Danger warning - 2 Peter 2:1-22
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
One summer a few years ago sharks started getting through the defence barriers that lie off the New South Wales coastline in Australia. This meant some sharks were coming in very close to the famous surfing beaches of Sydney, with obvious risk to those who enjoy life on the water.
The authorities having become aware of the situation put up notices; "Beware of the sharks" they said & had a picture of a gruesome shark with vicious pointed teeth.
One mother seeing these signs complained that they were frightening her children as they played on the beech & paddled in the water & she asked if the signs could be made less scary.
She had missed the point - these notices were meant to be scary, they were a warning & no empty warning, as anyone who has encountered a shark will tell you!
Sometimes serious warnings are not just necessary they are words of care & concern. Warnings can be loving words that the thing warned about can be avoided.
It is that kind of warning that we have before us this evening as we continue to learn from the 2nd letter of the Apostle Peter (p1223)
How did you react to the reading of that Chapter? What we have before us is straight talking about a disastrous situation. Peter doesn't write as if he were doing a polite, nuanced review of ideas in a University common room over a glass of sherry! He knows that the catastrophe that awaits his readers if they don't take care is so serious that plain speaking, indeed strong language that engages the emotions, is required.
Chapter 2 of 2 Peter may well offend or upset some people but rather like that sign warning of sharks off Bondi beech in Australia they're meant to have a strong impact, for there is a looming disaster. Certain people are spreading lies about God & His Son Jesus.
So what is the substance of Peter's danger warning?
1) False teachers: With their lips & lives they lie about God.
There is a whole science these days of identifying criminals. Detectives gather together all sorts of data from eyewitness & many skilled people who use technology & psychology to try & identify or "profile" the person they want to bring to justice.
Peter here in the course of his warning shows us the kinds of characteristics that should help Christians in any age identify in order to be aware of, those who would try & lead them astray.
Peter begins ch 2 with ideas from ch 1 still in his mind. He has just spoken of how as Apostles the message of the OT prophets is confirmed & the testimony of Jesus underlined. He is deeply aware of the danger his hearers are in, he remembers that the great prophets of the past bringing God's word to the people also had rivals v1But there were also false prophets among the people" & so his warning begins. What was true then is true now; "there will be false teachers among you."
We don't know all the details about these people who were influencing the Christians Peter spoke to, but it has been a sobering exercise to me over past days studying these words to see how contemporary they are in their application. Tragically there are people today who have positions of church leadership who are similarly telling lies about God & his gospel & what it means to follow Jesus.
i) With their lips they lie about God
It seems that these characters Peter had to oppose were communicating with words, errors. They are v1 "false teachers".
What is said & taught can be very dangerous, so Peter warns us that false teachers will v1 "introduce destructive heresies". What they say will be very damaging to people's faith in Jesus. What they say will involve v3 "stories they have made up" they will use phoney arguments perhaps saying God has taught them new truths or exaggerating how impressive their ministry is. And they do this with great confidence using what Peter calls v18 "empty, boastful words."
There seems to be a basic error that many false teachers will propound. V1 "They will secretly introduce destructive heresies even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them."
Ultimately false teaching denies the reality of God in some way. It is telling lies about him. Peter here seems to have in mind his recent reference to the people of the OT & sees the false teachers he needs to oppose as those who are rejecting God the God who "bought" his OT people the God who rescued them from Egypt (cf Dt 32;6).
At heart what is being taught is against God & his word, they are lies. But it needs to be said that usually this is done in a subtle way.
It is unlikely that many people who try to influence believers or those seeking the truth will directly tell people to deny God or Jesus up front - such an approach probably wouldn't get much of a hearing, but what they do is v1 "secretly introduce" their ideas. They will use undercover methods in order to lead people astray.
Instead of teaching God's ways according to the reliable witness we have to Jesus in the gospels & through his delegates the Apostles (as we saw last week) they put their own ideas. Perhaps they deny the centrality of the cross in the way God saves us, the uniqueness of Jesus as the saviour, the truth that he will return or perhaps it is a denial of the authority of Jesus over us preferring to peddle a spiritualized version of current trends in morality.
What Peter says is that such people may well be pretty popular v2 "Many will follow their shameful ways Their teaching may be eccentric when measured against the Bible but because they are basically saying we can go with human preferences or current fashions rather than God's word, they appeal to what Peter describes in v18 as "the lustful desires of sinful human nature".
False teachers may gain quite a following & be presented in a positive light by many mere popularity is not a guarantee of truthfulness.
This is one of the reasons that makes false teachers such a threat what they say has plausibility to naturally rebellious human beings, but at the end of the day what they teach is a denial of the authority of God & of Jesus himself. From their lips they speak lies.
This means that we need to be warned. As a preacher I don't want to have to criticize others I'd far more rather be positive & emphasize the good but part of the job is to expose error & bring the truth of God's word to bear on situations to help us.
Also this means it is appropriate to take action at times to try & stop false teaching it's why in our day there are some local churches who in opposition to senior leaders in their denomination have declared themselves "out of fellowship" with those teaching error, it's why others have said they will stop their financial support of institutions that condone damaging wrong teaching. (p)
False teaching involves errors from the lips, errors about God's truth about doctrine. But we see here that such false teaching doesn't remain as merely errors from the lips, it works out into errors in life.
It never stays at doctrine alone, false teaching leads to bad ethics. Wrong teaching leads to wrong living.
ii) With their lives they lie about God
In 2 Peter we see there are two particular areas of life where false teaching leads to wrong living; The first is Money.
In some way or other the lure of lucre can be the ruin of leaders. v3In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up, warns Peter. The desire for more money can quickly be a motive for peddling a false gospel. Peter warns his readers that their false, "made up stories" can be a means of exploitation even extortion, words with financial overtones.
Beware he says, they are those who have become v14 "experts in greed"
It seems these false teachers, false shepherds want to fleece the sheep!
Sometimes you hear of church leaders who have taken this route & been found out great need of care is needed in the area of money in church life. In his 1st letter Peter taught that a church leader should be "not greedy for money but eager to serve." (5:2) When the restraints of God's word are removed the natural desire for more can take over.
Reminder of the need to be above board. It is a good principle that a minister is not also the treasurer, handling money & it's why I have always thought it important that as a minister I don't know what church members give financially. It would be unhelpful to me to know as I might be tempted to treat people differently or even try & benefit personally in some way. Financial temptations are there for all of us. Also a reminder to pray for leaders in this area the next there are temptations it's easy to fall under.
Dubious financial practice then is a classic way that wrong teaching works out into wrong living. The other area is sex;
--In recent times as various internal church controversies have been reported by the media people say "what is it about Christians & sex why do they seem to get so heated about this subject?" Well basically the Bible is very clear that what we do with our bodies sexually reveals something about our attitude to the God who has made us.
The abuse of God's good gift of sex so often illustrates abuse of God & his truth. It is interesting that when the Apostle Paul is giving his supreme explanation of the good news of Jesus in his letter to the Romans he illustrates the condition of human beings as rebellious & in need of forgiveness by speaking of the way men & women have turned their back on his ways & abused the gift of sex in ways that are wrong, harmful & destructive (Rom 1:24-27).
No surprise then that wrong teaching leads to wrong living in this area.
Peter says the false teachers he is concerned about have v14 "eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning". They seem to have thrown off all restraint so sexual activity outside of marriage, sex with someone else's wife or husband is acceptable, their idea of pleasure is v13 "to carouse in broad daylight." They even use the opportunity of church meetings to gratify themselves"reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you."
Fallen broken humans being what we are without the restraint of God's ways made known in the Bible will often indulge their sexual urges given the chance.
It seems that these false teachers were perverting the wonderful truth about God being forgiving & loving being full of grace & turning it into an excuse to do whatever your instincts lead you to. The message of such people ironically can be one of liberty v19They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity
Peter knows that these people V10 "the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority." The way the original is phrased some scholars believe points to homosexual sex that was encouraged & practiced.
Contemporary egs of this kind of thinking are sadly not far from us. A very well known church leader in a recently re-released booklet presents his case for reconstructing Christian sexual ethics (1981 address to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement)
He argues that our bodies are to be a source of happiness (he calls this "grace") to others by allowing them to be an object of desire to another and in this to be like the divine Trinity. Therefore, [unmarried] transitory sexual encounters & homosexual activity are all acceptable: "an absolute declaration that every sexual partnership must conform to the pattern of commitment or else have the nature of sin and nothing else is unreal and silly. People do discovergrace in encounters fraught with transitoriness and without much promising, (commitment)."
So, if I've understood this correctly, flying in the face of God's clear witness in the Bible this man calls "silly" what the Bible calls pure, he calls "unreal" what the Bible calls holy, & in an appallingly upside down perversion he calls grace what the Bible calls sin that will exclude people from God's Kingdom (1Cor6:9f)) & yet makes it sound so very sophisticated, spiritual & impressive. No wonder this individual has gained many followers but no wonder either that he has been identified as a "false teacher" by others! (Though I don't know any evidence that his lies about God have affected his life, thought almost certainly they have lead others astray.)
The false teachers Peter has to oppose, rather than encouraging a cooperation with the Holy Spirit & seeking to live a life that pleases God in the sexual realm that is reserving physical sexual activity for committed, heterosexual marriage, these teachers were themselves acting (& probably advocating) behaviour that was more like animals; V12 these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct.
It is worth pointing out that Peter sees these things are a particular threat to new believers; False teachers v 18 appeal "to the lustful desires of
sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error." Those who have become Christians are tying to work out in the light of the Bible what it means to live for Christ are confused & could be lead back into their previous non Christian ways.
These 2 areas are classic marks of wrong teaching leading to wrong living money & sex.
Such people build great expectations but they are v17 "springs without water". Those who listen to them come for spiritual refreshment, yet what they find is a total let down, a dry spring without water. False teaching promises much but it does not satisfy.
The threat is real false teachers are around today as in Peter's day- they are to be opposed & resisted but we are to be encouraged too they won't be able to peddle their dangerous messages forever;
2): God will punish False teachers them for the damage they do & protect his people.
Peter makes it clear that false teachers will not continue to get away with it.
Their dangerous words & lives have future consequences. They are v1 bringing swift destruction on themselves. In the future they will at God's hand receive justice v13 They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. V3 Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
This truth is not to induce a kind of perverse pleasure that someone might feel about a despised enemy getting their comeuppance, rather it is to be an encouragement that God is in control & will be prove right.
False teachers may think they are getting away with it Christians may think that as they seem to go on unhindered, but God is not unaware, he is not in a sleepy stupor as if no one were lying about him he knows & wrong will be seen to be wrong. Error will be seen as error & the truth will proved to be right. Supremely in the future, but in parts on occasions now.
This is especially important to hold onto when you're in the thick of things "Why doesn't God sort it out now?" we feel. "Why do these people seem to get away with such dreadful teaching & flagrantly wrong lifestyles that lead astray & damage the cause of the gospel?"
Well there is a degree of mystery in why God allows certain things to carry on (perhaps he is in some way disciplining his people, testing our loyalty (cf Deut). Perhaps sometimes he is offering in his grace the chance for people to turn back to him who knows) we don't know for sure. But what we do know is that it won't always be like this. God will judge & he will be vindicated.
Peter uses egs; from the OT to make his point clear;
4For if God did not spare angels when they sinned (in their pride & rebelliousness as our 2nd reading in Gen 6 described), but sent them to hell, 5if he did not spare the ancient world (in their spiritual apathy & disobedience) when he brought the flood on its ungodly people,6if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (in their sexual immorality) by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;if this is so, v9then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment,
Do you see the argument? In the end those opposed to God & rebelling against him will be judged. Similarly God will certainly judge false teachers. (p)
But there is an interesting emphasis in Peter's illustration from the OT past. There will be judgement but there is the reminder that in the midst of the rebellion & errors & lying about God of some, God is able to protect & rescue his people. v5 if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noahv6 if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrahv7 if he rescued Lot, a righteous manIf this is the case (& it is) then v9 the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgement.
We need to be aware of the dangers but we mustn't be paranoid or over anxious. Particularity we mustn't lose our confidence in our great rescuing God. Things may be bad, error needs to be opposed, action may need to be taken but God is still able to keep his people & the gospel is still able to go out & be God's power to save.
As Michael Green (who spoke here a couple of years ago) puts it in his book on this letter; "The God of justice cannot be flouted. The God of grace can be relied upon."
There comes a time when to love means to challenge. To really care involves risking offence. In our tolerance loving day it's hard to say, but there is a time to be intolerant. After all I am totally intolerant of our 2 year old playing with sharp Kitchen knives! Society is intolerant of convicted sex offenders working with children or accepting drunk drivers behind the wheel of a car. Tolerating these things would be to promote harm & cause damage.
Well similarly false teaching with it's potential to injure people for eternity, needs to be opposed. The truth is, some things are false & must be countered. Some things are so dangerous (like sharks off the beach) that strong warnings have to be given.
And like Jesus who warned of false prophets & wolves in sheep's clothing Peter also warns us who live in the early 21st C; False teachers with their lips & lives will come & lie about God & we must not be taken in, we must oppose them. But we should be encouraged too they won't be able to do this forever, God will punish them for the damage they do & he will protect his people.
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