I’ve never been a shepherd. I’ve never worked with sheep. But I’ve lived around sheep. I used to be able to watch a large flock of them everyday from my window so I know just a little about them. I know they like to stick together. They will fan out a little while grazing, but not too far from each other. I know that a small dog can, quite easily, get a flock of 200 sheep to start running across the fields. I also know that letting a wolf around your flock is a really good way to lose some sheep.
Sheep have some defense abilities as a flock. But wolves don’t hunt whole flocks at once. No they like to find the sheep that is a little slower, a little younger or older, maybe even a little sick or injured. Then, as a pack, the wolves will try and separate one of these from the edge of the flock so they can more easily kill it.
Wolves are patient and careful. They use impressive hunting techniques to kill with a low amount to risk and energy use. They live and hunt in packs to maximize effectiveness, and they are very effective.
As a shepherd, having wolves near your flock would be a very scary thing. You are likely to lose some sheep, and every sheep is valuable.
Imagine yourself as a shepherd. You stand watch over your flock my moonlight. It takes constant, diligent, focus to watch for the wolves and react to scare them off. If they get the sheep to run, you will have almost no chance of stopping the wolves from getting a kill.
So you watch for large, dog-like animals near the edge of the fields They are easy to distinguish from sheep, so you just need to see them in time.
Now imagine, how much harder your job would be if the wolves looked like sheep. What if they were hardly distinguishable from the rest of the flock? What if they were white and fluffy and about the same size as a sheep, but had claws and canine teeth? How would you tell the sheep from the woolen wolves in a flock of 200?
It might be a silly thought at first, but as a shepherd you would not be laughing at the prospect of trying to distinguish a wolf in sheep’s clothing from the rest of the flock.
Jesus warned of wolves in sheep’s clothinga)Mathew 7:15. He talked of false prophets that would come among the saints.
Often we apply this to individuals outside of the church. We think of splinter groups, or false teachers from another organization. We think of that guy on the front of the tabloid with his predictions. Or we think of the even more sinister, the guy who gets an entire group of people to kill themselves by his teachings. But I don’t see these as wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are more like regular wolves.
The point of wearing sheep’s clothing is to be part of the flock. To be able to move freely. Their inward desires masked, their outward appearance friendly. The guy on the tabloid is of little threat, he is a wolf crying from the mountain side high above the valley. The wolf that can walk among the sheep without them realizing his potential for destruction – he is the one that we must worry about.
They have always existed in the church. But in decades past their hunting grounds were usually regulated to their geographical area, their social circle. The internet has changed this.
The internet has brought together a large portion of the flock into one valley. And by using the internet, a woolen wolf can easily walk among the flock. Since the internet allows a person to customize their public persona however they wish it is easy for them to put on the sheep’s clothing. They can present themselves as gentle, and meek, and friendly like all of the other sheep in the flock – while inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
Jesus speaks of knowing a prophet by his fruitsb)Mathew 7, by the things he brings forth. I think it is possible for us to make a list that distinguishes between false prophets and true Prophets.
This is my list (so far):
|False prophets||True Prophets|
|Not ordained to lead large groups of people||Ordained to lead the entire church|
|Not set apart||Set apart|
|Not sustained||Sustained according to the law of Common Consent|
|Focuses on “what is wrong”||Teaches what is right|
|Criticizes true prophets past and present||Expounds upon, adds testimony to, and clarifies the teachings of prophets past and present|
|Claims spiritual guidance||Ordained to receive spiritual guidance|
|Finds fault||Provides inspiration|
|Promotes information that decreases the faith of others||Shares teachings that increases the faith of others|
|Claims the church must change because of internal or external influences||Seeks the will of God in administering church affairs|
|Attempts to find scandal in practices and procedures of the church||Works to improve and strengthen practices and procedures|
|Supports or gives voice to dissenters and critics||Shares stories of the faithful and the believing|
|Applies the teachings of men to the church of God||Applies the teachings of God to all men|
It seems to me that this list could be considerably longer.
Like wolves, these false prophets will seldom take on the shepherd himself. They will usually not try to attack the entire flock at once. No they will seek out the young, the sick, the frail, the injured; and with their careful and patient ways lead just one away from the flock before destroying it. This process is made all the more easier while wearing the clothes of a sheep. With success the wolf will gather others to his pack, and they will work together to pull as many from the flock as possible. By the time the sheep realizes the true intent of those that have lead them away – it is often too late.
Isaiah gave us further insight into the mind of the wolf, he warned those who would “call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”c)Isaiah 5.
What better way to describe those false prophets that, in the name of light, try to tear down and diminish the work of the Lord’s prophets? Do they not present something dark as though it is light? Do they not take that which has come from the source of all light and call it darkness?
I have seen, recently, some who criticize the words of the modern prophets. They say the words are bitter, they claim even that the words are evil. Though we do not believe in a doctrine of infallibility, the Lord sends the sweet through his prophets and who is man that he should claim it as bitterness?
Isaiah gave equal warning to those who “are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!”. As some try to forcefully apply their world views, their political agendas, and their personal beliefs to the prophets and the administration of the church they are only showing their lack of understanding, or indifference towards, the ways of the Lord, which he has clearly stated are not our ways(Isaiah 55)). False prophets trust in their own wisdom and seek to counsel the Lordd)Jacob 4:10.
As members of the flock we must be diligent, for ourselves and our brothers and sisters, in keeping a careful watch for those woolen wolves. We must, by the Spirit of the Lord, gain a testimony of the true prophets. It is this spiritual witness that can ascend above the work of those that would bring us down. We must seek with diligence that which is truth and light. We must seek the will of the Lord over our own and hear the voice of God over the voice of man.
The warnings are there, and if we are prepared then we need not fear. If we seek the will of the The Shepherd we will hear his quiet assurance: “fear not little flock”.
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