“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act… Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. (Matthew 7:15-16, 20)
Relate: What makes a false prophet a false prophet? If you had asked me that question before reading today’s scripture, I am almost certain how I would have answered. A false prophet is someone who believes or teaches something contrary to the gospel. A false prophet is someone who does not believe Jesus was truly God, or fully man, or he did not rise from the dead, or that there is more needed than the cross for our salvation. Others might go so far as to say a false prophet is someone who teaches something contrary to the apostle’s creed. From another frame of reference, one could say a false prophet is someone who claims to speak a word from God that God did not speak. Someone less informed and thinking only of the modern understanding of a prophet might say a false prophet is someone who predicts a future event that does not come true.
All of these definitions have the same theme. A false prophet is someone who says the wrong thing. They teach false doctrine. They tell lies. They believe and spread something unbiblical. What do they believe? What are they saying? This is the standard by which we judge a false prophet. I can think of numerous “watchdogs” who have taken it upon themselves to be the accuser of the brethren. Er… I mean, to “guard the church” against false prophets. Some are small individuals motivated by jealousy of other’s success. Others have popular websites intended to Freil us wretched sheep from false doctrine that will send us straight to hell. Again, these watchdogs like to point fingers at those who supposedly speak or teach bad doctrine and shout, “Look! A false prophet!”
Jesus definition of a false prophet is somewhat different than ours. Jesus says that you will recognize a false prophet by how they act. He then says it again a few seconds later in case people didn’t get it the first time. In many ways, Jesus was a Pharisee. Many of the same things they believed, he taught. Many of his parables, the golden rule, his summary of the greatest commandment (love God love others), and much more have multiple parallels with various other rabbis from around the same time. Jesus’ biggest beef with the Pharisees was not with what they believed, it was with how they lived.
React: I can have perfect doctrine and teach flawless sermons, but if I am not living right, I am a false prophet. A man can be an excellent expositor, knowing and teaching the Bible with depth and clarity that informs and inspires many… but if they are not living it out, they are a false prophet. On the flip side, there could be some who are quite a bit off in much of what they believe, they could be horrible and studying and interpreting scripture, they could have pet doctrines or ideas for which there is no solid biblical support. Yet if they live with integrity and humility then they are true.
Please don’t get me wrong. We do need to study and understand Truth. We need to learn to rightly discern the scriptures and we need to hold people to the Word just as the Bereans double checked everything they heard from Paul. But our modern mindset has placed far too much emphasis on orthodoxy (right thinking) and we have forgotten that God is far more concerned with orthopraxy (right living). In my reading just last night, I was reminded that a common rabbinical phrase for religious teaching was “miqra”. The word is not about right understanding but rather a call to action. It is not enough to simply believe the right thing… we need to live it out.
Do not let me be a false prophet. My habits and temperament, along with my culture and upbringing, all tend to place the greatest emphasis on right knowledge. Help me to step past all that to focus in on right action. Let me not just read and study Your scripture to know and understand but even more to then put it into action. Let me believe rightly, and then live it out properly. If it is by their fruit that they will be known, let any who see my life say, “he is a true follower of Jesus”.