“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” Matthew 7.15-18
Who are false prophets today? I know of more than one instance in which a leading voice in the church has been labeled a false prophet. Usually, at least today, that person is speaking about how God loves LGBT’s and wants them to be included in the life of the church, or even that God loves all people and wants to save all people. The people labeling such people ‘false prophets’ are the ones who hate LGBT’s (or at least want nothing to do with them) or hate Muslims/Islam, divorced people, sinners of various kinds, etc.
The church, I believe, is full of false prophets. As Jesus draws this point out further, he says that we can know the true nature of a person by looking at his or her fruit. This is how I have begun to think about how to know if someone is a wolf in sheep’s clothing:
Does this person seek reconciliation, or do they harbor unforgiveness and anger?
Does this person love their enemies and their neighbors, or do they demonstrate hateful attitudes towards one (or both)?
Is this person more like salt, or more like sand?
Is this person humble, or judgmental?
Does this person seek God’s kingdom and will, or do they worry about a loss of personal power, prestige, or property?
Does this person seek to give honor to others, or do they seek to receive honor?
Does this person demonstrate a life of openness, or a life of clenched fists?
For each of these categories, a person who falls on the left side of the question is living a life that bears good fruit. A person who falls on the right side of the question is living a life that bears bad fruit, and goes against the teachings of Jesus.
This has been an interesting exercise for me as I think about the accusations made against some of the most loving and open Christians in America. The irony is that the very ones who make accusations are the people who are often the most angry, judgmental, hateful, and fearful people, while the ones who teach us to love and live openly towards others are accused of being false prophets.
The sad thing is that we listen to the false prophets.
We begin to believe that Jesus doesn’t really mean for us to love all of our enemies. We begin to believe that Jesus wants us to live safely. We begin to believe that anyone who is on the margins of society is not to be included in God’s inner circle of fellowship. We begin to believe that God doesn’t want to save everyone, but only us. We believe that difference is bad. We believe all of these things because we are afraid of losing a grip on orthodoxy, not ever considering that in our desire for orthodoxy we are excluding the very least of these that Jesus told us to love and serve. This, I think, is the tragedy of the modern church… we have given our ears to false prophets who want to keep us divided and pure, and have called people false prophets who want to guide us into loving and open relationships towards people who are currently excluded.
If we really understood Jesus, we might start seeing things differently. May we all bear good fruit in keeping with righteousness – loving neighbors, strangers, and enemies.