I have gone camping many times in the North woods. At times, the rangers will post signs warning of wolves. Perhaps a dog strayed a little too far from its owner and became a wolf meal. Sometimes it is a deer that is hunted down by the pack of wolves. In the natural, wolves are strong predators that seek to kill those weaker. This is also true in the spiritual.
The world has an idea that the only people who are in churches are real Christians, people who follow Christ. The truth is that every time people gather to establish the Kingdom of God and to worship God, a supernatural battle also takes place. This battle against good is sometimes talked about in Scripture using wolves and sheep and shepherds.
Godly pastors are called to be shepherds of God’s people who are sheep. The responsibility of sheep is to follow and trust the shepherd and as they do, the flock grows. Wolves are the enemies of God who seek to devour the sheep. Wolves are agents of darkness who seek to devour the sheep and destroy the flock. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” (John 10:10, NIV84) Godly shepherds learn to be on the lookout for wolves and will do all they can to protect the flock.
How do we learn to discern the wolves?
“For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 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. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:27–31, NIV84)
In this verse we see that wolves are savage. That word means fierce, vicious, and cruel. Wolves are those who attack the flock to eat the sheep, scatter the flock. They cause confusion, disarray, and divisions. Wolves distort the truth. Wolves will seek to draw the disciples, the sheep to follow them. So wolves are people who come in and speak words that lead to confusion, division and a movement of sheep away from the shepherd to follow them.
Wolves are also false prophets.
“”Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15–20, NIV84)
Prophets are leaders. False prophets are false leaders. Perhaps they are those who are not yet ready to lead, but the desire to lead is strong enough to cause them to begin to draw sheep away from the shepherd. A wolfish spirit seeks recognition, prominence and defends itself against correction. A wolfish spirit is independent and will not submit to the leadership in a church and will seek to assert the reasons that it should lead.
In this verse, the false prophet is “one who claims to be a prophet and is not and thus proclaims what is false.” (Louw, J. P., & Nida) So we know a wolf claims to be spiritual and claims to be a leader. A wolf claims to be a prophet and claims to hear from God but, in truth, is not and proclaims what is untrue. We see that they come in sheep’s clothing. The may act like they love or walk in humility but their motives are centered on themselves. Because they initially look like sheep, it may be hard at first glance to discern who is a wolf and who is a sheep. So we discern by the fruit. We look to their behavior over time and then we are able to distinguish between sheep and wolves.
What then is wolfish behavior?
“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” (Romans 16:17–19, NIV84)
Wolves create division in the church body. The word division means “the equivalent of ‘causing division’ is literally ‘to cause two groups in place of one group,” (Louw, J. P., & Nida) So when you see a church split, you can be assured that there are likely wolves involved. When you see a ‘leader’ start a ministry of people who were under the care of another shepherd, you see wolfish behavior.
Wolves also distort the truth.
“If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” (1 Timothy 6:3–5, NIV84)
The phrase “false doctrine” means “to teach that which is different from what should be taught—’to teach a different doctrine, to teach something different.’ (Louw, J. P., & Nida) What should be taught? Merely the pure and simple truth of God’s Word. “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Timothy 1:13–14, NIV84)
A wolf will add or remove or distort the Word of God in their teaching. Some wolves will add principles of psychology to the Word of God to distort the simple Gospel. Some wolves will intellectualize the Gospel and quibble over the meanings of words in order to promote their own gospel. Some wolves will over-emphasize an aspect of the gospel (such as grace) in order to minimize other truths (such as holiness).
What happens to wolves and their followers?
“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” (Romans 1:29–32, NIV84)
In the church, the shepherd, the pastor is responsible before God for the sheep. When the pastor sees someone planting seeds of discord, he must protect the sheep. He obeys the Scripture. “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10–11, NIV84)
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