1Co 13:1-3 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (2) And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (3) If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Jesus said that we can know evil people “by their fruit.” That is to say, we watch the kind of fruit that their lives produce, that is visible – their words, their actions – the visible things you see. And it is what we can see that tells us what we cannot see – the true condition of their heart. Bad fruit = bad tree. Good fruit = good tree.
But sometimes discerning these things isn’t all that easy. No doubt many victims of abuse struggle with this. So let’s do some serious thinking about this.
- Evil people can look like righteous people on the surface. Paul wrote: 2Co 11:13-14 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. (14) And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
At the same time however, these “angels of light” if we would look a bit further, behaved this way toward the Corinthians:
2Co 11:20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.
So we need to know what to look for. There is always a chink in the wicked man’s disguise. He or she may be the most zealous pillar of the local church, but his arrogance and attacks on others when he doesn’t get his way betray who he really is.
- False Christians can appear to be speaking truth. Mat 23:2-3 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, (3) so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.
I have heard men stand up and give marvelous sermons, but when I got to know them better I realized that they were phonies. Cruel to their wives. Power seeking. Even the devil quoted Scripture!
- Evil men can appear to be zealous in doing “good.” See the Scripture quoted above from 1 Cor 13. Think carefully especially about this passage. Isn’t it remarkable? Here, read it again: 1Co 13:1-3 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (2) And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (3) If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
So it really is not incredible that we see men and women appearing to be absolutely genuine Christians doing marvelous things, preaching marvelous sermons, writing theological books, and even dying as martyrs!! I could go on and on and on about all the people I have known over the years in churches who everyone thought were the most wonderful Christians you could ever know. But I knew them. I experienced their reviling, their arrogance, their hatred when they didn’t get their way. I finally saw what their fruit really was and thus what they were.
The real test is love. THAT is what you look for. Christ’s love. It is at the very center of the Christian’s crop of fruit. Love is what Jesus said tells that we are His disciples. See John 13:34ff on that. Don’t just listen to the sermons, don’t just look at the “good” deeds, look for love. Kind, merciful, genuine, love. The phoney will flunk this test every time and as Paul says, all the rest of the amazing things the wicked person does are a wash. I don’t care if a person could raise the dead – if he has not love, he is nothing. A phoney. Here it is again:
- Mat 7:22-23 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ (23) And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
And therefore, listen to the good/bad fruit scripture again:
- Mat 7:17-20 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. (18) A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. (19) Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (20) Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
An evil person may be able to mask their bad fruit for a time, but eventually the evil mask will slip and you will see or experience, even if just a glimpse (a quick, passing comment that cuts you and hurts and demeans you), the bad fruit. Don’t dismiss that harsh tone, the unexpected lie or change in character. Don’t let all their “good” deeds of the past outweigh what you just experienced.
And remember, when confronted with their sin the true Christian will repent. They will say “I’m sorry,” and mean it. A phoney, on the other hand, will make excuses. They will twist the situation to make themselves look good again, and often will even include a dose of “it’s your fault” blame too.
Now, listen very carefully – we can recognize good and evil by constantly growing in discernment and in the knowledge of the will of God. Paul prayed for the Philippians in this very regard:
Php 1:9-11 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, (10) so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, (11) filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Listen to how the Living Bible paraphrases these verses:
9 My prayer for you is that you will overflow more and more with love for others, and at the same time keep on growing in spiritual knowledge and insight, 10 for I want you always to see clearly the difference between right and wrong, and to be inwardly clean, no one being able to criticize you from now until our Lord returns. 11 May you always be doing those good, kind things that show you are a child of God, for this will bring much praise and glory to the Lord.
There it is. Grow in Christ. Be wise. Pray and ask the Lord to give you His wisdom, knowledge, and insight. And never be surprised when that angel of light turns out to be a demon of darkness.