W o l v e s
Mt. 7:15 "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them.
Acts 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard!
Titus 3:10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. 11 You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
For various reasons, the leadership here at MBC has had to consider what 'wolves' look like, in Christian terms. Here are some basic conclusions of mine based on the above texts:
1. Wolves are not a theoretical problem, but a real one
I think we can take it for granted that neither Paul nor the Lord Jesus are saying: 'For your information, there are wolves. But don't worry, you'll never meet one.' How can we take that for granted? Because the Lord says 'Watch out' and Paul says 'be on your guard'!
2. They are dangerous
Wolves eat sheep. When a church has wolves prowling around, the sheep are in danger. (Obvious, eh? Yep; sometimes the art of Bible teaching is 'stating the obvious'. Then illustrate, and apply.)
3. They are hard to recognise
That is, they are in sheep's clothing. They (apparently) bear many marks - or at least some of the marks - of the true believer.
4. It is possible to recognise them
Otherwise, there'd be no point being told to 'watch out'. They are not easy to spot, but the alert shepherd can spot them.
5. It’s the duty of the shepherds to recognise them
This is an area where greater discernment than the 'average' church member has is needed. Many church members never get beyond the mythical beatitude 'Blessed are the Nice.' But shepherds - elders, pastors, overseers - are to be chosen on the basis of spiritual wisdom and maturity. Discernment is part of that.
6. They are recognised by the effect that they have
That's the clear teaching of Matthew 7:16 (above), where Jesus mixes his metaphors. We recognise wolves not by their intentions - still less by what they say their intentions are - but by what they actually do and the impact that it has. This is a vital point to grasp.
7. Once they are recognised the shepherds must deal with them
Once again, it’s clear that neither Paul nor Jesus means ‘look out for them – and then do nothing about them.’ David (1 Samuel 17:34-37) describes the responsibility of the (literal) shepherd when the flock is threatened, and the (spiritual) shepherd learns his responsibility from the parallel. Often, though, that can be difficult, not least because...
8. They have friends on the leadership
‘From your own number’ (Acts 20:30) means they will have worked closely with other leaders, which makes them difficult to identify and painful to deal with. They have worked themselves onto the leadership somehow - obviously with an appearance of grace and orthodoxy and probably with genuine leadership gifts. Friendship is a good thing; but it may cloud our judgement. 'He can't possibly be a wolf - our children grew up together, we've spent holidays together, we get on really well.' Yes - but what do they do? (See point 6, above)
9. They are not just false teachers
Much of the stress seems throughout the New Testament is on false teaching, but some verses (e.g. Titus 3.10) make it clear that this is not always the problem. False teaching is certainly dangerous and divisive - but there are other ways of being divisive, other ways of damaging the flock. Even the false teachers, though, manage an appearance of orthodoxy, enough to be appointed to the leadership of the church.
Psst. Wanna hear a sermon?
Try Steve Levy: http://gracebaptist.org.uk/wp/?page_id=204&sermon_id=49 and let me know what you think.