Jesus begins with a warning: “Beware of the false prophets, ...” Not everyone who claims to speak for God is actually speaking for God. In fact, according to Jesus, false prophets deceptively disguise themselves to look and sound like true prophets: “... who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
So how can you tell a true prophet from a false prophet? Jesus says, “You will know them by their fruits” (v16), that is, “You will fully recognize them by the results of what they do” or “how they live their lives.”
Jesus illustrates this truth in vv16a-18: “Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. ...20 So then, you will know them by their fruits.”
In other words, “You can detect them by the way they act, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit. You don’t pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles. A healthy tree produces good fruit, and an unhealthy tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. ... Yes, the way to identify a tree or a person is by the kind of fruit that is produced.”
The fruit of a person’s lifestyle is tied directly to the root of that person’s beliefs. Just as trees are consistent in the kind of fruit they produce, so likewise, true and false prophets consistently exhibit the fruit of their character by their actions. Thus, Jesus’ teaching agrees with the old adage: “Actions speak louder than words.”
“But the fruit of the Spirit,” writes Paul, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Measure the quality of every prophet or preacher against the results of their life and lifestyle. And evaluate their message against the truth of God’s written Word (1 John 4:1-6).
(Jessie J. Charpentier Sr. is pastor of Jenkins Memorial Baptist Church in St. Martinville.)