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.