Matthew 7:15 – 20 Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
My daughter is in a musical this weekend. She plays a princess! One of the characters in the play is a scary wolf, and he devours a couple of the other characters. (Fortunately, the princess is spared from that fate.) But the reason the wolf is able to eat the other characters is simple. He fools them into thinking he is harmless. He builds up their trust, and then, chomp! They are his dinner. The problem is that they don’t give themselves time to really get to know the wolf. Anyone can put on a show for a little while. But over time, his wolf-iness will certainly come through.
This passage has often perplexed me, because just a few paragraphs before this, Jesus told us not to judge others. But here, is He telling us to judge our pastors and teachers? It sounds like He is. But actually, I think He is talking more about discernment than judgment.
He is not telling us to judge them harshly, to show no mercy on them and sentence them to years of living under our gossip and slander and unkind actions. I’m afraid that is the case in many of our churches. Because our pastors aren’t perfect, they are judged harshly. They are shown no mercy by church members, and are treated with disdain. Friends, that was not Jesus’ intention.
We should be careful. We should be wise observers of those who are in positions of leadership. We should try to discern their motives, to perceive the purity of their hearts. If we are looking for perfection, we will never find it. There are no perfect people in this world. But by careful observation, we can certainly determine the motives of a person’s heart.
A pure-hearted person will make mistakes, but he will also consistently produce good fruit. A wicked-hearted person may deliver stirring speeches. He may even appear to produce good fruit at times. But the key here is consistency. If you stand back and watch a person, you’ll get a pretty good idea of their motives. The wicked person will not be able to consistently produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control. He cannot produce that kind of fruit, because he doesn’t have the proper ingredients. And we certainly should not let that kind of person be our pastor, our teacher, our mentor.
If we feel that one of our leaders is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, we still have no right to tar and feather him. We still have no right to gossip and slander and get on the phone and call every other church member and air our grievances. We should treat that person with love, the way we would want to be treated. We should pray for wisdom and guidance. And we should try, through our actions, to pull that person into a right relationship with Christ. If we need to change churches, then so be it. If the person needs to be removed from his position, it should be handled with love and mercy, not gossip and slander and cruel actions.
Remember, God is the only one who has a right to judge. If an imperfect person messes up, but he has consistently produced evidence of a pure heart, forgive him and move on. If you discover someone’s motives are false, get away from that person. But let God be the judge, let God pass out the sentence.
Above all, we should pray for our pastors and leaders. As we look for evidence of good fruit in their lives, we should also focus on producing good fruit in our own lives. After all, we never know who might be watching us.
Dear Father, Please help me to produce good fruit. Give me wisdom in selecting my pastors and teachers.