“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Matthew 7:15-20
It is the responsibility and duty of every Christian to be watchful and on guard against false prophets; for outwardly false prophets may appear to be fine Christian pastors and teachers, but inwardly they are ravening wolves which destroy and scatter God’s flock.
The Apostle Paul, too, warned against such when he said to the elders of the church in Ephesus, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:28-32).
It will happen. There will be false prophets and false teachers who do not faithfully preach and teach God’s Word. And, they will cause divisions in the church and gain followings for themselves. Instead of building upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets — the Word of God — with Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone (cf. Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:1-10), they will build on the sands of false doctrine, on human understanding and opinion, and manmade traditions.
The end result, of course, is that those who do not love the truth and hold fast to Christ and His Word are deceived by the lies of the devil and robbed of the salvation Christ won for them when He suffered and died on the cross for the sins of all.
The Bible tells us: “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19; cf. 2 Thess. 2:3-12).
That is also why Paul wrote to Timothy: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:12-17).
Thus, for the sake of each of our soul’s salvation, Jesus would have us judge those who preach and teach God’s Word to us. Like the believers in Berea, we should search the Scriptures daily to be sure that what we are being taught is in truth God’s unadulterated Word (cf. Acts 17:10-11). If we don’t, we might easily be misled into unbelief or sin.
Jesus said in Matthew 7:16-20: “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
And what is the fruit of a prophet? What does he produce that we might judge? First and foremost, it is his teaching. Thus, we must always compare the teaching of pastors and teachers to the Scriptures, for the Scriptures are the inspired and unerring Word of God.
Isaiah also wrote: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20; cf. Jer. 23:16ff.; Deut. 13:1ff.). If a pastor or teacher is not speaking and teaching in full accord with God’s unerring Word, he is a false prophet and we ought to flee from him and hear him no more.
What if the error is only a small point here and there? Is it alright to continue to hear such a preacher? Consider how Satan worked in the Garden, causing doubt regarding the fruit of a single tree. Consider that any error and false teaching comes from the devil, the father of lies, and is meant to deceive us and lead us away from Christ and His truth, even if only little by little (cf. John 8:44).
Consider that Jesus, earlier in His Sermon on the Mount, warned against changing the smallest letter or portion of a letter of God’s Word (cf. Matt. 5:17-20). If a preacher will not humbly yield to the clear and plain truth of God’s Word, he is a false prophet — beware of him, Jesus said, for in the end his errors will tear, divide and scatter the flock like a ravenous wolf. Cf. Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; 2 John 8-11; Titus 3:9-11; Eph. 5:11; Jer. 15:19.
If one added a single drop of a deadly poison to a clear and clean glass of water, would you drink it? I dare say that none of us would; for even if that drop of poison were not enough to kill us, it could still do damage and might over time, if we continued to ingest it, cause our death. So why then would anyone wish to continually expose himself to the deadly poison of error and false teaching? Even if it did not immediately destroy faith, it very well might over time. And, even more importantly, why would any believer and disciple of Christ wish to be unfaithful to His Word in any point? Cf. Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9.
A preacher and teacher of God’s Word must also be judged on the basis of his conduct and manner of life — not that any will be perfect and without sin, but there should be the sincere and earnest purpose to live in accord with God’s Word, repent of all sin and error and be conformed to the image of Christ Jesus.
Where one lives in continual disregard of God’s commandments and in open sin, one would not expect to find the good fruits of faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word and an exemplary life to lead and guide God’s flock in the way everlasting.
Thus, our Lord Jesus, who shed His holy and precious blood for the sheep, desires that none of us be misled and deceived by false prophets and be separated from Him. He desires that we all continue in the true and saving faith revealed to us in God’s unadulterated Word — that we trust in Him [Christ] alone and His atoning sacrifice on the cross for pardon, forgiveness and life eternal. He warns us against false prophets that we might always hear Him and His Word and continue to trust in Him unto life everlasting.
After all, He alone is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6; cf. Acts 4:12). Only in Him is eternal salvation!
Dear Lord Jesus, Shepherd and Redeemer of our souls, grant that we be not deceived and misled by the many false prophets who have gone out into the world, but hold fast to You and to Your Word unto life everlasting. Amen.
[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]