“But notice first that no prophecy found in Scripture is a matter of the prophet’s own interpretation. Prophecy has never been a product of human initiative, but it comes when men and women are moved to speak on behalf of God by the Holy Spirit. But notice first that no prophecy found in Scripture is a matter of the prophet’s own interpretation (unpacking; untying interpretation knots”) . Prophecy has never been brought forth by or been a product of human initiative, but when men and women are brought forth to speak on behalf of God by the Holy Spirit.
2:1 Just as false prophets rose up in the past among God’s people, false teachers will rise up in the future among you. They will slip in with their destructive opinions (damnable heresies), denying the very Master who bought their freedom and dooming themselves to destruction swiftly, but not before they attract others by their unbridled and immoral behavior. Because of them and their ways, others will criticize and condemn the path of truth we walk as seedy and disreputable. These false teachers will follow their greed and exploit you with their fabrications, but be assured that their judgment was pronounced long ago and their destruction does not sleep.
For God did not spare the heavenly beings who sinned, but He cast them into the outer darkness and chaos of Tartarus to be kept until the time of judgment; and He did not spare the ancient world, but He sent a flood swirling over the ungodly (although He did save Noah, God’s herald for what is right, with seven other members of his family); and God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, reducing them to ash as a lesson of what He will do with the ungodly in the days to come (although again He did rescue Lot, a person who did what was right in God’s eyes and who was distressed by the immorality and the lawlessness of the society around him. Day after day, the sights and sounds of their lawlessness were like daggers into that good man’s soul).
If all this happened in the past, it shows clearly the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials and how to hold the wicked in punishment until the day of judgment. And above all, it shows He will punish those who let the desires of their bodies rule them and who have no respect for authority. People like this are so bold and willful that they aren’t even afraid of offending heavenly beings, although the heavenly messengers—in spite of the fact that they have greater strength and power—make no such accusations against these people before the Lord.
These people who speak ill of what they do not understand are no different from animals—without sense, operating only on their instincts, born to be captured and killed—and they will be destroyed just like those animals, receiving the penalty for their evil acts. They waste their days in parties and carousing. As they feast with you, these stains and blemishes on your community are feasting on their deceptions. Their eyes are always looking for their next adulterous conquests; their appetites for sin cannot be satisfied. They seduce the unwary soul, and greed is the only lesson they have learned by heart. God’s curse lies upon them.
They have veered off the right road and gotten lost, following in the steps of Balaam, the son of Beor, the false prophet. Balaam loved the reward he could get by doing evil, but he was rebuked for crossing the line into sin; his own speechless donkey scolded him in a human voice, an amazing miracle that reined in the prophet’s insanity.
We could get lost in the weeds explaining why those Old Testament references were important and relatable to Peter’s audience, but that’s not the point of this sermon. Just know he is pulling from a shared history to reference stories about how God does not abide the devastating effect of sin.
Peter is pretty concerned about false teachers. He gives quite a list of identifying features in the early church. People being what they are, the issues remain timeless even if the particular ways that false teachers and teaching show up then and now is different. I’m going to split this into two categories: What they taught and what they did.
WHAT THEY TAUGHT
1. False view of God. The temptation to make God in our image is as old as human history. Another way of saying this is that we tend to mold God into some kind of shape that feels good or is useful to us, which is very different from being true.
Do you think God must love what you love, or do you make sure you love what God loves? If you think God is pleased with you, is it because you are pleased with you, or because the Bible reveals that you have aligned yourself with the things that please God? If a teacher does not present God in such a way that your ways and thoughts are not challenged by God’s ways and thoughts, something is off.
Is God a God of justice, anger and consequences, or is God a God of mercy, love and grace? Are you never good enough for a demanding, perfectionist God, or is God madly in love with you just like you are? You might be surprised how much your answer has to do with family and church of origin rather than the Bible. If a teacher overemphasis/ignores God’s nature or acts, distortions are going to creep in.
Is prayer an opportunity to get what I want, or an opportunity to align myself with God’s heart and pray for God’s will? If a teacher tells you that powerful prayer is the kind that manipulates God – if there is never, “not my will, but yours be done” – it’s a problem.
2. False use of Bible. We’ve talked about this principle before: never read a Bible verse. It’s the idea that context matters: verse, paragraph, section, chapter, book, entire Bible. There is a Big Picture that cannot be ignored if we want to read the Bible well, and that picture will either distort our view of God or what it means to live like image bearers – and sometimes both. Let’s take the issue of judging as just one example.
I hear the verse all the time: Matthew 7:1 – “Do not judge, or you will be judged.” That’s absolutely in the Bible, but look what else is there – in the same chapter.
• Matthew 7:5 – “You hypocrite!” #judgy
• Matthew 7:15 – “Watch out for false prophets.” #judgy
• Matthew 7:20 – “By their fruit you will recognize them.” #judgy
• Matthew 7:24-29 – Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders #judgy
Very judgy chapter, actually. The overall message of the entirety of the biblical texts – which includes a book literally called Judges - is clear: Don’t judge hypocritically; judge impartially; judge fruit, not hearts; keep in mind that you get what you give.
WHAT THEY DID
False sense of self. They are arrogant fools in the most book-of-Proverbs sense of the word.
• They think they are the smartest person in the room.
• They respect no one but themselves.
• No one who disagrees with them can possibly be right.
• The focus of conversation always turns to them/their ministry.
• They make sure their face is always front and center.
• They build modern Babels where their name is made great not incidentally but purposefully.
Honestly, I am increasingly concerned about huge ministries where leaders pursue and/or embrace celebrity. Money, fame and power are a toxic mix. Those who navigate these things successfully - and some do, don’t get me wrong - have several things in common from what I see.
1. They didn’t pursue it.
2. They don’t really like it.
3. They reject the trappings of success.
4. They limit their pubic appearances.
5. They divest their power.
6. They humble themselves under authority.
False idea of freedom. Biblical freedom is freedom from the bondage of sin and the penalty of death, and freedom to follow the path of righteousness. That was clearly not happening. We occasionally see a scandal break where this is still a problem, but I think there is a more subtle kind of false freedom that tempts us.
One of our biggest challenges in the United States is confusing American freedom with biblical freedom. The Constitution is not the Bible. It’s possible it’s not perfect (!?)! it’s also certain that this country grants freedoms to me that the Bible does not.
• I am free in this country to cheat on my wife, but I’m not free to do that in the Kingdom of God.
• I am free in this country to hoard my money, but I’m not free to do that in the Kingdom of God.
• I am free in this country to say virtually anything I want to say; I’m not free to do that in the Kingdom of God.
• I am free in this country to watch pornography; I am not free to do that in the kingdom of God. I’m not free to objectify and commodify people.
• I am free in this country to love or hate whoever I want; I am not free to do that in the Kingdom of God. “You have been taught to love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you this: love your enemies. Pray for those who torment you and persecute you— in so doing, you become children of your Father in heaven. He, after all, loves each of us—good and evil, kind and cruel. He causes the sun to rise and shine on evil and good alike. He causes the rain to water the fields of the righteous and the fields of the sinner. It is easy to love those who love you—even a tax collector can love those who love him. And it is easy to greet your friends—even outsiders do that! 48 But you are called to something higher: “Be perfect (complete), as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 43-48)
False path of life. Three things stand out in this passage: greed, exploitation, and following desires like dumb animals.
• When you start to hear a giant vacuuming sound as teachers personally accumulate money and things because of the gifts from God’s people, beware.
• When people around teachers continually quit because they are used or abused spiritually, emotionally, physically or financially, beware.
• If you find out that a ministry has a buffer of people between a leader and everyone else, beware.
False view of community. These false teachers saw the church as a place for them to control and exploit rather than care for. They are presented here as predatory. The community of the church is where they gorge themselves on the people, the money, the food (probably “love feasts” associated with Communion). There is no mutual honor and respect; there is no accountability and transparency; there is no humility, no sense of an ebb and flow of repentance and forgiveness; no sense of serving rather than being served.
False representation of the church. False teachers ruin the reputation of Christ and His church. Not only are they not above reproach, they are more reproachable than most. It’s one of my biggest fears as a pastor, frankly. May God give me the strength to make His name great, not drag it through the mud.
* * * * *
First, I invite your inspection. God forbid I teach or live falsely. If you believe I am, you have the right if not the duty to confront me.
Second, apply this message to yourselves. You may not be formal teachers in a ministry or organization, but if you are a follower of Jesus, you have opportunity to teach – talk about and represent Jesus. This is for leaders for sure, but all of us are at times in a position where we lead someone else either towards Christ or away from Christ.
May we all, by God’s grace, be true in word and deed.