Summary: We are to discern false teaching within the church by examining the fruit produced by our teachers.
I know that several of you have recently driven to California. I was wondering if they still have the Agricultural Inspection Stations when you cross the border into California. I know they still had them when Mary and I vacationed there a couple of years ago. Those inspectors are tasked with inspecting any fruit that you might bring into the state in order to make sure that there are not any pests or diseases being carried into the state that might damage any of the fruit being grown there in California.
All of us who are followers of Jesus have also been tasked with being fruit inspectors in the kingdom of heaven. But obviously the inspections we are to make don’t deal with apples, oranges, pears and peaches, but rather with spiritual fruit. And that task is both more difficult and much more important than the one the inspectors at the California state lines have. Let’s read the words of Jesus that describe the task His followers have been given as spiritual fruit inspectors:
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 7:15-20 (ESV)
You’ll remember from last week that Jesus has just finished describing the narrow gate and path that leads to life and the wide, easy path that leads to destruction. And now He warns His followers to beware of those false prophets that would attempt to lead people to choose the wide, easy way.
Once again, there is a temptation on our part to think that this really isn’t something that those of us who are Christ followers need to worry about. But, like the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is primarily addressing His followers here. Even once we’ve become citizens of the kingdom it is still possible to be deceived into pursuing the wide easy way and there are false prophets within the body who would attempt to get us to do so.
So this morning we need to do two things. First we need to examine the words of Jesus to determine why these false prophets present such a grave danger to the body of Christ. And then we need to develop some principles that will help us to be effective spiritual fruit inspectors.
SOME OBERVATIONS ABOUT FALSE PROPHETS
1. They are dangerous
Jesus begins this section of His message with another command – beware! Like many of the commands in His sermon, this one is in the present imperative, which means that it is not something that we can do just once and move on. We have to constantly be on guard for false prophets.
The verb that Jesus uses here literally means to hold one’s mind back from something. The idea here is that we are to guard our minds so that they are not exposed to the influence of these false prophets because they are dangerous and if we don’t guard our minds they will pervert our minds and poison our souls.
The teaching of Jesus here is really nothing new. The problem of false prophets plagued the people of Israel from very early times. Even before they entered into the Promised Land, God gave them this warning:
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Deuteronomy 13:1-3 (ESV)
God warned His people that they needed to guard against false prophets. And it wasn’t going to be easy to do that since, at least in some cases, these false prophets would even be able to make predictions that came true.
And the problem of false prophets obviously continued well after the completion of Jesus’ earthly ministry. As Paul met with the elders in the church at Ephesus near the end of his ministry, he also warned about false prophets:
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.