by Bruce Mills
In Acts 20:29-30, the apostle Paul warned the elders of the church at Ephesus—and by extension, churches through the years since—with these words: “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” Those are extremely serious words, because they inform us that there are those men whose desires are to ravage the church. They seek to divide and destroy.
Jesus also warned about such men in Matthew 7:15 when He said, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” The spiritual leaders of His day wore wool robes (“sheep’s clothing”), so this warning concerned those men who would come, offering spiritual direction and guidance, appearing to be one thing on the outside, when they are actually seeking to devour the flock of God.
So how do we recognize such men so that we can guard the church from their destructive activities and teachings? Let me give you some guidelines that are helpful in identifying them.
1) First of all, Jesus said we can recognize them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16, 20). In other words, do they produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) in their lives, or do they produce the fruit of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21)? They may not display every one of the fruit of the flesh, but they will produce certain ones; particularly such characteristics as “strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions” (Gal. 5:20).
2) They put great effort into promoting themselves. Like Diotrophes (3 John 9), they desire to gain a position of prominence and power in the church and will do whatever it takes to do so (3 John 10).
3) They handle the Word of God deceitfully, adulterating its truth to match their own message (2 Cor. 4:2-3). They invariably reinterpret the Scriptures to justify their fleshly desires and ungodly teaching.
4) They see the Word of God as a means of financial gain (2 Cor. 2:17, 1Tim. 6:5). Rather than focusing on teaching people the Word in order that the Holy Spirit might apply it to their hearts and they are changed into the image of Christ, these men continually focus on money. They press their listeners (many of them financially strapped) to give to their ministry, promising that God will grant special miracles to those who have sufficient faith.
5) They reject sound doctrine which promotes godliness (1 Tim. 6:3), choosing rather to promote what Scripture calls “doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). That doesn’t mean that they knowingly promote beliefs which are demonic in origin. In fact, they would be appalled if someone suggested that their doctrines originate from Satanic forces, but in reality, that is the source of anything they teach which does not concur with Scripture. Their teachings promote self, and encourage their followers to engage in activities which characterize the fallen flesh.
6) They will exploit their followers with destructive heresies and sensuality to such a degree that the way of the truth is maligned (2 Peter 2:1-3). The watching world loves to criticize Christians as a bunch of hypocrites and these evil men provide the perfect means for the world to paint all believers with the label of hypocrisy.
7) They use smooth, flattering speech to deceive the hearts of those who are naive and unsuspecting (Rom. 16:18). In other words, they are smooth talkers. They sound convincing. So how is a believer to know whether or not what they are saying is true? By following the pattern of the Berean Christians in Acts 17:11, who examined the Scriptures daily to see if the things which Paul and Silas were teaching them matched up with God’s Word. If a man’s doctrine does not match up with Scripture, he is to be rejected.
There are a lot of savage wolves who are ravaging the flock of God. Be on guard! Never assume that because a man is or claims to be a pastor or an evangelist that he is a man of God. He may be one of Satan’s agents, seeking to destroy God’s people. Study the Word, and if what that man teaches does not concur with sound doctrine, turn away from him. Listen and follow only those men whose doctrine matches up with Scripture, and thus promotes holy and godly behavior.