Jesus warned us about the hirelings among His sheep. He also spoke about wolves in sheep’s clothing. (See Matthew 7:15 & John 10:12). These kinds of people are going to be around us, but how do we discern them successfully!?
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Hebrews 5:12-14
To discern wolves and hirelings, it first involves our continual desire to grow in the word of God. Those who put the word of God above the word of man are going to have a greater chance of identifying the hirelings and the wolves in sheep’s clothing.
On the other hand, those who have a celebrity-oriented mentality and quote a preacher more than they quote the scripture are in danger of being deceived. They have learned to rely on man for God’s truth, so when the integrity of the message changes, they are still following the personality not discerning that the message is no longer authentic.
Second, we need to exercise our senses as the above passage tells us. Just as physical exercise cannot be done by others for us, neither can discernment be done by someone else for us. Others can teach, coach, and encourage us, but we are the only ones who have to exercise our body in order to keep it healthy and strong. Similarly, no one else can do the discerning for us. We cannot rely on others to discern what is good and evil.
If we rely on others for discernment, we will remain weak, unskilled, and susceptible to being deceived. Our confidence in others’ judgment should not minimize the importance of exercising our own spiritual senses and learning to discern between good and evil. When people rely on others’ discernment, they remain child-like in various areas of life.
For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 2Timothy 3:6-7
Third, we need to avoid being gullible. Both men and women can be gullible. Those who are gullible are easily persuaded about something. Discerning people are not gullible. They ask a lot of questions and try to discern the motives.
Furthermore, we need stay away from those who flatter us and tell us how special and capable we are. This means we have dealt with our lusts, yearnings, and desires so we are not baited by others’ flattery. What is the motive of the flattery? Are they trying to encourage you to rise higher in Christ or are they trying to make you discontent with your current circumstances?
Based on the above passage, gullible people think they lack knowledge. Instead, they need to exercise their discernment, so they can gain a heart of understanding and avoid falling for various claims someone makes.
I have seen individuals being manipulated, and they did not even know what was happening to them. They relied on their natural senses, affection, and familiarity with the person, and they completely missed the person’s manipulation. Generally, the manipulators are smart enough to give it time and earn people’s trust before they manipulates the person.
If we are going to be discerning people, we need to pay more attention to someone’s actions than words. If people’s actions are not matching up with their words, it should raise a flag for us.
Regardless of our level of relationship, we cannot abdicate our responsibility for being discerning. This is especially important if we are in a leadership role. Our allegiance to Christ and His flock should supersede our natural affections. We need to remain alert and discerning for the sake of the Kingdom, so the sheep can be protected.