Consistency is incredibly important. We depend on consistency, and consistent people are dependable. Without consistency we have chaos. Consistency often feels boring and mundane. Often we like to feel accomplished, so we thrive when times are good and deflate when times lack movement. Many people leave churches that are routine and migrate to churches that are full of life and energy. But is this the wisest move?
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he addresses multiple sources of all kinds of divisions in the church. The church was on the brink of extinction because of all the division, and there was not much that was appealing about Christianity in Corinth.
Towards the end of the letter, Paul urges the saints to focus on their eternal destination. He wrote, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50 ESV). He points out that death is swallowed up in victory for the Christian. He concludes: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (vs. 58).
Amen and amen! Paul warned the Corinthians about following the “super apostles.” It’s not about getting caught up in the emotions of these powerful speakers, but about being consistent in living out their faith and serving others.
There are people who wreck the lives of other innocent people. Many do this intentionally, taking advantage of innocents for their own selfish gain. This is not love. Love doesn’t intentionally hurt others. It’s crazy we have to clarify this, but you’d be surprised at just how many Christians embrace wolves whose only intent is to harm innocent people. A main reason this happens is that we are inherently terrible at identifying wolves, so the assumption is that we’re all in this church together.
John paints a very different picture. He says very bluntly, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says, ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected” (1 John 2:3-5 ESV). John goes on to say that we know that we are in Christ because whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk as he did. That’s it. People who claim to love Christ but don’t keep his commandments, hurting innocents in the process, are liars.
If we understand this one simple truth, we will be way ahead of the majority of Christians who keep welcoming wolves into the church in the name of Jesus.
Since 2016 there has been a very sharp rise in mental health issues among youth. NBC News reporter Elizabeth Chuck wrote a piece a few weeks ago, saying this: “In a joint letter, first shared with NBC News, leaders from the federal agencies called the issue a “national youth mental health crisis” and encouraged states to carefully plan how they use block grants, Medicaid state plans, waivers and other resources that come from multiple federal agencies so they are being executed without duplication.” Anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, and suicide among young children are all up sharply. This trend is here to stay.
So where does this leave us? Paul gives a very clear recipe, citing the first commandment to obey parents with a promise: “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Ephesians 6:3 ESV). But the very next verse, in my opinion, is by far the most important: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (vs. 4).
It’s evident that many of the mental health issues stem from abusive or unstable homes. As mental health issues among the young increase, there is a correlation in the rapid decline of membership in churches. This trend is strong and we need fathers to step up to the plate and instruct their children in the Lord. There is no reason why this many young children should be suffering irreparable harm. The numbers are too staggering for us to take a casual approach to the problem. We need to protect our children from abuses that they face and teach them to be strong disciples of Jesus!
Jesus was clear that, concerning wolves, “you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). The Bible makes a very clear distinction between wolves and the rest of people who often struggle with sin. They are not in the same category for this reason: people who struggle with sin repent and those who only produce bad fruit do not. It is impossible for the latter to repent, according to the scriptures.
So what are these characteristics that all wolves have? We’ll unpack this more later, but for now we need to know that wolves “go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth” (Hebrews 10:26). They are “ravenous,” meaning they stop at nothing to destroy innocent people. They revel in their deceptions as they are feasting with the people they seek to destroy (2 Peter 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:13). In other words, they enjoy causing harm and distress to people. Put another way, they enjoy wrecking the lives of innocent people.
Finally, they are instinctive, persistent, and do not ever stop. Peter says that what the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire” (2 Peter 2:22). This is a far cry from people who genuinely struggle (even for a lifetime) with sin. People who struggle do exactly that–they struggle. They often suffer from depression, guilt, and shame. They work hard on overcoming sin. They take no pleasure in hurting others, which is why they are overcome with guilt and shame. Contrast this with the wolf, who enjoys inflicting pain on innocent people.
Once we recognize these patterns we can better identify wolves and keep them away.
Jesus very clearly defended the innocent. He was not friendly towards people whose intent was destruction of innocents. Even before Jesus preached, John the Baptist said of Jesus: “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). Jesus echoed John when he was describing the destruction of evil people who pretend to be righteous: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 7:19). Paul, using very similar language, explains why impostors are to be destroyed: “. . . while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).
Unless we understand the evil mindset of impostors people will keep welcoming them into the church, assuming they will have a change of heart. Afterall, we all want to believe that everyone is capable of change. But not all are. This becomes more and more clear as we follow the ministry of Jesus. Jesus had extreme compassion and mercy for people who made horrible decisions, who lived in wildly sinful lifestyles, and who wrestled with temptation. We see him forgive a prostitute who wiped his feet with her tears, reveal himself to a Samaritan woman who had 5 husbands and was living with her current boyfriend, and let’s not forget the woman caught in adultery who Jesus defended and sent in peace.
But for people who intentionally deceive and worm their way into the lives of innocent people to oppress them, Jesus was not so merciful. There is a line in the sand that separates sinners and impostors. Impostors always take advantage of innocent people. They are repeat offenders, and they never repent. In fact, the Bible is clear that some people are so hardened that they cannot repent. These are the people Jesus called “ravenous wolves.” And they were never allowed near the sheep. Jesus saw to it.
There’s an old idiom: “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” It’s intended to suggest that ignorance is bliss. In other words, the less we know about troublesome things the better off (and presumably safer) we are. Many people live with intentional ignorance, but is this the safest way to live?
As parents, we know that we need to teach our children from birth how to be safe. We “baby proof” houses until a child is old enough to understand how to safely navigate through the house without getting hurt or dying. It takes constant reinforcement to train them to stay away from boiling water, hot stoves, electrical outlets, sharp objects, etc. There are two basic ways that we learn how to avoid dangerous situations–one is by people who warn us and the other is to experience pain ourselves. If we aren’t told that certain things are dangerous or if we luck out and avoid pain for a while, eventually we will succumb to serious injury or death.
What we don’t know can hurt us. This is why Jesus spent a significant part of his ministry warning people about wolves. In fact, John records Jesus’ important words after he warns them about destructive people: “I have said all these things to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:1-2). Had Jesus not warned his followers, they would have been completely blindsided and left high and dry. Instead, they knew exactly what was coming, they knew the signs, and they could at least stand a fighting chance of surviving the grip of wicked people. What we don’t know can definitely hurt us.
Everything in life is about balance. There is good and evil, rich and poor, blessings and curses, and so forth. If all we ever did was tell people about the good in the world, they would have no idea that bad exists. Conversely, if all we did was talk about the bad we would get the feeling that there is no good. Jesus certainly did good and preached about good in his ministry. But he also spent a lot of time warning people.
Jesus warned of hell. He also warned about evil people. One of the most life-changing passages for me has been the Jesus’ discussion on false prophets. Jesus said, “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?” (Matthew 7:15-16 ESV). Jesus goes on to say that bad trees will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
It’s important to realize that Jesus isn’t warning people about some “slippery slope” to avoid. Rather, he’s warning the saints about people who are already ravenous wolves. These people will devour innocent people and the best bet for staying both physically and spiritually alive is to recognize these people and avoid them. In the next few weeks we will be looking at very distinct ways to recognize deceivers and wicked people who pretend to be sheep.