So then, you will know them by their fruits. – Vs 20
In this passage, Jesus has been talking about fruitfulness. He uses the imagery of a tree. And He does so to expose what He calls false prophets – those who "come disguised as harmless sheep, but are really wolves that will tear you apart" (Vs 15). These people are deceivers, liars, and charlatans. The term for false prophet in the Greek means "one who, acting the part of a divinely inspired prophet, utters falsehoods under the name of divine prophecies." They claim to be speaking for God, but aren't. They claim to be speaking the truth, but aren't. They look the part. They appear to be one of us, but they aren't. These are people who have chosen the wide gate and the broad way (Vs 13) that leads to destruction, instead of the small gate and the narrow way. So the path they have chosen doesn't lead to life, even though it gives all the appearances that it does.
Is this a problem today? You bet it is. We have all kinds of false prophets and prophetesses running around who look like one of us, sound amazingly like one of us, but who are not speaking for God. Jesus indicates that these peoples' real intent is negative, not positive. He calls them "ravenous wolves." The word "ravenous" in the Greek means "to carry off by force." Like a wild wolf, their intent is selfish and sinister. They will use trickery and deception to get what they want. Jesus uses a metaphor here to point out that these false prophets appear to be one thing, but in reality they are something quite different and dangerous.
So what does this have to do with fruitfulness? Well, right after warning us about false prophets, Jesus tells us we can know them by their fruits (Vs 16). The New Living Translation words verse 16 this way: "You can detect them by the way they act, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit." The Message paraphrases verse 16 this way: "Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned." Look at what their lives produce. Listen to what their words teach. So many of the false prophets of our day are promising health, wealth, blessing, and abundance, and their lives reflect it. They drive big cars, live in beautiful homes, have huge television ministries, and tens of thousands of followers. But their message, while containing some truth, is usually not biblical. They are not inviting people to enter through the small gate and walk the narrow way. They are offering a wide gate and a broad way that is easy, commitment free, and that promises a life of ease, happiness, and self-fulfillment.
So we need to look at their fruit. A truly good tree bears good fruit. Not good fruit according to its own terms, but God's. A bad tree cannot produce good fruit. It will always produce bad fruit. Bad fruit lack nutritional value. It can't feed or fill up the needs of those who attempt to eat it. In the book of Jude, these people are described in pretty graphic terms:
When these people join you in fellowship meals celebrating the love of the Lord, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are shameless in the way they care only about themselves. They are like clouds blowing over dry land without giving rain, promising much but producing nothing. They are like trees without fruit at harvest time. They are not only dead but doubly dead, for they have been pulled out by the roots. – Jude 1:12
They are hidden reefs, rainless clouds, and fruitless trees. They promise much, but deliver little of substance. And the only way we can spot them is by their fruits. Don't judge by appearances only. Like a reef, they are hidden beneath the surface, waiting to bring destruction. They can appear as a water soaked rain cloud, but never deliver on the promise of rain. They can appear as healthy fruit-bearing trees, but when it comes time to deliver the fruit, they can't. So Jesus says, "you will know them by their fruits." Now the really scary part is that many of these people will be doing good things in the name of the Lord. Jesus says that they will be prophesying in His name. They will cast out demons in His name. They will perform miracles in His name. In other words, they will give every appearance of being spokesmen for Him, but what does He say? "Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven" (Vs 21). He goes on to say that when the time of judgment comes, "I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Go away; the things you did were unauthorized'" (Vs 23).
So we need to look for the fruit. The fruit flows from within. It is the result of a real and vibrant relationship with Jesus. Take a few minutes to read John 15:1-17. In it you will find Jesus unpack what He means by fruit and where this fruit comes from. Jesus is looking for fruit in His followers. He desires for us to bear fruit. But the only fruit He will accept is the kind that flows out of an abiding relationship with Him. This kind of fruit will be other-centered. It will be healing and helpful. It will bring life. It will have the characteristics that Paul outlines for us in Galatians 5:22-23. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."
Father, there are wolves in sheep's clothing all around us today. They are out to deceive and distract us from the truth. They are out to take us captive by slick words and empty promises. Teach us to look for the fruit. Your fruit. And help us to be fruitful ourselves. We are all susceptible to the packaging, the outward appearance and the image of success. But You look at the heart. Give us discernment to see beyond the surface and to look for the fruit. And give us the boldness to expose those who are trying to deceive the sheep in order to line their own pocketbooks and stroke their own egos. Amen