Sermon by Pastor Gene
BEWARE OF FALSE PROPHETS
Good morning everyone, welcome to Strait Gate Church. If this is your first time here, we are happy to have you with us. Today we are going to read Matthew 7:15-20. KJV, v-15, "BEWARE OF FALSE PROPHETS", which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolvs. v-16, Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? v-17, Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. v-18, A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. v-19, Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. v-20, Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Some people have concluded that trying to discern what the truth is, is a relative concept. In other words, truth depends on how you define it. What is truth for you may not be truth for me. What is truth today may not be truth tomorrow. The idea that there is absolute truth is becoming increasingly foreign to our society. There have always been questions about the nature of truth. Philosophers have speculated about truth for centuries. Pilate, in the process of questioning Jesus, asked a very pointed and pertinent question. He asked, "What is truth?" Many are still asking that same question today. And when people come along purporting to be a vessel chosen by God to teach the truth, how are we to know what to believe about them? There are many of those voices today. All around us we find those claiming to have a prophetic word concerning issues that impact our lives. In the Christian community, there are many preaching messages that not only differ in minor details but also differ in fundamental content. Who is right? Who do we follow? How do we know? Why would people fall for a David Koresh? How could people be taken in by a Jim Jones? One writer observed, "The greater tragedy of Jonestown was not that nearly a thousand people died, but that they died believing they were serving God."
Jesus himself warned us about "false Christs and false prophets." He tells us in Matthew 24:24, For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
His words have certainly proved correct over the years. And because they are true, we must develop a capacity to discern the true from the false prophet. It is to this issue that the Scripture speaks today.
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has been telling us how we should live our lives. Now He applies the same principles to those who come in God's name. And He gives us a method by which we can more accurately and effectively determine who is true and who is false. What is the key? How can we be sure? What is the method by which we may discern who is true and who is false? Well, in the first place, He indicates that we discern prophets, Not By Appearance.
"Matthew 7:15 says, Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves". Before we can determine who is true and who is false, we must understand a fundamental principle. It is that we cannot make a determination based simply on outward appearance. If we look simply at externals, we may be deceived.
I am sure this is what happened in both the case of David Koresh and Jim Jones. In fact, in the case of Jim Jones we have a striking illustration of this truth. Mel White in his book Deceived, gives us an interesting picture of Jones. He knew how to inspire hope. He was committed to people in need; He counseled prisoners and juvenile delinquents. He started a job placement center; He opened rest homes and homes for the retarded; He had a health clinic; He organized a vocational training center; He provided free legal aid; He founded a community center; He preached about God. He even claimed to cast out demons, do miracles and heal. There is no doubt that if someone looked at Jim Jones and his ministry that they would conclude that he was a true minister of God. In fact, countless church leaders, governors, senators, congressmen, and even the President of the United States recognized him for the great work he was doing.
Little did they know. The same can be said for David Koresh. Shortly after the Waco tragedy, an Evangelest was asked by the English periodical Evangelicals Now to write a short article about Koresh. He said In his research, he came across a piece written by Steven R. Reed for the Houston Chronicle in which he said, "The beginning was innocent enough. A charismatic young man named Vernon Howell embraced God's word, sought God's will and worshipped God's Son." This kind of an observation only reveals to us how hard it is to look at outward appearances and judge what is really going on in the heart. Outwardly, Koresh may have seemed like he was a man seeking the truth. The truth, however, is not where Koresh ended up. Reed goes on to conclude, "Called to serve Christ, Howell-Koresh instead had tried to supplant Him." Tragically for many, what appeared to be a man seeking to serve God was instead a man deceived and deceiving others.
If we evaluate things based on appearances, we will make serious mistakes. We may be in danger of being deceived ourselves. Did Jesus say that in the end times these false prophets would show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect? If we were to only look at the outward manifestation of supernatural power, we might be deceived. Satan is a supernatural being too. Jesus said that these false prophets would come to you in sheep's clothing. Think about it. The perfect disguise for a wolf seeking to have a lamb chop for dinner would be a sheep suit. He might look like a sheep, but on the inside he would still be a hungry, vicious wolf. You see, the old saying that "if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck" is not necessarily true. In fact, we all walk like and quack like a lot of things we are not. The strategy of Satan is not to show up in a red suit and horns, pointed tail, and a pitchfork. He comes as an angel of light. A strategy of Satan is to appear to be something he is not.
So if a false prophet appears to be a true prophet and a true prophet appears to be a true prophet, how are we to know the difference? If we cannot rely upon outward appearances, The key is to look deeper. The key is seeing past the outward appearance. The key is to unzip the sheep's suit. Jesus tells us that we will know the true prophet from the false prophet, not by appearances
but by his fruit.
You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:16-20)
The true test of a true or false prophet has to do with the kind and character of their fruit. Appearances can be deceiving. But taking the time to inspect the fruit will give a more certain indication of the nature of the tree. Suppose you are not skilled in picking out trees by the appearance of their foliage. If you were to come upon a orchard of trees that had yet borne no fruit that season, there would be no way for you to tell what kind of trees they were. You would simply have to wait until the fruit began to come. As the fruit started to appear, all doubt would be erased as to the kind of tree it was. If you saw apples, you would conclude that it was an apple tree. If you saw oranges, you would conclude that it was an orange tree. If you saw pears, you would conclude that it was a pear tree. you would know by the fruit.
This is precisely the point that Jesus is making here. He says that a good tree bears good fruit. Conversely, the bad tree bears bad fruit. It is impossible, for instance, for a thorn bush to produce grapes. They must be produced from a grape vine. And figs come from fig trees, not thistles. Inspecting the fruit is the key to discerning the true prophet from the false.
Now we might ask ourselves just what kind of fruit reveals the nature of the prophet. What are the marks of a true prophet? What are the marks of a false prophet? One area in which Jesus expects us to bear good fruit is the area of our character. Here we are talking about who we are on the inside. What are your motives? What are your attitudes? What are your ambitions? Jesus said in John 15:8, "By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples." Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." In other words, if we are walking in the power of the Spirit then we will be displaying the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. If what we are manifesting in our lives is something other than the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians, then we may conclude that we are not being lead by the Spirit.
When you are trying to evaluate one who speaks in the name of the Lord, first look to the inner character of the individual. Look inside. Look at the heart. Take the time to get to know the person well enough to find out what is on the inside. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why it is so important to be connected to a local church. You can't simply watch someone on television or listen to someone on radio and evaluate what is on the inside. You never really get a chance to see them long enough to get any idea of that. It is only when you live with people and get to know them that you can catch a glimpse of what is on the inside. Another kind of fruit that Jesus emphasizes is what we may call the fruit of good works, or action fruit. In Colossians 1:10, Paul exhorts us to "walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God."
A true prophet will be involved in doing the work of the Lord in a selfless way. He will not be in it for his own glory. He will not be in it for profit. He will be a servant of God seeking to serve others.
Another area of good fruit has to do with sound doctrine. We are exhorted in the Scriptures to give attention to sound doctrine, or proper scriptural teaching. A false prophet will subtly pervert the teaching of Scripture. He will give it in a slightly twisted way in order to serve his own ends. That is why it is so important for us to get into the Bible for ourselves, in order not to be deceived by those who twist Scripture. Had the followers of David Koresh or Jim Jones been Biblically grounded they would have probably never fallen for their deceptive claims.
So when you hear the many voices claiming to speak for God, be careful. Notice that I did not say be skeptical. Far too many people close themselves off to God because they are afraid of being deceived. The fact that there are false prophets means that there are true prophets. So don't be skeptical - be careful. Evaluate what you hear by the Word of God. Look at the character of the person's life. Look at the goal of the person's ministry. If what you see lines up with the Word of God, then rejoice. If there is something not right, then beware. Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15)