by Jeannette Haley
The tearful farewell by the elders of the church at Ephesus to the Apostle Paul was preceded by Paul’s somber warning concerning wolves among the flock: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” Acts 20:28-31.
Paul’s words must have sent a chill through their broken hearts. Not only were they bidding their beloved brother, and father of the faith, farewell, never to be seen by them again in this life, but he was prophesying of dire events to come. It is interesting to note the progression contained within Paul’s warning. “Take heed therefore unto yourselves…” First and foremost is his concern for the elders, for if the leaders themselves fall prey to wolves, what hope is there for the sheep for which they are responsible? If the overseers of God’s flock become hirelings, they will receive “the greater damnation” James 3:1b. Each and every soul is precious to God. Woe to those who offend these precious souls, or who bring a reproach on the Gospel, thus turning others away from the Lord.
Taking heed to oneself involves allowing the Holy Spirit to convict of anything that displeases the Lord in one’s life. It means being honest and upright in the heart, maintaining integrity and developing character. Such an overseer has no personal agenda, but lives only to do the bidding of his or her Master, and is ever willing to lay down his or her life for the sheep. Such a leader will be constantly on the alert as to where the sheep are in their spiritual lives, knowing that (as Paul said) he or she has been placed in that position by the Holy Ghost. It is a life of selfless sacrifice based on the knowledge that Jesus purchased His flock with His own blood.
Indeed, Paul admonished the overseers to “feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” It is important to note how vital it is to “feed” the sheep! This brings to mind Jesus’ commission to Peter as recorded in John 21:15-19 where He told Peter to feed His lambs, to feed His sheep, and to follow Him. When one considers the powerful teaching ministry of Jesus, along with these and other scriptures emphasizing the importance of teaching, one must conclude that teaching not only is a must in laying a proper foundation upon the Chief Cornerstone, but that this foundation provides a basis for discerning wolves among the flock. Just as a fortress is built stone upon stone, solid biblical teaching, precept upon precept, line upon line not only becomes a strong spiritual foundation, but a mighty fortress of truth which serves as the soul’s protection against the attacks of the enemy.
Notice that the Apostle Paul (not being privy to “political correctness”) did not state, “I think that perhaps some wolves might come along and maybe cause some problems.” He flat out stated: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” [Emphasis added.] Jesus put it this way in Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” [Emphasis added.] Paul stated that these wolves would arise from among the brethren and use perverted words (that is, twist the Scriptures) for the purpose of gaining a following. It is interesting to note that the Greek definition of “ravening” is extortion.
How do wolves accomplish this extortion, and eventual destruction among the sheep? First, as the Apostle Paul warned, they either “enter in among you” or they “arise” up from within the ranks. Either way, they gain an entrance. Having been involved in a leadership position for nearly two decades, I can testify that it is much easier to keep a wolf out than it is to root them out once they gain a foothold within the fold. Once a wolf gains entrance, they waste no time in drawing attention to themselves in order to develop a following. Keep in mind that one of the earmarks of a wolf is to build a following for their own purpose or benefit. True shepherds of God’s flock have no such agenda, but are mindful of the spiritual needs of the sheep, even to their own detriment.
We need to take special note that the Apostle Paul defined such wolves as “grievous.” According to Strong’s Concordance the Greek meaning of this word is weighty, burdensome, grave and heavy. According to Paul such wolves would not spare the flock. In other words, they couldn’t care less about the heavy burdens that they place upon people to weigh them down and destroy the freedom and liberty that the life of Christ imparts. It all boils down to bondage borne out of control.
In the next breath Paul warns them that such wolves will speak “perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” Perverse in the Greek means distort, misinterpret, corrupt and turn away. By putting “grievous” and “perverse” together in this context we get a picture of the two-pronged weapon that a wolf in sheep’s clothing uses against unsuspecting sheep. By distorting, misinterpreting, and corrupting God’s Word, even in subtle ways, people are led astray from the truth that makes them free. This tactic is as old as mankind itself, and yet we never seem to learn these basic wiles of the devil. His methods never change, for we read in Genesis 3:1: “…Yea, hath God said…?” Thus began the first distortion of God’s Word that brought a turning away and corruption to all mankind.
Today the attack on God’s Word is so bold and blatant that it numbs the senses and chills the soul. The marketplace is inundated with watered-down, perverted, corrupt bibles that are subtly far removed from the original inspired words of God. The top sellers in the “Christian” realm are fiction romance novels, followed by pop psychology, “how to” books, and enough fluff and stuff to bring a person to the point of nausea. If all of that were not bad enough, the political correctness (which is another name for lying cowardice) and the resulting ecumenical papacy propaganda lining the shelves makes the discerning believer want to run out the door as fast as their legs will carry them. Folks, if this isn’t an in-your-face telltale sign of the days prior to Christ’s return, I don’t know what is!
The perversion doesn’t end there, of course. It’s only a drop in the bucket compared to the enormous influence the so-called “Christian” TV has on ignorant sheep. I’m sure that if the Apostle Paul were to come back and visit the “Christian culture” which has developed, even over the past fifty years, he would drown in his own tears. It’s such a helpless feeling to know that multitudes of people are being brainwashed by the wolves in sheep’s clothing appearing day and night on their television sets. If only they would turn it off and read their Bibles, get on their faces and cry out to God to spare us from the wrath to come! If only they would wake up and discern the perverse workings of wolves whose goal is to get rich at their expense! Remember, Jesus warned that such wolves are “inwardly ravening.” They are using extortion for their own ungodly gain.
The third area where we find perverse wolves misinterpreting, distorting, and corrupting the truth is behind the pulpit. This does not mean that every pulpit has a wolf standing behind it, but the percentage of wolves behind the pulpit these days is undeniably high. As with any wolf, they can be discerned by asking three simple questions: 1) What is their fruit? Remember, Jesus said: “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” Do they possess the fruit of the Spirit? Who is exalted, Jesus or man? Jesus or the church? Jesus or man’s programs? Is there confusion and division? Are you led to fall more and more in love with Jesus, or are you left with your ears tickled and your flesh stirred up? 2) Are they putting heavy, weighty, grave burdens on the sheep through guilt and fear, legalism, or the religious traditions of man in order to manipulate, control and suck both the life and the money out of people? 3) Are they distorting, misinterpreting, corrupting and misquoting the truth so that people end up with another gospel, another Jesus and another spirit? Are the foundations destroyed by the latest “seeker-friendly,” man-centered movement? Where is the leader taking the sheep: to a greater knowledge of Christ with an emphasis on heaven, or is the emphasis on him or herself and this present world? Remember, when a soul that has been set free by the blood of Jesus from the bondage of sin and death comes under a heavy burden, you know that he or she has bought into a lie.
It’s interesting to contemplate the “sheep’s clothing” that Jesus warned us that wolves would be wearing when they come in amongst the flock. Obviously, their outer demeanor will allow them to blend in, at least until they are accepted as just another sheep. Wolves are shrewd. They not only outwardly look like a sheep, but they talk like one. The difference is the spirit behind them. The wrong spirit will pervert the Word in such a way that unless a person is rooted and grounded in Christ, it will be hard to detect. We have seen more than one wolf (and false “prophet”) stand up and immediately disarm the sheep by telling them to beware of wolves and false prophets! People seem to forget that even Satan can quote the Scriptures. But he quotes them out of context, which allows for distortion and twisting of the truth.
Wolves are masters at deception through mountains of rhetoric made up of Scriptures taken out of context, religious platitudes, repetition, quotes from other wolves, and high-sounding phrases all delivered with a bombastic style that leaves the sheep bewildered and confused. This gives the wolf the leg up he or she needs to appear as an “intelligent” leader over the “poor, misguided, inferior” sheep.
Wolves also gain power and control over unsuspecting sheep by masterfully feeding them a blend of true and false. This “toxic cocktail” is deceptive and deadly, yet multitudes of people go for the bait because, bottom line, it offers “another way.” This “other way,” paved by lies and half-truths, can appeal to religious pride, love of this world, complacency concerning spiritual matters, or it can appease the flesh and tickle the ears with a “positive” message.
One can’t help but wonder why people are so careless with the eternal destiny of their souls. From what we have witnessed through the years, though, people tend to take any short cut they can rather than follow Jesus on the straight and narrow road that leads to eternal life. The bottom line truth remains, and that is—there are no short cuts that lead to heaven.