You will know them by their fruits – Matthew 7:16-20

The false prophets in Matthew 7:15  claim  to have  prophesied, exorcised and  effected miracles by Jesus’ name (v. 22). Although Matthew is surely charismatic in a positive way (compare, for example, 5:12; 10:8, 40-42; 23:34), here he challenges false Christian charismatics  whose disobedience Christ will finally reveal  (10:26). Although  some  could  prophesy and  work signs by demonic power  (for example, 2 Thess 2:9; Rev 13:13-16; compare Jer 2:8; 23:13), one could also manifest genuine gifts of God’s Spirit yet be lost (1 Sam 19:24).

Once  we  acknowledge that God  can  inspire  people  to speak  his message   (and   this  would   apply   to  gifts  like  teaching   as  well  as prophecy), how  do  we  discern  his genuine representatives?  Like  his follower Paul, Jesus subordinates the gifts of the Spirit to the fruit of the Spirit (compare 1 Cor 13)  and  submission  to Jesus’  lordship  (1  Cor 12:1-3). Jesus’ words about fruit thus refer to repentant works (Mt 7:21; 3:8, 10), recalling Jesus’ ethical teachings in 5:21-7:12.

Much of today’s church may miss out on prophecy altogether, which is not a healthy situation  (1 Thess 5:20). Prophecy  remains a valid gift until Jesus’ return (1Cor 13:9-12), and we should seek it for our churches (1 Cor 14:1, 39). But wherever the real is practiced,  the counterfeit will also appear  (a phenomenon I as a charismatic  have  witnessed  frequently;  compare 1 Cor 14:29; 1 Thess 5:21).

An adulterous minister may exhibit many divinely bestowed gifts— sometimes because God is answering the prayers of people in the congregation— but such ministers are unworthy of our trust as God’s spokespersons  as long as they continue in sin. Yet Jesus wants us to look even closer to home. Do we become so occupied with “the Lord’s work” that we lose sight of the precious people God has called us to serve? Do we become so preoccupied with our mission and our gifts that we neglect a charitable attitude toward our families and other people around us?

Yet the image of the tree and the fruit also reminds us that behavior flows from character, and in Christian teaching character comes through being born again rather than merely through self-discipline. Our own best efforts at restructuring unregenerate human nature  are  doomed  to  failure (Gal  5:19-21). By contrast, a  person transformed by and consistently dependent on the power of God’s Spirit will live according to  the traits of God’s character because of God’s empowerment, just as trees bear fruit according to their own kind (Gal 5:18, 22-23).

(Adapted from Matthew: The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Buy the book here.)


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