Beware of False Teachers
Peter's second epistle is essentially this Apostle's last sermon to the church before his death. In it he makes several key exhortations about the Christian life. In the previous chapter we studied the first of these which was, "Grow or Die!" Christianity is a fluid experience of growth and development towards a goal. Once the growth stops, spiritual regression begins until our faith dies and along with it, our spiritual life.
In this second letter Peter explains that what fuels this growth is the on-going knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, a knowledge revealed in His Word and through His only begotten Son. Peter details how this knowledge of God is acquired on a daily basis. He explains the nuts and bolts of how a person gets to know God and how to continue in the process of spiritual development. Peter says that beginning with faith (which saves us) we are to add moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. He concludes that the person who is practicing these things will grow in his knowledge of God, grow in his confidence of salvation, and grow in his appreciation and experience of the heavenly kingdom where he will eventually dwell forever.
Peter now turns from a discussion about things in the future in order to talk about two things that concern them in the here and now.
The Inspiration of God's Word
The process that ultimately leads to heaven begins with faith, a faith that is generated by hearing God's Word (Romans 10:17). Since the Word is the source of faith, Peter wants to reassure them that the basis for their faith and spiritual growth is sure.
12Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. 13I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.
- II Peter 1:12-14
He confirms that what he has taught them are not new ideas. They are teachings that have been taught and known through the gospel (truth) which began the process in them in the first place. Peter finds it necessary, however, to remind them of this truth one last time because the Lord has revealed to him that he is about to die.
15And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind. 16For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased"- 18and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
- II Peter 1:15-18
This letter will serve as a constant reminder to them after he is gone. He tells them why his letter, along with the other Apostolic writings and Scriptures they have in their possession, should be considered inspired and authoritative.
- The Apostles did not create the gospel. They were eyewitnesses of Jesus' baptism, ministry of teaching and miracles as well as His death and resurrection. Their preaching was not made up of fables and stories, but an eyewitness account of the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God.
- In addition to this, they were also witnesses to His relationship to the Father in heaven, having seen both the glory of heaven (in Christ's transfigured state) and also heard it as God spoke from heaven (Matthew 17:1-9).
So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.
- II Peter 1:19
The Apostles not only had the words of the prophets describing the coming of the Messiah and what He would do, they also witnessed His coming and fulfillment of all the prophecies about Him. Therefore, the brethren would do well to pay attention to the things written by them for their spiritual development.
20But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, 21for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
- II Peter 1:20-21
The prophets did not speak from themselves, but were inspired as to what they would say by the Holy Spirit.
- The word inspired means "God breathed."
- The image of this word in the Greek language is that of a sail boat moved by the wind. There can be many styles of sailboats, but the one thing they have in common is that it is the wind that moves them along.
- Different men in different times wrote the Bible, but the one thing in common was that each was moved by the Holy Spirit to write what he wrote.
The point Peter is making here is that even though he and the other Apostles witnessed the life and teaching of Christ, it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that they and he wrote to the churches. His readers can have confidence, even after he is gone, in his words because they are not his words, they are words guided by the Holy Spirit of God. Essentially, Peter is claiming that his writings are inspired.
Since the Word is the source of faith, foundation for growth and entry into the kingdom of heaven, it will be a special target for Satan to destroy. One of his attacks will be to imbed false teachers within the church.
1But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
- II Peter 2:1-3
The nation of Israel had false prophets who tried to lure the people into idolatry or merely served evil kings for favor. Peter cautions that in the same way, lying teachers will come into the church to introduce false doctrines, even denying that Christ is God! He says that the penalty for false prophets in the future, as it was in the past in Israel, will be swift destruction. The false teachers may be on the earth for a while, but when judgment comes their destruction will be sudden and final.
Unfortunately, many will be taken in by false teaching and teachers. These will be led into disbelief and the life of sinfulness that disbelief breeds, as well as manipulation and swindling that often accompanies false religious teachers. Peter says that their success does not cancel or mask the certain judgment that is awaiting them.
4For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; 5and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter;
- II Peter 2:4-6
Speaking of judgment, he mentions those who were judged in the past, as a reminder to those who thought that judgment for these people was slow or not coming at all.
- Angels were judged and punished for leaving their position and aspiring to be greater than God or not under His rule.
- The ancient world was wiped out by a flood for its wickedness.
- Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for their sins as well.
If they doubt judgment and punishment in the future, they should look at the past and see what God did to the wicked then, for these were punished as an example for future generations.
7and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8(for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), 9then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment,
- II Peter 2:7-9
Peter declares that God not only knows how to punish, He also knows how to save.
God deals with both the obedient and the disobedient in times of evil and temptation. For example:
- Lot was surrounded by evil but with God's help was able to resist the pressure and was ultimately saved from destruction.
- The others around him disobeyed and were destroyed.
The point here for the readers is that even though they may have to face false teachers and various trials of persecution on account of their faith, the same God who has the power to punish the evil ones also has the power to sustain them through their trials. Of course, he has already mentioned the way to be sustained in trial: to diligently add to faith moral excellence, to moral excellence knowledge, etc. Keep practicing the spiritual disciplines that develop your knowledge of God.
In verses 10-22, Peter finishes this chapter with a long description of the character, actions and attitude of the false teachers that have always and will always continue to plague God's church until Jesus returns.
10and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, 11whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord.
- II Peter 2:10-11
They are sensual (carnal in nature, worldly) and hate authority (human or otherwise). They revile or blaspheme spiritual things without fear or shame. They teach falsely or ridicule spiritual things without regard.
Peter says that angels, who could destroy these people in an instant, do not even utter a word against them because judgment belongs to the Lord.
12But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, 13asuffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime.
- II Peter 2:12-13a
They are like animals who ravage and destroy on instinct but are doomed to be destroyed like the rabid creatures that they are.
13bThey are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, 14having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children;These people are not confused, they know what they are doing and are enjoying it. They enjoy their sensual sins. They enjoy seducing
- II Peter 2:13b-14
unstable (immature) Christians, and they enjoy luring them into similar sins of greed and sexual immorality. He compares them to scabs and blemishes on the fellowship of true believers. Their constant motivation is sin and they have no conscience about destroying a person's faith or that of an entire congregation.
15forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.
- II Peter 2:15-16
Peter compares them to a prophet who was enticed by money to curse God's people but was stopped by an angel and the miraculous speaking of his own animal. His greed, however, overcame him on another occasion and he died a miserable death for having perverted his gift of prophesy (Numbers 31:8).
These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved.
- II Peter 2:17
Here he pronounces the final end of all such false prophets, past, present and future.
18For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.
- II Peter 2:18-19
Peter explains what some of the false teachers were doing at the time of his writing. They were telling new converts (the ones who had barely escaped) that they could be good Christians and still enjoy the sinful pleasures of their former lives outside of Christ. The result was that those without knowledge and self-control would go back to the things that they were enslaved to before being rescued by Christ. The false teachers were promoting their ideas with seductive preaching and high minded words that seemed intelligent. Some think that they were promoting, among other things, the Greek notion of Dualism. This philosophical idea taught that the flesh and spirit were separate entities and what a person did in one did not affect what happened in the other.
Of course, if you bought into this you could have it both ways; sin without guilt in the spirit, and worship without changing the flesh. This was false freedom, Peter said, because sin did not set one free, it imprisoned. One simply had to observe those imprisoned by alcohol, pornography, violence, greed and selfishness to see the falseness of this idea.
20For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. 22It has happened to them according to the true proverb, "A dog returns to its own vomit," and, "A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire."
- II Peter 2:20-22
Here Peter rebukes not only the false teachers but the poor victims who are taken in by their hypocrisy and doctrines. He says three things to them:
- If they go back to the world after having known Jesus and salvation, their second enslavement to sin will be worse than their first. This time their suffering will be accompanied by the awful realization that they had escaped this once before and put themselves right back into the same prison by their own hand.
- It would be better for them to remain in ignorance because judgment will be worse for those who know better but disobey nevertheless.
- Those who do this are not worthy of Christ, acting more like dumb animals than spiritual people.
In his warning, Peter points to the false teachers and reveals that they will be punished along with those who allow themselves to be seduced by them.
These admonitions were written 2000 years ago, but as Peter says, were meant to be relevant to us today because the words are inspired by God. From these writings we can draw a few warnings that would do us well to heed today:
1. Stick to the Word
Every heresy, every division, every apostasy always begins with the disrespect, disobedience or disbelief of God's inspired Word. So long as the Bible in its entirety remains the sole authority and teacher, we will always have a lamp to guide our feet through this dark world. We don't always agree about what it says or how to do things (that's normal), but we must always agree that it is God's Word and our search begins and ends there.
2. Beware of False Teachers
They come in all shapes and sizes.
- Some are obvious, who use religion as a cloak to gain political or social power, wealth and prestige.
- Some are like moles who spread their false ideas one person at a time in the congregation.
One of the primary tasks of elders (Acts 20) is to monitor and guard against false teaching and teachers in the church. The Bible even tells us what to do with false teachers:
17Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.
- Romans 16:17-18
Watch or identify who they are and turn away or disfellowship them.
A false teacher, however, is not someone who may have a different opinion as you do on some Bible topic. Paul and Peter list the types of things that identify one as a false teacher:
- A lifestyle contrary to the teaching of Christ. Someone who says one thing and does another.
- An attempt to draw one away from holy and pure living.
- Teachings and actions that create strife and division in the church.
- Teaching that denies the deity of Christ and tries to change God's plan for salvation (e.g. salvation by works or rituals rather than by faith in Christ expressed in repentance and baptism).
Peter says that these types are always preying on the church and we must beware of them.
3. God will Punish Evil and Disbelief
The tragedy of false teachers is that not only will they be punished by God for their sins of greed and lying, etc., but so will the poor victims who were led astray by their false teachings and examples. The crown of eternal life goes to the one who remains faithful until the end. Peter says that seduction by a false teacher is no excuse for falling away. For example:
- Leaving the church to join a movement and then becoming disillusioned with religion and quitting altogether.
- Becoming discouraged and falling away because of the sins of a church leader.
- Leaving the church because it seemed that members were hypocrites or someone offended us.
False teachers are dangerous, but they are not a legitimate excuse for being unfaithful to Christ and His church.