Mat 7:15-16 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (16) You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
In this passage, the Lord Jesus was exposing the hypocrites. Specifically, the hypocrites who were the “clergy” of the day. Scribes. Pharisees. That crowd.
Are we to understand that Jesus would have us submit to the authority of false prophets? Of course not. He is teaching the very opposite here. Even when He said:
Mat 23:1-3 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, (2) “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, (3) so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.
…He cannot mean that we are to submit to the evil commands and teachings of false shepherds. Yes, do what they “say” because what they “said” was the Law of Moses which they read. But as to the application of that Law? Nope. They preach but they do not practice. Don’t do as they do.
And yet very commonly in today’s churches we are being told by pastors and other teachers that we must obey them. Without qualification being added in their teaching. Let me show you their favorite verse to pervert:
Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
What I mean “without qualification” is that they commonly emphasize the “obey and submit” part of this text while ignoring the qualifier – “for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” In other words, TRUE pastors of Christ’s flock are genuine. They are not false shepherds. They really do watch over our souls and they do so with the constant awareness that the Chief Shepherd is the one who has appointed them and therefore to Whom they must give an accounting.
False shepherds do not watch over our souls. No. They devour the sheep. They use the flock for their own glory and gain. We are not to obey and submit to such men, but rather we are to expose them and put them out of the church.
Now, as you probably know, Rome teaches that no matter how corrupt a pope or priest might be, their office as dispenser of sacraments and so on is still genuine. The pope is the pope. The priest is the priest. So really, in the end, it’s all good.
And this is the same kind of thing I think that we see in Protestant churches so often. He is the pastor. Submit to him. They are the elders. Obey them. But the necessary qualifier is ignored – IF they are true shepherds. IF they are truly watching over the souls of the flock.
When an oppressed and downtrodden person comes to their pastor or other church leaders for help and is told, essentially, “suck it up and trust God,” then that so-called shepherd is not speaking for Christ. He is not watching out for and caring for the soul of the poor widow or abuse victim or the target of the sexual predator. He is giving false counsel and at least in that realm is a false shepherd.
I think that one of the most common ways to identify a false shepherd is by holding them up to this standard:
1Pe 5:1-3 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: (2) shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; (3) not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
False shepherds always, always, always “lord it over” the people. Oh they may put on some pretty convincing shows of “humility” at times, acting the “nice, kind” role and “washing the saints feet” while having trumpets blown, but in reality, when the mask is off, they are bullies. False shepherds are always bullies. Watch for it and you will see the bully make an appearance when the guise goes down in unguarded moments.
The Lord is in the business of taking bullies down. Stop fearing them. Pick up your sling and let fly at Goliath. But do not think that the Lord requires you to obey and submit to such an evil. He does not.