Reading in Matthew I came across the passage in the sermon on the mount about false teachers. Jesus gives a strong warning – “Watch out for them!” He gives one way – and only one – by which to recognize them: their fruit. Gal 5:22 immediately comes to mind – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Also Eph 5:9 – “The fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.” And Jas 3:17 – the wisdom that comes from above is full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, easily entreated, considerate, peace-loving, even submissive.
The descriptions of fruit turns out to be quite helpful in discerning a false teacher. They don’t mention attractiveness or quantity; they focus on quality. Is the guy kind and considerate? Is he patient and self-controlled? Does his life radiate simple goodness and right living? Does he always tell the truth? And if he blows it, is he easily entreated, and impartial about who he listens to? If someone else blows it, is he gentle, patient, loving and full of mercy? Or do you get a glimpse of the ferocious wolf under the sheep’s clothing?
Most of the characteristics have to be observed over time to discern consistency, but one aspect is instantly recognizable. If the guy lies and will not be entreated about it, you know he is not a trustworthy teacher. He may still be a brother in the family of God, to be treated like any of the rest of us flawed and erring sheep. But he is definitely not to be recognized in the church as a teacher.