With so many voices claiming to sound out the truth about spiritual and religious matters, how do we ever know to whom we should listen? This has always been a good question, but is especially important in the internet age. Anyone can speak up on the internet, even me!
To make matters worse all kinds of people say all kinds of different things, even when speaking about the same things! So how do we cut through all the noise? How do we find those voices worth listening to?
Jesus said something which helps us cut through the noise:
Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act.Matthew 7:15-16 (NLT)
Beware of false prophets, you will know them by their fruit.
Perhaps anytime a prophet is mentioned, we automatically think of people who predict the future. Sometimes they do, however prophets are not primarily people who predict the future, rather they are people who speak on behalf of God.
If we loosely apply “prophet” to anyone claiming to teach on spiritual truths today, do the people claiming to speak spiritual truths into our lives have any credibility? Do I have any credibility as a teacher of spiritual matters? Do I show good fruit?
What do we mean by fruit in the first place? We might be tempted to think that a religious leader has good fruit if they have a big church, or many followers. In these times pastors can be judged by how many followers they have on Twitter. I don’t have many, but then it does not help that my descriptor says something like, “you may follow me on Twitter, but I never really go far.”
Sometimes, we who speak on spiritual matters can have great leadership skills, we can help build great organisations, and have many followers. However, we can be lacking in what Jesus is referring to here as good fruit.
In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, the fruit Jesus mentions is a godly character. If you are asking about my character, don’t ask those who primarily see me preach, teach or visit the sick. If you want to know about my character, don’t ask my fans, ask my family.
How much do we really know about the character of the people we let speak into our hearts and minds? This is one advantage the local church has over television and internet ministries. Not only do I as a pastor get to know the people of my church, importantly, they get to know me. They know my wife and children. They know my character.
Do you know the character of those who speak into your life, especially those who would claim to speak on behalf of God?
Jesus is teaching a much more important lesson here that is easily missed when we make it all about evaluating a spiritual teacher’s credibility.
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of someone who was there while Jesus was teaching what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount. We heard him say “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” In other words there is something flawed about their righteousness. We heard Jesus say several times “You have heard it said, [by the scribes and Pharisees], but I say,” then go on to teach about good character. We have heard Jesus teach on how we should love like God loves, which means loving even our enemies. We have heard Jesus say “in all things do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We will soon hear Jesus teach about the importance of listening to him, that by doing so we are like builders building a house upon a rock.
One day we hear that the Romans have crucified Jesus at the instigation of the religious leaders. We remember that time Jesus said “beware of the false prophets, by their fruit you will know them.”
We look at the fruit of the religious leaders. They had an innocent man killed. All kinds of sins are evident through their actions; pride, arrogance, jealousy, and hatred. They strut around like shepherds, they look like sheep, they have been helpful to many people, but in the end we can see their true colours. They are vicious wolves.
Now we look at the fruit of Jesus. His life and teaching has already brought life to many. Now his death and resurrection will bring eternal life to so many more. The evidence is clear.
With so many voices speaking up on religious and spiritual matters today, how do we know to whom we should listen? There is one voice that cuts through, a voice we can trust, the voice of Someone with good fruit. It is the voice of Jesus. Are we listening?