MATTHEW 7:16-20
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Matt. 7:16a “Ye shall know them. . .”

False prophets are to be identified. The apostles, who laid the foundation stones of truth in Holy Writ, are no longer here. We are thus individually responsible for using our own spiritual common sense to assess the claims of every teacher.

Matt. 7:16b “. . .by their fruits.”

Judge them by what they produce. Fruits are visible, identifiable, and measurable quantities. Assessing words and deeds, not motives and intents, we apply a simple test. Do life and lip point to the strait gate and emphasize the narrow way?

Matt. 7:16c “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”

Thorns and thistles are the residue left on nature from Adam’s sin (GN 3:18). Grapes and figs are among God’s good gifts to us. The picture drawn here by Jesus is very graphic. No one ever goes to thorn and thistle bushes in hopes of finding grapes and figs. In the same way, no one should expect to find the good things of God in the ministry of one given to encouraging the continuation of Adam’s sin.

Do not try to pick fruit from sticker bushes. Unfortunately, this is what people are trying to do when they follow a false prophet. They want to remain in sin, introduced by Adam, yet at the same time enjoy the good blessings of God in life.
A false prophet’s pernicious influence is made most dangerous by the fact people often do not like to hear about the strait gate and narrow way to begin with. They are attracted to error, preferring the flattering and false over the challenging and true. In Jeremiah’s wicked day, the Lord said, “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so!” (5:31 NAS).
False prophets portray evil as being not as dreadful as we “rabid” preachers picture it. Our cities contain churches opposing sin, and groups which claim to be Christian churches tolerating sin. Which organization will the hardened sinner be more likely to choose? He or she will probably choose the latter, be lulled into a false sense of security, and be convinced all is well, yet all the while the wrath of God rests upon their lives and will inevitably break forth in awesome judgment.
This is why few things are more painful to a teacher of truth than to know that nearby other teachers are undermining the true message. This hurts us because we know the losers in this debate are sheep who come needing and seeking help.
Beware false shepherds who lead sheep astray. Whatever false prophets say, one can not stay outside the strait gate or on the broad way and still have everything turn out okay. There is “hell to pay” on the broad way, and “hell to stay” outside the strait gate. Don’t be fooled. We’ll not find grapes or figs on thorns and thistles.

Matt. 7:17-18 “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.”

False prophets err in word and deed because they are bad at the core. What we say and do are by-products of our innermost being, our very essence thrown out for public viewing. Words are the tongue of the heart, and deeds express nature.
Through life and lip, inner reality reveals itself with deadly accuracy. Fruit may grow slowly, but does grow inevitably, thereby proving irrefutably the value of a fruit tree. The quality of a tree’s fruit is determined by the quality of the tree itself. A sound tree cannot help itself. It has to bring forth good fruit. An unsound tree cannot help itself. It has to bring forth poor fruit.
Similarly, teachers indwelt by God bring forth good fruit. They have good spiritual DNA implanted in them due to the new birth, to being born again. False prophets bring forth bad fruit due to the absence of good spiritual DNA within.
Raising African Violets, I learned the value of good DNA. Two plants growing under identical conditions–same room, water, fertilizer, soil, type of pot, lighting–can yield opposite results. One blossoms and flourishes, the other fades and wilts. Quoting the movie “Chariots of Fire,” you can’t put in what God left out.
Regarding plant quality, DNA is determinative. The same is true spiritually. When the exterior of a teacher is bad, the heart is bad. False prophets are intrinsically unsound, flawed in their make-up. And what awaits these teachers of error?

Matt. 7:19 “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and
cast into the fire.”

I remind us the very God of love spoke these words. Love is jealous, wanting to protect the beloved, to unmask every dangerous enemy.
In an orchard, a fruit tree exists solely for the sake of its fruit. Good shape, vigorous growth, and luxuriant foliage do not count. If a tree does not produce fruit–yea, high quality fruit–it must be removed from the valuable ground space it takes up in the orchard, and be replaced with a worthwhile tree.
The image is clear. Those who lead others astray face a terrible fate, God’s severe judgment. False prophets, producing results fit only for flames, will someday have to pass through the flame themselves.

Matt. 7:20 “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

Anyone who claims to be a Christian preacher or teacher must voluntarily yield life and lip to the tribunal of public scrutiny. God’s people have the right and responsibility to judge actions and words to determine genuineness or falsehood.
Speech and deeds are fruits, products which can be objectively measured by a standard totally separate from a teacher’s appearance, personality, charm, and fame. Be wary of appearances. “Beauty is vain” (PR 31:30b). Samuel, sent to anoint a king from among Jesse’s sons, was impressed with Eliab’s appearance and exclaimed, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him” (1 SM 16:6). The Lord felt otherwise, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 SM 16:7). Always be weighing words and deeds. They alone can indicate the true condition of a person’s heart.
Personality cannot be trusted as an indicator of genuineness. “Charm is deceitful” (PR 31:30a NAS). Absalom swayed the people and won their favor with his winning ways (2 SM 15:1ff), but he was evil at the core. Countless sheep have been led astray by following false shepherds who were nice, friendly fellows.
Fame matters little. A teacher’s present popularity is a poor test of genuineness. One who soothes us may prove untrue; one who aggravates may prove true.
Let the Bible be our only standard. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (IS 8:20).