5 Red Flags of Potential Wolves in the Church
Have you ever heard the term wolves in the church? So often, God’s people are referred to as sheep in the Bible. The enemy of sheep are wolves. So it is only natural that the Lord would call those working against His people wolves.
There is a difference between being a sinner and being a wolf. We must be very careful with identifying someone as a wolf before really testing their character and actions with Scripture. However, we are also called to be on our guard and in a day and age where anyone can have a virtual platform, it is more important than ever to be aware of false prophets. Today, we are going to study five red flags of potential wolves in the church.
Why Are False Prophets Described as Wolves?
Matthew 7:15-20 says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
As I pondered these verses, I began to think about how God was intentional in choosing wolves and sheep. He created these animals, so why not ask the question in regard to selecting them for his example of false teachers among Christians? In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He addresses the issue of false teachers pretending to be His followers to deceive the church. Jesus warns us of these people.
Wolves are predators who are relentless and hunt in packs. They are territorial and skilled communicators. I do not believe that these are coincidences. It is vital to remember that some of the greatest wolves of all times have been some of the most influential and great speakers. They are polished, attractive, and great at winning the hearts of audiences. Not only this, but wolves hunt in packs, so they gather others to get in on the hunt together. We must be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. In Matthew 10:16 Jesus shares this truth to His disciples by saying, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
Using Scripture as our basis, we can know the clear signs of a wolf. The difficult part is that they can be very tactful, and we are not always able to tell right away from a first impression. Also, people are sinful and leaders make mistakes, so it is important for us to know the difference as we discern.
1. Wolves Focus on Anything but Truth
The word false in false prophets reveals to us that those who are claiming to speak as representatives of the Lord are not teaching His truth. Anyone who goes against the gospel of Jesus and the Bible is a false prophet. There is a difference between giving grace to someone who said something incorrectly, and being aware of someone who is actively teaching or advocating for things that are contrary to God’s Word.
In a feelings-based culture, we must be very careful because the choices of society are creeping into the homes and lives of Christians. Leaders and pastors are teaching falsehood and wavering on the Word of God. This is not a small issue, this is catastrophic to those who are sitting under this teaching or who are impacted by this influence. 2 Corinthians 6:14 reminds us, “what fellowship can light have with darkness?” A great question to ask would be, “Is this person allowing the Bible to speak to the culture, or are they allowing the culture to speak to the Bible?” What is the foundation?
Matthew 7:24 says, “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Is this person built on the Word of God and the message of the gospel found within it? Do they see themselves as the final authority, or Christ and His Word? (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
2. A Wolf‘s Character Does Not Match Their Title
We see this in Matthew 7:15. “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Jen Wilkin poses the question in her Bible study Sermon on the Mount “What types of sheep’s clothing would false prophets wear today?” We can often hear a title and assume a person is qualified or safe to trust. However, wolves dress in sheep’s clothing. They are skilled and seemingly qualified to be “sheeplike.” They appear innocent and dependable. However, what is the character of a person? How do they speak? What does their life reveal about what they actually believe?
3. Wolves Produce Bad Fruit
Aside from straight up character, what kind of fruit or impact has this person already made? Oftentimes for a job or position, the prospective employee is asked to submit references. These references reveal previous history of work experience or character. Absolutely, God can redeem a past, but what is the progression? What is a person producing along the way? Who can vouch for them? Who are their friends? Who else follows them?
What is good fruit? What is bad fruit? It is valuable to define these terms. Good fruit would be Biblically defined as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), the gospel (1 John 4), and bringing others to faith in Christ. (Matthew 13) Bad fruit, would be anything not of Christ (John 15) or sinful/fleshly decisions (Galatians 5:19-21) for example.
We think about the life of Judas, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples. Ultimately God knows what happened to him as far as eternity, however I would ask the question, “Was he a wolf?” The outcome of his life was betrayal of Jesus. However, we do not just see this in his one act of trading Jesus in for the 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14).
We read of it in his attitude towards Mary of Bethany. Scripture reveals that Judas was a thief from the money bag. John 12:5-6 says, “But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
Judas acted like he cared deeply for the poor, however He was greedy instead. Wolves can have words that appear to be very kind and even helpful towards others, but return back to their own benefit. Judas looked like a disciple, he hung out with disciples, he appeared to be close with Jesus. In the end, he was not a true follower of Jesus, he was instead a betrayer of Him. This is what wolves are to us today. They seem to have good intentions, but as we look at the fruit over time, truth does come out.
4. Wolves Take the Glory from Jesus
If you are at a church and the pastor is more concerned with promoting his new book over the Bible, or the worship leader is more preoccupied with promoting their new single than the praises of God, red flag. Wolves reveal to be self-promoting and try to set themselves up to receive glory that only Jesus should receive. This does not mean there can’t ever be room for sharing encouragement through avenues like these, but be watchful of the overall message, attitude, and goal. There is no word that we can bring which is better than God’s Word. Everything else is supplemental.
A wolf is going to try to gain as many followers as possible. A wolf wants to be celebrated and popular. Jesus came to be a servant of all. Matthew 20:28 says, “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus came to serve others.
Wolves appear attractive and crowds love them. They gather people, they seem like-able, and they are all about the attention. Wolves are not servant leaders.
5. Wolves Take Advantage of the Sheep
Acts 20:29 says, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.” Wolves are described as savage. They are in it for the kill. They are operating for the enemy’s team and they are not looking to shepherd and care for believers. They look to devour them. This could come in forms of abuse (verbal, physical, sexual, or emotional).
I know of a wolf who once took the lead role of a senior pastor. He ended up stealing the money from the church, swiping their equipment and computers, and fleeing to another state to do it all over again. The FBI had to get involved. This devastated the people. There was so much brokenness.
Wolves might appear like they care about people until it is time for them to act. They dominate. A few of Jesus’ great qualities included humility, peace, standing by truth, and ministering to the least of these. When wolves sneak in, there will be attacks as a result.
Be guarded, take this seriously. Even thinking about who you follow online, test what they say with the Word of God. The challenging part is that we do not know them personally, so it is hard to recognize their fruit. However, God’s Word is always true.
Whether in your local church body or online, when you have a gut feeling that something is off, pray through it. Ask the Holy Spirit for discernment and wisdom. Be careful not to quickly place someone in the category of a wolf because it is very serious, however be aware that they are out there and we need to look out for one another in the body of Christ.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Vincent Van Zalinge
Emma Danzey’s mission in life stems from Ephesians 3:20-21, to embrace the extraordinary. One of her greatest joys is to journey with the Lord in His Scriptures. She is wife to Drew and mom to Graham. Emma serves alongside her husband in ministry, she focuses most of her time in the home, but loves to provide articles on the Bible, life questions, and Christian lifestyle. Her article on Interracial Marriage was the number 1 on Crosswalk in 2021. Most recently, Emma released Treasures for Tots, (Scripture memory songs) for young children. During her ministry career, Emma has released Wildflower: Blooming Through Singleness, two worship EP albums, founded and led Polished Conference Ministries, and ran the Refined Magazine. You can view her articles on her blog at emmadanzey.wordpress.com and check out her Instagram @Emmadanzey.