Wolves Among You

John Piper notes how False Teachers come across as “nice guys.”


The American church is in crisis.

Employing smooth speech, flattery, and deceitful scheming, wolves in sheep’s clothing—enabled by hired hands posing as pastors and multitudes with itching ears—have infiltrated the flock en masse and seized control of much of the church’s doctrines, leadership, and pulpits.

Lukewarm pastors sit idly by as these wolves twist God’s word into doctrines of demons.  While the wolves lull the church into a false sense of security with pronouncements of peace, they secretly devour the church with a variety of heresies.  Many are blind to the fact that leaders even within their own church are leading them straight to the pit of Hell.

Meanwhile, the few who step up to combat the wolves are branded as unloving, a threat to the unity of the church, and even heretics.

In a day when evil is called good and good is called evil, we mourn for Jerusalem.  May God raise up a generation of leaders who will relentlessly work to slay the work of these wolves with the sword of God’s Word.

The following is meant to convict and inspire that generation…

I. The Bible Warns about False Teachers who will work to Deceive the Church:

Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions,” (Acts 15:24)

For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24)

II. Wolves will even “come in among you

“Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.  Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.  I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.” (Acts 20:26-31).

A. Therefore, fierce wolves rise up “among you”—within the church itself.  To avoid being guilty of innocent blood, church leaders must be alert and boldly declare “the whole counsel of God.”  Watering down doctrine gives the opportunity for fierce wolves to draw away disciples after themselves.

The escalating crisis in the American church. (Special thanks to Cross TV.)

III. There is a multitude of False Teachers:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”   (1 John 4:1)

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.” (Titus 1:10)

B. They have a powerful influence:

And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.” (Matthew 24:11)

IV. These False Teachers can appear as devout Christians

A. Like Satan, Satan’s servants disguise themselves as servants of righteousness:

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

B. The false teacher’s righteous outward appearance is a ploy to devour the sheep:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)

Thus, don’t be fooled by every teacher with a friendly and humble demeanor.  Test everything he says with the Word of God.

V. False Teachers can be very Popular:

A. False Teachers often have many followers:

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” (2 Peter 2:1-3)

And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.” (Matthew 24:11)

B. False Teachers can be well spoken of:

Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)

C. False Teachers are popular with the multitude that cannot endure sound doctrine:

“preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Tim. 4:2-4)

An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?” (Jeremiah 5:30, 31)

If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,’ he would be the preacher for this people!” (Micah 2:11)

The gospel crisis in evangelical churches. (Special thanks to Cross TV.)

VI. False Teachers Deceive with Smooth Speech:

“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve.” (Romans 16:17-18)

VII.Pastors have a mandate to keep their flock from exposure to false teachers

A. In light of the previous passage (Romans 16:17-18),the flock must “watch out for,” and “avoid,” those “who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught.”  Moreover,

“For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” (Titus 1:10-16) 

B. There are many deceivers, not just a few.  These deceivers must be silenced, as they upset whole families by their perverse teachings.

Thus pastors can work to silence these detestable teachers who turn from the truth by discouraging their flock from being exposed to their perverse teachings.  Otherwise, false teachings can spread rapidly:

“Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.’” (2 Timothy 2:14-19)

Thus pastors must protect the flock from false teachings (“irreverent babble”), or else these teachings will “spread like gangrene,” which leads “people into more and more ungodliness.”

VIII. The Church is Prone to Tolerating and Embracing False Teachers

“I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.” (2 Corinthians 11:1-4)

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9)

A. This is all the more reason for leaders to be vigilant in guarding the flock.

IX. Many argue that it is divisive to teach against false teachings and false teachers.  But according to the Bible false teachers are divisive:

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Romans 16:17)

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” (1 Timothy 6:3-5)

X. Many Argue it is Unloving to Oppose False Teachings and False Teachers.  But the Bible Teaches the Opposite:

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1 Timothy 1:3-7)

A. Indeed,

Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.” (Proverbs 27:5)

B. Thus,

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.” (Isaiah 58:1)

C. The loving thing to do then is to teach against false teachers and false teachings, which can make the difference in eternal salvation:

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16)

XI. Pastors must Refute False Teachings and False Teachers:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:3-4)

For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” (Titus 1:7-16)

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:24-28)

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1 Timothy 1:3-7)

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.” (Ephesians 5:6-12)

XII. Pastors who don’t guard the sheep don’t love Jesus, and are under God’s Wrath:

A. Pastors who love Jesus tend to His sheep:

He said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’” (John 21:16)

Those who don’t love Jesus neglect this duty:

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.” (Ezekiel 34:2-6)

B. The Hired Hand will not make an effort to protect God’s people from False Teachers:

He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (John 10:12, 13)

C. Pastors who do not guard the flock are under God’s wrath:

Woe to my worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock!  May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! Let his arm be wholly withered, his right eye utterly blinded!” (Zechariah 11:17)

“‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!’ declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.” (Jeremiah 23:1-3)

XIII. Pastors who do not guard the flock proclaim “peace, peace” when there is no peace:

“For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely.  They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:13, 14)

Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. 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 disaster shall come upon you.’” (Jeremiah 23:16, 17)

“Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Because you have uttered falsehood and seen lying visions, therefore behold, I am against you, declares the Lord GOD. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give lying divinations. They shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord GOD. Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash,” (Ezekiel 13:8-10)

XIV. Pastors who do not guard the flock are like the watchman who refuses to do his duty:

“But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.

“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.

“If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezekiel 33:6-9).

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2 Comments

  1. Excellent post — many thanks!! The problem is that they are so difficult to identify. And one man’s false prophet might be another man’s inspiration. Hmmm …

  2. Thanks for your thoughts. It is true that true and false prophets alike both believe they are true prophets. Those who are truly false prophets can be recognized by God’s people, though. The Lord Jesus says in Matthew 7:15-20:

    “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that God’s people always recognize false prophets. Some are more subtle than others. But we judge them by their fruits, including the fruits of their doctrine. The Word is the standard for judging.

    And so we know the Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness teachers are false teachers because they attack the deity of Christ. Oneness Pentacostal teachers are false teachers since they attack the Trinity.

    Consistent Lutheran, so-called Church of Christ, Catholic, and Church of England Anglican teachers are false teachers since they attack justification by faith alone. They add works to salvation, whether it be water baptism or good deeds.

    The Apostle Paul warns against those who teach any different gospel (Galatians 1:6-9).

    After this warning, Paul teaches against false teachers who deny justification by faith alone. Galatians 3:1-6: reads:

    “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’?”

    God bless,
    God

    P.S. I highly recommend the sermon “Beware of False Prophets Part 1.” While at times I think the preacher can be too hard on charismatics (although there certainly are false teachers who are professing charismatics), this is a much needed sermon in an age of mealy-mouthed pastors.


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