How to Spot a Wolf


3/1/20222 min read

What is a wolf, and how do we identify if one is among us?

I’ve wrestled with this question for quite a long time. In many cases it’s obvious, but in others not as much. Jesus warned that false prophets would be among us and that we should beware of them (Matt. 7:15, and He also said He was sending them out as sheep among wolves (Matt. 10:16).

Paul provides the most pointed understanding when he is departing Ephesus and warns the elders.

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them (Acts 20:29-30).

Paul provides critical identifiers to know if a wolf is “among you” and how to be alert.

Notice first this happens after Paul’s departure. Not everyone is equally gifted, and Paul had spiritual discernment above that of the average Christian. He was skilled in confronting those that would attempt to sneak in or distort biblical doctrine. We see this through much of his writing (1 Cor. 11:19; 2 Cor. 11:13; 1 Tim. 1:19-20).

They will come in among, not sparing the flock. Here is another clue. The flock is scattered. Sheep get hurt when they are scattered, and with respect to abusive pastors, there will be pain involved.

Eugene Nida, says: “Will not spare the flock may be equivalent to ‘will not leave the flock uninjured.’”[1]

We see they often come out of churches and they twist the truth just enough to draw people away. Sometimes this twisting is evident, sometimes it’s more subtle, but deceit is always involved.

I believe the need to call out wolves is imperative, but it also requires caution. Not everyone called a wolf is a wolf. Jude understood the need to defend the faith, and in this defense, he calls out those who exhibit the qualities of a false teacher (Jude 3-16).

John does as well and provides another example for us to observe.

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. (3 Jn 9-10).

False teachers, wolves as Paul calls them, will sneak in, scatter the flock, inflict damage to the flock, and will twist doctrine to suit their own needs. In my personal observances, these can occur at different levels, but some degree of all of these will be present.

Christ is jealous of His bride, and although these false teachers may enjoy a season of “success” we know they will not prevail. Keep alert, be on guard, and trust the Lord to keep you by His grace.

[1] Barclay Moon Newman and Eugene Albert Nida, A Handbook on the Acts of the Apostles, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1972), 395.