Guidance: False Teachers
Date: 04 Sep 2016
Text: 2 Peter 2
This morning we move on in this short series of sermons from 2 Peter to look at 2 Peter 2 and see what the Apostle has to say about false teachers. The Chapter itself doesn’t lend itself to being split in half as Peter’s thoughts seem to move swiftly from one idea to the next. He does however, spend most of the second half of the Chapter venting his anger against very active false teachers and telling his readers in no uncertain terms what sort of people they are and what will happen to them.
Peter starts by reminding everyone that many years earlier false prophets and false teachers had always been active amongst communities of believers claiming to have a message from God. An excellent example comes in Jeremiah 28 where we meet the false prophet, Hananiah. Earlier in Jeremiah 25:12 the prophet Jeremiah had prophesied that the Babylonians would rule for 70 years before being overthrown. Hananiah, who was active in and around 593 BC, prophesied that this was not the case and that Babylonian rule would last only 2 years. In Jeremiah 28:2 Hananiah announced, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.” At the time of this encounter, the Jews were in exile and under the control of the Babylonians and consequently were desperate to receive their freedom. We learn from Jeremiah 27:2-3 & 12 that Jeremiah signified his submission to Babylon by wearing a wooden yoke such as an ox might wear. As a graphic illustration of what he was saying Hananiah took that wooden yoke from Jeremiah and broke it.
A little while later, Jeremiah himself received a word from God Who told him that the wooden yoke that Hananiah had broken would be replaced with an iron yoke, something far worse and signifying that the occupation by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar would continue and would get worse. As a result of hearing God’s word, Jeremiah told Hananiah that he wasn’t a prophet sent by God and “This very year you are doing to die because you preached rebellion against the Lord ” (Jeremiah 28:16b). Hananiah died just a few months later. Hananiah had sounded plausible and had told the people what they wanted to hear and yet he was not telling the truth.
The passage from Deuteronomy 13 that I read earlier makes it very clear that false prophets were active even as early as the 14th Century BC. However, we learn from that chapter that “The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and your soul” (Deuteronomy 13:3). God was teaching the people how to discern truth from falsehood, not an easy task.
In this Chapter Peter was warning his readers that similar false teachers were active within their churches. More importantly for us, they are still active today.
The false teachers at the time were infiltrating the new Christian churches and were preaching a message that denied Christ and His deity. This infiltration meant that they were able to teach a twisted message that salvation though Jesus Christ through faith was not enough; more was needed. Unfortunately such teaching frequently led to immoral behaviour and the introduction of unacceptable rituals. For example, many of them denied that Jesus was God or that Jesus truly was a man or that Jesus did actually die and therefore couldn’t have risen from the dead. Nothing that they taught was true and these teachings were all designed to lead people away from Christ and towards a warped and false version of Christianity.
In 2:1 Peter told them that these teachers would be among them and would “secretly introduce destructive heresies”; the original words suggesting that these heresies were “smuggled” in indicated an almost subversive activity aimed at destroying the church. The original word used for “denying” in 2:1 actually carries the meaning of to contradict, to reject or to disavow; not exactly what Christian teachers or preachers should be doing. Unfortunately as Peter suggests in 2:2 “many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute”. That is something else that Christian teachers should avoid. It hardly creates a good impression of Christianity and following Jesus Christ if teachers are teaching “destructive heresies”.
I should point out that the heresies that Peter is referring to here actually deny the fundamentals of our faith; fundamentals that include believing in the deity of Christ, the Trinity and the fact that Jesus died on the cross in our place to pay for our sins. It is perfectly reasonable for us to disagree on issues such as the role of women in the church, infant baptism and the exact timing of the tribulation and subsequent events. It is not reasonable to deny the fundamentals by which false teachers mislead their followers.
In every case these false teachers taught and preached what the people wanted to hear, something Paul warned Timothy about in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 when he said, “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.” Paul had already told Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:5 that these were “men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” Peter very obviously agreed with Paul as he too mentioned the greed of such false teachers and the fact that they would exploit the people with “fabricated stories”. The stories may well have been fabricated but they were always close enough to the truth to sound plausible and not too far-fetched.
As an example of how these false teachers behaved, Peter describes in 2:13-14 how they treated the feast. This feast was actually the sharing of bread and wine at the Communion that followed a full meal and was intended as an act of worship that was designed to promote love and unity amongst the believers. However, rather than follow that way of thinking they gossiped and slandered anyone who disagreed with them. Paul said of such people that, “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 11:27).
Lest you think that this is all history, let me point out that what Peter is describing as happening in the 1st Century is still happening in the 21st Century. I read a couple of articles recently in the September issue of Evangelicals Now, a monthly Christian newspaper. The first article concerned an American Choir made up of Christians who were visiting Scotland. A newspaper columnist had described this choir as a “musical Trojan horse” who were part of a church that “ticks every box of the Ugly Religious Fundamentalism checklist”. It seems that he regarded these Christians as horrible because they were pro-marriage and pro-life and as a result he felt they were not welcome in Scotland. This enlightened columnist even questioned why they were allowed in the country in the first place! So much for freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and freedom of religion! That is the secularist way of thinking and it is teaching something that denies the truth of the Bible and of Jesus Christ.
The second article mentioned the recent Church of England Synod “Shared Conversations” on human sexuality. Whilst no conclusions appear to have been reached, the conversations obviously didn’t go the way that some wanted since a group of 32 Synod members issued a joint statement expressing their concern. Amongst other things, the statement said, “Since the beginning of the regional conversations people from all traditions in the church have bemoaned the lack of serious engagement with the Scriptures. Sadly, despite promises to correct this matter, these concerns remain at the end of the process.” They go on to add that “the Shared Conversation process itself was an ill-conceived, pluralistic exercise that falsely placed LGBTI activism on a level playing field with the plain teaching of Scripture and the historic teaching of the Church which the Bishops swore to uphold...” That says to me that the established church of this country is ignoring the supremacy of the inspired Word of God, preferring to give equal or perhaps more weight to the activities of a single issue pressure group.
I regard both of those reports as indicating the direction in which this country is travelling: away from Jesus Christ; away from the Word of God and away from Biblical teaching. They may not represent false teaching in the accepted sense but they surely illustrate the kind of attitudes that are being engendered by both the secular world and the established Church.
Scattered throughout the Chapter we see Peter being vehement in his condemnation of these false teachers. In 2:4-6 he gives three examples of how God treated those who sinned or were ungodly people. In 2:4 he talks of even angels being “sent to hell, putting them in chains in darkness to be held for judgement”. In 2:5 he reminds us that God didn’t spare the ungodly world when He sent the flood although He did protect Noah and his family because he was a “preacher of righteousness”. In 2:6 God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes as an example of what would happen to the ungodly. By definition false prophets and false teachers were also sinners and ungodly people who would therefore face the same fate. By way of contrast Peter reminds us in 2:7 that God rescued Lot because he was “a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless”. Peter sees God rescuing Lot as an example of how He would also rescue the godly from the trials and tribulations that they face as they live day to day among the lawless and unrighteous. On the other hand, Peter’s comments in 2:4-6 show that at the same time as rescuing the righteous, God will hold “the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgement”.
Peter then spends most of the remainder of the Chapter condemning the false teachers in no uncertain terms. He tells us in 2:14 that they “never stop sinning”, they “seduce the unstable” and they are “experts in greed”. Sadly I see many of these traits in a number of preachers and teachers who appear on Christian broadcast media. I’m not sure about the sinning bit but they certainly appeal to those who are seeking faith in a higher being and who have little to go on when trying to discern the truth of what such preachers are telling them. It is also true that many of these preachers are extremely wealthy. There is nothing wrong with wealth in itself; what is wrong is how that wealth is accumulated and how it is used. I believe that preaching and teaching the fundamentals of the Christian faith is absolutely vital in the face of these distorted messages. Later in 2:19 Peter points out that these false teachers “promise them [that is, their listeners] freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity”. He then adds a phrase that is very close to Paul’s comment in Romans 6:16b when he says that “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them”.
The reading of 2:20 isn’t exactly easy since the word “they” at the beginning of the verse could mean either the false teachers themselves or those who follow them. The consensus among commentators is that Peter is actually referring to the false teachers. The inference here is that they had believed the gospel message and accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour and as a result they had “escaped the corruption of the world” by coming to know “our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” but now found themselves “again entangled in it [that is, corruption] and overcome”. They may have accepted the message of truth at some stage but had now twisted it for their own ends. Sadly as Peter reminds us, as a result of all that they were worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. The question is, is Peter suggesting that these people could lose their salvation? Many believe, me included, that Scripture teaches that we cannot lose our salvation unless we commit the unforgiveable sin. Peter seems to suggest here that these false teachers could indeed lose their salvation because of their teaching of heresies and the way they distorted the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Since that doesn’t seem possible or likely the thought is that such teachers were quite possibly not saved in the first place. There are many instances of people believing that they have come to faith in Jesus only to fall away soon afterwards because their “faith” was only skin deep. This could certainly explain why so many stand or approach the front of the hall when a call is made at Christian rallies and evangelistic crusades and yet so few actually remain in their new found “faith”. What makes matter worse is that there are many who follow these teachers only to find that they have been duped and misled into believing that they have been saved.
Peter makes very clear that these false teachers will stand condemned before God when the day of judgement comes and they will indeed find that “they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning” (2:20b).
In this fascinating Chapter Peter is giving guidance to his readers on the dangers of listening to or even following false teachers. He gives the history of such people by reminding them that “there were also false prophets among the people” (2:1). He goes on to describe some of their activities and how they distorted the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Having done that he goes on to state in no uncertain terms what will happen to these false teachers and potentially to those who follow them.
False teachers were very active in the churches to whom Peter was writing and sadly they are still active today. There are many who still try to distort the message and mislead people in how they should see Jesus Christ. There are those who deny the supremacy of Scripture; those who deny the virgin birth; those who deny the crucifixion and resurrection; and those who deny that Jesus was even God. Such false teachers are to be ignored and decried. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6) and told His disciples that “they will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). That message is still true today and no amount of false teachers should be allowed to tell anyone otherwise.