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- 2 Peter 2:1 - 3
You have probably heard the phrase Modern terrorism or modern day terrorism. This refers to a different kind of battle America and many nations face today. It is battle unlike a formal war. It involves battlefields popping up all over the place, at concert halls, on busy streets, in cities and tourists hotspots. It is among other things difficult to confront because of its mobility, it’s brutality and the lack of regard for human life, including those who take on the name of terrorists and die for their cause.
Battlefields and armor
When we think about spiritual warfare or battles especially in the church, we gotta think beyond a formal war with a definite beginning and end. There is within the church, battlefields popping up at different times and in different places. These are not battles with people (or flesh and blood) but rather battles with ideas and thoughts that are opposed to the Christ, opposed to His rule and His reign.
So we are told to put on the whole armor of God, to take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ, to sniff out and identify influences that contradict clear Biblical teaching and to stay united. We are to know the opposition and to take on the opposition by knowing the Word.
Written to church believers
Peter’s second letter is meant to help believers band together as the church, and to equip them with the ability to identify false teachers and resist their influence. Interestingly it is not necessarily written to church leaders, specifically. It is written to church believers. So there is a plea for believers to stay alert. Know the influences in your life. Know the people in your life. And more broadly, the church is to know what influences and influencers are in the church so that it maintains its health and vibrancy.
You got it all
The end of chapter 1 naturally leads into the beginning of chapter 2. Peter has already given 2 reasons for the believers to trust in the teachings of the apostles. One is the fulfillment of the prophetic word. The other is Peter’s eyewitness account of the transfiguration. His point was this: you got it all in the Holy Scriptures. It needs no additions or subtractions. It contains all that is necessary for knowledge, direction, joy in life and confidence in a great future. Look no further than the Word of Christ. Chapter 1:16-23 is a defense of the Word and his own and the other apostles’ authority.
Taking on the opponents
In chapter 2, he will go a bit more on the offensive. “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you…..” Peter says. These people will “secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.” Now it may be easy to think of the church as just kind of a quite little entity in the world that people will leave alone or ignore. But that has never been the case and never will be the case. For as long as the church is the light of the world and a city on a hill, there will be intruders and attackers who seek to use it for their purposes. These will show up under the category of false teachers.
Jesus warns about false prophets in several places in the gospels. Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 24:24 says, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” John picks up on this in I John 4:1, “….many false prophets have gone into the world.” So the warnings of Jesus are happening here in II Peter.
The word that Peter uses is “false teacher” not false prophet. Why is that? I think the reason is that people in these churches were not formal heretics. They did not get dropped out of a helicopter with a “word from the Lord.” These were people who rose up among the true believers, hiding under the title of a true believer, while saying things and living in a way that contradicted the true faith. They were more difficult to sniff out because of the lack of formality. But Peter sees who they are plainly and he wants the church to see who they are plainly.
What they brought
These false teachers secretly brought in destructive heresies. The idea of secretly is not so much whispering or covertly influencing the people. They are in plain sight for everyone to see. Rather, the heresies they brought in were exactly that. They were brought in from the outside. They did not speak and live true doctrine preserved in the church. They infused the church with ideas and thoughts outside of biblical doctrine and beliefs. They were outsiders with outside ideas and behaviors that were normal outside the church but were not to be accepted by the Christian community.
What they said and did
The destructive heresies that they brought into the church were displayed both through what they said and what they did. The way they lived contradicted Christ’s teaching (and we will get more to that in a minute) and the way they talked contradicted Christ’s teaching. Wrong thinking of course leads to wrong living and heresy will always involve both of these things.
Denying Jesus as Lord
The biggest flaw in their thinking was the denial of Jesus Christ as Lord. Once that basic, fundamental truth is denied, the floodgates are opened up to any number of deviant actions. They “denied the Master Who bought them.” Now you can see just how incompatible this really is with the true church. The true church is the bride of Christ, bought by the blood of the Lamb, redeemed by His death, eternally loved and now eternally owned by God. If the true church denies the rule and reign of our Master, than the true church is no longer the true church. It is a group but not a church. It is an entity but not a bride.
Jesus found me and us
When we gather together we are collectively saying, “Jesus found me and bought me and brought me. Therefore, Jesus found us and bought us and brought us. He is our Lord and there is no other.” These false teachers were a part of the assembly, they ate together with the people and probably went to the services. But in their hearts, they did not profess Christ as Lord but denied Christ as Lord and their lives and words proved it.
How were they bought?
However, Peter says that Jesus bought them. Now how is this possible? Are these people who had been born again believers at a certain point and had now lost their salvation? I think the answer is no. What Peter is doing here is categorizing a group of people that appeared to be believers but prove through time that they never believed. Jesus also warns that there will be seeds scattered on rocky or thorny ground and it appears that they will make it but they will wither away because they had no roots.
It is certainly not our job to determine who is a real believer and who is not. Time tells and a life will tell. I think rather our job is to be alert, to not make assumptions based on hearing the right Christianize, to guard the true faith and keep the church on gospel track.
The heresies that these false teachers lived and believed would bring upon them swift destruction. Their claim was that the Master is no Master. He is never coming back. We got plenty of time to do whatever we want. And here Peter turns it back on it’s head and says, “you think you got all this time but destruction is coming and it’s coming swiftly.” This is one characteristic of false prophets or false teaching: stating that all is good and well when it’s not. Promising peace when judgment is coming, quickly.
A stern but gentle warning
The swift destruction is eternal, forever, not just a bad day but a miserable eternity. This may not sound like a very gentle warning to the church but that is what it is. Peter is not judging these false teachers. He is stating the fact that these people are judged already by the Judge. And he wants to make sure the church does not fall under that same judgment. Perhaps that is one of the most overlooked mercies of God: that He warns us of future judgment so that we will not fall underneath it but accept His mercy today .
2 things will happen
Peter warns that “many will follow their sensuality and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” The influence here will be large in scale. 2 things will happen. Allot people will follow these false teachers. And the Name of Christ and the reputation of the church will be undermined. As much as we celebrate individualism in our culture, self-expression and autonomy, we are still deeply influenced by people and drawn by the desire to fit in. There are not allot John the Baptist in the world. We like sheep can and do at times go astray and often times we go astray with other people.
What causes us to stray
The things that can cause us to go astray are people with a magnetic personality who claim authority, new ideas that represent a better way to live and the allure of being a part of special group of people who know things that average, ordinary people don’t know. It goes back to the garden of Eden. In the garden, the serpent represented the new way, the better way, the higher path, the forbidden thing that holds the key to your happiness. Adam and Eve were drawn in, took the bait and were hooked. They denied the Master Who made them and this brought pain.
The Garden and the church
The churches in II Peter were experiencing something similar and different to Adam and Eve. When you zoom out on the Garden of Eden, it becomes clear just how crazy it was for them to get duped. They lived in a garden of yeses. It was pristine and filled with no lack of good things to enjoy. The only no in the garden was there so that Adam and Eve would continue to experience the joy of the yeses. The no was there for protection.
What the church had
The churches in II Peter were not in the Garden of Eden by any means, however they had allot going for them. They had Christ. They had His Word and His promises. They had each other. They had everything they needed for a life of Godliness and lacked nothing. If there was any “no” represented in the church, it was simply a warning to remember what they had and not to think that they need something more than what they already had.
Love and warnings
Part of growing in Christ is to invite and listen to the gentle warnings to maintain your joy and vibrancy. We are warned because we are loved. “Don’t touch the hot stove,” is not a threat or a lecture. It’s love. A parent says yes or no to certain things but every no is a yes to that child’s joy. Life with God is the same way. It is a life of yeses that include the no’s that make the yeses possible. There is a reason Jesus gives to 2 positive commands to sum up all that He requires. Love Him, love people. Do that and the rest will take care of itself.
The reputation of the church
The other thing that will happen if these false teachers get footing is that the reputation of the church (the way of truth) will be blasphemed. These false teachers will take over the church in such a way that outsiders will notice. It is one thing to have some internal issues being dealt with within a church. That is often necessary. But when the reigns of the church are handed over to people who do not have Christ as Master, the integrity of the church will crumble and eventually the outside community will hear about it. When the city on a hill crumbles a bit, or when the light on a stand goes dim, people notice.
So the integrity of the church is vital not just for our own health internally but it is also vital for our ongoing influence in the community. We stay united in Christ and faithful to Christ so that we can shine the light of Christ.
The 2 characteristics
The 2 characteristics of these false teachers were sensuality and greed. As we move through chapter 2, we will develop these things more but Peter wants to make a point right off the bat in verse 3 regarding greed. “And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” The picture here is that of exploiting a church for personal gain. It literally has the meaning of a traveling merchant swinging in to make a deal. Except this is not a fare trade or a good deal. Louw-Nida defines this as taking “advantage of someone by implying that what is offered is more valuable than it is.”
There to get
So the false teachers are not there to give but to get, not to serve but to be served. They denied the Master and therefore their motivation for being there looks nothing like the Master. Because Christ is not their sufficiency, they will use the church to prop up their own status, push forward their agenda and probably even pad their own pockets. The way we recognize people who do not have Christ at the Center is their inability to care for people or to see them as anything but a means to an end.
If we don’t love Christ, we won’t love people. We will use people. But if we love Christ and our loved by Christ, we are freed to serve the church that Jesus died for. And that is a very freeing thing to do.
Not works based acceptance
Now we gotta clarify something here. Because what the Scriptured do not say is, “serve, serve, serve.” Volunteer for this. Join this or that ministry. Contribute to the church in significant ways right now or you will not be fulfilling your calling as a Christian.” That is works based acceptance into the church. “You are here. Great. Now get to work.” That is not what the Bible teaches. We don’t belong because we serve. We serve because we belong and we belong because Jesus served us.
Getting and giving
It is very possible and I think biblical to both come to church to get or receive and to give and serve. We come to be fed, encouraged and comforted and strengthened. And we come to respond to the ways in which we have been fed, encouraged, comforted and strengthen. What we do not do is come to church to find our identity as a church worker. We come to church to learn of our identity in Christ and then to live from that identity.
What will happen to them?
Peter ends with another warning of what will happen to these false teachers. “Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” We will get more to what he means by this in future weeks but the main point is this. These false teachers and opponents of the gospel will not get away with this greed and sensuality. Condemnation is coming. The just Judge will bring judgment and their destruction is awake and imminent.
Resist their influence
I am not sure if the believers in these churches could necessarily give these people the boot. That is not what Peter is saying. He is saying to resist their influence. But He is also bringing reassurance that God will deal appropriately with these people and that judgment is coming.
Take-away 1: know the battles lines
Let’s close out here with 2 take-aways. The first is this: know the battle lines in the church. These are not easy to see but if we don’t see them, we won’t know when to fight or how to fight. The battle lines in the church are arguments, ideas and thoughts that assert themselves above the authority of Christ. When an idea comes up that contradicts the Scriptures, disrupts church unity or is motivated by greed or personal gain, that is battle line. It is not a battle with people. It is battle with an idea.
This is why Paul says, “we destroy arguments (not people) and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” We do this individually as believers and collectively as a church. Know the battle lines and respond appropriately.
Take-away 2: Submit to the King
Take-away number 2. Being fully submitted to King in Jesus in thought and action keeps us from wandering off into joyless paths. Begin the day with the thought, “I have all I need in Christ today.” I need nothing more than Him. As your day goes on, you will see that you have allot of other things in your life and people in your life than Jesus. He gives you Himself and lots of other things. But remembering that He is your Sufficiency and Satisfaction keeps you from using people to give you what Jesus has already given you. At the end of the day, the burning question is this: what can that job, that person, that experience offer you that Christ has not already given you? And the answer is nothing.
The reality is that we have all gone to the created thing looking for the joy that comes from the Creator. The good news is that Christ finds us and brings us home. Be shepherded by the King. Let’s pray.