May 3rd, 2015
Matthew 7:15-23 (see also Luke 6:43-45)
“Emmanuel’s Warning Pt 2”
Service Orientation: Watch out! Judge religious leaders because the world is full of counterfeit prophets who can deceive and destroy you. Even more critical is that you judge yourself. Are you who you think you are?
Bible Memory Verse for the Week: Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. — 1 John 4:1
- We have a tendency to associate prophecy with the foretelling of the future. But in fact that was only a part (and actually a less prominent part) of the prophet’s ministry. The basic task of the prophet was to forth-tell, not just to fore-tell, God’s word. He was to explain and apply God’s truth to the lives of the people in his own day, as well as speak about the future. (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 166)
- A “false prophet” is one who falsifies God’s word–either by openly contradicting it, or, more likely (as Jesus indicates), by twisting its meaning. (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 166)
- (v. 15) Beware always warns of danger. It is not a call simply to notice or sense something, but to be on guard against it because it is so harmful. The word conveys the idea of holding the mind away. False prophets are more than wrong; they are dangerous, and we should not expose our minds to them. They pervert thinking and poison the soul. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 464)
- (v. 15) In OT times prophets were often recognizable by what they wore. Like Elijah, they often wore rough, hairy, uncomfortable clothing as a symbol of their foregoing the normal comforts of life for the cause of God. John the Baptist, as the last prophet of the Old Covenant, wore a camel’s hair coat and ate locusts and wild honey. There were exceptions, but prophets generally could be identified by their plain, coarse clothing. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 465)
- (v. 16) There were bushes in Israel that had little berries that resembled grapes and certain thistles whose flowers resembled figs. But the berries were bitter, unfit to eat, and the flowers were deceptions. So also with the teaching of false prophets. (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 114)
- (v. 22) There are three possible explanations for the claim of the false believers. It may be that they were allowed to do those amazing works by God’s power. God put words in Balaam’s mouth, even though that prophet was false and wicked (Nm 23:5). King Saul, after he became apostate had the “Spirit of God [come] upon him mightily, so that he prophesied” (1 Sm 10:10). The wicked high priest Caiaphas unwittingly and unintentionally “prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation” (Jn 11:51).
A second possibility is that those amazing acts were accomplished by Satan’s power. Jesus predicted that “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Mt 24:24). The unbelieving sons of Sceva, for example, were Jewish exorcists, who made their living casting out demons (Acts 19:13-14). Mk 9:38-40 tells of someone outside the apostles casting out demons. Paul promises false signs in the last days, lying wonders of Satan (2 Thes 2:8-10). Acts 8:11 describes the work of a satanic sorcerer. Today there are miracle workers, healers, and exorcists who claim to work for Jesus Christ but are satanic deceivers.
A third possibility is that some of the claims were simply false. The prophecies, exorcisms, and miracles were fake and contrived. No doubt all three will be represented. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 480)
The question to be answered is . . . Why does Jesus want us to judge religious leaders and ourselves?
Answer: Because listening to lies and following inauthentic religious leaders is not only tempting and unproductive but can lead to destruction. We need the Spirit of Jesus to discern the status of prophets and our own hearts.
The Word for the Day is . . . false
The Gospels, book of Acts, epistles, the book of Revelation are full of examples of false prophets (Mt 27:20; 28:12-15; Jn 7:41, 42; 9:29; Acts 2:13; 8:18, 19; 15:1; Rom 6:1; 17:17, 18; 1 Cor 15:12; 2 Cor 10:10; Gal 1:6, 9; 3:1; 4:17; 5:2-4; Eph 5:3-14; Phil 3:2, 17-19; Col 2:4, 8, 16-23; 2 Thess 2:1, 2; 3:6, 14; 1 Tm 1:3-7, 18-30; 4:1-5, 7; 6:20, 21; 2 Tm 2:14-18; 3:1-9; 4:3, 4; Ti 1:10-16; 3:9, 10; Heb 6:4-8; 10:26-28; Jam 2:17; 2 Pt 2:1 ff.; 3:3, 4; 1 Jn 2:18; 4:1; 2 Jn 10; 3 Jn 9, 10; Jude 4 ff.; Rv 2:9, 14, 15, 20-24; 3:9). In fact, one of the dragon’s (Satan’s) allies is “the beast out of the earth” (Rv 13:11), who is also called “the false prophet” (16:13; 19:20; 20:10). It is worthy of note that Christ’s description of the false prophet, the one who comes in sheep’s clothing but inwardly is a ravenous wolf, and the picture presented in Rv 13:11, “the beast with two horns like a lamb but speech like a dragon,” closely resemble each other. In both cases inner essence is in conflict with outward manifestation. False prophets are the representatives of the power of darkness (Col 1:13; cf. Lk 22;53; Acts 26:18; Eph 6:12) masquerading as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 372)
Of what is Jesus warning us on the heals of teaching about the right path that leads to life and the wrong path that leads to destruction?
I- Watch for false prophets who are selfish, greedy wolves ravaging, pillaging, and deceiving by promoting the broad road that leads to destruction. (Mt 7:15-20 see also: 1 Kgs 22:1-38; Jer 5:30-31; 6:13-15; 8:8-12; 14:14; 23:14-22, 28-40; 29:21; Mic 3:5; Mt 7:13-14; 24:3-15, 24; Mk 13:22; Acts 20:28-32; Rom 16:17-18; 2 Cor 11:13-15; Gal 1:6-12; 2:4; 3:1; 2 Thess 2:1-12; Ti 1:11; 2 Pt 2:1-22; 2 Jn 7; Rv 2:2)
The false prophet is identified by his attitude toward the people of God. He is a “ferocious wolf,” and expresses his true nature by the way he devours the flock. He does not lay down his life for the sheep (as the Good Shepherd did–see Jn 10:15). Instead, he uses the sheep to serve his own interests. He is not at all like the Lord Jesus. (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 167)
The basic fault of the false prophet is self-interest. The true shepherd cares for the flock more than he cares for his life; the wolf cares for nothing but to satisfy his own gluttony and his own greed. The false prophet is in the business of teaching, not for what he can give to others, but for what he can get to himself. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 284)
The false prophet is a man who comes to us, and who at first has the appearance of being everything that could be desired. He is nice and pleasing and pleasant; he appears to be thoroughly Christian, and seems to say the right things. His teaching in general is quite all right and he uses many terms that should be used and employed by a true Christian teacher. He talks about God, he talks about Jesus Christ, he talks about the cross, he emphasizes the love of God, he seems to be saying everything that a Christian should say. He is obviously in sheep’s clothing, and his way of living seems to correspond. So you do not suspect that there is anything wrong at all; there is nothing that at once attracts your attention or arouses your suspicion, nothing glaringly wrong. . . . What is so wrong with their teaching? The most convenient way of answering this is to say that there is no “strait gate” in it, there is no “narrow way” in it. As far as it goes it is all right, but it does not include this. It is a teaching, the falseness of which is to be detected by what it does not say rather than by what it does say. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 500)
We must realize, then, that it is actually possible for a man to be preaching correct doctrine and yet to be outside the kingdom. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 522)
He may teach solely for gain. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 284)
He may teach solely for prestige. (Barclay, 285)
There is a kind of teacher and preacher who uses his message as a setting for himself. The false prophet is interested in self-display; the true prophet desires self-obliteration. (Barclay, 285)
He may teach solely to transmit his own ideas. (Barclay, 285)
Now in first-century Palestine the wolf was the natural enemy of sheep, which were entirely defenseless against it. Hence a good shepherd, as Jesus was to teach later, was always on the look-out for wolves in order to protect his sheep, whereas the hired laborer (who, not being the sheep-owner, did not care about them) would abandon them at the sight of a wolf and run away, leaving it to attack and scatter the flock. Just so Christ’s flock is at the mercy of either good shepherds or paid laborers or wolves. The good pastor feeds the flock with truth, the false teacher like a wolf divides it by error, while the time-serving professional does nothing to protect it but abandons it to false teachers. (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 198)
There is someone standing by my side, who looks just like a member of the Church. He is a prophet and a preacher. He looks like a Christian, he talks and acts like one. But dark powers are mysteriously at work; it was those who sent him into our midst…He may even be unconscious himself of what he is doing. The devil can give him every encouragement and at the same time keeps him in the dark about his own motives. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 212-3)
Here are people who call Jesus ‘Lord’ with courtesy, orthodoxy and enthusiasm, in private devotion and in public ministry. What can be wrong with this? In itself nothing. And yet everything is wrong because it is talk without truth, profession without reality. It will not save them on the day of judgment. So Jesus moves on from what they are saying and will say to him to what he will say to them. He too will make a solemn profession. The word used in verse 23 is homologēsō, ‘I will confess’. Christ’s confession to them will be like theirs in being public, but unlike theirs in being true. He will address to them the terrible words: I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers. (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 207)
Scripture speaks of three basic kinds of false teachers: heretics, apostates and deceivers. Heretics are those who openly reject the word of God and teach that which is contrary to divine truth. Apostate teachers are those who once followed the true faith but have turned away from it, rejected it, and are trying to lead others away. Those two kinds of false teachers at least have the virtue of a certain honesty.
The false shepherd (the deceiver), on the other hand, gives the appearance of orthodoxy, frequently with great declarations and fanfare. He is not liberal or a cultist but one who speaks favorably of Christ, the cross, the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and so on, and who associates with true believers. He may go out of his way to appear orthodox, fundamental, and evangelical. From his looks, vocabulary, and associations he gives considerable evidence of genuine belief. But he is not genuine; he is a fake and a deceiver. He has the speech of orthodoxy, but is a living lie. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 465)
Today we have a preference towards the gifts of the Spirit and not towards the fruit of the Spirit. WHY? Because the gifts of the Spirit are more showy, impressive, flamboyant, but also easier counterfeited, and easy imitated.
Whereas the real defining of Christian character is in the fruit of the Spirit. It is here that one is GODLIKE and the fruit of the Spirit should be the goal of every Christian. But we chase after the gifts instead of the fruit because they are more showy. It goes to show that we are more interested in show than in substance. (R.C. Sproul message, The Indwelling Power of Love)
Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world. (John Owen quoted by Sinclair B. Ferguson; The Christian Life, 160)
II- Examine your own heart for authenticity. Many will be destroyed by self-denial. (Mt 7:21-23 see also: Jn 8:31; 1 Cor 11:28; 2 Cor 13:5; 1 Thess 5:21)
The one great lesson to be learnt from this passage is the danger of self-deception, and this is emphasized in several ways. For instance our Lord uses the word “Many.” Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not done this and that?” We must not exaggerate the force and strength of this word “many,” but it is a word that carries a very definite meaning. He does not say “an odd person here and there,” but “many”–self-deception is a danger to the “many,” and His warnings against it are frequent. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 526)
Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true. (Demosthenes quoted by Patrick Morley; The Man In The Mirror, 286)
We must take time to ask ourselves these questions, for one of the greatest dangers to the soul is just to be living on our own activities and on our own efforts. To be over-busy is one of the highroads to self-deception. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 532)
Self is a great let to divine things; therefore the prophets and apostles were usually carried out of themselves, when they had the clearest, choicest, highest, and most glorious visions. Self-seeking blinds the soul that it cannot see a beauty in Christ, nor an excellency in holiness; it distempers the palate, that a man cannot taste sweetness in the word of God, nor in the ways of God, nor in the society of the people of God. It shuts the hand against all the soul-enriching offers of Christ; it hardens the heart against all the knocks and entreaties of Christ; it makes the soul as an empty vine, and as a barren wilderness: “Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit to himself” (Hos 10:1). There is nothing that speaks a man to be more empty and void of God, Christ, and grace, than self-seeking. (Thomas Brooks; Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 189)
A superficial doctrine of assurance, therefore, or a false doctrine of assurance, is one of the most common causes of self-delusion. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 529)
It is possible for a man to preach the gospel of Christ in an orthodox manner, to mention the name of Christ, to be right in doctrine and to be zealous in the preaching of he Word, and yet really to be doing it the whole time for his own self-interest and his own glory and self-satisfaction. The only way to safeguard ourselves against that is to examine and scrutinize ourselves. It is painful and unpleasant; but it has to be done. It is the only way of safety. A man has to face himself squarely and ask: “Why am I doing it? What is the thing that, in my heart of hearts, I am really out for?” If a man does not do that he is exposing himself to the terrible danger of self-delusion and self-deception. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 531)
CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: How can we make a proper judgment of prophets and our own hearts?:
- Understand that by our sinful nature, we all have a natural proclivity to lie to ourselves and a desire to hear the “positive and encouraging” lies of others. (Isa 30:9-10; Jer 5:30-31; 17:9; Lk 6:26; Rom 1:18-32; 3:9-21; 2 Cor 11:13-15; 2 Thess 2:1-12; 2 Tm 3:1-6; 4:1-3; 2 Pt 2:17-20)
People are experts at hearing who they want to hear so they can believe what they want to believe and do what they want to do. (Leadership Magazine quote given by Steve Brown in a sermon entitled, “False Prophets II: Matthew 7:13-29)
“It is not strange to see that the most dangerous heretics have many followers, every error being a friend to some sort of lust.” (Alexander Nesbitt as quoted by Alistair Begg in a sermon False Teachers Among You – Part 1)
The false prophet is always a very comforting preacher. As you listen to him he always gives you the impression that there is not very much wrong. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 501)
There has always been a large market for false prophets, because most people do not want to hear the truth. They prefer to hear what is pleasant and flattering, even if it is false and dangerous, over what is unpleasant and unflattering, even if it is true and helpful. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 461)
One of the major characteristics of false prophets in the OT was their amoral optimism, their denial that God was the God of judgment as well as of steadfast love and mercy. They were guilty, Jeremiah said to the people, of “filling you with vain hopes…They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, “It shall be well with you”; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart they say, “No evil shall come upon you.” Similarly, God complains; “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Such talk was, to say the least, a grave disservice to the people of God. It gave them a false sense of security. It lulled them to sleep in their sins. It failed to warn them of the impending judgment of God or tell them how to escape it. (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 199)
The false prophet is a man who has no “strait gate” or “narrow way” in his gospel. He has nothing which is offensive to the natural man; he pleases all. He is in “sheep’s clothing,” so attractive, so pleasant, so nice to look at. He has such a nice and comfortable and comforting message. He pleases everybody and everybody speaks well of him. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 500-1)
Diogenes said that false teachers were those whose method it was to follow wherever the applause of the crowd led.” Today Diogenes would say that False teachers and false scientists’ method is to follow wherever the buck led.” (William Barclay; Commentary on 2 Peter, 315)
Within the context of the Sermon on the Mount, the false prophet can only be someone who does not advocate the narrow way presented by Jesus. He may not be wildly heretical in other areas; indeed, he may set himself up as a staunch defender of orthodoxy. But the way which he commends is not narrow or disturbing, and therefore he can gain quite a hearing. (D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, 135)
There is nothing in their preaching which fosters poverty of spirit, nothing which searches the conscience and makes men cry to God for mercy, nothing which excoriates all forms of religious hypocrisy, nothing which prompts such righteousness of conduct and attitude that some persecution is inevitable. It is even possible in some instances that everything these false prophets say is true; but because they leave out the difficult bits, they do not tell the whole truth, and their total message is false. (D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, 135-6)
Self-deception is “corrupted consciousness,” says Lewis Smedes. Whether fear, passion, weariness, or even faith prompts it, self-deception, like a skillful computer fraud, doubles back to cover its own trail. “First we deceive ourselves, and then we convince ourselves that we are not deceiving ourselves.” (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 107)
He who would distinguish the true from the false must have an adequate idea of what is true and false. — Spinoza
Giving false assurance to sinners is a Scriptural sign of a false prophet. ‘From the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely. They have healed also the bruise of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace’ [Jer 6:14]. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to assure the hearts of God’s children. Thus, our forefathers would not have used the methods of assurance which are in vogue today. (Walter J. Chantry, Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic?, 70)
The warning of Jesus against false prophets is “relevant” now as well as when it was first spoken. Today the following are among the slogans used by the modern representatives of this cult of deceit:
“Heaven and hell are myths.”
“The God of love will not permit anyone to be punished everlastingly.”
“Satan is a myth.”
“Sin is sickness. It has nothing to do with guilt. Get rid of your guilt-complex.”
An individual is not responsible for his own so-called sins. The blame, if there is any, rests on the parents or on society.”
“In many situations what used to be considered sin is not really that at all.” Is this what is meant by “situation ethics”? Is it a handy device for condoning extramarital sexuality and other evils? (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 373)
Pretending seems a much more reliable road to Christian maturity. The only price we pay is a loss of soul, of communion with God, a loss of direction, and a loss of hope. (Larry Crabb quoted by John Eldredge; The Journey of Desire, 61)
Though there is nothing apparently wrong with this messenger, there are things that are subtly wrong–terribly wrong. In terms suggested by the immediate preceding context of the Sermon on the Mount, there is no narrow gate in his message. This man’s preaching is all right in that he says nothing that is untrue. The problem stems from what he does not say. He says many right things, but he also leaves out some indispensable points of belief. And that makes him exceedingly dangerous. He is truly a wolf “in sheep’s clothing.” His preaching also has another telltale characteristic–he says nothing that is offensive to the natural man. His message comforts and soothes and never warns of judgment. (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 249)
There is nothing to make anyone uneasy, but rather only things that make people feel good, content, and falsely assured. They characterize anyone who preaches otherwise as negative. (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 249)
- The proof is in the fruit. What a person sows is that which he will reap. What is the result or fruit of my acting on what I believe? (1 Sm 15:22; Mt 3:8-10; 7:15-20; 12:33-34; 13:24-39; 21:43; Lk 3:8-9; 6:43-46; 13:6-9; Jn 15:1-16; Rom 2:4-6; 7:4-5; 2 Cor 9:6; Gal 5:22-25; 6:7-9; Col 1:6-10; Heb 12:11; 1 Jn 3:6-10; 4:20; Jude 4, 10)
“Fruit is a Jewish metaphor for both character and conduct. Jesus’ followers would be able to discern false prophets by looking at their lives and conduct. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 138)
The false prophet is identified by his priorities. On the last day, these prophets will say to Jesus, “Did we not prophesy in your name,…and drive out demons and perform many miracles?” But Jesus will reject their claims to him (Mt 7:22-23). Why? They placed success before obedience (only those who do the will of the Father belong to the kingdom–verse 21). They put their own position before their service. Most obviously, they substituted gifts for grace. (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 168-9)
Religion is meant to bring men closer together, not to drive men apart. Religion is meant to gather men into one family, not to split them up into hostile groups. The teaching which declares that any Church or any sect has a monopoly of the grace of God is false teaching, for Christ is not the Christ who divides, he is the Christ who unites. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 288)
There is only one proof of love, and that proof is obedience. There is no point in saying that we love a person, and then doing things which break that person’s heart. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 289)
“Faith that does not act is a faith that is just an act.” (Lois Evans and Jane Rubietta, Stones of Remembrance)
But no person, no matter how clever and deceitful, can indefinitely hide a character that is rotten and out of tune with God. John Calvin said, “Nothing is more difficult to counterfeit than virtue.” It demands too much. It demands more than any person has in himself, and when God’s divine provision and power are absent the charade cannot last long. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 470)
The test is rephrased by a famous second-century document, the Didache, which says, “But not everyone who speaks in the Spirit is a prophet, except he have the behavior of the Lord.” (D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, 138)
The vital difference is between ‘saying’ and ‘doing’. The reason Christ the Judge will banish them from him is that they are evildoers. They may claim to do mighty works in their ministry; but in their everyday behavior the works they do are not good, but evil. (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 207-8)
The Didachē is the first order book of the Christian Church; it dates to about A.D. 100; and its regulations concerning these wandering prophets are very illuminating. A true prophet was to be held in the highest honor; he was to be welcomed; his word must never be disregarded, and his freedom must never be curtailed; but “He shall remain one day, and, if necessary, another day also; but if he remain three days, he is a false prophet.” He must never ask for anything but bread. “If he asks for money, he is a false prophet.” Prophets all claim to speak in the Spirit, but there is one acid test: “By their characters a true and a false prophet shall be known.” Every prophet that teacheth the truth, if he do not what he teacheth, is a false prophet.” (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 282-3)
There may be a superficial resemblance between the true and the false prophet. The false prophet may wear the right clothes and use the right language; but you cannot sustain life with the berries of a buckthorn or the flowers of a thistle; and the life of the soul can never be sustained with the food which a false prophet offers. The real test of any teaching is: Does it strengthen a man to bear the burdens of life, and to walk in the way wherein he ought to go? (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 283-4)
The Didache gives several means for distinguishing true prophets from false. One was that a true prophet would not remain as a house guest more than two days, because he would need to be up and about his work. A false prophet, however, would willingly stay indefinitely, since he had no real mission to accomplish except serving his own interests. The second test was in regard to asking for money. The true prophet, said The Didache, would ask for bread and water, but nothing more–that is, only for necessities to keep himself going. A false prophet, on the other hand, is not the least averse to asking for or even demanding money. A third test was in the area of life-style. A person who does not lead a life that corresponds to the standards he teaches is clearly not a man of God. Still another test was in regard to willingness to work. If a person wanted to live off others and would not work for his own keep, he was a Christ trafficker. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 466)
(i) Teaching is false if it produces a religion which consists solely or mainly in the observance of externals...
(ii) Teaching is false if it produces a religion which consists in prohibitions.
(iii) Teaching is false if it produces an easy religion.
(iv) Teaching is false if it divorces religion and life.
(v) Teaching is false if it produces a religion which is arrogant and separatist. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 286-88)
In his book Deceived, Mel White tries to determine why so many people could be so fatally misled. Among the reasons he suggests are:
He [Jim Jones] knew how to inspire hope. He was committed to people in need; he counseled prisoners and juvenile delinquents. He started a job placement center; he opened rest homes and homes for the retarded; he had a health clinic; he organized a vocational training center; he provided free legal aid; he founded a community center; he preached about God. He even claimed to cast out demons, do miracles and heal.
But on the other hand we find all the marks of a false prophet. He promoted himself through the use of celebrities, a very common vehicle for false prophets to gain credibility. He manipulated the press; he wanted certain favorable stories; he was big on playing the press…And he used the language and the forms of faith to gain his power. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 462)
I find it amusing, in the light of our text, that today we call an academic degree or diploma a sheepskin. For some professors and ministers clearly cover their intentions with the sheepskins of higher learning while using their knowledge of the Bible and church history to damage the faith of those who listen to them. We are to be warned against such teachers. (James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount, 255)
Let’s check the “fruit of the Spirit” in our lives:
- When you find that you are feeling more love for unlovely people, people you don’t particularly like, it is the work of the Holy Spirit.
- When you find that there is a sense of joy about your life, without necessarily a change in your circumstances, know that the Holy Spirit has been at work.
- When you find moments of peace that circumstances can’t destroy, you’re not going crazy, it is our Lord, the Holy Spirit.
- When you find yourself being patient in areas where before you would have been quick-tempered and angry, you will know that the Holy Spirit has been doing His work.
- When you find yourself kinder than you have been before, maybe even in the face of people who aren’t kind to you, that is the Holy Spirit doing what He does.
- When you notice that you are better than you were before, doing right things just because they are the right things to do–balancing your actions, not against the bottom line, but against God’s commandments in your life, and working for what you know to be right–you know the Holy Spirit has been at work.
- When others, who were supposed to be holding the rope for a brother or sister, got distracted by the pretty flowers…and you held on and were faithful, it is Him.
- When you are surprised with the gentleness with which you turned away an angry friend or family member, when before you would have been quick-tempered, you know the Holy Spirit has been working.
- When you are strongly tempted but are able to say no, though you wanted to say yes, you have seen the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. (Steve Brown; Follow the Wind–Our Lord, The Holy Spirit, 109-110)
- God’s Word is the basis of all truth. Test every spirit (miracle, teaching, deed, etc.) in which you come in contact. Use the “means of grace” to keep yourself honest and others with you. (Eph 4:11-16; 2 Pt 1:5-8) Is this spirit from God or Satan? (Ex 7:11-12, 22; 8:7, 18-19; Nm 23:8-10, 18-24; 24:5-9, 17; Dt 13:1-5; Ps 119:11, 105; Acts 17:11; 1 Thess 5:21; 2 Tm 3:12-17; Heb 4:12-13; 1 Jn 4:1 )
What is the best safeguard against false teaching? Beyond all doubt the regular study of the Word of God, with prayer for the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The Bible was given to be a lamp to our feet and a light for our path (Ps 119:105). The man who reads it aright will never be allowed greatly to err. It is neglect of the Bible which makes so many a prey to the first false teacher whom they hear. (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 52)
It is possible for real Christians to be taken in by false prophets. When believers are careless about study of and obedience to the Word, lazy about prayer, and uncritical about the things of God, it is easy for them to be deceived by someone who pretends to be orthodox–especially if he is pleasant, positive, and permissive. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 468)
I would like to suggest four doctrinal tests. First, the false prophet avoids preaching on such things as the holiness, righteousness, justice, and wrath of God.
…Second, he avoids preaching on the doctrine of the final judgment.
…Third, false prophets fail to emphasize the fallenness and depravity of mankind.
…Fourth, false prophets de-emphasize the substitutionary death and atonement of Christ. (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 250-1)
If you want to avoid terrible disillusionment at the day of judgment, face Scripture as it is. Do not argue with it, do not try to manipulate it, do not twist it; face it, receive it and submit to it whatever the cost. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 533)
So, “Beware!” Jesus warns. We must be on our guard, pray for discernment, use our critical faculties and never relax our vigilance. We must not be dazzled by a person’s outward clothing–his charm, learning, doctorates and ecclesiastical honors. We must not be so naive as to suppose that because he is a PhD or a DD or a professor or a bishop he must be a true and orthodox ambassador of Christ. (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 200)
The sixteenth-century reformers, who were accused by the Church of Rome of being innovators and false teachers, defended themselves by this doctrinal test. They appealed to Scripture and maintained that their teaching was not the introduction of something new but the recovery of something old, namely the original gospel of Christ and his apostles. It was rather the medieval Catholics who had departed from the faith into error. “Cling to the pure Word of God,” cried Luther, for then you will be able to “recognize the judge” who is right. Calvin made the same emphasis: “All doctrines must be brought to the Word of God as the standard,” for “in judging of false prophets the rule of faith (i.e. Scripture) holds the chief place.” (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 202)
To do its worst, evil needs to look its best. Evil has to spend a lot on makeup. Hypocrites have to spend time polishing their act and polishing their image. “Hypocrisy is an homage that vice pays to virtue.” Vices have to masquerade as virtues–lust as love, thinly veiled sadism as military discipline, envy as righteous indignation, domestic tyranny as parental concern. And this is so whether the masquerade takes the form of putting on an act or making up a cover story. Either way, deceivers learn how to present something falsely, and they exert themselves to make the presentation credible. Even Satan, who looks heroic to rebels, must masquerade “as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14) in order to look merely plausible. This infernal embarrassment (Satan must appeal to our God-given appetite for goodness in order to win his way) suggests a significant feature of evil: to prevail, evil must leech not only power and intelligence from goodness but also its credibility. From counterfeit money to phony airliner parts to the trustworthy look on the face of a con artist, evil appears in disguise. Hence its treacherousness. Hence the need for the Holy Spirit’s gift of discernment. Hence the sheer difficulty, at times, of distinguishing what is good from what is evil. (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 98)
God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts.
How does God produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives? By putting us in the exact opposite circumstances so we have a choice to make! God teaches us how to really love by putting us around unlovable people. (It doesn’t require any character to love people who have it all together.) He teaches us joy in times of sorrow. (Joy is internal. Happiness depends on what’s happening, but joy is independent of circumstances.) He develops peace within us by placing us in the midst of chaos so we can learn to trust him. (It doesn’t require character to be at peace when everything is going your way.) (Rick Warren; The Purpose Driven Church, 361)
(Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk) “A prophet’s task is to reveal the fault lines, hidden beneath the comfortable surface of the worlds we invest for ourselves, the national myths as well as the little lies and delusions of control and security that get us through the day.” False prophets assure of peace when there is no peace. True prophets have the annoying habit of insisting that there is no peace just when we’ve convinced ourselves that everything is running smoothly.” (Mars Hill Audio Journal, Vol 103; disk #2 trak #2)
Applying logic to an incomplete set of propositions about God has often yielded the bitter fruit of false doctrine. We must constantly check our logical conclusions against the more sure word of Scripture. (John MacArthur, Jr.; The Love of God, 102)
The false prophet very rarely tells you anything about the holiness, the righteousness, the justice, and the wrath of God. He always preaches about the love of God, but those other things he does not mention. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 502)
According to the Bible, only God can create life and raise the dead (Gn 1:21; Dt 32:39). Pharaoh’s magicians, who had imitated the first two plagues, couldn’t imitate the third, which created life (in the form of lice). These magicians acknowledged that the third plague was the “finger of God” (Ex 8:19).
Satan can perform tricks better than the best magicians–and there are many examples of these in the Bible–but those tricks fail to meet the characteristics of a true miracle. As we have seen, true miracles cause one to think more highly of God, tell the truth, and promote moral behavior. Counterfeit signs from Satan do not do this. They tend to glorify the person ostensibly performing the sign, and they are often associated with error and immoral behavior. They also may not be immediate, instantaneous, or permanent. (Norman L. Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, 213)
- Seek Jesus to be born again of the Spirit so you can see clearly and honestly the status of your own heart and make proper judgment of others. (Jn 3:1-21; 1 Cor 1:18-2:16; 11:28; 2 Cor 13:5)
The fruit of the Spirit simply is the inner character of Jesus himself that is brought about in us through the process of Christian spiritual formation. It is the outcome of spiritual formation. It is “Christ formed in us.” It is called “fruit” because, like the fruit of trees or vines, it is an outgrowth of what we have become, not the result of a special effort to bear fruit. And we have become “fruitful” in this way because we have received the presence of Christ’s Spirit through the process of spiritual formation, and now that Spirit, interacting with us, fills us with love, joy, peace… (Dallas Willard; The Great Omission, 115)
The principle is this: true repentance is a change of mind, of heart, of disposition: it is the making of a new heart and of a right spirit. It originates in regeneration; in our being born again; in our obtaining a new nature and becoming new creatures in Christ by the Spirit. And it flows forth, in unmistakable manifestations, in a new course of conduct; in a reformed life; a life aiming at new ends, conducted under a new rule, and aspiring to attain to a new standard. Repentance, sprung from a true fear of God and a true sight of sin, manifests itself in a dutiful obedience to God’s law and a jealous abstinence from sin. True and saving repentance is not a mere shaking off the evil fruit from the tree, and trying on fruit of a better appearance. It is the changing of the tree’s very nature; and good fruit is then naturally brought forth, and not artificially appended. The penitent exclaims, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Thus much for the healing of the tree. He obeys the command, “Cease to do evil, learn to do well.” Thus much for the new, good fruit. “Make the tree good, and the fruit good” (Matt. xii.33)” (Hugh Martin; Jonah, 271-2)
If doctrine becomes our emphasis, we are being led astray. We are not changed by doctrine; we are changed by seeing Jesus (2 Cor 3:18). Anointed teachings are essential for the nourishment of the Christ that is being formed within us, but whenever a truth becomes our focus, it will distract us. For this reason Satan often comes as an angel of light, or “messenger of truth.” Truth can deceive us. Only in the Truth, Jesus, is there life. He did not come just to teach us truth; He came to be Truth. (Rick Joyner, There Were Two Trees in the Garden, 81)
Many make false professions of faith and deceive themselves into thinking that they belong to Jesus, but they have never repented, never put their trust in Christ, and never embraced Him with their hearts. Only those whose hearts have been changed by God the Holy Spirit can say, “Lord, Lord,” and mean it. (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 211)
Is it possible for a person to do that and yet be outside the kingdom? Yes, for the NT clearly says Judas had such power (Lk 10:17). Our Lord may allow power to course through a man though the man himself is lost. (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 256)
The Lord does not deny any of their claims, and neither should we. We may therefore expect that even in our own day there are many (7:22) people who use the right language and who have performed spiritual wonders in Jesus’ name, but who are not genuine disciples. One of the most tragic ingredients to this scenario is the way these people take themselves to be genuine believers. They clearly expect admission to the consummated kingdom. (D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, 138)
Of all forms of deception self-deception is the most deadly, and of all deceived persons the self-deceived are the least likely to discover the fraud.
The reason for this is simple. When a man is deceived by another he is deceived against his will. He is contending against an adversary and is temporarily the victim of the other’s guile. Since he expects his foe to take advantage of him he is watchful and quick to suspect trickery. Under such circumstances it is possible to be deceived sometimes and for a short while, but because the victim is resisting he may break out of the trap and escape before too long.
With the self-deceived it is quite different. He is his own enemy and is working a fraud upon himself. He wants to believe the lie and is psychologically conditioned to do so. He does not resist the deceit but collaborates with it against himself. There is no struggle, because the victim surrenders before the fight begins. He enjoys being deceived. (A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 88)
Self-deception is “corrupted consciousness,” says Lewis Smedes. Whether fear, passion, weariness, or even faith prompts it, self-deception, like a skillful computer fraud, doubles back to cover its own trail. “First we deceive ourselves, and then we convince ourselves that we are not deceiving ourselves.” (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 107)
Another form of self-delusion, however, is evident in Mt 7:21-23. It is not so much that the false claimant lulls himself into spiritual apathy, as that he mistakes loud profession and supernatural, almost magical formulations and experiences, for true spirituality and genuine godliness. Obedience is neglected. (D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, 139)
Because he seems to be getting results, immediate results, spectacular results, he feels he is close to the center of true religion. His success indices are soaring: God must be blessing him. Surely God will understand and sympathize if there is not always enough time for prayer, self-examination, or conscious repentance. The results are the important thing. If the truth gets a trifle bent, it’s only because the supporters need to hear certain things. . . . Just as Nixon’s closest aides could talk themselves into believing that their cause was more important than their ethics, so these religious extroverts convince themselves that their success-oriented spectacular victories are more important than the nitty-gritty of consistent discipleship. (D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, 139)
As with everything that is godly and righteous, true fruit-bearing begins on the inside, in the heart. Paul speaks of our “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:11) and informs us that “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 469)
Worship Point: Worship Jesus Who so clearly demonstrated His own pure heart. Not only by His teaching but by His life and sacrifice of love. (Ps 15)
Gospel Application: Know that the dividing line between life and destruction is the line between God’s way & work and man’s way & work. Jesus is the only way because He is truth and His work alone is acceptable before a holy, righteous, and pure God.
Jesus’ followers would be able to discern false teachers because in their teaching they minimize Christ and glorify themselves. Their fruit would be bad, revealing a bad character. False prophets would not speak the truth; God’s true prophets would not speak falsely. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 139)
A man’s methods sometimes deny the message that he is preaching. A man who preaches judgment and salvation and yet laughs and jokes is denying his own doctrine. Self-confidence, self-assertion, reliance upon human ability and “personality,” proclaim that the man has a nature within him which is far removed from that of the Son of God who was “meek and lowly in heart.” Such a man is unlike the apostle Paul, who when he was preaching in Corinth did not come to them with self-confidence and self-assertion, but “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.” How we give ourselves away, how we proclaim by our unguarded actions what we really are! (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 514-5)
Salvation and obedience to the will of God are inseparable, as the writer of Hebrews makes clear: “He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (5:9; cf. Rom 1:5; 6:16; 156:18; 16:19, 26; 1 Pt 1:2, 22). (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 478)
Spiritual Challenge: Know God. Know Jesus. Know the Word. Be alert and discerning of the counterfeit “gospels” that permeate our world. (Gal 1:6-12)
“To know” was a Hebrew idiom that represented intimate relations. It was frequently used of marital intimacy (see Gn 4:1, 17; etc. where “had relations” is literally “knew,” as in the KJV). It was also used of God’s special intimacy with His chosen people Israel and with all of those who trust in Him. In a unique and beautiful way the Lord “knows those who take refuge in Him” (Nah 1:7). The Good Shepherd knows His sheep intimately (Jn 10:1-14). (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 479)
Truth matters. For it is God’s truth and it builds up God’s church, whereas error is devilish and destructive. If we care for God’s truth and for God’s church, we must take Christ’s warning seriously. He and his apostles place the responsibility for the church’s doctrinal purity partly upon the shoulders of Christian leaders (whether bishops or other chief pastors), but also and especially upon each congregation. The local church has more power than it often realizes or uses in deciding which teachers it will listen to. Jesus Christ’s “Beware of false prophets” is addressed to us all. If the church had heeded his warning and applied his tests, it would not be in the parlous state of theological and moral confusion in which it finds itself today. (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 203)
“By their fruit you will recognize them”
— Jesus (Matthew 7:16a)