Wolves revile those who challenge them. They use pious words to cloak their malice and then blame their agitation on their victims. When called to account, false teachers may leave the scene of their crimes fully convinced of their own faithfulness and the justness of their cause. But a wolf’s true nature is revealed in the carnage he leaves behind, in the tears and scars of the sheep upon whom he’s preyed.
The Bible commands Christians, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account” (Heb. 13:17, NIV). But God’s Word also tells of times when we shouldn’t trust and submit to leaders. What are the circumstances when honoring God means disobeying, fleeing, or even calling out those who minister in his name?
Paul warned the Ephesians elders of wolves who would come and not spare God’s flock (Acts 20:29). The apostle borrows the image of the wolf directly from Jesus (John 10:12; Matt. 7:15). As patterns of abuse come to light in the church, we urgently need this biblical warning that shows us the difference between a godly shepherd and one who preys upon the sheep.
False teaching—preaching “a different gospel” (Gal. 1:6–7)—is a primary way a wolf reveals his true nature, but what are some other ways to tell a true shepherd from a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
Anatomy of a Wolf
Identifying wolves is difficult because the marks of a dangerous soul seldom manifest in physical appearance. Even more, false teachers are people made in God’s image. A wolf shows his humanity in his seemingly healthy relationships. His personal charisma and the genuine good his ministry accomplishes can further hide his true nature from others, and even from the wolf himself.
But the Bible teaches us that a wolf’s ignorance of his own identity does not excuse his behavior. False prophets may come in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15), but there are clear signs that reveal wolves for who they really are.
1. Wolves emphasize gifting over character.
When the biblical authors write about the qualifications for church leadership, they emphasize moral graces over ministerial gifts. The apostles repeatedly insist that elders be “above reproach.” They pit the self-control, gentleness, and humility that should characterize true pastoral ministry against the harshness, disrespect of civil authorities, and abuse of church authority that characterizes wolves (Titus 1; 1 Tim. 3; 2 Pet. 2).
At the final judgment, there will be some who stubbornly insist upon the sincerity of their Christian life but whom Christ will declare that he never knew (Matt. 7:21–23). As proof of their faith, these false teachers will appeal to the mighty works they’ve done in the Lord’s name, including prophecy and even exorcisms!