The Heart of a False Teacher: Wolves Among Us, Part 1

Earlier in the summer, my wife Lisa and I visited a "wolf sanctuary" near Lancaster, PA. I don't particularly even like wolves. In fact, they are probably my least favorite animal besides snakes.  During a small tour of the wolf sanctuary, I learned many interesting facts about wolves and wolf packs. But several particular facts about wolves stood out to me - wolves exist in packs usually with the dominant alpha male. They grew up together and they hunt together and they work together for the sole benefit of the pack. But this amazed me: it is a difficult thing, if not nearly impossible, to introduce a new wolf to a pre-existing pack. The wolf 'zookeeper' have made attempts to introduce an orphan wolf into various packs. If the wolves go at each other face-to-face, there's a good chance that this orphaned wolf can be assimilated into the pack. However, it doesn't usually work this way. More often than not, the alpha male will attack the orphaned lone wolf from behind, aiming for the back or the back of the legs or the hindquarters. If the pack attacks the wolf from behind, this wolf will have to be isolated from the rest of them - or they will kill it. Interesting right? It is clear that the wolf that attacks from behind and not straight on is the more dangerous wolf. Jesus told the apostles that he was sending them out like lambs among wolves. The imagery by Christ is quite fitting. We are his sheep - sheep of the one true shepherd, and wolves do exist. These creatures have instinctive attack and crave to devour their prey. The Old Testament false prophets were wolves - the New Testament false apostles were wolves - the false teachers in the church today are wolves as well. Satan's strategy through time really hasn’t changed much.

When studying the Scriptures, I did not find three nor five nor even ten characteristics of a false teacher. Instead, I found scores of biblical passages and dozens upon dozens (in fact hundreds) of wolf-like characteristics. First, false teachers and false shepherds are everywhere - they are not just on your television or on your Facebook feed. The Scriptures indicate that they have "secretly slipped in and crept in among you." They are not just national or international - they are local and regional. Now hear me here - my bold words are not meant to divide or call suspicion to anyone specifically. But I am making an indictment on false teachers for the sake of truth. We need to be Biblically conscious. Jude tells us that we will have to contend and fight with them. 2 Peter 2:1-3 also warns us about false teachers. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul uses personal examples about how he dealt with their schemes. In 3 John, the beloved apostle John names the man Deotriphes and calls him out as a wolf who wants to be first. Paul adds further insight to us by dealing with dissenters in Romans 16:17-18 and Titus 3:9-11. Even Jeremiah 23 list the characteristics of the Old Testament false prophets. The Scriptures are not silent about wolves and false prophets and false teachers. The below list is only a function of what the Scriptures have to say about these existing wolves. I couldn't possibly list them all, but here are some traits of these ravenous wolves:

  1.  They are 'among you'
  2. Subtle and secretly crept in
  3. Secretly introduce destructive heresies
  4. Bewitch people and mislead with manipulative information
  5. Divisive and opposing; usually stand diametrical to something good
  6. Denying Christ, which means 'saying no habitually' to the Lord Jesus
  7. Many follow their sensualities, appeals and lusts
  8. Malign the way of truth and distort the Gospel
  9. Warped, perverted, literally twisted
  10. Greedy and covetous, instinctively want more, hearts that are trained as experts in greed, replicate Ahab & Jezebel's covetous heart, exploit and make market of people for money
  11. Bold, willful, self-willed, self-centered, self feeders, self-absorbed
  12. Are a burden to the people financially and relationally
  13. They want to be equal with the real shepherds; undermine real authority
  14. Masquerade and disguises, pretenders, hypocrites; grand deceivers
  15. They exploit people with made-up stories for greed and financial gain
  16. Want to be first, desiring preeminent; 'first lust', push themselves to the front
  17. Are not humble, truthful, loving or hospitable
  18. Accommodate the lies/slander/false accusations & false Gospels, the culture, and sin
  19. Reject real shepherds/real apostles/real prophets with hatred and abuses
  20. Grumblers and faultfinders; overbearing; critical, demanding
  21. Have an instinctive moral twist; literally perverted
  22. Provoke fear and scatter the sheep; divide unto disunity
  23. They follow evil and use their power unjustly; they use and abuse naive people
  24. Strengthen the hands of evildoers and falsely accuse the innocent
  25. They spread the contagion of ungodliness
  26. They speak visions from their own minds
  27. They are not sent by the Lord nor do they speak His Word
  28. They give the people false hopes and falls visions and say mostly pleasant things
  29. They deceive and lie; they are 'pot stirrers'
  30. They do not really build trust, but rather they destroy trust through provoking division by slander/deception/false accusation; they release faulty info and cause great scandals
  31. They pursue dishonest gain and turn godliness into a means unto financial gain, which is similar to greed and covetousness; they love money and they want your money
  32. They use smooth talk and flattery to gain advantages over the naïve
  33. They put obstacles and stumbling blocks in the way of others; causing hindrances
  34. They serve their own appetites; bent on instincts and natures and lusts
  35. They question authority and refuse to submit; they love to be in charge & in control
  36. They are agents of disunity; they polarize and divide and create dissent
  37. They are subtle in their operation and create much confusion; misleading
  38. They hate being confronted or corrected; they refuse correction and are unrepentant
  39. They tell cleverly invented stories that they've made up; they speak visions from their own minds; they promise freedom but really enslave people into blind spiritual bondages
  40. They are nearsighted with no real 'Peripheral' for context or a wider view
  41. They appeal to the senses (sensual) and provoke various types of lusts (not just sexual)
  42. They live in sheep's clothing and disguise themselves as angels of light
  43. They counsel rebellion and divide the people and even leaders
  44. They propagate and reproduce heresy and error
  45. They are not sent by God, and they distort the Scriptures and God's Word
  46. -500.....

I just listed 45 characteristics of wolves as false teachers. The Bible lists hundreds of traits for them. God's Word also counters these negatives with positive traits of the true shepherds and true apostles and true prophets. The false one usually seems to be subtle, but usually displays insubordination andis indignant. They are immoral, but it's not just sexual but moral and ethical. They plot evil and revel in their glory and greed.  Again, my goal is not to create suspicion - but we need to be aware and conscious of the fact that there are wolves among us.  They may not display every characteristic that I've listed above, but they will have some, if not many.  Be discerning as a sheep. You Shepherds guard the flock. Listen to the voice of the one true Shepherd, for His call from His voice is in a different direction. He beckons us toward a cross, a resurrection, and an eternal hope that is the antithesis of every wolf. Leaders, guard your flock from wolves. One of our founding fathers, Samuel Adams, said this over 200 years ago, "A strongman is a fool if he lets loose the wolf without first dulling its teeth or pairing its nails. There is no accommodation of a wolf - ever." In our culture of tolerance, we have accommodated wolves. Sadly, many have done the same in Christian ministries and even in churches. And they will feed on sheep. Let it not be so, Lord Jesus. Help us fight off these ravenous wolves who are ferocious. Come quickly, Christ, our one true Shepherd. But the rest of us must contend with wolves, so stand firm and fight for this Gospel and the Savior Jesus who we called Lord.

[I recently preached a sermon on the above topic, which you can listen to here.]

Thor Knutstad, Pastoral Counselor