BY Josef urban
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:17-20)
In the immediately context of this Scripture, the Lord is talking primarily about false prophets (see v. 15). They look like sheep, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. Just as Satan appears as an angel of light, so his servants can appear outwardly to be ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:14-15). Thus, these false prophets can be extremely deceptive. They appear to be true, they appear to be preaching righteousness, and they appear to be of the light, of the truth. Yet they are counterfeits in the church. The Lord tells us that even though they outwardly appear to have everything right, not to be fooled. And the way we are to test them so as not to be fooled is to “know them by their fruits”.
So since false prophets and false teachers need to be known by their fruits, this means that we have to examine every preacher of the Gospel by their fruits, since we don’t know who the false ones are until we examine them. This is not contrary to the Lord’s command in verses 1-5 where He forbids unrighteous, hypocritical judgment. While it is wrong and sinful to judge others when we are guilty of greater faults, or to judge them based on “appearance” with opinion, tainted motives, or wrong judgment, we are commanded to “judge (with) righteous judgment” (John 7:24). We must use some standard of judging righteously if we are to examine the fruits of Gospel preachers. And the standard that we use to judge others must not our own standard, neither our own opinions, but rather, must be according to the standards laid down in God’s Word, and any conclusion we come to must be in line with the judgment that the Word of God has already pronounced upon such things. Then we are obeying the truth, judging righteously and not wrongfully. God is the judge, and my judgment is true when it simply comes into line with and agrees with His just judgment that is already proclaimed in the infallible Word.
That being said, this means that we need to examine every preacher that we listen to using God’s Word as the standard. If they don’t match up to the qualifications therein, then they are false and need to be exposed for what they are in order to try to prevent further damage being done to God’s flock by them.
And while all this is true, and the manner of recognizing false prophets is admittedly the primary context of our Scripture, I believe there is a secondary application that can be made to apply to all of us on a broader scale. There is so much more we could say about false prophets and how to recognize them, but for the sake of this short exposition please suffer me to approach this text from a broader perspective to relate directly to us all. I will now draw out some points of application from this text in the context of how it relates to all who call themselves a “Christian”, because, let’s face it, preachers aren’t the only ones who need to be tested today, but since there is so much false profession and counterfeit Christianity going on, everybody needs to be examined with the tests of Scripture to ensure they are truly brethren in Christ. And not only this, but we each need to examine ourselves to make sure that we pass the tests of Scripture as it relates to the nature of true faith and true fellowship with Jesus.