Discerning a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing from a Man of God

By Pastor David Cox

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Introduction

It is extremely sad to see so many hours that preachers and pastors preach in the pulpit over the years, and probably the least mentioned topic in all this preaching is what the preacher should morally be (his moral example), and what he should be doing in the ministry. It should be a great concern among all men of God, but unfortunately, there are few “biblical preachers“. Most seek what they consider best, and while they will beat horribly the cults and false doctrines of others because they don’t really respect nor highly esteem the Word of God, rarely will they hold themselves, their ministries, and their personal lives to the same standard as they demand from others. Unfortunately when a hypocrite stands before a crowd and teaches, the norm is that the crowd ignores what he says and becomes like what he is morally, a smart (and often Bible quoting) hypocrite. Although this is simply God blessing or cursing us on the basis of what we are, all of this is very firmly presented in the Word of God, and even so, we regularly ignore it (on the part of ministers as well as laymen).

See
ch16 The Example of the Man of God.
ch24 The Power of a Spiritual Example

It is important to understand that the Pulpit Committee is making decisions which will decide the spiritual welfare of that church perhaps for the next 15-30 years, and they may well condemn the church to spiritual ruin if they make an error. That should not scare us from undertaking the task, but it should make us very careful and prayerful in all that we do.

What are we looking for?

Everybody seems to have their own ideas of what a perfect preacher should be like, but basically we need to scrap all those ideas and go back to the Bible. The only situation where we are “safe” from dictators, mean wolves that will hurt and devour us is in finding God’s position on things and taking that position.

According to Hebrews 13:7, the pastor is the moral example for the congregation for them to pattern their spiritual lives after. This is an extremely important spiritual principle. Therefore the overriding quality requirement is simply to be like Christ. This is where everybody needs to look to “find their bearings.”

Unfortunately, having said that, most people agree, then ignore what they just agreed to. They then go about to set standards and criteria based on their own preferences and opinions. So let’s analyze briefly Christ’ person and personality.

Christ was humble, meek, and mild.

It is amazing that this simple thing passes over everybodies head every time we talk about following or participating in a ministry, or esteeming a minister by electing him to be our pastor, missionary, etc. Humility seems to be something that nobody demands in their preacher. Sure, once you know the guy, he opens up, but note that humility is not necessarily limited to timidness. Christ was very humble, but he wasn’t necessarily timid. Christ spoke strongly on many topics, and confronted and refuted many false doctrines, and viciously attacked the false prophets and corrupt Jewish religious establishment. I would note that Christ picked the “objects of his fury”, and repentant sinners was never hurt by Christ. Christ never forced people to be submissive and obey him. He demands it of us, but always as a free will option. Christ’s fury was focused on unrepentant sinners, those who refused God’s way and morality and pushed some alternative.

But timidness (reluctance to confront or declare) is not a requirement nor is good in a pastor. What we are talking about is humbleness (a refusal to self-promote, and seek personal gain at the expense of the work of God). He was fully able to verbally destroy others, but very cautious and careful not to in most cases. This restraint, and meekness is exactly that, power under control, and is what should saturate the true man of God. What he can do, and what he does do, are two very different things.

In the name of God he rebukes our sins, but he does not destroy us for the fun of it or for vengance, but rather his cutting and attacking is like a surgeon which does attack the cancer or tumor, but is extremely careful about how he does it, closing things up afterward for healing to take place. A good surgeon never damages good tissue if he can at all help it. So in general, a pastor is like Christ in his controlled spirit, but that does not mean he doesn’t confront and rebuke sin strongly.

1Timothy 3 Requirements

When we seek for more biblical requirements, we have to look at 1Tim 3 and Titus 1. It is unfortunate that so many churches looking for a new pastor have not a clue as to what these passages teach.

See also Recognizing the Good Pastor

Although all of these requirements are required, let me just mention a couple that are especially missing in false prophets.

Not greedy of filthy lucre

1Tim 3:3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;

While it is true that the pastor has to worry about paying the bills as a church, pastors who are overly attentive to what brings in money and protective and favor to large donors are indicating that they “have their eye towards the money”. This is a red warning flag on protecting the welfare of the church.

How does this manifest itself? First the pastor wants a really good salary, and while this is common among big churches, it should be a warning sign if the church is having financial problems. The first thing is the stability and welfare of the church, and if the pastor needs to take less for a while until the church builds up attendance, he should be willing to sacrifice personally for the work of God at his hand.

Another indication that a man is greedy is when he is obsessive about the finances. It is strikingly wrong when a pastor wants to see the individual tithing records of his people. Maybe sometimes there are reasons that a question should come up, but in general, good pastors tend to shield themselves from favoritism by knowing who the big givers are. This is better handled by the more stable men in the church.

Another indication is when the pastor likes the luxuries of the “high life”. It never looks right when a pastor (living from the free will offerings of his people, and often many poor people are tithing to help pay his salary), and he drives an expensive car, or has some other luxury that most people in the church cannot afford. While this looks bad, it is a thousand times worse when the pastor is deluded into thinking that it is his right or privilege to such things.

2Cor 9:7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.

Every good pastor understands and fully believes that giving to God is an act of worship, and as such, it can never be done (the way God wants) if it is under compulsion. It must be voluntary, willingly done.

Patient

1Tim 3:3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;

G1933 – ἐπιεικής (Mickelson)
G1933 ἐπιεικής epieikes (ep-ee-ei-kace’) adj.
1. appropriate
2. (by implication) mild

I think that the most severe and common outward signs of false prophets is 1) they are bold to brag on themselves (no humility), and 2) they run roughshod over others.

A reasonable man gets along with others, and the pastor of a church should be a peaceable man that is patient and gets along with other people. This is easy to say, but when a pastor wants something, and others stand in his way, this is where “the rubber meets the road.

What are the good signs?

Basically we begin with a person who is not like Christ morally speaking. His character is different that that person of Christ we uphold as our personal and corporate goal.

Committment and Self-Sacrifice

One of the clearest pictures God draws for us in accepting a man and ministry to follow is that of the good pastor. A good pastor is a person highly committed to his job so that he sacrifices his own self, interests, and pleasure in order to just do the job before him. Pastors lived in the field with the sheep, and this implies a lack of luxuries, hardship, discomfort, and lack of many things.

We should see a great commitment for the forward progress of the ministry above all personal interests. I do not believe it is biblical for pastors to work secular jobs to support themselves. Many do so when they have sufficient people in their congregation to pay them a meager salary, but their interest is in living an above meager lifestyle. In some cases pastors do work an outside job in order to make ends meet, and this is fine as a temporary situation, but not as a forever way of doing the ministry. The church doesn’t (and won’t) grow because the pastor has no time to fulfill his obligations of preaching and witnessing. Evangelism always gets the short end of the stick here. In any church where they must ask or agree to their pastor working a secular job, there should be 4 to 6 adult members of that church that will do ALL the evangelism of the church for the pastor.

Be a Fruit Tester

Matt 7:16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

I think the key to discerning a good pastor from a false prophet is to see what his life and ministry produces. When a false prophet comes into a church, he wants to justify himself by making a “big splash”, and thereby assert his expertise on the situation. He tries to impress the people with his spirituality and his wisdom. But wisdom is justified by her children.

A good pastor is not that he is likeable to people, nor that he does spectacular things, it is that he does his job. He does the right thing, and he does it the right way. The right thing is God’s work, which is to get people truly saved, and discipled in the church such that they join the effort, and by being Christlike (discipleship by being a personal example) is the means to this end.

When you give a man what he wants and with time, the results are not glorifying to God, then you have a bad tree, and the fruit that comes from it is also bad.

Be a skillful and truthful Expositor of God’s Word

We must separate two things here. Many false prophets are skillful so much so that they put many good preachers to shame. They know how to use the Bible TO GET THEIR WAY. They quote Scripture and use it as a bat to hit people with it, and as an ox goad to get people to move. Yet they usually have a double standard. Most false prophets are lazy in their own lives, and they don’t want to life the standards they are preaching to their people.

So what they do is to motivate their people to do what they want done. Here for example, they will put guilt trips on their people because they do not go out door to door in evangelism, but they themselves are too business to personally do this. If the test of do what I do, and not just what I say is applied, you can separate the good from the bad. A good pastor prays constantly and intensely no matter if anybody is watching or not. He witnesses because it is in his blood, and he wants to see people come to Christ. A poor pastor is one that does these things just when he is pushing his people to do them, but later on they are to contiue, while he doesn’t need to do it anymore (in his mind).

2Tim 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 2Tim 4:4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

False prophets are commonly using and preaching the Word of God, but scratching their members ears. That is, they are saying things that make them feel good, feel like they are a million dollars, and doing what would be wisest to get money out of people.

Good Father

1Tim 3:4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 1Tim 3:5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

Being a good father or a good husband is not about just having high standard that he lays down with an iron grip. It is about being fair, balanced, and never unreasonable, and forgiving when those under his authority err. He both applies the standards of God, and he is sympathetic when those in his household stumble and fall. He never is heavy handed, insensitive, or cruel.

What are bad marks?

In my tract on on the ch19 Marks of a False Prophet, I outline the marks of a false prophet as the Bible teaches it. This is part of a larger work I have written on false prophets. Another good tract is ch41 The Marks of a Bad Minister.

Miracles and Wonders

Matt 24:23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. Matt 24:24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Matt 24:25 Behold, I have told you before.

I think the key difference between a good pastor and false prophet is his appeal to authority over his people. A false prophet must declare and repeat constantly “that he is in charge”, and this means that others must obey him. A true leader in the world never does this. Other follow his example because his example is inherently good, pleasing to God.

God uses the imagery of a pastor (shepherd of animals) with his sheep for this ministry of being a pastor. Why? Because pastors build a relationship with his sheep so that they in essence become his children, and they will follow him because they love him. A good pastor seeks to be Christlike before his family and church family, and if he is successful, they will follow him, and even obey most of his wishes (especially if he is not unreasonable in what he wants, and he is not asking for things that out of Christ’s example).

Matt 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? Matt 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

I think that this element is basically that they seek to impress people rather than the Lord. They want people to think that the powerful hand of God is on their life and ministry, and so they create miracles and wonderous works. A true man of God may do great things for God, but he is very humble about taking or giving credit to himself or his church. The people inside already know his part in it, and he doesn’t need to brag. The people outside don’t matter to him. He is not trying to impress anybody, just please God.

There are a type of preachers and pastors that are on a constant roll of “wowing” the people that listen to them. In other words, their is this “amazement” factor. “Look at the miracles and things happening here.” But truthfully, most of the history of the world, God has worked in a quiet but powerful way. It is not so much that something spectacular happens like at a circus, but rather that people become Christlike. To even define this is difficult, and many churches would not recognize Christ if he came up and stepped on them. Meek, humility, service, courteous, goodness, longsuffering, these Christ-like characteristics find few examples in a type church. Few pastors seem to even want or recognize them as a goal at all.

Willful dictators

2Pet 3:3 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,

A key element of a false prophet is that he does not seek, abide, and follow the will of God; he doesn’t really know the Scriptures in the way that would guide his own life and ministry, but rather his knowledge is to be used to get what he wants. Jesus is our example, and God ordained that Jesus was to be submissive to God the Father’s will. This is not that because Jesus didn’t want to inherently do it, but as an example for us. That being the case, we should take this same humble attitude, and follow it.

The entire concept of a “leader” is difficult for most people to grasp (in the church or out). A leader is not somebody that orders others around, but rather is somebody that sets an example, and services a people. Leaders sacrifice themselves in order to find blessing and goodness for their people. The people should take care of the leader, yes, but that should not be in the forefront of the leader’s mind.

False Prophets like Mutton

Acts 20:29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

Another element here is that a false prophet is not really concerned about his people. He sees them as livestock, like a farmer sees pigs and cows. A pastor sees his sheep as people, his friends that he is charged with their well-being.

When the pastor uses people, and then writes them off, running them off from the church (or just ignoring them until they drift off), and is unmoved by their problems, that is a bad sign. Sometimes the people are goats and not sheep, and this adds a twist to this, but true Christians who are not problematic except in opposing everything coming out of the pastor’s mouth, this is bad.

People who get into church work “because it pays good” are false prophets. Those who enter for the burden of serving the Lord by taking care of God’s flock, that is a true biblical pastor.

Hypocritical and Two-faced

Matt 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

Jesus himself set these false prophets as being two faced. What they are on the inside is different than what they are on the outside. What you see is not what you get. They put on pretenses, or deliberately project an image that is not what they really are inside.

Matt 23:4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

A good pastor is looking out for the welfare of his people, and although he wants them to do God’s work, he is not a slave driver. Rather than being burdensome, he wants them to be as stress free as they can. Some pastors want their people to be at the church most nights out of the week for activities. This is unwise. A good pastor will not overwork his people.

1Cor 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 1Cor 6:10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

Deep down, a good pastor is a good Christian. When you see your pastor doing things that really any Christian should be ashamed of doing, it is best to get out of there and go as far away as possible, and do it as fast as you can.

Jer 23:14 I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah.

A couple of things here. A good pastor will preach the word of God. So will a false prophet. The false prophet will produce “the fruit” of people turning from sin to righteousness. Many preachers think they are good pastors, but they have no common element in all their sermons and classes that would exhort, encourage, and direct people into this moral change. I call them place holders. They neither do the wrong thing, nor do the right thing. They just fill space so that a real man of God cannot come in and work moral change in the people.