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John 10:11-14 tells us that the principal character of the hireling is cowardice. And regardless as to the idea that a hireling is someone who is working for pay, the meaning is cowardice. We can see this clearly in the example of Paul, who said, “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” Paul kept these wolves out of the flock at considerable cost to himself, and by that means, proved himself to be a good shepherd. No doubt it was for this precise reason that he was able to say, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”

One of the chief difficulties we have when seeking to understand spiritual reality is that we so often miss ordinary reason. By abrogating common sense we may lose the simplicity of a thing and end up chasing after mystical explanations. We either receive our understanding by a revelation of the Holy Spirit or else we use our reasonable minds to lay hold of the Scriptures properly. If we claim to have received revelation and then share contrary to a simple reading of Scripture; are we not in danger of becoming false ourselves?

In looking at this passage from John 10:11-14 we can see that there are three principle actors. The good Shepherd, the Hireling and the Wolf. Unless we see the detail of this, whilst seeking to understand the biblical wolf, we may find it difficult to comprehend the hireling altogether and lose the meaning of the wolf as well. The hireling, in this passage, is not the wolf. Yet as is undoubtedly the case, when money, or wages, or else gain and profit, motivate those who shepherd the flocks of God - others seeing this reality, then cry wolf of that man. The question we must ask ourselves, therefore, is whether we can draw together in meaning, that which Christ has separated? If the Lord has told us that there is a hireling, and that there is a wolf also, can we say of the hireling, that he is the wolf?

Another Class Of Men!

“εγω οιδα οτι εισελευσονται μετα την αφιξιν μου λυκοι βαρεις εις υμας μη φειδομενοι του ποιμνιου ‘I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock.”

Acts 20:29 is the most common verse that brethren cite when speaking about the meaning of the term wolf. In this instance, the term used by the Apostle Paul is grievous wolf. The Greek says, βαρύς (barus) - of grievous, which means to press a severe burden on a person. It also means vicious and cruel. Without mercy. It is very different from the term used in Matthew 7:15, where we read of ravenous wolves. The Greek says, αρπαγες (harpage) - of ravenous, which means to destroy, rob and steal. In Matthew 7:15 the Lord warned of false prophets as ravenous wolves. These wolves come into the flocks; they are not of the flock. In the same way, the grievous wolf comes into the flock - he is not of the flock.

Paul also identified that there are men who arise from within the flock. Yet Paul does not call these men, wolves. Those whom Paul said would come into the flocks, were grievous wolves, and in saying “Also of your own selves, shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them,” Paul identifies a different class of men. Of this diverse group of men we see the Greek conjunctive καὶ - where the object is λαλοῦντες διεστραμμένα τοῦ - ‘speaking perverse things.’ The principle characteristic of these men is speaking perverse things. Paul does not call the men who speak perverse things, wolves, but he does identify that they will draw disciples after themselves.

The proper understanding of this secondary group of men Paul identifies prophetically, is that they ought to be called heretics, and not wolves. Paul also identified who the grievous wolves would be.

“You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Acts 20:18-21

It was the Jews who were trying to come into the flocks of Christ in the first century in order to reassert a full requirement of the Law of Moses upon believers. These Jews were actually opposing Christ Himself in the very same spirit that the Pharisees opposed Christ face to face in Judea. What characterised those men of Judea was a desire to murder Christ and what characterised these men of whom Paul speaks, is their willingness to murder him. This corresponds with reality, in that Satan was a murderer from the beginning. Just as the Lord told some of the Pharisees that their father was the devil, so Paul recognised that those Jews, whose representatives, were coming into the flocks, were murderers in no less a meaning. In Paul’s case they were literally trying to murder him because he was able to resist them.

Speaking Perverse Things

Speaking perverse things comes from diastrepho (διαστρέφω) and means, to twist or distort. The effect is schisms within the church, and that is the root meaning of heresy [hairetikos αἱρετικός and αἱρετικὸν from αἵρεσιςc]. It is wilfully causing schisms or divisions by twisting the apostolic teaching. We find it used in Titus 3:10, “A factious man after a first and second admonition refuse αιρετικον ανθρωπον μετα μιαν και δευτεραν νουθεσιαν παραιτου. Heresy is not sufficient to be called a wolf.

You have to be a grievous βαρύς (barus) wolf in the character that Paul identified before you can be called a wolf. Or else you have to be ἁρπαγή (harpage), a destroyer of the flocks. A broader consideration I make, therefore, has to do with those who take the name of Christ and pervert doctrines with the effect of drawing men to themselves.

This would be more fully speaking of those who pioneer fundamental changes in the way in which a particular truth is presented. When this happens, the result is always division in the body of Christ. What is wrongly taught or emphasised, is rightly called heresy. At a basic level, we could say that denominations and cults are the proof of this kind of division. This effect is so great that there are now many denominations and many more cults.

Those who do this are often described as wolves. Those who receive heretical teaching and embrace it fully; becoming its prophets, are also, called wolves. These men are not wolves - rather they are heretics. To understand heretical schisms, one does not need to comprehend the character of the wolf nor have a working definition as to what constitutes a wolf.

The Lord identified false prophets as wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15) as well as identifying that the false prophet is known by their fruit (vv16-19). Like unto the tree that is given in similitude of its meaning, we would ask what fruits? If a good tree, then good fruit. If the tree is bad, it bears bad fruit and an ill effect (v18). The fruit is the word of his mouth, yet it is its reception, that gives the increase, and not the word itself. The emphasis therefore, ought to be on testing, not condemning. Outwardly the false prophet is a true prophet. It is his speech that reveals his condition - if it is tested. When believed, if it is a true word, that word leads a man to Christ. If it is false and believed, it leads a man unto a man, and the Lord of Hosts is blasphemed. If tested, his word can be rejected. In that definition, a ravenous wolf is a false teacher. Yet teaching is not the essential characteristic of the New Testament prophetic, even though the prophet clearly needs to be able to preserve truth when he speaks.

If we take the Lord’s words in the passage we have quoted from Matthew 7:15, then we would have to see that the character of a wolf is not one sent out of the churches in an apostolic mission, but rather one coming into the churches as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

In Continuance