“One of the ways bank tellers and merchants learn to distinguish real money from counterfeit is by examining genuine $100 bills over and over again so that they are more likely to spot the counterfeit bills when they see them. In the same way we can learn to recognize destructive people by knowing what to look for.
Some may object to any attempt to identify wolves among us because it sounds uncharitable and judgmental to call someone a wolf. Only Jesus knows a person’s heart so who are we to judge? Yet, Jesus himself warns us that there are those who claim to be believers, they may even be leaders in the church, but they are vicious or ravenous wolves dressed up in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15).
The apostle Paul warns Timothy that there will be people who act religious, but are puffed up with pride, who are unloving, unforgiving, slanderous, and cruel (2 Timothy 3:2-9). Part of spiritual maturity is gaining the ability to discern between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14). Why is this necessary? Because Paul reminds us that even Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Evil pretends to be good.
Sometimes we make a naive assumption and it gets us into terrible trouble. We assume that if someone claims to be a Christian and talks like a Christian, that means he or she is a Christian. That’s not true.
Just like there are counterfeit $100 bills that attempt to pass for the real thing, there are those among us who attempt to pass for Christians but underneath they are ravenous wolves. How do we tell the difference?
Jesus said by their fruit you will know them. A wolf can be an expert at talking like a Christian but when you observe his or her behaviors over time, they look more wolfish (aggressive). As the saying goes, the sweetest tongue often has the sharpest tooth. Here are three things to watch out for.
1. Wolves live for the love of power rather than the power of love. Wolves refuse accountability and resist submission to authority. You’ve heard the phrase lone wolf? Wolves in sheep’s clothing have themselves as their highest point of reference. They often use charisma and charm to “win” people over but they do not have mutual or reciprocal relationships. People are to be used, possessed, exploited or controlled rather than loved.
2. Wolves look like sheep and talk like sheep but they bite like wolves, especially when the sheep are disagreeing or dissenting. Winning and being right are their highest values and they do whatever they need to in order to stay “on top”.
When operating in church or religious settings their methods are often underhanded and cunning to seem less obvious or aggressive. They don’t want to look like wolves, that’s why they pretend to be sheep.
3. Wolves are experts at deceit. That’s why they are so successful at making us think they are true sheep. Jesus tells us that Satan, too, is an expert at deceit. That’s why he doesn’t go around with horns and a tail but as an angel of light.
Wolves pretend to be good and to care about the sheep but those closest to them (especially their family) know the truth. They’ve been bitten again and again and again.
But the wolf’s ability to maintain his cover is one reason why it’s so difficult for church people to believe the person who has been wounded by the wolf. They fail to see him as a wolf and assume that the problem is two sheep biting one another.
That’s not true. Wolves have much sharper teeth and stronger jaws than sheep do. A sheep cannot harm a wolf. A wolf kills sheep.
It’s interesting that God chose a wolf as a word picture to portray this type of problem person. A wolf is a predator. It has a strong jaw and 42 sharp teeth designed to stab its prey to death.
As Christian counselors and leaders, let’s not naively close our eyes and think that there are no wolves among us. They are everywhere and we must learn to recognize and stop them from wounding and killing the sheep.”
“The Church has been rather slow to acknowledge the validity of emotional abuse, especially in marriage – and real change can only start if pastors, lay leaders and other counselors start to see the reality that many people face.” ~Leslie Vernick
Counselor Leslie Vernick has made it her “mission to bravely stand up for those who suffer in the shadows.” Her “heart is more and more heavy to help churches know how to competently and compassionately help those in destructive marriages.”
I believe Leslie to be the best of the best in the field of ministering to spouses in abusive marriages. She recognizes abusers and helps the person on the receiving end of the abuse set boundaries, maintain safety, stay committed to truth, remain open to the Holy Spirit, be responsible for their self and respectful toward others without dishonoring their self, and practice empathy and compassion while setting boundaries.
With this in mind Leslie has started a web-based ministry to counselors, pastors, and church leaders. This makes the task of learning about marital abuse/domestic violence reachable for anyone who wants to learn. Because…there are wolves in every congregation. Almost all counseling centers on communication issues between two people; when in some cases the problem is abuse. Abuse is not a marriage problem. Abuse is an abuse problem—a character problem, and the abuser needs individual help; not marriage counseling. (This applies for marriage, extended family relationships, or non-family relationships. Abuse is abuse; not a communication problem.)
Leslie has numerous free articles and video resources available; as well as, the opportunity to sign up for more resources. If you are in ministry this is a must have area of continued education you should consider. I highly recommend in today’s culture that anyone who works in church leadership should have training in this area. Click here to check out Leslie’s web-site: Leslie Vernick: Training Church Leaders and Counselors in Abuse.