This morning, we’re going to learn about a difficult truth regarding people. Jesus warned us about them, as did Paul to the elders of the church in Ephesus as he was leaving that town knowing that he would never see them again. Before we discuss these people, however, it is first necessary for us to lay down a firm foundation so that we, ourselves, are not deceived.
We are called to love and honor all people. We are to follow the example of Jesus, whose will it is for every person to repent and receive His salvation, who considered every single life worth giving up His own perfect one for. There is never, ever a condition placed on this command that we should be excused to dishonor and mistreat anyone.
Galatians 5:14, Romans 13:8, Romans 13:10, Matthew 22:36-40
the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
To be absolutely certain that we understood that this command is unconditional, Jesus taught:
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Jesus went on to live out this truth to its full by providing salvation for the very ones who crucified Him. He forgave them even while they were spitting on Him and hurling insults at Him hanging on the cross.
Is this mandatory foundation absolutely, perfectly clear that we are to love and honor all people, no matter their actions or condition?
Now upon this foundation, we’re reminded of this next truth to keep our hearts, attitudes, and actions right before God. This truth is that the spiritual battles that we face are never against people. Though they may come through people, those people are not our enemies. Those people may mistreat and persecute us, they are not our enemy. The enemy cowards behind them in the spiritual realms.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God,so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Our battle is not against flesh and blood, we never fight against people. Also, the only thing that we are called to do in this spiritual battle is to stand our ground. James wrote it this way:
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
OK, so do we understand that we are to love and honor all people and that the battle is never against them?
Well, then, we’re going to finally move along to a dark truth about people that the scriptures warn us about. There exists a group of people who are deeply deceived and extremely bound by Satan that we will encounter often in life. This group of people are not the drunks, drug addicts, or prostitutes. This group of people are not the murders, thieves, and con artists. This group of people are not even the demon possessed.
This group of people are frequently ones who call themselves believers, are thoroughly convinced of their salvation, yet are totally and painfully deceived. They are ones that sit beside you in Bible study and can quote off any scripture, they “Amen!” the loudest during sermons, they read their Bibles and pray every day, they worship for all to see, they can even be labeled as part of the five fold ministry of the church. They call themselves sheep, but the scriptures call them wolves.
Paul writes to young Timothy about this group of people and warns him:
2 Timothy 2:23-26
23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
It may be difficult for us to think about, but it is the truth of God’s very own word. There are around us every day people who are being held captive to do with will of the devil. They are his puppets, his marionettes who have fallen into his trap. The immediate context of this scripture is completely clear that Paul is not warning Timothy about unbelievers. Paul is warning Timothy about teachers inside of the church who incorrectly handle the word of God. He even calls out two individuals specifically, Hymenaeus and Philetus, who are using God’s word to destroy the faith of God’s people. Paul said that false teachings spread like gangrene. This means that many in the church believe them and are deceived and follow these wolves to their death.
As Paul left the church in Ephesus, knowing that he would never see them again, he said this to the leaders of that church:
28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
Paul doesn’t only refer to this group of people as wolves, but as savage wolves. Jesus also warns us about these wolves:
15 “Watch out for false prophets.
False prophet – Greek word pseudoprophētēs – one who acts the part of a divinely inspired prophet (prophet being defined as one who moves by the Spirit of God) – so effectively – one who acts like they are moved by the Spirit of God. These are fake people; ones who claim to be Christians, but are moved by their flesh and not the Spirit of God.
These are fake people who sincerely believe that they are following Jesus and doing the will of God. They believe that they hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, but it is the voice of the enemy that they follow. They defend their actions with the word of God, but it has been distorted. Remember, when Jesus was tempted by Satan, Satan used the very word of God. Satan quoted scripture and told Jesus to follow it word for word and Jesus saw it as a temptation to sin. We must be like Jesus and be on our guard! If Jesus can be tempted to sin by following God’s word, how much more vulnerable are we? Jesus continued:
They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Paul called this group of people savage wolves, Jesus calls them ferocious wolves. Jesus warned us about this group of people and taught us how to recognize them. He warned us about how deceived they are. Satan has them looking and acting like a Christian and fooled them into believing that they are. This is indicated by Jesus saying that they come in sheep’s clothing. They talk, act, and look like a Christian. From their mere appearance, you can’t tell these ferocious wolves from the sheep. Yet, Jesus said that by the fruit of their lives, you will be able to recognize them.
This morning, let’s learn together how to recognize a wolf and how to deal with them. First of all, how to recognize them:
Speak highly of God (praise me with their lips, but their hearts are far)
Read/Quote God’s word (Satan, himself did when tempting Jesus)
Worship God unashamed (to honor God, or be seen by others?)
Pray fervently (for God’s will to be done, or to control others?)
Make disciples of others, teaching them God’s word (to build up others or to be right and prove others wrong?)
Claim Christianity (faith is proven by the fruit of our lives)
Fruit of their lives
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Sheep walk in humility valuing unity and others above themselves (ministry of reconciliation, 2 Corinthians 5:18)
Wolves walk in pride valuing division and their own opinions (discord, dissensions, factions, Galatians 5:20)
Wolves are always right and always feel mistreated by others and undervalued (selfish ambition, Galatians 5:20)
Wolves are always the victim (selfish ambition, Galatians 5:19)
Wolves are never responsible for biting and nipping at the sheep or for having fits of rage and selfish ambition (Galatians 5:15;20)
Sheep draw people to Jesus and into the flock of other believers (Hebrews 10:25)
Wolves draw people away from the flock toward themselves (Acts 20:30)
Sheep are gentle and kind and make every effort to maintain peace with others (Hebrews 12:14)
Wolves are known for what they hate and stand in “righteousness” against others (Galatians 5:20)
Sheep live to honor Jesus alone and follow His voice (John 10)
Wolves hunt in packs, they follow people and movements (idolatry, discord, dissensions, factions, (Galatians 5:20)
Sheep give up their “rights” and humbly serve others according to their needs (Galatians 5:13-14)
Wolves try to control people to do things their way (Galatians 5:20)
The list goes on and on, but we begin to see a clear picture of the fruits that Jesus was referring to. Essentially, if that person’s actions are consistently void of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, but they talk, act, and look like a Christians, then they are very likely a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
James also teaches us about these wolves, who are deceitfully lead by a demonic influence:
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
Now that we have a better understanding of what fruits to look for in an individual to determine if they are a sheep or a wolf, how do we deal with those who are wolves? Our initial reaction would be to stay as far away from them as possible, take up our torches and pitchforks, and drive them out of the flock of sheep. Wait, Biblically speaking, we would form a whip and drive them out of the Lord’s house. God’s word, however, teaches us radically and differently. After all, that is a fleshly response and not a Spirit-lead one from what we’ve just learned.
2 Timothy 2:25-26
25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
Wolves need the love of God more than any sheep ever will. We respond by setting the example. We love and honor them and remember that they have been taken captive by the devil to do his will. Our heart should break for them with compassion. Our warfare must not be against them, but against the puppeteer behind the scenes in the heavenly realms! We love them as we stand firm against their captor and gently speak truth into their lives!
We must continue to persevere and gently instruct them praying that they will come to their senses and become aware of the truth about them. If you call a wolf a wolf, they will only have another reason to continue being one and reason to bite and devour you. If you show them the manifest love of God and persevere in teaching them how to love others, they will eventually realize their error, repent, and become freed from the trap of the devil.