Thoughts on Matthew 7:15
Remember that time Jesus said “judge not, that you be not judged”? Remember my post about that passage and how Jesus was getting at the fact we need to conduct honest self-assessments rather than focusing on others? Remember also how many other verses tell us to be discerning, to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1), and to judge those inside the Church, not those outside (1 Corinthians 5:12)? Here is another passage, not far from the “judge not” one, where we are again instructed to judge.
Let’s settle one thing before we move on. How we understand/define the word “judge” shapes our understanding of this and all other related passages. One way we define “judge” is passing a judgment and sentence/condemnation. Unless we are given that type of authority, that’s not what the Bible is advocating we do. That’s also the kind of judgmental attitude that’s so repulsive to so many people. It’s not our job as Christians to pronounce condemnation upon people in that way. It’s Jesus who will judge the living and the dead. Let me be clear, this is not the same as calling out sin for what it is and lovingly pointing people to the hope found in Jesus Christ for salvation from the wrath of God.
The other way we interpret “judge” means to weigh evidence or compare/contrast something and then make a determination of character, value, intent, etc. That’s what Jesus is getting at in this passage.
Jesus starts with the word “beware,” but how can we know what or whom to beware of unless we make a determination – a judgment – about something or someone? Jesus then goes on to tell us how to judge (in this case, to identify false prophets). He tells us we will know them by their fruits. He also warns in Matthew 24:11 that “many false prophets will arise.” Therefore, we must be on our guard.
What does a false prophet, or ravenous wolf, look like? I could toss out some names of people I believe qualify, but that’s not the point. The point is that we come to the “Good Shepherd” so well that we have no problem identifying what a wolf in sheep’s clothing or a bad tree looks like. Those prophets/teachers who bear good, Christ-honoring fruit should not be hard to differentiate from false prophets/teachers who bear bad fruit and will be “cut down and thrown into the fire” (hell). One fruit I will suggest is riches. When someone who is supposedly representing Jesus Christ flaunts the riches they’ve obtained from their followers and teaches that such opulence is evidence of God’s favor are more than likely wolves. I’ll just leave that one there.
Our responsibility is to be discerning and to reject false prophets/teachers. Sadly, many have been and will be led astray by wolves in sheep’s clothing because they don’t know the voice of the Good Shepherd. There are many voices in this world trying to distract, discourage and, ultimately, destroy us. May we learn to discern (and obey) the voice of Jesus Christ for ourselves, and then help others to do the same.