Wolves in sheep's clothing - 2 Peter 2:1-22

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the morning service on 23rd August 2009.

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I would like you to imagine that in the next two weeks a new doctor arrives in Hull. They sincerely believe that rat poison is the best way to treat swine flu. How would you feel if our very own Dr Crick publicly denounced him in the Hull Daily Mail and warned people to keep away from them? We would be thank you. It is a matter of life and death.

Why is it that when many Christians read through the second chapter of 2 Peter they don’t feel the same sense of gratitude? Rather than saying thanks very much Peter for warning us about such dangerous people many are a bit taken aback. Indeed, we may think this is a bit over the top, even a bit unchristian to say such things about other ‘Christian’ teachers. Well this morning I want to show you why it’s not and why we should be thankful that such a chapter like this is in our Bibles.

I know there is a lot here but my plan this morning is to take us through verse and verse and show you as we go along what Peter has to say about these dangerous people.

The first thing we need to know is that these people exist. Look at what Peter says in verse 1. He has just been talking about the true prophets who existed during Old Testament times, we saw this last week, but now look at what he writes in verse 1 of chapter 2. “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.”

Look at the Old Testament. Alongside God’s faithful messengers there were also those who claimed to speak from God but who spoke dangerous falsehood. A common feature of their teaching was so often the denial of God’s judgement. That was then. What about in Peter’s day? There will be false teachers among you. Not simply outside the church but within the people of God. What about through church history? Yes it was the same. What about in the 21st century? We are not the exception to the rule. We need to know and believe that there will be false teachers amongst us.

How do we spot them? What will they look like? They will be subtle. Look at how Peter continues in verse 1. “They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves.”

Notice what they do. They introduce destructive heresies. The word heresy when used by Peter simply means an opinion. You might think this doesn’t sound too bad. Surely everyone is allowed their own opinion. Yes in certain things. Do you like instant coffee or percolated coffee? Do you like PG Tips or Yorkshire Tea? Do you like watching thrillers or sloppy romantic dramas? It doesn’t matter in these areas. But when it comes to the truth about God then it is the responsibility of a Christian teacher to communicate what God has said about himself and how we are to live. These false teachers were ignoring what God had said and were instead teaching things they had made up. Peter says they will even deny the sovereign Lord who bought them. That’s the ultimate arrogance isn’t it? To say that Jesus is wrong and we are right.

Notice too how Peter describes these heresies. He calls them destructive heresies. They ruin people. Yes in the here and now but Peter’s focus is on eternity. He is saying that these are the kind of things that if followed will lead a person to hell. It is the spiritual equivalent of rat poison. They will kill us eternally.

How do they introduce them? Secretly. Or subtly. Jesus speaks about wolves coming in sheep’s clothing. If a wolf came looking like a wolf then it would be easy to spot them. But false teachers are more subtle than this. If they appeared arrogantly announcing that Jesus was wrong and they are right then they would be easily exposed. But that’s not how false teaching generally works. It is introduced secretly. The teachers themselves are generally very pleasant, charming and nice. They will appear tolerant and respectful of others. Open indeed to the opinions of others. Over time the authority of Jesus is practically denied.

This is seen today in the way the Bible is handled. It will be classified as the opinion of human beings. We must move ahead with culture. Society has moved forward so we can’t teach this any more.

So often false teaching leads to what the Bible calls sexual immorality. By this we mean any sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage. We see this mentioned in verse 2. “Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.” They deny the authoritative teachings of the Lord Jesus and the end result is justified sexual immorality.

Let me give you an example of how this works out. On the opinion of human teachers we are told that instead of sexual immorality being sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage it is actually sexual activity outside a committed loving partnership. Do you see how subtle this is? This then opens the way for same sex partnerships. What has happened is that the authority of the Bible has been dismissed in a subtle way and shameful behaviour has been introduced.

It is very dangerous. These are destructive heresies. When I was at Bible college I remember being asked to speak to a CU about this. The Lesbian and Gay society came along. I was asked by one lady who said she was a professing Christian and yet was actively involved in a homosexual relationship. She saw nothing wrong with it. She asked me what would happen to her. I told her that if she remained unrepentant throughout her life then she would be eternally lost.

Notice how popular this is. “Many will follow their shameful ways.” This should not surprise us. What is the essence of this teaching? It allows people to indulge in more of what they want to do by nature and claims that this is also what God wants as well. It is so perverse because Christ’s ways are much better for us but such is the perversion of the human heart.

Popularity doesn’t mean something is right.

What is in store for people who teach these things? Peter tells us in verse 3. “In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.”

Does God just let them get on and wreck their havoc? They seem to be getting away with it. Why doesn’t God just stop them in their tracks? God will judge them according to his familiar pattern. This is spelled out for us in verses 4 to 10. Peter gives three examples from the book of Genesis, in chronological order, of how God’s judgment normally works itself out. We won’t look at the details but look with me at the conclusion he draws in verse 9, “if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgement…This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority.”

These verses are a great encouragement to us. God knows how to keep us save. When we are determined to stick with him and his revealed word then he will make sure we are rescued from these errors. God will also make sure these spiritual doctors who dispense spiritual rat poison do not escape his justice.

For the rest of the chapter Peter tells us a bit more about who these false teachers are, what they teach and what their ultimate fate will be. It’s not all new but it will certainly help to reinforce what we’ve already heard this morning.

So take a deep breath and look with me at the second half of verse 10.

“Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against them [a change to the NIV at this point] in the presence of the Lord. But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand.”

What is all this about? Let’s take the obvious things first. We are told that they were confidently arrogant. Nothing new here. We’ve been told this already. They slander angels. No one really knows what they were doing. What Peter says about how the angels responded is very helpful for us. Even though they are stronger, more powerful than the false teachers and even though they had a case against the false teachers for slandering them, did you notice what they don’t do in the presence of God? They do not bring accusations of slander against the false teachers. Why not? Because they know it’s not their place to do so. It’s up to God to make such judgments and so they leave it to him. They know their place and position. This is unlike the false teachers! What is their big problem? They don’t keep to their position.

A Christian teacher is not a decider of truth but a communicator of the truth God has decided.

They are bold and arrogant. They put themselves in the position of God and decide what is right and wrong.

This is why they are called arrogant. Yes they may be very polite and open minded towards the views of others. Our world may even call them tolerant. They are arrogant because they say God’s decision is wrong. There is a difference between horizontal arrogance and vertical arrogance.

Peter also says they are creatures of instinct. Look at what he writes in verse 12. “They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.” No one they are popular. They appeal to the sinful nature. Just because we do things by instinct doesn’t mean they are right. We are born with sinful desires.
In verses 13 to 16 we are reassured that the false teachers will not escape the judgment they deserve. Peter says they will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done.

What kind of harm do they do? Look at what he writes in verse 17. “These men 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 desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are salves of depravity – for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.”

What a picture this is! Springs without water. How disappointing. They offer so much but deliver so little. They promise that sexual liberty is the way ahead but it only ruins the lives of those who engage in it. They promise freedom but they lead people into addiction. This is chosen slavery. A free choice leads to a deadly addiction. Beware this teaching. It is harmful!

The last thing I want to point out about these false teachings is found in verse 20 onwards. I must warn you. These are very sobering verses. Look at what Peter says. “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour 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 goes back to her wallowing in the mud.’

Who are these false teachers? They are real life examples of those who have not continued to walk with Jesus. They certainly seemed to start out all right but they have not make their calling and election sure. At one point we would all have said they were genuine followers of Jesus. But they current behaviour has shown that they were never truly called or elected.

What does all this mean for us?

•    False teachers exist and they are dangerous.

Look out for their subtle dismissal of the Bible and in particular their views on what is sexually acceptable. What they think on these issues often gives them away.
Do pray that your full time church leaders at St John’s never become so arrogant as to dismiss God’s authorative word.

Some false teachers have dismissed God’s written Word before they are given a dog collar. However, not all false teachers start off that way. The fact is that many of them were once Evangelicals. They now talk of being more open or broad. What happened to them? Normally it’s not one big decision but lots of little compromises over a number of years.

So do pray for us ministers that we will always be humble and submit to the revealed truth contained in God’s written word. Do pray that we will not make the little compromises that over time lead to an outright denial of Biblical revelation.

•    Don’t play with false teaching if you want to be productive and effective as a Christian.

The bigger context is one of Christian growth. What will stop this? False teaching will make you an ineffective and unproductive Christian.

No wonder. This false teaching is effectively saying, ‘Be like every body else in the world. Live like them.’ If we do then what will they do? They can’t become like us because we have already become like them. There is no chance for them to become converted to Christainity because by now we have become converted to paganism.

•    Don’t play with false teaching because if followed sincerely and without repentance it will lead a person to hell

It is so serious. That’s why we as pastors may occasionally name something and someone as dangerous. Do support us when we do. It is never easier. It is like exposing a doctor using rat poison.

•    God knows how to preserve us through the mess.

As long as we stick with the truth then he will protect and preserve us until we get to heaven.

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