Christian Art | Beware False Prophets
15 ¶ Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Today’s Bible reading, as yesterday’s, asks us what we bring to other people – how we genuinely give, without masquerading our own needs and unresolved issues as a gift.
There is a beautiful lesson in love, which is to test ourselves when we are offering gifts of love to our beloved/s, and this is by imagining that we actually don’t know the person or people to whom we are giving. This way, we can make sure that what we are doing is giving, rather than making an investment and expecting something in return.
This is a lesson in purity of intentions. Jesus asks us to think: do we ever appear in sheep’s clothing to others, when really what we are bringing is emotional hunger.
In other words, are we the good tree, bringing forth good fruit, or are we far from selflessly giving, instead being emotional vampires – or ravening wolves?
A prayer: may we recollect ourselves when we do experience emotional needs, such that we honestly ask for the friendship, love and support that we need. May we always take care of other people while we care for ourselves and hope to be cared for too.
Let us bring forth good fruit, giving always, even as we receive.
Remember, Lord, your solemn covenant,
renewed and consecrated by the blood of the Lamb,
so that your people may obtain forgiveness for their sins,
and a continued growth in grace.
We make our prayer through our Lord.
King James Audio Bible KJV | King James Version | Endnotes
Beware False Prophets
The words of Jesus in Matthew 7:15-20 are a warning to all who seek spiritual guidance and truth. In these verses, Jesus warns his followers to ‘beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves’ (Matthew 7:15, KJV). The imagery here is striking: false prophets may appear outwardly harmless, even gentle like sheep, but inwardly they are predatory and dangerous like wolves.
The Bible is full of warnings about false prophets, from the Old Testament to the New. In Deuteronomy 18:20-22, God commands his people to test any supposed prophet to ensure that they are truly speaking on God’s behalf: ‘But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.’ (Deuteronomy 18:20, KJV) Similarly, in Jeremiah 23:16, God condemns false prophets who speak lies in his name: ‘Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD.’ (Jeremiah 23:16, KJV)
False prophets have always been a danger to God’s people, and this danger continues to this day. Throughout history, many religious leaders have led people astray with false teachings and false prophecies. In the early Christian church, for example, there were many false teachers who preached a distorted version of the gospel. The apostle Saint Paul warned the Galatians about such teachers, saying: ‘I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.’ (Galatians 1:6-7, KJV)
In the Catholic tradition, false prophets have often been associated with heresy, which is any teaching that contradicts the official doctrines of the church. In the Middle Ages, for example, the Church faced a number of heretical movements, such as the Cathars, the Waldensians, and the Hussites. These movements all claimed to be based on a purer form of Christianity, but they were condemned by the Church as heretical and their leaders were often persecuted or even executed.
In the Protestant tradition, false prophets have often been associated with charismatic leaders who claim to have direct access to God or special spiritual gifts. Throughout the history of Protestantism, there have been many such leaders, some of whom have led their followers into dangerous and destructive behavior. In the 19th Century, for example, the American religious leader William Miller predicted that the world would end in 1843 or 1844, and his followers sold their possessions and gathered in anticipation of the apocalypse. When the predicted date came and went without incident, many of Miller’s followers were disillusioned and some even committed suicide.
So how can we recognize false prophets and avoid their teachings? Jesus gives us a simple test: ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?’ (Matthew 7:16, KJV) In other words, we can judge a teacher by the results of their teachings. If their teachings lead to good fruit, such as love, joy, peace, and other fruits of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23), then we can be confident that their teaching is true. If, on the other hand, their teachings lead to bad fruit, such as hatred, division, and harm to others, then we can be sure that they are false prophets.
This principle of judging a teacher by their fruits has been echoed by many religious authorities throughout history. Saint Augustine, the great theologian of the early Christian church, wrote: ‘For if the teaching be not good, neither will the works be good. For neither doth a good tree bear evil fruit, nor an evil tree good fruit.’ (Commentary On John, 15:5) Similarly, Martin Luther, founder of the Protestant Reformation, wrote: ‘The fruit of a tree shows what kind of tree it is. So the fruits of doctrine show what kind of doctrine it is.’ (Luther’s Works, Vol. 39, p. 84)
Another way to recognize false prophets is to test their teachings against the Bible itself. In Acts 17:11, for example, the Bereans are praised for examining the teachings of the apostle Paul against the Scriptures: ‘These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.’ (Acts 17:11, KJV) The Bible is the authority for Christians, and teaching that definitively contradicts the Bible as a whole should be rejected.
Finally, we can avoid false prophets by relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In John 16:13, Jesus promises his disciples that the Spirit of truth will guide them into all truth: ‘Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.’ (John 16:13, KJV) As Christians, we have access to the Holy Spirit through prayer and meditation, and we can trust in his guidance to help us discern the truth from falsehood.