One of Jesus’ most instructive parables is recorded in John 10. He talks about the fold and the sheep, the shepherd and the robbers, the thieves and the hireling, and about going in and out of the door. In this article we will study one of the subjects of this parable: how to know the true shepherd from the false.
Jesus said: “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” John 10:4. [All emphasis supplied.] How is it that the true sheep know the voice of the Shepherd from all the other voices? they can pick out a fake, and will not listen to him?
Verse 8 says, “All that ever came before Me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.” The sheep knew when they heard the voice of the thieves and robbers that tried to tell them where to go and what to do, and it was not the right voice. Jesus said that even the true sheep, which were not yet in the true fold, would recognize His voice. “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” Verse 16.
He emphasized the point by repeating it over and over: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Verse 27. Do we know the voice of the Shepherd? How do we distinguish between the real and the fake? the pretender and the true? Jesus gave the answer as He was explaining the parable to His disciples. He said, “If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not.” Verse 37.
We need to learn this lesson today as much as they. “If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not.” Verse 37. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked about teachers. He said, “Beware.” That is one of the first principles for us to learn—Beware. There are a lot of fakes out in the world who are telling you which way to go and what to do. Before we study the rest of Jesus’ instruction in this passage, let us think about the first word: BEWARE. In other words, be wary of who you are listening to.
One day this spring I was in the garden gathering greens for lunch. We were going down the row of mustard greens trying to find some that the worms had not eaten up and that were not too tough.
As I was bending over cutting a few greens, I heard a cardinal singing—at least I thought it was a cardinal. I questioningly stood up and looked around, because the “cardinal’s” song was coming from the direction of the tree that the mockingbird usually sings from. Almost simultaneously, before I had a chance to tell for sure if I was hearing the cardinal or the mockingbird, I heard another bird start singing. It was coming from the direction of the cardinal’s nest. The song was loud and crystal clear, and I recognized every note as that of the cardinal.
As I carefully listened. I realized what I had already suspected—the mockingbird could not fake the cardinal’s song perfectly. I was already wary of the mockingbird, because a couple of days earlier, as I was walking outside, I thought I heard a cardinal. I looked around to see if I could find the cardinal with his beautiful coat of crimson red. And when I spotted the singing bird at the top of the pine tree across the road, it was the mockingbird. But by the time I saw his gray and white colors he was already faking a different song. He was then singing the eastern meadowlark’s song. That is how the mockingbird does. He sings a snatch of this and a trill of that, but never a separate and entire melody. He borrows from here and from there, but he does not have his own song to sing. Beware. What you think is a cardinal may turn out to be a mockingbird.
There are many mockingbirds in our world today. They sing one song for a while, and then another song, none of which are their own songs. They see something they like and go for that, then they see something else they like better and start towards that. They make promises that they cannot keep because they are not theirs to deliver. How disappointed people become when they discover they have been listening to a mockingbird.
The mockingbirds say, Listen to me. I sing a beautiful song. I have happiness. Follow me. I am the real thing. Mockingbirds are everywhere. You can find them on billboards, in magazines. You can find them in church. Sometimes the mockingbird sings inside of us. It is a song of “Please do this and it will make you happy,” a lustful desire, an unholy ambition.
Can you distinguish between the real and the fake? Do you know when you are hearing the voice of the mockingbird or the real thing? Many people are easy prey for false teachers because they sing the song of the mockingbird themselves. They sing a “snatch of this, a trill of that, but never a separate and entire melody.” The Ministry of Healing, 472.
What song are you singing? Does Jesus really, truly live inside of you? Or are you singing the song of the mockingbird? The mockingbird says, I am a Christian, I have the truth. But really, Christ does not live inside. Unless He lives inside of us, we are the mockingbirds. And if we are fooling ourselves, we will for sure be fooled by others who can deceive even better than we.
When Jesus was on earth, the people had some heated arguments concerning Him being a fake. One of those discussions is recorded in John 7. “And there was much murmuring among the people concerning Him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but He deceiveth the people.” John 7:12.
Jesus then gave a promise to His people. It is a promise, that if we remain until the end, we will be tested for ourselves. He said, “If any man will do His will, He shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself.” John 7:17.
Then Jesus gave the key to recognizing a fake. “He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but He that seeketh His glory that sent Him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.” Verse 18. The one that has learned by God’s grace to sing the true song is the one that is seeking God’s glory and self is dead. But the one that seeks his own glory is a fake. He is not to be listened to.
There will be fakes until the end of sin. God gave us the acid test that will never fail to uncover a deceiver. What is this test between the real and the fake? How can you tell if it is a mockingbird singing the cardinal’s song?
We read earlier of Jesus’ instruction to beware of being deceived. He continued on to teach us how to tell a fake. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” Matthew 7:15–19.
Do not think that because a person can pray and preach, that is good fruit. “Prayer, exhortation, and talk are cheap fruits, which are frequently tied on; but fruits that are manifested in good works, in caring for the needy, the fatherless, and widows, are genuine fruits, and grow naturally upon a good tree.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 24. Here is pictured a most deceptive situation. Instead of producing genuine fruit from the tree, someone has just tied on the right words. The simple will be deceived by it. “The simple believe every word.” Proverbs 14:15. How many people are fooled by good words. There has to be more than words! There has to be some doing. The Lord has warned us that this is a frequent situation. If all there is are convincing words—beware.
What can prayer, exhortations and sermons be? They can be fruit that is just tied on to an evil tree. People hear what they consider a good sermon and are ready so quickly to follow a man. Prayer, exhortation and talk can be only cheap fruit that is tied on any tree. The fruit we need to look for is what is manifested in good works in caring for the needy, the fatherless, and the widows. These are genuine fruits and they naturally grow on a good tree.
James told us: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27.
We can only survive by knowing what God has identified as good fruits and bad fruits. The good fruits come from a genuine Christian. But when there are bad fruits, the person can still talk in a genuine way. If there is only one bad fruit in the life, we need to remember Jesus’ instruction: a good tree cannot produce a bad fruit. Beware. Do not be fooled by the mockingbird. Look at the fruit. The mockingbird can sing the cardinal’s song, but he cannot produce a single cardinal egg because he is not a cardinal. He can only sing like the cardinal. We must learn to never ignore bad fruit with the excuse that their talk seems genuine.
That is why Jesus said later in His discussion with the Jews in John 7: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgement.” John 7:24.
We hear so much about not judging that sometimes we forget that God has commanded us to judge! While we are never to judge the motive, we are to judge the fruit. If we do not follow this instruction, we will surely be fooled! Do not be fooled by righteous sounding talk!
There are several passages in God’s Word that describe bad fruit. We must prayerfully consider each one. Bad fruit must first be rooted out of our own lives, or we cannot discern it in others. No one can distinguish the real from the fake if there is still bad fruit in his own life.
In brackets we will describe some of these fruits with words that are more common to most of us. These descriptive words came from Websters’s dictionary.
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness [lustful wantonness; wantonness is the causing of sexual excitement or being unduly extravagant], idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations [to strive to be equal to or to excel someone else, in other words, competition], wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings [noisy parties or merry-making], and such like.” Galatians 5:19–21.
There is another list of bad fruit in Colossians 3. We will list only the ones not mentioned in the book of Galatians. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; . . . inordinate [disorderly, unregulated, exceeding reasonable limits] affection, evil concupiscence [coveting sexual activities, strong sexual desire], and coveteousness which is idolatry . . . anger, wrath,malice [desiring pain, injury, or distress to another], blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds.” Colossians 3:5–9.
“Filthy communication out of your mouth.” The definition for that is out of the Bible. “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” Ephesians 5:11, 12. It is filthy communication when you speak of the evil things that are listed above. Filthy things, sexual things, impure things, wrathful things, angry things, hateful things. Do not speak of those things which are done of them in secret. Filthy communication is bad fruit.
James teaches us how to recognize a fake. “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” James 1:26.
How about the people that just talk, talk, talk? God has told us. “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin.” Proverbs 10:19. How often we would be saved from defeat if we heeded these words of God. Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.” Luke 6:45.
Matthew says it even more forcefully: “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Matthew 12:36, 37.
Another bad fruit is not having a love for sound doctrine. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” 2 Timothy 4:3, 4.
People who cannot endure a plain “Thus saith the Lord,” are showing that they are growing evil fruit. They want to invent some doctrine that is pleasing to the ear. When you see it, beware.
God’s people love the Word of God, they obey the truth. Here is the fruit on the gospel tree of a true Christian. “God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrine and the basis of all reforms . . . Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain ‘Thus saith the Lord in its support.’ ” The Great Controversy, 595.
Here is another list of bad fruits: “Men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” 2 Timothy 3:2–5.
Are you following the plainest command of Scripture? When people have these bad fruits in their lives, we want to pray for them and love them and work for their salvation, but the idea of continuing with them goes against the Word of God. They will become the deceiver of our soul. If you listen to the deceptive song long enough, you are going to be deceived. Just one bad fruit in this whole list is enough to deceive you.
We have been warned that one evil that is cherished can ruin the whole soul. You do not need to have all of them, just one. It will be like a little worm that will eat out your soul. “From such turn away.” Turn away from the sin and from the people who refuse to turn away from sin.
As you look at this fearful list of bad fruit, pray over it for yourself. Pray that God will give you the discernment to not be fooled and that all bad fruit will be removed from your life. Until we are clean ourselves, we can quite easily be deceived by the false shepherd. That is why so many are being deceived today; they secretly love some cherished sin themselves, so they are fooled by those who are better fakers than they are. There is always someone who is a better faker than you are.
Are you able to identify the real from the fake when it comes to God’s true church? There is a fake church. You know what I mean, the church that sings the song “I am the church, I am the church,” but is not producing the fruits of righteousness. Rather it is manifesting the fruits of darkness. Beware, you may be listening to the mockingbird’s borrowed song instead of the real thing.
The cardinal does not know anything different than to sing his own song. He is genuine. But the mockingbird borrows a snatch of this and a trill of that, and if you are not careful, it can fool you. Whatever the occasion demands, that’s the song that he can sing.
All of us have been like the mockingbird. We’ve been deceived by the great deceiver. But Jesus came to deliver our souls from this great deception. He wants to make us genuine again. Through his grace we can be changed into His image. We will sing the song of Moses and the Lamb. It will not be a borrowed song either. It will be the song of our experience. But to learn that song we will have to endure some trials.
“In the full light of day, and in hearing of the music of other voices, the caged bird will not sing the song that his master seeks to teach him. He learns a snatch of this, a trill of that, but never a separate and entire melody. But the master covers the cage, and places it where the bird will listen to the one song he is to sing. In the dark, he tries and tries again to sing that song until it is learned, and he breaks forth in perfect melody. Then the bird is brought forth, and ever after he can sing that song in the light. Thus God deals with His children. He has a song to teach us, and when we have learned it amid the shadows of affliction we can sing it ever afterward.” The Ministry of Healing, 472.
God has put us all in a school. I hope we all endure it. He wants us all to endure it. It is a school to distinguish the fake from the real, to tell the genuine from the spurious, the true from the false. Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden . . . and learn of Me for I am meek and lowly in heart and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Matthew 11:28, 29.
Jesus’ school has sometimes been held in the most unconventional places. His school rooms were not ones that we would pick. One time for His school room He chose a boat for His classroom and the teacher was a mighty storm. The pupils were His disciples, and they learned great lessons in Jesus’ school. They learned the lessons so well that they took the gospel to the whole world in one generation. They could tell the genuine from the spurious, the true from the false. They became strong to rebuke sin and quick to have mercy on the repentant sinner.
I wonder if we who are to give the last message of warning to a perishing world need to be in a school like the disciples were. Have you been in attendance in Jesus’ school before? In conclusion let us think of the disciples in that terrible storm on the lake. It had been a calm day and they wanted to crown Jesus as King. He commanded them to get in the boat. Never was a command of Jesus so hard to obey. They got in that boat against their will. They were not thinking clearly because “love of honor had blinded them.” The Desire of Ages, 380. They reasoned in their unbelief “until they brought upon themselves great spiritual darkness. They questioned, Could Jesus be an impostor, as the Pharisees asserted?” Ibid. Obviously, they could not yet always tell the genuine from the false.
So God sent them a teacher. Often when we have great trials to battle against, they teach us how weak we are and work out some of the unbelief that is in our hearts. That is how it was for the disciples; every one had to work hard to keep the boat afloat. The disciples labored with all their strength to keep the boat afloat amidst the strong winds and heavy gales. But they finally gave up their efforts as hopeless. While the hungry waves talked of death amid the storm, a light form is seen walking upon the foam-capped billows. This Presence should have brought them blessing and hope, but they were terrified. They thought it was a precursor of death. But suddenly they hear a voice, amid the roar of the tempest. It was Jesus. He said, “Be of good cheer. It is I, Be not afraid.” They recognized the voice. How did they know that voice? They had heard it before and they knew the sound. The known voice is heard above the tumult of the storm, “Be not afraid; it is I.”
“That night in that boat was to the disciples a school where they were to receive their education for the great work which was to be done afterwards. The dark hours of trial are to come to every one as a part of his education for higher work, for more devoted, consecrated effort. The storm was not sent upon the disciples to shipwreck them, but to test and prove them individually. Before the great trouble shall come upon the world such as has never been since there was a nation, those who have faltered and who would ignorantly lead in unsafe paths will reveal this before the real vital test, the last proving comes, so that whatsoever they may say will not be regarded as voicing the True Shepherd. The time of our educating will soon be over. We have no time to lose in walking through clouds of doubt and uncertainty because of uncertain voices.” 1888 Materials, 1002.
We should never, never follow the voice of one just because he can talk right. Beware, it could be a mockingbird! Just picking up the right song for the occasion does not prove that the voice is from the true Shepherd. The good fruit has to be in the life. It is the same for us. We have people who look to us, our own children and others. Are we singing the genuine song? Or are we a fake, like a mockingbird? Let us ask the Lord to give us the real, the genuine and not the fake and the spurious.