7:15 “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. 7:16 You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? 7:17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 7:18 A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. 7:19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 7:20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.
I think this is a very important passage today. If most people are like me, this passage has always been used to tell us how to recognize other Christians, and it’s coupled with the fruit of the spirit from Galatians 5. We tend to learn that Christians are the good kind people, the first ones to show up to help and the last ones to leave, the people who give money or food to the homeless guy on the corner, the people that are always at the outreaches. I think we can recognize Christians in that way, but we also have to remember those things are not only Christian attributes, lots of people who are not Christians act that same way.
This passage is specifically talking about prophets or teachers, not Christians in general. The fruit in this passage isn’t the fruit of the spirit from Galatians 5, the fruit is what they teach or what they say. We can know this because what do prophets and teachers do, they prophesy and they teach, that is what they produce, that is their fruit. We can also know this if we continue reading in Matthew 7.
7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven – only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 7:22 On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ 7:23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’
I really think verses 21-23 are a continuation of 15-20. It’s seems like an additional explanation. He has just told the crowds how to identify a false teacher and goes on to explain that not everybody who says ‘Lord Lord’ will be saved. The people in 21-23 quote their works, the things they did in Jesus’ name for their salvation, but Jesus knows better. They say look at my fruit, but Jesus can tell the difference between good and bad fruit. To us bad fruit can look good and can sound good. I think the key is what they teach.
So what are some of the fruits of false teachers? Jeremiah encountered some false profits in his day.
14:13 Then I said, “Oh, Lord God, look! The prophets are telling them that you said, ‘You will not experience war or suffer famine. I will give you lasting peace and prosperity in this land.’”
14:14 Then the Lord said to me, “Those prophets are prophesying lies while claiming my authority! I did not send them. I did not commission them. I did not speak to them. They are prophesying to these people false visions, worthless predictions, and the delusions of their own mind.
Jeremiah’s day is a bit different than today. I imagine back then they almost solely relied on prophets to hear from God, and I’m not entirely sure how they determined who was a false prophet other than waiting to see if the prophesies were fulfilled. Today we have the Bible, and we can take what we hear, and compare it to what God has revealed in the Bible. In verse 14 God says he has not spoken to the false prophets in verse 13, in other words those false prophets did not have the word of God, they were not teaching the Word of God. We have the word of God, and we can know if what is being taught lines up with the word of God as revealed in the Bible. If the prophet or teacher is speaking contrary to what is written in the Bible, you have a false prophet on your hands.
There are experts in twisting the Bible to make it say whatever they want it to say. So it is important for you to know the Bible yourself. Anytime somebody is teaching out of the Bible, read it for yourself, and read more than just the passage they read. Read before and after the passage they read. Taking the Bible out of context is the chief way people twist the Bible. I trust the pastoral staff at my church, but I still check out what they are teaching on my own. You should also make sure they are teaching the fullness of the Bible. Leaving stuff out of a passage or white washing the not-so-fun-stuff is twisting the Bible too.
The line that really strikes me in the above passage is “They are prophesying to these people false visions, worthless predictions, and the delusions of their own mind.” Let that last part sink in… delusions of their own mind. If what they teach does not line up with the bible they are teaching the delusions of their own mind. I have heard preachers say they have a word from the Holy Spirit, pull a passage out of context, then talk about themselves for an hour… delusions of their own mind. I’ve heard preachers say it’s not God’s will that you are poor… delusions of their own mind. I’ve heard preachers say the world will end at a certain time and place… delusions of their own mind. And people believe and follow these preachers because they don’t know the word of God for themselves.
I believe any teaching position at a church is taking on the role of a shepherd. Teachers are required to teach sound doctrine, and sound doctrine comes from the Bible and anything a teacher says should be backed up with the Bible. It’s not their job to take the sheep to edge of the cliffs of controversy and canyons of half-baked theories. It’s not a teachers job to say ‘this is what I think’, but to say ‘this is what the Bible says’. We can be sure of what we believe because it’s written in black and white, in Hewbrew, Greek, Latin, Olde English, American English, UK English, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, and even Ebonics (although I question the reliability of the Ebonics translation). There is a time and place to discuss theories and the details the Bible doesn’t give us, but from a teaching position is not the time or the place.
I almost feel like the American church is falling into a situation like the dark ages where they believed whatever the clergy told them because they didn’t have a Bible to read for themselves. But unlike the dark ages, we have our own Bibles, we just choose to ignore it and let preachers spoon feed us poison.