Matthew 7:15-2015 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them."
Jesus is nearing the end of his Sermon on the Mount. He has taught about everything imaginable, from being salt and light, to prayer and fasting. Some of the Bible's richest teaching come from this sermon in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. Here in our verses for today, Jesus warns us about those who may come among us looking as harmless as sheep, but in reality they are dangerous as wolves.
On the surface of this subject matter, we might have a problem with Jesus and his insistence that we judge the authenticity of those who teach us. After all, Matthew 7 begins with the stern warning that we not be judgmental toward others . Jesus used the illustration of the speck in the eye of someone else, and we condemn them without noticing the log that is in our own eye. While the visual of that is somewhat humorous, Jesus wasn't teasing when he said we have no business judging what we call a little sin in others, while we still harbor big sins in our own life. We are treading on dangerous ground if we set ourselves up to determine who is a sinner, when we ourselves are sinners.
Now, toward the end of chapter 7, we are told to watch out for false prophets, or those who come across as sheep but in reality are ferocious wolves. That's going to be difficult for us to do without judging them, and Jesus doesn't want us judging others.
In verse 16 of our text, Jesus says, "By their fruit you will recognize them." That is the key phrase, and it is repeated again in verse 20. This is the important difference between being judgmental and discerning those who are genuine. Look at the spiritual fruit they produce.
Jesus then asks the question, "Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?" Everyone already knows the answer. Grapes come from a grapevine, and figs come from a fig tree. Jesus simplifies it even more by explaining a good tree will produce good fruit, and a bad tree will produce bad fruit. He is drilling home the point that we can determine character and spiritual direction just by looking at the spiritual fruit a person produces.
Years later, Paul wrote to the Galatian Christians, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness," Galatians 5:22 .
The way I see it, determining someone's motives, character, and direction can actually be accomplished by looking at the fruit produced. The added benefit is this: It helps us also to be less judgmental of specks in our brother's eye, and it just might help us get rid of the log in ours.