Spotting The Wolves Among Us

Speaker: Scott Jarrett | Mar 7, 2021

(Act 20:28-30)

Every Christian should have a vested interest in spotting those wolves that roam among us since they are not only the enemy in closest proximity to us, but also the ones with the most potential for causing us eternal spiritual harm. If then we hope to get to heaven, our thinking must change. We tend to think of the dangerous people as those outside our community – but in reality, the most dangerous threat has always come from within. Paul had an expert’s understanding of this kind of wolves and the threat they posed to the Body of Christ. In Acts 20:28-30 Paul shares that knowledge with the elders of the Ephesian church (and ultimately, us). In doing so, two questions are answered: 1) What is a wolf? 2) How do you spot one?

  1. What is a wolf?

Wolf or “wolves”: a NT metaphor for a lay-person (not an elder/pastor) within the covenant community who (consciously or unconsciously) attempts to lead others astray in the church through what they say or teach. (Support):

1.1. a lay-person within the covenant community…

[28] = Whoever the wolves are, Paul assumes them to be in the congregation – NOT among the elders. Hence the reason his gives the primary function of looking out/spotting them to the elders (“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” = Elders, be on your guard and look for wolves in your midst/among the congregation; [29]“fierce wolves will come in among you…[30] from among your own selves” = They wb lay-members of the congregation; Does this mean they cannot be among the elders? No. That however is not where we are to start. It is instead in/among the flock. They are posing as sheep, not shepherds; Mat 7:15 “sheep’s clothing” = These false prophets are sheep, not shepherds.

1.2. who (consciously or unconsciously) attempts to lead others astray in the church…

[30] “draw away the disciples after them” = Convince others to listen to them versus the church or her elders (consider again v28 – this is who they are “drawing away the disciples” from!); 2Ti 3:13 “impostors” = A person who is identified as part of the group but whose actions are meant to destroy it or its agenda – i.e. a wolf [in sheep’s clothing]; “deceiving and being deceived” = Even though wolves may know that what they are doing is deceitful and wrong, they have deceived themselves into thinking their actions are justified (e.g. righteous warrior uncovering the conspiracy – Isa 8:12); Deceiving/leading people astray is oftentimes subtle [not overt or obvious] and sensual [meant to play on the other person’s emotions] (Gen 3:1 “more crafty” = Clever or subtle – as demonstrated in Satan’s first question to the woman. Satan also plays to the emotions – Gen 3:2-6); An appeal to the emotions is also a part of the false teacher’s arsenal (2Pe 2:1-2; e.g. they [like Satan] suggest  – or appeal, to our already existing, doubts about those in authority [e.g. Satan in re: to God] or others in the church).

1.3. …through what they say or teach.

[30] “men speaking” = Their primary means of attack is speech. They lead others astray through the things they say.

  1. How do you spot a wolf?

If we are attempting to do so by our natural senses (or emotions) it can be very hard (especially given the fact that not only are they brothers and sisters to whom we already give a level of trust, they are also manipulating our emotions as the means to get us to trust them even more). However, if we consider what else Paul tells us about them in these verses, spotting them becomes rather easy. There are 3 things total (3 things they lack). Which means this: when attempting to determine who to trust is telling you the truth (Who is the wolf? Who is not?) these 3 things or categories are what we need to be assessing them by. They are also where we need to be asking the questions. If they fail the questions, they fail the test – and they prove themselves to be wolves.

2.1. LOYALTY  = wolves lack loyalty to – or real care for, the rest of those in the Body of Christ.

[29] “Not sparing the flock” = Rather than protecting the flock and doing what they can to preserve the unity of the Body of Christ through reconciliation and justice, wolves work division which brings destruction not only on them but also those who follow them. They will also sacrifice (not spare) others to stay out of trouble (e.g. ratting out others as a means to protecting themselves). They are likewise fickle in their commitment to the Body of Christ as a whole. The moment they get their toes stepped on – or don’t get what they want, they start looking to leave their church family behind. Their lack of loyalty however is revealed most by how they leave: they act as though the church or her leaders are putting them in spiritual jeopardy, but then make no effort to save the rest of the flock (who according to their claims, would mean they too are in spiritual jeopardy). They are deserting soldiers and cowards. The safety and salvation of the rest of the flock/Body of Christ is not a concern to them.

Additional Scriptural support: (1Jo 1:6-7, 2:10-11, 18-19, 3:10, 16, 4:7-8, 20; Joh 10:11 [1Jo 3:16]-13; Joh 13:34-35; Jam 5:19-20; 1Th 3:12-13 w/5:12-13; also Col 3:14-15; Eph 4:3; e.g. Phi 2:22; Hence the reason for commands regarding unity and restoration and the warnings against those who cause division or are unreasonable – 1Co 1:10; Phi 2: 1-2, 4:5; 2Co 13:11; Gal 6:1-3; Eph 4:3 //Jud 1:19; Rom 16:17-18; 2Ti 3:1-3-8)

The question (then) to ask when to attempting to determine whether or not a person is a wolf:

Are they loyal to the Body of Christ?

2.2. CHURCH = wolves do not recognize the authority or jurisprudence (system of justice) in the church.

[30a] “and from among your own selves will arise” = Literally, self-appoint. Wolves are people who do not recognize the authority of the church.  They instead appoint themselves to that place of authority. As such, they have no problem standing against the church or her elders. They likewise refuse to stand before her courts. Once more, they appoint themselves the judges of justice, salvation and right doctrine.

Additional Scriptural support: (Deu 19:15-17; Mat 18:15-20; 1Co 6:1-3; Rom 13:1-5 = No doubt included in those “governing authorities” Paul is referring to, is the church. Notice, our obligation to submit (versus “reject” or “resist”) is based on the fact that God has established them, not their integrity – or the righteousness of those serving as authorities [Deu 17:8-13 w/Num 15:30-31; NT priests = Psa 132:16; Isa 66:21 w/Mat 16:19; Joh 20:21-23; 2Co 3:1-3 – authority for binding and losing, dispensing justification/salvation]. Hence the reason both Jesus and Paul submitted to defending their positions before the unrighteous covenant leaders and church authorities of their day – Joh 18:19-23 w/Joh 7:28-35 = Jesus did not run from the Jewish leaders – even though they were corrupt. He instead defended Himself before the covenant community and submitted Himself to their courts; Act 23:1-5 w/26:1-7 w/21-26; Hence also why when there was disagreement in the church over what was being taught and what the people thought, it was taken to the church – Act 15:1-6; False teachers and trouble-makers oppose such scrutiny – 3Jo 1:5-10; Jud 1:3-10, 16 w/19; 2Pe 2:10b-12; e.g. The “Christian sovereign citizen movement” = Similar to the secular sovereign citizen who does not recognize the authority of the American government or its courts, the “Christian” version of this, does not recognize the authority of the church and will not be held accountable to her courts; It sb noted that even the heretic Martin Luther understood the authority of the church – including those who were corrupt [Roman Catholic Church]. Hence his reason for attending the Diet of Worms and his famous, “Here I stand” defense [1521])

The question (then) to ask when to attempting to determine whether or not a person is a wolf:

Are they willing to defend their claims before the church/covenant community and submit to its authority?

* As should be obvious, you can’t answer “yes” to the first question and “no” to this question since by their refusal to follow God’s prescription for dealing w/problems in the church (i.e. going before the church/congregation) they are saying one of two things (both which further reveal their lack of loyalty and what they really think of everyone in the church): 1) the congregation is not competent to give them a fair trial [OR] 2) the congregation is corrupt and will therefore falsely condemn them.

2.3. SCRIPTURE/EVIDENCE = wolves cannot give correct Scriptural support or sufficient evidence for their claims.

[30b] “men speaking twisted [perverted] things”= Wolves cherry-pick Scripture or take Scripture out of context. As a result, what they use to lead others astray may be words or verses from the bible, but they are twisted or perverted. Paul’s use of the word “things” means that the scope of what is being twisted or perverted would include other information as well. In this case, the evidence behind their accusations against the church or her leadership. It is based on speculation versus proven to be fact (e.g. of twisting limited only to Scripture – 2Pe 3:16).

Additional Scriptural support: (Act 20:26-27 “whole counsel” = Paul preached a gospel [see v24] that squared [was consistent/in agreement] w/the entirety of God’s Word [versus only a portion]; Historically, this is known as the Analogy of Scripture = Biblical interpretation or doctrine demonstrates itself to be true by its agreement with all of Scripture and its unifying of the gospel message –Isa 8:20 “according to” = In agreement/consistent with; 2Ti 1:13 “pattern of sound words” = The doctrine/gospel which finds agreement in all of Scripture [“pattern” = paradigm, something that is consistent and repeated]; Eph 4:5; Gal 3:8; e.g. Luther or evangelicalism’s Faith Alone] gospel = Teaches faith as the only condition to salvation which ignores the other clear condition established in the bible – faithful obedience to God’s laws. They possess a “canon w/in a canon”; “Luther’s rule-of-faith hermeneutics took Matthew, Mark, Luke, Hebrews and James out of the canon.” – Daniel Fuller, [“Biblical Theology and the analogy of Faith”]; evangelicalism’s denial of observance of the law as necessary to salvation makes them a cult – Act 21:19-24 w/24:5, 14-16 [“sect” = cult”] = The Jews were accusing Paul of preaching a gospel which did not square w/the gospel God gave under the OC [a gospel requiring faithful obedience to His law]. This then is what identifies a Christian cult – it’s abolishment of the Law  as necessary to salvation. Paul makes it clear that his gospel was in this respect, consistent w/the gospel preached under the OC; In re: to sufficient evidence – Deu 19:15-21; Mat 18:15-17; 1Ti 5:19; 2Co 13:1-2).

The question (then) to ask when to attempting to determine whether or not a person is a wolf:

Do their claims square with the whole of Scripture and/or is there sufficient evidence to treat their claims as fact?


CLOSING CONTEMPLATION: Satan uses wolves to devour others in the Body (1Pe 5:8). Asking these three questions when faced w/those making accusations against others in the church (including her leaders) or the church itself is an easy way to spot them and see that they are removed before they harm others.