This is a guest post from Pastor Shaun Marksbury. He blogs over at Gospel Living.
Sometimes, it’s easy to identify the wolves in our midst. Bells and buzzers everywhere should resound if someone next Sunday says, “The gospel message has been wrong for these past two millennia, but I have the real deal.” Thank you, but I think you want the Mormon ward down the street.
Even so, when Jude talks about wolves who have sneaked into the church, doctrine is not the only test he gives. In fact, it is possible for someone to espouse correct theology while being, in fact, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Just as wolves may listen to Kenneth Copeland or Joyce Meyer, they also might have the MacArthur New Testament Commentary Series on their shelves. Those will be the harder cases to identify, and Jude helps us with these, as well.
So, here are seven markers of a wolf outside of poor theology. Obviously, we’ll have some overlap here.
- Someone who is morally perverted (vv. 4, 7, 8). The potential wolf may have a wife and family without any obvious signs of trouble. Even so, if he consistently indicates that he is looking for an… ungodly relationship, take it seriously. Such signs might include hanging around the children/youth departments even though he has no children, hanging around college or singles even though he is not a part of that group, or constantly engaged in close-quartered private discussion with the opposite sex (perhaps even the same sex). While a wolf might keep the extent of his fleshly defilement private, certain peripheral sins will come through. For instance, those in Sodom and Gomorrah were gluttonous, lazy, and haughty in addition to being abominable (Ezekiel 16:49-50). Certain clothing choices and affectations in either both men and women also might indicate an underlying moral perverseness. When women (or men) start reporting feeling uncomfortable around this man, it may be because they noticed the zipper in the wolf costume.
- Someone who rejects authority (v. 8). Pride is the earmark of a wolf, so he will prove himself rebellious to pastors/elders in the church. He will ignore Hebrews 13:17 because he believes himself to be in the right. Since the wolf is most likely an unbeliever, ultimately rejecting God’s authority, he has trouble with all authority in his life. It may even manifest in his secular employment, or lack thereof. So, someone who disregards and ignores the advice or direction of church leadership has a high probability of being a wolf.
- Someone who is spiritually vain (vv. 8-10). Because of the narcissism endemic in wolves, expect the individual in question to have grandiose ideas about himself. Despite by being told by elders not to teach or lead others, he believes he can do it better than them. He may claim a dream that he has for his life, perhaps even calling it a divine vision. Amazingly, he may even go as far as to blaspheme angels (v. 8). In v. 16, we read that they can become “loud-mouthed boasters;” they may speak of their spirituality at heightened volumes during fellowship times or weep loudly during prayer times to attract attention.
- Someone who seems to be blind to reality (v. 10). The individual in question may say things outrageous to the discerning Christian’s ear because he is still blinded by Satan (cf. 2 Cor 4:4). So, he work against his stated spiritual goals for himself (v. 10). For instance, the individual may claim evangelistic zeal but consistently and patently offends* those he claims he is seeking. When confronted on his self-destructive ways, expect self-justification (a la Proverbs 14:12) and slander regarding where you may fall short in right doctrine. (*Obviously, we are not talking about the natural offense of the gospel, but the unloving attitude in which the wolf presents it.)
- Someone who is a grumbler or a malcontent (v. 16). This goes hand-in-hand with that arrogant someone who rejects authority. He can do it better, and everyone will know it. Everything from the carpet color to the content of the pastor’s last sermon becomes an opportunity for armchair quarterbacking. This person may say many of the right things in regards to the Bible, but eventually, a root of bitterness in his soul becomes evident to everyone. He may try to rally people to his side to stand against some perceived wrong in the church. This person may even take to flight, bouncing from church to church and finding no nest suitable for him to rest in.
- Someone who flatters (v. 16). As the ESV puts it, “showing favoritism to gain advantage.” He becomes adept at glad-handing, gathering all the right people around him to advance his standing in the church. He plays to the pride of others because pride is the only currency he knows. This is Diotrephes of 3 John 9, “who likes to put himself first,” and may have even accomplished considerable authority in the church. Beware anyone who constantly puffs you up in front of others, especially if you are someone of authority, for “a flattering mouth works ruin” (Pv 26:28) and “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.” (Pv 29:5).
- Someone who divides (v. 18). This person may have butted heads with some of the leadership, but also flattered some key people and impressed others with his knowledge. As such, he leaves no consensus in the church regarding him. As stated in markers five and six, he may be intentionally and strategically rallying folks to his side. A crack begins to appear in the church fellowship over this person, growing between those who recognize his seemingly-solid teaching and others who (despite also being solid) have an instinctual distrust of him. Some see some or all of the above elements of the wolfish nature, while others only see the correct theology he espouses. That crack will become a divide and possibly even a split if left un-remedied. Some sheep costumes come from those high-end party stores, and these are just a few points from Jude that identify those sneakier wolves. Don’t be impressed with right-sounding doctrine and ten-dollar theological terms. Waiting for the probable wolf to leave your church on his own is not the biblical way of him, and he might even succeed in splitting the church on the way out the door.
“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” —Titus 3:10–11.