"False teachers and their deadly ministry" by Rod Bayley, 5 December 2010, 2 Peter 2

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Danny

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Dec 12, 2010, 4:34:59 AM12/12/10
to Sermons from Wollongong Baptist Church
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Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning has been accused by his
government of supplying WikiLeaks with some of the recently released
documents and is being held in detention.

As we come to 2 Peter 2 this morning, the apostle Peter wants to warn
his readers about the enemy within the church. While his first
letter, 1 Peter, focuses on the enemies without and the persecution
they can bring, 2 Peter focuses on false teachers within the church.
This is the first point on your outline: ‘False teachers and their
impact.’ Notice again what he states in verses 1 to 3:
“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there
will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce
destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them
- bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2Many will follow their
shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3In
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.”
Having explained that we have true teachers in the apostles (1:16-18)
and that the Old Testament was written by true prophets (1:19-21) in
the previous section in chapter one, Peter now warns that just as
there were false prophets in the past, so also there were false
teachers in the first century churches. In fact it is an ever-present
danger. Because the Gentiles were now included in God’s people
through the gospel which is for all nations, Peter can refer in verse
1 to how there were false prophets among God’s old covenant people
Israel, and that this is paralleled by false teachers among his
readers, who are part of God’s new covenant people. Hence the warning
to the church to beware the same group that did so much to undermine
God’s people in the past. As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, it’s
a warning which Paul, John and Jude also made.

God’s method of assessing false prophets, and their required judgment,
was clearly laid out in Deuteronomy 13:1-5. The warning against false
prophecy was reinforced with the death penalty. That was how
important it was to pay attention to what God had really said, and not
to make it up according to what people wanted to hear. Therefore to
claim to be a teacher in the N.T. church while in reality being a
false teacher was no minor mistake. It would result in God’s people
being misled about God, about themselves and about the way of
salvation. Peter is using the present and future tense here, and so
is effectively saying it is an ever-present danger in every church and
denomination of every time. While he does not want us to be deluded
into thinking otherwise, he isn’t wanting us to despair. Rather, we
need to learn to recognise it. Peter gives us five warning signs in
verses 1 to 3, so that we can avoid their bad influence, and not be
the ever-gullible church. Notice at the start of verse 2, that sadly
“many will follow them.”

Firstly, they offer unorthodox teaching. The second half of verse 1
tell us that they secretly introduced “destructive heresies.” The
phrase “secretly introduce” has the meaning of ‘smuggle in.’ Although
you’d think this sign would be easy to pick, in reality false teaching
can be hard to spot. These people will not have big signs around
their necks saying ‘I am a false teacher.’ No, they will sound highly
plausible, but they will introduce destructive heresies. The one
Peter names here is “denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.”
This phrase relates to the right of the Lord God to rule the lives of
his people, and Peter uses an unusually strong word for ‘sovereign
Lord’ (despotes) which is used for slave ownership - it stresses an
absolute right to possess. It is likely that Peter is quoting
Deuteronomy 32:6 in part, where Moses reminded the people:
“Do you thus repay the Lord, O foolish and unwise people? Is not He
your Father who has bought you? He has made you and established you.”

Peter is continuing his parallel with God’s old covenant people,
Israel, by pointing to how they were rescued or bought from slavery in
Egypt. They needed to respond to God’s word and not follow godless
leadership. In other words, Peter is saying that the first century
false teachers who are plaguing the church even deny the Lord who
delivered the Israelites from Egypt. Peter doesn’t tell us clearly
how they denied God, but possibly they denied his ability to save, or
generally denied his claim over their whole lives as the Lord God.
This of course mocks the judgment to come, as if God’s authority over
us will not be demonstrated in the end, but Peter assures us that they
are bringing swift destruction on themselves.

Secondly, they encouraged immoral behaviour. Notice in verse 2 that
they lead people into “shameful ways.” The word is again a strong one
(aselgeia), which is repeated in verse 7 and 18, where it’s translated
‘filthy’ and ‘lustful.’ It’s meaning is sensual, relating to sexual
sin, and here in the plural refers to different forms and repeated
actions. Purity and obedience are missing. If there is no longer a
sovereign God to please, then there will only be ourselves to please.

Thirdly, such leaders are very popular. As I already noted, the start
of verse 2 says “many will follow them.” If someone starts speaking a
message that flatters people rather than calling them to repentance
and faith, it’s not surprising that many will follow. Such a message
makes no demands other than the ones we want to make on ourselves.
This doesn’t mean that every teacher who is popular is false, but it
reminds us that false teachers will always attract a crowd - they will
present what some itching ears want to hear.

Fourthly, another warning sign is that the gospel will be maligned.
Peter states in the last part of verse 2 that they “will bring the way
of truth into disrepute,” or literally it will be ‘slandered.’ Non-
Christians tend to jump on any hypocrisy within the church which
claims to teach the truth, and rightly so, and thus Christianity is
mocked because of sexual immorality and other sins. Sadly, that often
means running from any kind of Christianity, even the authentic
article. A Christian’s life,a nd especially the Christian leaders’
lives are shop window for the gospel. Non-Christians will not take
our beliefs seriously unless our behaviour matches them.

Fifthly, these false teachers will exploit people due to their greed
in verse 3. These are false shepherds who want to fleece the sheep.
This greed doesn’t necessarily relate to only money, but even prestige
or the exploitation of relationships, but the term translated ‘greed’
does have overtones of extortion. Paul used the same term
(pleonedzia) in 1 Timothy 6:5, warning about “men of corrupt mind who
have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means
to financial gain.” The N.T. is not ashamed to say that Christian
leaders face temptations over money, which is why one of the
requirements of an elder is financial honesty (1 Tim.3:3; Titus 1:7).
Peter himself stated in his first letter that elders must not be
“greedy for money, but eager to serve” (1 Pet.5:2).

Just one of many high-profile modern examples of some of these warning
signs was the American pastor and tele-evangelist Jimmy Swaggart. By
the 1980s his Baton Rouge complex housed the huge World Ministry
Center, including a 7,500 seat worship centre, a bible college and a
host of buildings devoted to the minstry’s mail order business,
syndicated radio and television broadcasts. Swaggart’s television
broadcasts were seen in 195 countries, bringing in up to $150 million
every year. He had expelled other ministers from the Assembly of God
denomination for sexual sin, but then was involved in a sex scandal
with a prostitute himself. He did apologise at his church, which was
covered live on his TV program, but this was only after he was caught
by one of the men he had removed and forced to. Unfortunately, the
prostitute did a TV interview shortly after, giving all the sordid
details of their year-long association. Only then was he forced to
resign by the Assemblies of God leadership, who were just going to
supend him from preaching for 3 months. However, Swaggart continued
independently, with his TV show dropping from the number one religious
show to number seven. Most of the students and faculty of his bible
college resigned, and he was forced to lay-off staff, halt building
projects and sell his jet. But Swaggart began to claw his way back,
blaming demons for his lapses, which had now been cast out of him over
the phone by an evangelist. But then in October 1991 Swaggart was
caught with another prostitute and most of the people who continued to
support him finally abandoned him. All of this was gleefully covered
in the press and even made the front cover of Time magazine, and did
incalculable damage to the cause of the gospel in the United State and
around the world. Whether such judgments fall in this life, God will
bring such actions to account in the final judgment, which cause the
gospel to be slandered. Verse 3 ends with an ominous warning about
condemnation and destruction.

This brings us to point two on your outline: ‘God’s discerning
judgment.’ With that note of judgment sounded at the end of verse 3,
Peter has more to say as he outlines three examples of God’s wise
judgment. Notice what is stated in verses 4 to 6, and 9:
“For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to
hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; 5if
he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its
ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and
seven others; 6if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by
burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to
happen to the ungodly ... 9if this is so, then the Lord knows how to
rescue godly men from trial and to hold the unrighteous for the day of
judgment, while continuing their punishment.”

Peter gives three examples from the Old Testament to prove that God
has judged in the past and will judge again in the future. This is
aimed at helping us think about how we’re living in the present. This
section is very similar to Jude, which we considered a few weeks ago,
although Peter replaces the wandering Israelites with the flood.
Peter follows the chronology in Genesis, and first talks about the
fallen angels of Genesis 6 (v1-4). He makes two points: firstly, no
one is exempt from judgment, not even the angels; and secondly,
judgment is still real, though it is delayed, or held for the day of
judgment. Secondly, Peter then comes to the flood (Gen.6-9), and just
as God didn’t spare the angels, so he didn’t spare the ancient world.
However, Noah finds favour as a righteous man among ungodly people.
He is commended in Genesis because he expected God’s promised judgment
and made provision to escape it, and Hebrews 11 praises him for his
faith. His life and actions to build the ark preached righteousness.
Thirdly, Peter gives the example of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18-19),
the filthy cities shich came to represent sin and rebellion throughout
the O.T. The particular sin of the towns was sexual, including
homosexual practice. But Peter seems to keep a broad focus on sin,
and doesn’t go into the details, simply referrring to their ungodly
and lawless practices. His point here in verses 7 and 8, is that
living the kind of life God approves in a world under judgment will be
tough. Like Lot we should be distressed and tormented by what we see
and hear, and like him we will face the pressure to conform and
compromise.

All this demonstrated that God is in control, and that as verse 9
states, God knows how to rescue the righteous and punish the
unrighteous on the day of judgment. Peter’s point is that although
God’s judgment on a sinful creation is inevitable, it is just and not
inescapable. For example, as God protected Noah and Lot, so he can
protect those who trust in Jesus today. He will protect those who are
His on the day of judgment, just as Noah was rescued from the flood
and Lot for the burning sulphur of Sodom and Gomorrah. Further, just
as many would have laughed and mocked Noah’s efforts to build a boat
in the desert, and couldn’t see why Lot wouldn’t plunge into the sin
of the city in which he lived, so too we live among people who will
ridicule our faith in a judging and saving God. But like Noah and
Lot, we are to persevere in our faith, for God’s wrath is definitely
coming.

That brings us to the third and final point on your outline: ‘The
character of false teachers and their end.’ Notice again what Peter
states in verses 13 and 14: “They will be paid back with harm for the
harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad
daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures
while they feast with you. 14With eyes full of adultery, they never
stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed - an
accursed brood!

Here is a profile of the deadly minister in the first century church,
part of a character description that is absent of any flattery and
actually stunningly awful. So far the the ‘false teachers’ have been
only sketchily drawn, as Peter alerted us simply to their existence,
their popularity and their eventual end. But now we get a long list
of their sins and the nature of their flawed ministry and its impact.
These so-called leaders who follow the sinful nature, are
characterised by their despising of spiritual authority, God’s
authority which stands behind the angelic authority which they slander
in verses 10 to 12. In verses 13 and 14, their following of the
corrupt sinful nature is on display: drunkeness or carousing in the
daytime, demonstrating their lust for pleasure or hedonism. The feast
is probably the Lord’s Supper, as Jude makes clear, which is turned
into a time of sensual indulgence and sexual sin. They are not only
sinning but recruiting others to sin - seducing the unstable. Balaam
the prophet is then referred to, and held up as an example (Num.22-24)
of leaving the straight way. Like Balaam, Peter’s false teachers are
putting their greed above their concern for God’s people, and leading
them into adultery (Num.31:16).

Finally, in verses 17 to 22 we have a profile of the deadly ministry
these false teachers carried out. The false teachers are likened to
dry springs - they have nothing of value to say in verse 18. They are
also driven mists - they are powerless in the face of sin in verse
19. And darkness is reserved for them - they are destined for
judgment (v20-22). Sadly, they will be effective in verse 18 in
enticing people who are new Christians, “who are just escaping from
those who live in error,” by making empty promises of freedom.
Peter’s final words on these false teachers in verse 22 is two
proverbs, which describes the choice they’ve made. Like a dog
returning to vomit and a sow to the mud, they came to describe those
who had heard the gospel but rejected it. They show that nothing in
their nature has changed at all, which shows that these people were
never believers.

If such images about deadly ministers seem too strong, then it may
indicate how lightly we view sin and the eternal consequences that
such false teachers bring. In our age of tolerance and political
correctness, we rarely see false teaching pulled up, let alone
rebuked. It shouldn’t take an extreme example like a Swaggart to
finally produce questioning. This is the application for ourselves
today - we need to take false teaching seriously - the stakes are so
high. Such reluctance to say something didn’t exist at the time of
the reformation.

In 1553 Miguel Servetus, a liberal thinker originally from Spain, came
to Geneva where Calvin was the spiritual leader and the reformation
had taken hold. Calvin was aware that Servetus held various heretical
views including rejection of the trinity, as he had sent Calvin a copy
of his major theological work along with various other
correspondence. Calvin warned him against coming to Geneva, but he
came anyway and was recognised by Calvin who called for his arrest.
Servetus, by order of the City Council, was burned at the stake for
heresy having fled from the same verdict in Lyons earlier that year.
With our tolerant attitudes of the early twenty-first century we are
shocked at these actions and ask, ‘Why such brutal actions in the name
of God’ ? Well in many parts of the world today capital punishment
exists for crimes such as murder. The thinking, common throughout all
the church in the sixteenth century, was that heresy was spiritual
murder and deserved no lesser punishment. The stakes could not be
higher.

Now I am not praising or condoning capital punishment for heresy or
anything else, but it confronts us with the seriousness of the task of
having spiritual oversight over others, as we consider the reformer’s
actions. Whether you teach God’s word at Sunday School, or youth
group, or a bible study, or at church, it is always a very serious
task which should rightly be scrutinised. The impact of false
teaching can never be underestimated, and neither can the judgment of
God which awaits. The enemy within is more subtle and dangerous to
the health of the church then any overt persecution from without.
Thankfully, God is sovereign and will rescue His people through faith
in His Son, and punish those who lead others astray. Peter doesn’t
want us to despair, but to be alert, and to speak up when we see God’s
word being misused and people led astray.
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