In Paul’s final meeting with the elders of the church at Ephesus, he warned them about wolves that would rise up FROM WITHIN the church to destroy it. Shortly after he left, wolves did come and, eventually, Timothy was sent to deal with them. In the first 11 verses of the first letter to a young pastor, we learn a lot about finding and dealing with the wolves that ARE all around us:
What are wolves? A wolf is a hungry “animal” that is looking for sheep to eat. Unlike a sheep, he doesn’t trust the shepherd, won’t follow the shepherd, and all around dislikes the shepherd. The disdain a wolf has for a Shepherd isn’t a hidden thing because wolves never stop talking, especially about how much they feel the shepherd is in fact harming the sheep. They fill their mind, the air, and the internet with lies and half-truths. Of course, they’re too “wise”(or passive aggressive) to say anything directly, rather, they make cryptic statements and ask subtle questions much like the serpent did in the garden. In essence, they build doubt in everything and not faith in anything. Wolves are motivated by their own desires, own feelings, and own hunger, working hard to ultimately deceive the shepherd so that he can attack the sheep and satisfy his hunger (which is never satisfied).
Where are wolves? While wolves often come from the outside, in Paul’s warning and Timothy’s experience, the wolves were in the church AND in leadership. And Paul doesn’t even have to name names because everyone knows who they are. Though I believe that there are some wolves who are in fact trying to “take over” the church, I don’t know if that is the norm. Most often, the wolf doesn’t see themselves as a wolf, rather, they seem themselves as the victim. In their mind, the shepherd is the “real wolf” and they’re just one of the sheep trying to protect the rest of the flock. Wolves then are generally (but subtly) divisive people who end up distracting the church from its mission to preach the gospel. In the church, wolves are usually those men (and their wives) who are in leadership, aspire to be in leadership, or drain the current leadership of all of their time and energy talking and talking and talking but never coming to conclusions. Meanwhile, they carve out a small following of people they’ve influenced through their foolish and vain discussions.
Who are wolves? People often wonder how wolves would able to gather a group of people if their “that bad” or scary. In truth, wolves don’t LOOK or even SOUND like what we imagine scary wolves should, they are likable, intriguing, kind, and often relational people. They are, for all intents and purposes, gifted leaders whose motivations have become self-centered and not Gospel-centered. They are leaders who are no longer governed by the gospel, but by a desire to be a “TEACHER OF THE LAW”(1Tim. 1.7), to obtain a position of respect, power, and regard–the very anti-thesis of a gospel desire. Motivated by their own glory then, they make “confident assertions” about the Bible without knowing what they are actually talking about. In other words, they try (and succeed with those who don’t read their Bibles) to sound intelligent, “spiritual”, even slightly biblical. The TRUTH is that, just because someone can drop a few verses, write a great blog, quote a dead theologian, explain a Greek Word, or even preach a sermon, does not mean what they are teaching lines up with Scripture. In fact, the most dangerous and powerful lies are the ones that sound biblical.
What to do with wolves? Wolves must be confronted. Wolves cannot be ignored, wished away, or silenced without active engagement. Wolves are not there to play with the sheep, regardless of how innocent the wolf claims to be. If the shepherd allows any wolves to hang around your church or your family, eventually, someone in the flock will be killed, usually the weak and immature, sheep. Any confrontation must be one that is motivated by a love for God, a love for His Truth, a love for the sheep, AND even a little bit of love for the wolf. After being shown the truth, the wolf must ultimately either submit to the truth, or leave. If the wolf is not scared away from the flock OR scared away the false truth he has followed, the shepherd must act to protect the flock and remove the wolf the hard way.
This is not a charge for pastors to become Wolf-hunters and to mark every person they don’t like in their church as a wolf. It is also not an excuse to avoid dialoguing with people about difficult things because the pastor feels threatened by strong personalities or difficult questions. There is definitely a difference between seeking out wolves and being aware of them. One leads us to find and pick unnecessary fights, the other ensures you’re equipped for the fight when it comes to you.