spoken in my name even though I never sent them. They say that no war or famine will come, but they themselves will die by war and famine! Jeremiah 14:13-15
Part of the reason there is so much disparity on social and cultural issues these days is because of false teachers with great charisma telling people what they want to hear. In the case of the reference here, the issue was war and famine. “Don’t listen to the doomsayer’s”, they would preach, “everything is fine, God is bringing peace.” But God hadn’t said that. In our day the same could be said about abortion, sexual issues, and so many more areas where our culture grows more and more cold to the sanctity of life and the beauty of God’s creation. There are preachers, “smiling a lot with practiced sincerity” telling us to lighten up and understand the Bible a little more liberally, more as a principle than a standard. But God’s Word abides forever, He doesn’t change and He hasn’t changed His mind. It is people who have drifted off course. And there are plenty of greedy leaders who seize the opportunity to use our immaturity against us.
- Because they will do anything for money.
They have wandered off the right road and followed the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved to earn money by doing wrong. 2 Peter 2:15 NLT
What sorrow awaits them! For they follow in the footsteps of Cain, who killed his brother. Like Balaam, they deceive people for money. And like Korah, they perish in their rebellion. Jude 1:11
True prophets, men and women of God, understand that the work of the ministry is sacrificial. You rejoice in the promotion of the Lord, not in your own power and authority. But people, especially Americans since that is my only frame of reference, tend to seek first their own ‘deal’. Life is hard and no one will blame you for making as much as you can. But if your motive is money do something else, don’t get into this line of work. Unfortunately, there are a lot of men and women out there fleecing the people of God and building financial empires in the name of the Lord. It’s sad and tragic, but God says, “Woe to them…”
False teachers have been in the church and among the people of God throughout history, and this will never change. Oddly, they serve a purpose in the Kingdom of God, and that is to help the body be discerning, and help them hold fast to the simple truth of the Gospel.
So important is this command to Jesus that, to those who overcome false teachers, He offers this beautiful promise:
To everyone who is victorious, I will give some of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven. And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it. See Revelation 2:12-17, the letter to Pergamum.
Be discerning, keep your eyes and ears open, become weatherproof.