Member Question – What are your thoughts about the warnings in the New Testament regarding wolves in sheep’s clothing? How am I to think about them, as well as respond to them? The Bible says,
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
This is a very good question that needs careful biblical scrutiny and engagement. It is similar, in a sense, to Matthew 13:24-30 regarding the tares (weeds) among the wheat. The similarity is the hypocrisy factor.
Both people groups are not genuine, though the group you are speaking of is more destructive based on the metaphor used to describe them. The wolf is a teacher, given power and authority over the sheep. The wolf’s mission is to destroy. In that way he is similar to the thief in John 10:10.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Destruction is what wolves do. Tares (weeds) can create similar disunity. Neither are authentic Christians. The litmus test that reveals their lack of authenticity is the fruit of their actions (Luke 6:43-45).
Please read my article about spiritual abuse from pastors, where I provide seven examples or signs of spiritual abuse. If there is a wolf masquerading as a sheep then there must be decisive steps taken to remove him from his constituency.
With that said, I want to draw more out of your question as it pertains to the grayness that is involved in our tare problem–the weeds that are growing along with the wheat. This is a common problem in our churches and it is hard to know how to distinguish a tare and/or whether we should tolerate them.
While the behaviors of a wolf are more clear in that they teach false doctrine and their actions do not square with the Word of God (Galatians 1:8-9), the tare is a different kind of person that requires a different kind of discernment.
There is no one right response to a “tare” that may be among us. Each situation would dictate the kind of response needed. Here are four possible responses to a tare.
- In some situations, you can ignore what is going on. The problem may resolve itself in time.
- In other situations, you should confront whatever it is they are doing.
- Then again it may be wise to flee from the harm that is being perpetrated.
- You could also lovingly appeal and engage the person, hoping to have civil discourse with them.
A Wisdom Issue
What I am saying here is that engaging a tare is a wisdom issue. I have encountered many mean-spirited people in the church, who seemed to be tares, only to find out they were Christians, who were hurting and reacting to bad things that had happened to them in their past.
For example, a Christian, who has been reared by an angry or a passive dad will have a hard time learning how to relate well with others as an adult. Salvation does not solve their problem. It only puts them on the path to transformation.
The progressive nature of sanctification could take them many years to learn and model historical Christian virtues (Galatians 5:22-23; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). These people are not tares at all, but our brothers and sisters in Christ, who are still drinking the milk of God’s Word (Hebrews 5:11-14). They are immature (1 Peter 2:2).
On the other end of the spectrum are true tares, who have one objective, which is to tear down the name of God by bringing confusion, divisiveness, and pain to His sheep. In these situations, they must be confronted and the sheep need to be protected.
Protecting the Flock
One thing that has helped me to think about this tare problem is to think about it from a shepherd-to-sheep perspective. I try to imagine the good shepherd looking out over his sheep while asking the question, how would he take care of his sheep?
This is how I think about my wife and children. I tend to be protective regarding them, as it pertains to their soul care. This is a leader’s responsibility. Shepherds protect sheep, so being diligent in bringing care to them is a top priority.
For example, I am called to discern my wife (1 Peter 3:7) and to protect, nourish, and cherish her (Ephesians 5:29). By carefully monitoring those within your sphere of care will tell you how (or if) the tares are negatively affecting them.
It is wiser to spend less time trying to figure out who is a tare and more time bringing soul care to those within your sphere of care. Here are three practical assessments you can make of those who receive your care.
- How are they doing? (This is a general, but practical question that covers any specific need.)
- Are they growing, maturing, and changing?
- Are they secure, as in not timid?
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. – Psalm 23:2
The good shepherd has to “make” his sheep lie down in green pastures, which implies he has to be attentive to their fears. A timid sheep will not automatically lie down in green pastures, but has to be “made” to do it, and he will only do it if the conditions are right.
- Have you created a gracious environment that reduces fear, while encourages growth?
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. – Psalm 23:5
The shepherd also goes to great lengths to “prepare” a table (mesa) for his sheep, which implies he rids the table area, up in the mountains, of all the poisonous plants and other harmful things that would hurt or kill the sheep within his care.
- Are you removing specific things that bring harm to the souls of those within your care?
The most effective way to protect from the damage the tares can cause is not by trying to figure out who is a tare, but by maintaining biblical vigilance over the sheep.
This is done by protecting, observing, measuring, assessing, caring, and loving the sheep. Their overall spiritual health is our best clue to who or what is affecting them, as well as how effectively we are caring for them.
This means we must be totally engaged with the sheep in our pasture. We cannot be passive, detached, or distant. We cannot be angry, critical, or discouraging.
We must give our lives for our sheep. We must create environments where the sheep can boldly and confidently proclaim, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”
Call to Action
- Who are you called to provide care for–a friend, spouse, parent, sibling, employer, teammate, pastor, or fellow church member?
- How well do you protect those within your sphere of care?
- In Psalm 23 we hear the sheep loudly proclaiming his adoration for the care he is receiving from his shepherd. What are those within your sphere of care saying about your soul care provision?