Matthew 7:15–20: Known by their Fruits
Our culture has, at the same time, a great fascination with leadership and a great skepticism for authority. We gravitate toward strong leaders who communicate a clear and powerful vision for the future; however, we also deeply distrust anyone who holds any power over us. Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:15–20 address these issues directly by warning us of a legitimate reason to distrust authority: namely, some leaders are false prophets, who look like sheep outwardly, but inwardly are as ravenous as wolves (Matt. 7:15). Here, Jesus warns us not only of how to evaluate leaders before following them, but also why evaluating leadership is so important. Namely, your leaders’ roots will determine your fruits.
1. What is the logical connection between Jesus’ warning against the wide gate and easy road in the previous section (Matt. 7:13–14), and his warning against false prophets in v. 15? What does this tell us about the dangers of false prophets? Why are false prophets so difficult to recognize? What is the danger to following false prophets? How does that danger connect to the danger of destruction at the end of the wide gate and easy way (Matt. 7:13)?
2. What does Jesus mean when he tells us that we will “recognize them by their fruits” (vv. 16, 20)? What are the “fruits” of these leaders? What is the connection between the “fruits” of the leaders and the “roots” of their deeper character? What does Jesus mean when he says that it is impossible for a healthy tree to bear bad fruit, and for a diseased tree to bear good fruit? In what situations are you tempted to overlook or even rationalize the bad fruits of leaders?
3. In what way are the fruits of leaders connected to their fate (v. 19)? How does this warning help us to understand and evaluate the future of leaders who twist God’s Word, yet seem to gain significant success in this world? How does this warning about the fate of leaders connect to our own fates (John 15:2, 6)? Why do you think that Jesus repeats his warning that “you will recognize them by their fruits” in v. 20?
4. What does the Bible teach about obeying leadership in the church (e.g., Eph. 4:11–16; 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:7–19)? How do these positive commands concerning leadership fit with Jesus’ warnings about false prophets here? When, how, and to what degree can we follow a leader who is also a fellow sinner with us? What role does the congregation have in the church both to support and to hold leadership accountable?