How to Approach a Wolf: Part 1

not-to-do-listThere are certain things you should never do. Some such things might be obvious, like don’t stick your head in a lion’s mouth, or perhaps less obvious, like walking and texting at the same time (believe it or not, you can get fined for this in Los Angeles County). I remember growing up, being seven years older than my brother, I had the physical advantage to easily pin him down while holding his hands above his head with one hand, and tickling him mercilessly with the other. Completely helpless, he’d often do the only thing he could do in retaliation – spit. But, alas, here too gravity worked in my favor, and the spit would always wind up on his own face. The moral of the story? Don’t spit when gravity works against you I guess (also illegal in some places in CA). But all that to say, approaching a wolf might be one of those things we lump into the “don’t do that” category.

Of course I’m speaking of spiritual wolves. This doesn’t lessen the danger involved. Scripture wouldn’t use wolves as a synonym for false teachers if the illustration wasn’t suitable. The problem is, although it might perhaps seem more sensible not to approach such a dangerously described individual, for pastors, this is not what they are commanded to do. In fact, quite the opposite. Fortunately, Scripture tells the pastor just how he’s supposed to do it. This post really is just going to serve as an introduction to the topic, “How to Approach a Wolf,” Next time well take a closer look at what Paul says in Titus 1:10-16, where we’ll see, first, he’s got to muzzle him, and second, he’s got to drive him off. Take a look:

10 For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. 12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. For this reason, reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.

This is tough. Symbolic or not, it’s no easy thing to approach a wolf. You’ll be bitten and clawed. You’ll probably be wounded. The pastor who is faithful to fulfill this responsibility will be scorned, ridiculed, alienated, mocked, and so on. Furthermore, he will be falsely accused and his character questioned. This is why it is so important that the pastor meet the standards listed in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9), he must not be appointed hastily (1 Tim. 5:22), and accusations by individuals against pastors shouldn’t even be entertained unless there are multiple witnesses (1 Tim. 5:19). Succinctly stated, he must be above reproach! Paul commands Timothy and Titus to be careful to appoint men for pastoral ministry who were men of integrity, men of character, men of the faith, and men of the Word.

wolf-in-sheeps-clothingBut many people wonder, “Can’t we just ignore the wolves altogether?” Others cry, “Foul! This is unloving and divisive!” It’s interesting though, that in Titus, immediately after Paul lays out the qualifications for the pastor, he says why in 1:9: “so that he will be able to both exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” Unfortunately, most pastors are unwilling to get bitten, and they hide under a mask called “unity” to excuse themselves from their duty in the second half of that verse. 

At the same time, however, this is not done maliciously, which can also tend to be the case. Unfortunately, it’s probably true that most of the pastors who really don’t care if they’re bitten, are also themselves excessively rough. 2 Tim. 2:24-26 must be kept in the forethought when confronting a false teacher.

24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

Wait, did you read that? This is really important! First, Paul is making an obvious distinction between “rebuking” and “quarreling,” since he wouldn’t command us to do something that’s contradictory. Secondly, he’s also to be kind, patient and gentle. But the reason is astounding… so that they might repent, come to their senses, and escape from the snare of the devil! Paul is saying that there are some who are teaching who are unknowingly held “captive” by the devil to do his will! It’s a scary thing to be so deceived as to think you are God’s spokesman when really you’re the spokesman of the devil!

confrontation

But again, this doesn’t mean that the pastor is to remain silent! By no means (cf. 1 Tim. 5:20)! Too much is at stake, and the pastor cannot roll over and stay quiet for the sake of some form of superficial unity. False teachers must be confronted, but the manner is qualified by the nature of the confrontation’s goal. 

Shepherds are to be gentle, but there are times for the sake of the flock, when a shepherd must show his strength – when he must draw the battle line, when he must attack the wolf, and that’s what’s happening in Titus 1:10-16.

But does this sow disunity in the church? Even worse, does this hinder the Gospel when we evangelize? The answer is NO. We’re not hindering the Gospel. We’re promoting it by clarifying it.

We’re telling the world, “Now. We do not affirm what this person teaches or what this person does.” We’re telling the world that the wolf is not one of us, so when that pastor’s true colors show, when he falls morally or proves himself a hypocrite, the purity of the church is still intact since the world knew that we rejected him all along. There’s no need to back-pedal. No need to say, “Oops! We didn’t know,” or “Well, we just didn’t want to be seen as being divisive or unloving.”

So, that’s where we are. “How to Approach a Wolf.” That’s the question I want to answer next time.

  • Joseph Perkins

    Great introduction! I am not a pastor or elder or deacon, but I am the head of my family… Sadly I have used that whole “live in unity” bit a number of times in the past few years. And even before then I was much more assertive and willing to speak out against false teachings but I was doing more quarreling than rebuking – I was not very gentle and also held a prideful attitude of “I am right and you are just dead wrong”. Thank you for bringing this to mind. May the Lord convict my heart and the hearts of other believers to stand firm and lovingly in the face of adversity, those spiritual wolves.

    • Thanks Joseph! I’m encouraged that this was of some help to you. There’s definitely a sense in which you’re the “shepherd” of your family as the spiritual leader of your home, and it’s important that you teach them to be careful to evaluate what they hear through Scripture. Just this thought too… perhaps I should have worked it into this post… it’s important to discern wolves from misguided shepherds, which I’ll write a little about next time as well. A wolf is someone who teaches anything contrary to the Gospel message, or someone whose character clearly identifies them as someone unqualified – they show themselves as unbelievers by their lifestyle. It is this kind of person that Paul writes about in Titus. The misguided shepherd I think requires a different approach, demonstrated by the private confrontation of the great teacher Apollos by Aquila and Priscilla in Acts 18:24-28. But, this is also interesting, Apollos then went out, and “he greatly helped those who had believed through grace.” Then Luke tells us how, “for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public” (vs. 28).

  • Mandolin

    How would you counsel a member of the flock to approach a wolf? Is it the same as that of a shepherd?

    • I think you ask a great question, and the simple answer is, it depends 🙂 and requires great discernment. There would be multiple factors involved… BUT it seems that there might be a general principle implied in 1 Tim. 5:19-20. First, Paul commands Timothy not to receive an accusation except by two or three witnesses. In the Greek, this is a singular command addressed to the pastor. The pastor is not to entertain accusations unless there are multiple witnesses (this is for the pastor’s protection against maliciously motivated individuals). Secondly, the implication is that the flock (the witnesses) is going to their pastor, since he is their shepherd. In essence, it would be as though the sheep are saying, “Pastor, there’s a wolf here, please do something!” It wouldn’t be wise for a sheep to approach a wolf, and again, this is why it’s so important that the pastor meet the qualifications of the elder set in the Pastoral Epistles – one of them being that he is able to make a defense of the Scriptures, and because he is above reproach, his character cannot be brought into question by his own flock with false accusations start flying from the wolf. Third, command “rebuke them in the presence of all,” in 1 Tim. 5:20 is a present active imperative, second person singular verb. That means that to show the Greek verbal idea, you could translate this as, “Pastor, YOU rebuke him” if these accusations brought before you by your sheep are found to be true. This, and the following articles on “How to Approach a Wolf,” are written for a twofold purpose (which I suppose should have specified somewhere in the introduction): 1) for the pastor, to exhort him to fulfill this responsibility – and biblically, and 2) to help a member of the flock to know why their pastor must do this. It gives the flock, I hope, comfort to know that their pastor is doing a hard thing, even though necessary. That being said, however, even with this sort of rebuke, it is often helpful at times for laity to point out erroneous doctrine and sinful behavior to those they are discipling in order to help them think biblically. Case in point, like Joseph above, I think it’s a WISE thing for him to teach his children (as their spiritual leader) why we might not accept certain contemporary pastors who might otherwise be appealing to a young mind, but who is really just a very deceptive wolf. In that way, he prepares their minds to be discerning.

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