How do we live right in a world gone wrong? Today we are striving to “feel good.” The proper sequence is, “Be good, do good, feel good.” Feeling good is a byproduct of the right kind of life. We have unfortunately dismissed the importance of being, and doing before feeling.
In his book, ‘The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard writes:
Where have we gotten this idea about ‘doing what feels good?’ The unrestrained hedonism (pleasure seeking) of our own day comes historically from the 18th Century idealization of happiness and is filtered down through the 19th C English ideology of pleasure as the good for people. Finally, it emerges in the form of our present “feel good” society – tragically pandered to by the popular culture and much of popular religion as well. Think about it. Isn’t the most generally applied standard of success for a religious service whether or not people feel good in it and after it? The preeminence of the “feel good” mentality in our world is what makes it impossible for many people now even to imagine what Paul and his contemporaries accepted as a fact of life. Our communities and our churches are thickly populated with people who are neurotic or paralyzed by their devotion and willing bondage to how they feel. Drug dependence and addiction is epidemic because of the cultural imperative to “feel good.”[i]
The apostle Peter, in a pastoral letter, warns us about false teachers and their deceptive messages. In the second chapter we have not only the note of warning about their presence, but also their end. What is insightful is that Peter gives us some clues as to be aware of what to look for in false teachers and their teachings. It is one thing to be deceived over a temporal matter, but it is quite another to be deceived over something as critical as where we will spend eternity.
Michael Green states regarding this passage of study:
…such stringent condemnation as Peter’s appear to twentieth-century readers as old-fashioned and inappropriate, because we have largely lost any sense of the diabolical danger of false teaching, and have become as dulled to the distinction between truth and falsehood in ideas as we have to the distinction between right and wrong in behavior.[ii]
J. B. Mayor summarizes the characteristics of false teachers which were similar to what Peter is describing.
Their teaching is flattery; their ambitions were financial; their lives were dissolute (hardened and reckless immorality); their conscience was dulled, and their aim was deception…[iii]
In warning us against false teachers and their teachings, Peter gives us three things to consider.
THE FIRST THING THAT WE NEED TO CONSIDER IS THE COMING OF FALSE TEACHERS
This is not something that we can avoid. It will happen. It will happen to us that people will come and bring a distorted gospel message. We need to pay attention to this warning as our lives are at stake. If a person knows something is about to happen, they can take steps to prepare for it.
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves.
Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.
In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.[iv]
Peter brings us back to the Old Testament and points out that just like the false prophets of old who spoke deceptive words, even now in the church there would arise among God’s people, false teachers.
The most destructive threat to the people of God in the Old Testament was not the armies of the Philistines, the Assyrians, or the Amalekites, but the false prophets within their gates.[v]
Jeremiah warned the people of impeding judgment because of their sin, but challenged them to repent and experience God’s mercy, but the false prophets said that they would experience peace and not destruction regardless of their sin. They were preaching a crown without a cross. We have a lot of that today. A preaching about getting rather than giving. About abundantly living without dying to our sinful nature. Jeremiah warns that these liars will be exposed ultimately and the false prophets will suffer for deceiving the people to believe and put their trust in lies that cost them their lives. Jeremiah also exposed what was motivating these false prophets to deceive others.
From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.
They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.
Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when they are punished, says the LORD.[vi]
Greed is the primary motive for false messaging. False teaching is a lot like yeast. Some of us may not have had much experience with yeast, but I remember as a little boy, both my grandmother and mother would bake bread. It was something that took time. You would make the dough and then add some yeast and have to wait until the bread dough rose. The yeast affected the entire dough and caused it to change its shape and size. Though small, it has a powerful impact on the whole. False teaching may not seem dangerous, but when a little is introduced, it changes the nature of the church. We need the ability to detect it and then to address it. How do you recognize what is false?
1. The best way is having a great grasp of the truth. We have a responsibility as individual believers to become grounded, established, rooted in biblical truth. Ephesians 4 is a challenge to grow up. Within that chapter we discover that godly leadership gifts are given to equip God’s people so that they mature in their faith, which includes both a strong biblical understanding as well as the development of their talents and gifts to serve others.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.[vii]
R. C. Sproul explains that “When truth is distorted or denied, when the truth of God is replaced by the falsehoods of heresy, it inevitably and necessarily leads not simply to intellectual error but to gross moral corruption.”[viii] So, what specifically was Peter exposing that is still a very real threat today? We find in 2 Peter 3:3-7; that they were challenging the premise of both Christ’s return and His coming judgment and destruction of ungodly living.
Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.
They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.
But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water.
By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.
By the same word the present heavens and earth are served for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.[ix]
We are living in a time where judgment is challenged as an archaic concept. The emphasis on ‘God is love’ often extends to the idea that it doesn’t matter how a person lives. Many no longer believe in hell or eternal punishment. But that is not a new idea or teaching. Peter was faced with it in the first century as well. The problem is that a neglect or an outright denial of the aspect of God’s justice and judgment over all evil including humanity’s sins is a distortion of the nature of God and a dangerous and heretical idea.
THE SECOND THING WE NEED TO CONSIDER IS THAT FALSE TEACHERS WILL BE JUDGED
God will punish those who promote false teaching. It is something God will address.
A. Some people may wonder why God allows false teaching.
Could it be that God is using it as a winnowing process? God uses it to distinguish between those who love Him and those who are using Christianity as a means to enrich themselves at the expense of others. God uses false teachers as a test to our own integrity and heart condition.
If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them, you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.
It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.[x]
Do we really want to hear the truth? Or do we only want to hear what we want to hear, though it may be false? That’s the question we must ask ourselves. The apostle Paul in writing to Timothy warned against this tendency in people to want to hear what pleases them.
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.[xi]
It is interesting in chapter 1 that Peter was accused of following cleverly devised myths by these false teachers. Peter moves on to bring out two important truths regarding the outcome of false teachers and how God cares for His own.
B. We can be assured that the wicked will be judged.
Not only is their judgment foretold, but Peter also uses three examples to share God’s consistency in addressing those who do evil, while secondly, delivering the godly in the midst of judgment. Michael Green summarizes these examples:
Peter concentrates on the pride and rebellion of the angels, the apathy and disobedience of the men of Noah’s day, and the sheer sensuality of the men of Sodom, presumably because these were all characteristic of the false teachers he was opposing.[xii]
What is interesting in this warning is the focus on God’s mercy and deliverance to the righteous. Thomas Schreiner points out that Peter’s argument is based on God’s past actions.
“God’s future judgment of the wicked is certain (v. 3b) because God has consistently judged the wicked throughout history.”[xiii]
C. The first example of God’s judgment is on the rebellious angels.
What we discover reading through this text is the great similarity with the book of Jude. In 2 Peter it says: “For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but sent then to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment (2 Peter 2:4) …” In a similar expression from the book of Jude, it says: “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling – these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day (Jude 6).”
Peter used another word for the judgment of the angels here. The word typically translated for hell is gehenna, but the word here is tartarosas, which speaks of a Greek concept of the underworld. The point Peter is making is that they are restrained and will one day ultimately be punished when Jesus returns.
D. The second example that Peter uses is the story of Noah and the flood.
“If he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others (2 Peter 2:5) …”
The flood then is an example of what is about to happen. Just like the indifference in that hour regarding God’s attitude toward sin, the unrepentant people were caught unaware of the judgment that came upon them. Thomas Schreiner relates:
The completeness of the destruction also prefigures the final judgment. Only Noah and his family were left. The rest of the world was swept away. …The future judgment does not only consist of the condemnation of the wicked but it will also involve the vindication of the righteous whom God is able to preserve in the midst of difficulties.[xiv]
E. The third example he uses is the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah.
If he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by lawless deeds he saw and heard). If this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment.[xv]
Even in the midst of judgment, God was delivering his people. Noah via the ark, Lot through the intercession of his uncle Abraham and the angelic visitation dragging him out of town. Michael Green summarizes the point:
This total destruction was allowed by God in order to bring home to succeeding generations that unrighteousness will end in ruin. False teaching, which always leads to ungodly behavior, ultimately produces suffering and disaster, be it in Lot’s day, Peter’s, or in our own.[xvi]
THE FINAL THING WE NEED TO CONSIDER IS THE DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS OF FALSE TEACHERS
How can we identify false teachers? What should we be looking out for?
1. They are motivated by greed and are liars. They constantly make things up. That’s one reason why we need to be careful with the sensational. “In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories (2 Peter 2:3).” In verse 14 Peter states they are experts in greed…
2. They despise authority and do their own thing.
Nobody can speak the truth into their lives. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed in a Nazi concentration camp wrote: “He who can no longer listen to his brother will soon no longer be listening to God, either.” [xvii]
“Bold and arrogant…they follow the corrupt desires of the sinful nature (2 Peter 2:10).”
They are contemptuous of other people, be these human or divine. They are self-willed; the sensual man always is, for in the last analysis self is all that matters to him. His hell is this, that this world contracts until the only thing left is the self he has corrupted. Who can say that 2 Peter is irrelevant to our generation?[xviii]
3. They slander others and blaspheme what they do not understand… (2 Peter 2:11-12).
“But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish (2 Peter 2:12).”
Their mistake is to confuse the thrill of animal instinct with the presence of the Holy Spirit – for it is very likely that these advocates of Christian liberty were loud in their claim to fullness of the Holy Spirit. …The heretics claim to have ‘knowledge’, to have the Spirit who gave them liberty (both from ecclesiastical discipline and moral restrain which they prize; they regard the orthodox as devoid of the Spirit. On the contrary, Peter seems to say, the Spirit manifests his presence not by ecstatic thrills and insubordinate action but through moral renewal. …Peter like the rest of the New Testament writers, emphasizes that Christianity is inescapably ethical. You cannot have relationship with a good God without becoming a better man.[xix]
4. They are never satisfied.
They are described by having eyes full of adultery. “With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed – an accursed brood (2 Peter 2:14)!”
Who was Peter trying to warn? Those whose feet were not firmly planted in their faith and refusing to heed the warnings of the dangers of false teachings.
5. They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam… (2 Peter 2:15).
Balaam is an Old Testament prophet who was hired by a foreign king to speak curses over God’s people (cf. Numbers 22-25). What drove Balaam off the path? What overtook these false teachers was an inordinate desire for things, for money, control, and power. Rather than being controlled by God’s Spirit they yielded to their own sinful nature.
They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness.
But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey – a beast without speech – who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.[xx]
Balaam actually heard the voice of God regarding His promises toward Israel. However, his motivation for gain led him astray. He counseled the enemies of God’s people to seduce the people of God into sin, thereby bringing the judgment of God upon Israel. If we keep wanting it our way, God allows it, the problem is that it is to our own loss, pain and ultimately our own destruction.
6. They promise something they don’t personally possess… (2 Peter 2:17-18).
These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them.
For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.[xxi]
7. They appeal to the lustful desires of the sinful nature.
That’s how they entice people. They promise freedom, while they are slaves to depravity.
They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for ‘people’ are slaves to whatever has mastered them.
If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.
It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.
Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit, and, ‘A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.’[xxii]
Now these false teachers understood, no doubt, the liberation afforded by the cross of Christ; liberty was one of their war cries. But they did not recognize the obligation of holy living imposed by the Crucified. …The man who attempts to serve God and self is on the high road to swift destruction, for either death or Christ’s coming will cut him off in mid-course.[xxiii]
Why was Peter attacking the false teachers with such a vengeance? Michael Green points out that “Because he is primarily a pastor. He is concerned to feed His master’s sheep, and is furious to find them being poisoned by lust masquerading as religion.”[xxiv]
It is quite a sober warning. Peter closes with two analogies of false teachers. They are like a dog that has been cleansed from within, but returns back to his sickness, or like a pig that has been outwardly cleansed, but finding mud, wallows back into its dirt. This epistle confronts us with the importance of truth. God is looking for truth today in the inward parts. One caution I need to make today. We can easily be looking outside, but what this passage ought to do, is to make us look in.
Judas Iscariot appeared to be one of Jesus’ followers, yet he strayed off the path and his life ended in swift destruction. What was it that caused that end to occur? Judas was motivated by personal greed, that’s why he betrayed Christ. What motivates me? What motivated you? Do we struggle with the issues that the false teachers were struggling with? Lying, greed, accountability? Are we being mastered by sin?
Both Peter and Paul warn us that either we, through the grace of God, master sin in our lives or sin will master and destroy us.
[i] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding how God changes lives. Pp. 99-100.
[ii] Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude”, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968.), 97.
[iii] J. B. Mayor, “The Second Epistle of St. Peter and the Epistle of St. Jude, 1907 as quoted in Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude”, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968.), 93-94.
[iv] 2 Peter 2:1-3, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[v] R. C. Sproul, 1-2 Peter: An Expositional Commentary, (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2019), 214.
[vi] Jeremiah 7:10b-12.
[vii] Ephesians 4:11-14.
[viii] R. C. Sproul, 1-2 Peter: An Expositional Commentary, 232.
[ix] 2 Peter 3:3-7.
[x] Deuteronomy 13:1-4.
[xi] 2 Timothy 4:3-4.
[xii] Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, Revised Edition, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 109.
[xiii] Thomas Schreiner, I, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary, vol. 37, (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 334.
[xiv] Thomas Schreiner, I, 2 Peter, Jude, 334-35.
[xv] 2 Peter 2:6-9.
[xvi] Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, 100.
[xvii] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as quoted from Henri-Frederic Amiel, taken from Leadership Magazine, Fall 1995, 43..
[xviii] Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, 105.
[xix][xix] Ibid, 107-108.
[xx] 2 Peter 2:15-16.
[xxi] 2 Peter 2:17-18.
[xxii] 2 Peter 2:19-22.
[xxiii] Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude”, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968.), 95.
[xxiv] Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, 122.