“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Reference: Matthew 7:15-20 )
The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible said as an introduction to the remarks of today’s historic Anabaptist, “Anabaptists “judged by the fruit” and concluded that their interrogators and torturers were false prophets. Jan Gerrits used this passage from Matthew in a letter from prison to a pastor, whom he apparently once had considered a good friend. Gerrits was burned at The Hague in December, 1564.” Judging people by the “fruits” they produce is an extension of entwining “works” and “faith”. One’s faith will influence the way one lives their life – or it should.
Gerrits, in his letter to his friend, shows the reader how this friend’s life was affected by his faith – which we can correctly assume aligned with the state religion. Gerrits wrote, “In the sixth place, as regards this, that I spoke tartly and insolently to you, I answer. Behold, my Lord and Master taught me nothing else, when He says: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Matt. 7:15. Seeing you came to me with so fair an appearance, to slay my soul, as you indeed boasted, why then should I not speak or write the truth? For what do you but seek to devour or tear me, to entice a poor sheep away from Christ’s pasture. No, no! God the chief Shepherd preserve me from this. No one shall pluck them out of His hand, but if one goes out himself, then the case is different. Yet, you have been assiduous, and struck your sharp fangs into my soul; and yet you call me brother. Hence I call you a wolf in sheep’s clothing; however, be converted and become a lamb. O friend, what have you come to?”
You can imagine the strain between the two friends who find themselves on opposites of an issue. An issue that has literal life and death consequences, in this life and in the next. It is all well and good to talk about living rightly, and choosing who you will follow and belief based on what results have come from their teachings and lives. But Gerrits’ letter set aside in my mind what I was going to say about that, and instead my attention and thinking was caught up by this image of two friends who found themselves “enemies” because of faith.
It is hard to know what went on between these two, but Gerrits’ letter strongly suggests his friend took on the role of interrogator – as Gerrits said, his friend boasts of it. Many of the letters and writings from the historic Anabaptists were between fellow believers, friends, and family. Letters of support, concern and encouragement. How it must have hurt and cut through to have a friend come and be transformed to an enemy. Yet, might Gerrits’ friend also have felt his friend had turned himself into the enemy? For a moment, beloved, you might ask who was in the right? But as this scripture passage, look for the “fruit”. While Gerrits’ heart was broken and his anger riled (Gerrits wrote, “as regards this, that I spoke tartly and insolently to you) , he is also reaching out to his friend – “be converted and become a lamb. O friend, what have you come to?”
We talk about “cultivating” friends, beloved. And that is a good analogy for this verse. We look at people who are potential friends and see what so far their life has produced. We know then if they will be friends we want to associate with. If we pick friends who are “bad trees” we can be sickened by their bad fruit, or judged because we are standing in their orchard/vineyard. But if we pick friends who are “good trees” we have the promise of good fruit and the prospect of growing in a good Christian environment.
May the Lord quicken and heighten your sense of judgment of good friends, beloved. Selah!