Some people will tell you that you should automatically trust people in authority. The logic follows that they would not have spiritual influence unless God wanted them to. False teachers sometimes demand an allegiance that leaves you no room to question their motivation. God told them, so who are you to question?
Jesus says watch out for wolves who masquerade as God’s spokesperson. How do you know if a person is a wolf or a sheep?
When I was first in pastoral ministry, I worked at a church near Ottawa with a pastor named Clair Mullen. He was from the Maritimes and had many colorful statements and euphemisms. He once asked me how I would know if a person were a wolf or a sheep. I had opinions, but experience had taught me that listening to his opinions would be much more interesting. I played dumb to the question. He replied, “The way to tell is to poke them with your sword!”
He might be right. Confrontation is a great way to bring a person’s character to the surface. You may need to ask questions and probe beneath the surface to find out where their values lie.
Jesus said wolves could be recognized by what grows from their life.
We need to carefully scrutinize the lives of those we choose to follow and help us. Jesus described people who appear to be one thing, but reveal a ferocious, destructive nature when away from public view. There are people who take advantage of others in the name of the Lord.
How do you know whether you should trust a person in a place of spiritual authority? Bad seed produces bad fruit. Immaturity breeds immaturity. Anger produces anger. Lust produces lust.
Conversely, good seed produces good fruit. Patient people produce patient people. Truth loving people lead others to love truth. Those who love greatly influence others to love greatly. Forgiveness begets forgiveness. We all produce after our kind.
While telling us not to judge others, here Jesus is telling us to be careful about whom we let influence us.