As the father of two little boys and a one-time little boy myself, it won’t surprise you to learn that I know a thing or two about superheroes. One thing that even the most casual fan knows is that most superheroes desire to hide their true identity, and usually do so using some sort of disguise. Some do a pretty good job – think Spiderman or Batman. Some don’t care at all – think recent depictions of Iron Man or Captain America. Others seem to care a great deal, but make the most ridiculous costume choices for maximum identity protection. The worst offender is Superman himself. His choice of disguise? He removes his glasses – and somehow no one recognizes that he is actually Clark Kent. This is pretty much the same logic that leads a toddler to hold their hand over their own eyes and declare that you can’t see them.
This feeble attempt at disguise came to mind recently as I considered Jesus’ warning from Matthew 7:15 to “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” I realized that I’ve never truly taken Jesus’ warning to heart in the way he intended. As I read His words now, I realize that the whole point of His warning is that they would not be easily identified as wolves. I think I’ve always expected a wolf in the church to be a bit like superman – comically disguised as something other than what he is and easily recognizable. I’ve never truly considered how sheep-like these wolves are.
Some false prophets are easy to recognize as they live blatantly sinful lives and spout heresy every time they open their mouths. However, these are not the false prophets that Jesus was warning against in this passage. He’s warning against the ones who look and act like sheep. In fact, these wolves are so good at acting like sheep that He says you will know them by their fruit. Fruit takes time. Though wolf-like qualities such as pride, selfishness, deception, irreverence, and destruction will eventually show up clearly as fruit, they will initially be masked in more “sheeply” conduct.
In light of this, I thought of some practical considerations of Jesus’ warning that some wolves will look like sheep.
- Wolves often make great church leaders. At least at first. These wolves will attract crowds because of their charming and friendly personality. They will seek popularity and even make effort to offer their assistance to pastors or church leadership as they gather power to put their own agenda in place.
- Wolves often know the Bible. In fact, for a good church, the most effective wolf would have to be a Bible-toting, Bible-quoting one. We must be aware, though, of the great danger of those who use God’s Word as a tool for their own agenda rather than as the bread of life. Remember, even Satan himself quoted the Bible to Jesus.
- Wolves will claim to love and care about the church. In fact, they will frequently proclaim that they work for the best interest of the church. Remember, they are in disguise. It wouldn’t be an effective one if they wandered in and claimed to be a wolf. Jesus said that even in the end they would claim to have done everything in His name.
- Wolves may be the most active church members. After all, their true identity is still there under the surface. They are naturally prideful and self-centered and the best way to mask those qualities so that they are not exposed is to be the most involved, most holy-looking, most religious members they can be.
- Wolves appear to promote spirituality. Most Christians would be very wary of a wolf that encouraged outright sin and rebellion against God, so the most effective wolves take the opposite approach. They promote holiness – or so it seems. A careful inspection will reveal that, like the Pharisees, they are actually teaching their own man-made traditions and preferences as if they were God’s commands.
Though I’m sure there are more observations to be made about wolves, these seem to be some of the areas in which we are most vulnerable. It is certainly not my desire that we ignore the obvious wolves, nor do I desire that you treat every fellow church member with suspicion. However, I do think it is important to the health of our churches that we understand Jesus’ statement for what it was – a serious warning that the most dangerous wolves will look an awfully lot like a really good sheep.
Sunday mornings around our house are a little chaotic, to say the least. I won’t bore you with the details of our morning routine, but imagine something like the merger of a greased pig contest and an emergency evacuation at the mall. Yep, it’s a little like that and this morning was no different. I sent the kids downstairs with permission to watch TV after they put on their socks and shoes. Sometime later, I make my way downstairs to make sure they’ve accomplished this small task. I find them cuddled together quite adorably under blankets on the couch and I ask, “Do you guys have your socks and shoes on?” To my surprise, they all answer yes. Now, my surprise was due to the fact that unbeknownst to them I had just walked past their shoes on my way to confront them and knew that they didn’t have them on. So I ask again, “Are you sure you have your socks and shoes on?” to which they respond with a chorus of “maybe”, “not really” and I think a growl or two.
To be honest, this is not all that unusual and after I issued the obligatory command not to lie and to put on their shoes I promptly forgot all about it. Until, that is, I was sitting in church later listening to our pastor preach about the “Famine of Truth” in our culture today. As he spoke about the tendency of our culture to talk about truth, but not really expect or adhere to it I nodded along in full agreement. He’s absolutely right that the unsaved world has no regard for truth and that the American judicial, political, academic and moral systems no longer value or promote truth as the highest ideal. However, his words brought to mind my morning incident with my children and I was reminded that the battle for truth is not one being fought merely on the far away battlefield of Washington, Hollywood or the academic institutions of the world. It is a battle being fought in my community and yours; my church and yours; my home and yours.
I don’t mean that you and I are liars who never tell the truth. I mean that just as I did with my kids this morning, we often feel overwhelmed by the attacks against truth and just give in with a mild rebuke at best. This is a direct failure of one of the primary responsibilities of God’s church. According to the Apostle Paul, we are to be “the pillar and foundation of the truth (I Tim 3:15).” Jesus said “I am the truth”, so our primary responsibility as the church is to hold up that truth. Not our version of the truth. Not our personal preference. Not our pet obscure doctrine. No – we must hold up the truth of Christ come to be the Savior of the world.
In my confrontation with my children, I failed to be a pillar of the truth. Not because I believed what they said – I knew they were lying. Not because I couldn’t prove it – I had their shoes. Not because I thought it was ok or approved of the lie – I was actually quite irritated. I failed to be a pillar for truth because I did not make the truth a priority. I did not take the extra time to point them to Christ in the midst of their childish lie. I know that some will say I’m over-reacting, but it is in these small arenas of church and home that we first began to lose this battle for truth and it is here that we must take back our lost ground. We must determine that we will no longer miss opportunities to combat a lie with the truth of Christ. We must determine that we will no longer accept or promote a counterfeit truth. We must be the pillars of truth that Jesus planned for us to be.
From across the gym, I watched with at least a little fatherly pride as my son bore down on the helpless soccer ball lying in the center of the gym. As he approached at almost full speed, I pictured him crushing that ball with all the might his little 8 year old legs could muster. And then he missed. Not a lot, but enough. Instead of connecting squarely, his little foot hit the top of the ball and things got ugly. Though it felt as if I was watching in slow motion, it happened too fast to react. I watched helplessly as he launched into the air and leveled out almost parallel with the gym floor. I began slowly moving toward him as his head hit the floor with an awful “crack”; and just that quickly the night we had planned was changed. A night of fun and games with church friends became a night of confusion and worry as we found ourselves headed to the ER to wait and see how badly he had injured himself. Though we eventually learned that he was fine and that there was no serious injury, the evening of waiting allowed plenty of time for thinking about just how quickly things can change.
Over the last several months, God has repeatedly shown me just how quickly things can change and just how uncomfortable I am with that fact. We have seen stability turn to uncertainty, friends turn to enemies, success turn to failure in the blink of an eye. Though we see it constantly, it remains unbelievable just how fast life can change. The problem is that the more things change – particularly unfavorably- the more we are forced to walk the walk of faith. I have always claimed to trust the Lord, but that’s easy to do when you have a job. I have always said that ministry was in God’s hands, but that’s easy to do when people aren’t attacking you and betraying you. I’ve always said that all glory belongs to the Lord, but that’s easy to do when there is some glory to distribute because things are going well. When it all falls apart you realize just how much we must totally rest in God. I must confess that I don’t have it all figured out, but I find great comfort in the fact that God’s people have wrestled with this issue long before I came along.
The psalmist writes, “My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken. On God my salvation and my glory rest; the rock of my strength, my refuge is in God. Trust in Him at all times, O people (Psalm 62:5-8).” When life seems to change in the blink of an eye, with one swift kick that misses the mark, I am reminded that God is my Rock. He is all the stability I need and I need only to trust Him. Even as I write these words, I know from experience that it is not always easy. And I know I am not alone. Many who read these words are facing uncertainty as well. Loss, change and instability of one sort or another seem constant to us all. I challenge you to say with me and the psalmist, “He only is my Rock and I will trust in Him at all times.”