Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (‘Beware of False Prophets’, Parts 1 and 2).

Matthew 7:15-20

A Tree and Its Fruit

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

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These verses are part of the Sermon on the Mount, the content of which is in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.

This passage ties in with and follows on from last week’s, which concerns the narrow gate.

Jesus tells His audience to beware of false prophets (verse 15) who come in an agreeable appearance — sheep’s clothing — but who are, in reality,  ravenous wolves, evil and soul-destroying.

John MacArthur unpacks what our Lord means. ‘Beware’ is (emphases mine):

a severe word.  Literally, in the Greek it means, hold your mind back from.  Don’t ever expose your mind to the influence of a false prophet.  Don’t pay attention to, give heed to, follow, notice, devote yourself, don’t even put your mind in his vicinity.  They’re dangerous, they pervert the mind, they poison the soul.  You see, we see the results of what they do in 2 Peter: “Many people follow their pernicious ways.” 

He explains ‘sheep’s clothing’:

The wool of the sheep, when it was sheared, was made into cloth for garments; the mark of a shepherd was he wore a wool cloak.  Israel is much like California; the evenings are very cold, even in the summer it cools down, and they needed that.  The idea is not that he comes dressed like a sheep; the idea is that he comes dressed like a what?  Shepherd, wearing the garment made from the sheep. Sheep’s clothing is just another term for wool.  And so as the false prophet wore the garment of the prophet, the false shepherd wears the garment of the shepherd.  It isn’t that we’re dealing with a sheep who’s infiltrated, it is that we’re dealing with a shepherd who has infiltrated. 

Britain’s left-wing Fabian Society has a stained glass window which has a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing (image here, above the globe the men are forging). Admittedly, that is a secular image, yet they’re being honest about themselves! Avoid them and all their works, including the Labour Party and London School of Economics! But, I digress.

In verse 16, Jesus says that we will recognise them by their fruits and asks His audience, by way of simple illustration, whether grapes can be gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles. It is impossible. He develops this further by discussing good and bad fruit (verse 17), the former coming from healthy trees and the latter from diseased ones (verse 18).

Diseased trees are cut down and burned (verse 19). In other words, false prophets will be eternally condemned.

Therefore, we can judge prophets — these days, clergy — by their fruits (verse 20). Those bearing bad fruit might be greedy or lustful.

Just as bad if not worse, and increasingly common these days, are those who lead us from the narrow gate. Are they preaching salvation? Are they telling us to repent? Are they encouraging us to examine our sin? Are they preaching Christ crucified? Are they presenting Christ biblically in their sermons? Are they teaching us about the doctrines of grace and mercy? If not, they are wolves.

Liberation theology, economic justice, environmental worship, syncretism (combining other deities with Christianity) and many more postmodern aberrations are signs of wolves.

We have many wolves in our midst, sometimes whole denominations full of errant clergy taught at seminaries which promote false, worldly, un-Christian, unbiblical teachings.

In many ways, many clergy of our era are rather similar to Christ’s era with self-righteous, false, dangerous Pharisees and scribes. Whilst the Jewish leaders of our Lord’s day prescribed legalism for everyone but had lax rules for themselves, our clergy teach us that anything goes. Both are equally bad. Our errant clergy are responsible for leading their flocks to eternal condemnation, unless those people pray for discernment and leave for another congregation with a true shepherd.

In closing, Matthew Henry has this advice for evaluating clergy:

What do they tend to do? What affections and practices will they lead those into, that embrace them? If the doctrine be of God, it will tend to promote serious piety, humility, charity, holiness, and love, with other Christian graces but if, on the contrary, the doctrines these prophets preach have a manifest tendency to make people proud, worldly, and contentious, to make them loose and careless in their conversations, unjust or uncharitable, factious or disturbers of the public peace if it indulge carnal liberty, and take people off from governing themselves and their families by the strict rules of the narrow way, we may conclude, that this persuasion comes not of him that calleth us, Galatians 5:8. This wisdom is from above, James 3:15. Faith and a good conscience are held together, 1 Timothy 1:19,3:9. Note, Doctrines of doubtful disputation must be tried by graces and duties of confessed certainty: those opinions come not from God that lead to sin: but if we cannot know them by their fruits, we must have recourse to the great touchstone, to the law, and to the testimony do they speak according to that rule?

It’s not a sin to walk away from a church with a false prophet — pastor — at its head. In fact, one is doing the right thing provided one continues to pray often and study Scripture during a search for godly preaching.

Ignore false teachers who say you must stay with their churches or you are condemned. They will try to intimidate members of the congregation who see through them. I once knew someone like that. Fortunately, he retired not long afterward. We now have a vicar who preaches and teaches the Word of God.

Next time: Matthew 7:28-29

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