How Bad Are They? Part 3
False teachers are outwardly impressive, but inwardly evil
2 Peter 2:14b-17
God hates lying and God loves truth. As the God of truth, our Lord cannot lie. Even the wicked prophet Balaam recognized this in Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” In Hebrews 6:18 the author of Hebrews agrees, “It is impossible for God to lie.”
Therefore, when God speaks He always speaks truth. This means His infallible Word is perfect, without error and completely trustworthy. The Bible, like its Author, is truth. So it’s not surprising that the Lord of all wants His servants to proclaim His Word as truth and explain His Word in a truthful way–accurately and completely with no deviation or manipulation. Anything less is to misrepresent His intended meaning and to actually malign His perfect character.
In stark contrast, Satan is the chief liar and the father of lies, right? John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Satan’s primary goal as God’s adversary is to deceive–2 Corinthians 4:4, having “blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” In other words, Satan and his servants are antithetically opposed to God’s saving purposes. They distort the truth in order to obscure God’s salvation.
Thankfully, in the end truth will win out and all of Satan’s deceptions will be cast into the Lake of Fire with the deceiver himself. But until that day, you will have to be on guard against deception, lies, distortions of the Word and manipulations of the Gospel. And that is why we are studying 2 Peter–letting Peter, moved by the Spirit, speak to us so we can hear the truth about those who lie–false teachers.
Now lying messengers come in many forms–they are super cool college professors, talking heads on TV, political leaders at every level, popular authors, trendy internet newspapers, seminary professors, popular pastors and social media darlings. Wake up, friends–lies are coming at you from every quarter, including false teachers in the Church. If you’re going to survive in this day of deception, you will have to cling to the truth of God’s Word alone, like a life preserver in a storm. And you will have to appear old school, traditional and not trendy, even out of it–because the only source of absolute truth is from one book that is now very old, maligned, dismissed, considered archaic and most often ignored–the precious Word of God, the Bible.
Peter has been teaching us in 2 Peter that false teachers are not easy to spot. Technically, a false teacher is only found in the Church–and sadly today, the church is full of them. You can begin to spot them, not only with the error they teach, but also by the way they minister. Not only in what they say, but in how they serve. What do I mean? Consider three styles characteristic of false teachers.
STYLE 1 AUTHORITARIAN, invariably ruling over their churches in a domineering fashion. Like the way Jeremiah 5:31 warns, “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so!” Like Diotrephes in 3 John, they strongly denounce any who question their authority.
STYLE 2 A MAN-CENTERED WAY, Jeremiah 23:16 says this as Israel is close to being utterly destroyed by Babylon, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord.’” They invent what they teach. And the false teacher panders to what people want to hear. Second Timothy 4:3 and 4, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”
As a result, they preach their own ideas about what people want to hear. False teachers make up their own so-called Christian messages of love, syrupy deceptions that make you feel good. They teach you, you can bring peace through human means. You can solve problems, if you just care enough. You can make a difference, if you just try to get along with others. Just click you “love it.”
But the true teacher emphasizes God’s absolute holiness and hatred for all sin. The true teacher focuses on man’s sinfulness and his inability to do anything pleasing to God. The true teacher says you must first be in Christ, and second be empowered by His Spirit and walk according to His Word. The true teacher declares that salvation is only found in total submission to Christ as Lord, and is absolutely necessary in order for anyone to be made right with God. Then the Spirit alone empowers you to love others and be a witness, in the midst of a hostile, prejudiced, unjust world. The false affirm man-centered solutions. The true teacher affirms God-alone solutions.
STYLE 3 REJECT SOUND DOCTRINE, false teachers treat the historic, Scripture-based doctrines of the Church with contempt. Instead of proclaiming healthy doctrine and authorial intent, they promote their own self-styled novelties, methods and doctrines. They purposefully distance themselves from the past, as they arrogantly endorse new-fangled approaches to ministry and new ways to look at established doctrine.
All three styles were also found in the false teachers of Peter’s day. But Peter was not fooled by their glamour or their gimmicks. Peter knew them for who they really were–Jude 12, “springs without water and mists driven by a storm.” Now wait–some of you are battling with indifference. You need to know what Peter writes in these verses. Why? To clean your filter on what you listen to, watch and read. To sharpen your lens in order to look at all of life through biblical glasses–not merely when you are at a Bible study or visiting a church, but as you scan the internet news, watch commentary, and have discussion with friends over contemporary issues. You and I must grow in discernment. If you learned nothing from the recent riots, you and I need to become more discerning.
Peter’s description of their character and conduct started in verses 10 through 22 and gave us seven major descriptions–we have studied three of them and today two more. Long ago we looked at point number one . . .
#1 Their PRIMARIES Verse 10a
As Peter wraps up the certainty of their coming judgment, he focuses on the two major characteristics of false teachers.
First They function by FEELINGS
Second They reject all AUTHORITY
Verse 10, “and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.” Their teaching is feelings-driven and lifestyle is anti-authority.
#2 Their PRIDE Verses 10b-11
Read verses 10b-11, “Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, 11 whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord.” False teachers are audacious and defiant with an obstinate determination to do their own thing. False teachers are so arrogant, they will do what the holy angels will not do. The mighty, awesome, holy angels–even the chief holy angel will not rebuke, blaspheme or criticize demons. But these false teachers will. With their overinflated view of themselves, they will continue to rebuke as if they have authority over the devil and his demons. They have no respect, but arrogantly do what holy angels do not. They’re proud. You see how bad false teachers are by learning of . . .
#3 Their PREDISPOSITION Verse 12
Read aloud with me verses 12 to 14, describing the bents of the phony. “But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, 13suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, 14having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children.”
False teachers are not merely fallen people who are lost in their sins. They are not merely defiant sinners who’re corrupted in nature. They are not only headed for never-ending torment later. But they are dangerous. They are men and women who pretend to be Christians and pretend to instruct others in the Word. They present themselves as those who will help your walk with God, but what they do is harm your walk with God. They are predisposed to oppose the work of God, malign the person of Christ and distort the only true Gospel. Watch out for their predisposition.
And new for today, to identify false teachers and sharpen your lens for truth, understand . . .
#4 Their PASSION Verses 14b-16
Greed is their passion. “Having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; 15forsaking the right way, they have gone astray [they were deceived], having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.” Peter says in verse 15, the messages of error you are hearing today are from those who have abandoned the right way. Verse 15, “forsaking the right way.” The right way is an Old Testament metaphor for obedience to God–telling you all who call themselves Christians are not on the right way.
Too many make-believers teach obedience as optional instead of a part of our new nature that wants to follow Christ. And the people of this world are not on the right way. In fact, they’re opposed to the way–they’re opposed to Jesus Christ being the only way. They’re opposed to the Gospel, like Elymas the magician, who tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith. So Paul said to him in Acts 13:10, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?”
False teachers and most of the messages you hear today twist the right way and make it crooked. They distort Christ and twist the Gospel. Now the right way involves money, but false teachers are only for money. Verse 14b, “having a heart trained in greed, accursed children.” They are not interested in accomplishing worship, but only accumulating wealth. So much so, verse 14 says they’re “trained in greed”–experts in money, exercised in wealth.
The Greek word for trained in greed is a terrible picture. William Barclay explains the word which is used for trained as the word which is used for an athlete exercising and training himself for the games. The false teachers have actually trained their minds to concentrate on nothing but gaining more. They’ve deliberately fought with their conscience until they’ve destroyed it–they’ve intentionally squashed their guilt until they smothered it. They have purposefully trained themselves to concentrate on how to get more money.
They have trained themselves in the techniques of sin–particularly the sin of greed. False teachers and many of the messengers in this world have worked out, pumped weights, for long periods of time. They have exercised to the point of exhaustion to become well-toned experts in greed, pursuing a six-pack desire for more money. False teachers are out for what they can get from their religion. You don’t accidentally end up at the gym. And false teachers don’t accidentally end up pursuing material gain from ministry. It is not a momentary lapse of judgment, but a pre-planned, master-minded pursuit of sensual sin and materialistic gain from God’s people.
And that is so disgusting, Peter shouts at the end of verse 14, “accursed children.” As liars, hypocrites, deceivers and false teachers epitomized those whom God has cursed to Hell. Peter’s phrase, “accursed children”, is a Hebraism expressing the idea that people are children of whatever influences most dominate their lives. Non-Christians are called children of wrath–they are those destined for God’s eternal wrath. And as servants of Satan and slaves to sin, greedy false teachers are here rightly denounced as children headed toward Hell’s eternal curse.
False teachers have left the right way and have intentionally pursued error. Is there someone you know who has done this? Yes! Peter says an Old Testament compromising prophet of God named Balaam in verses 15 to 16, “forsaking the right way, they have gone astray [they were deceived], having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.”
Balaam preferred wealth over faithfulness to God. Balaam was supposed to be a prophet of God, but he loved money more than God. He was willing to pursue fame and fortune—verse 15, “the wages of unrighteousness,” instead of obeying God.
He also tempted God’s people with immorality. As a result, in Numbers 22 to 25, Balaam is the so-called spiritual leader who was rebuked by God through his donkey. Verse 16, “But he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.” For a donkey to rebuke a prophet’s madness not only points to the foolishness of Balaam, but also to the foolishness of all false teachers.
This story of Balaam is a classic example of a spiritual leader motivated by greed. Balaam was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. King Balak saw the Israelites as an unstoppable military threat and hoped to defeat them spiritually with Balaam’s help. Balaam must have already had a reputation as a prophet-for-hire, as there is evidence of prophets who functioned just like this in the same region at the same time.
You can tell Peter knew his Old Testament Scriptures, since he’s already used Noah and Lot to illustrate his Biblical principles, and now he uses Balaam. When you read Numbers 22 to 25, you discover that Balaam is a mysterious character–a Gentile prophet who tried to curse the Jews. Balaam knew it was wrong to cooperate with Balak the Moabite king, but in his heart he wanted the money and fame promised him. As you read Numbers, you also find Balaam knew the truth of God and the will of God, yet he deliberately abandoned, verse 15, the right way and went astray.
He is the perfect illustration of the apostate false teachers and their greedy practices. From the outset, God told Balaam not to help King Balak–and at first, Balaam obeyed and sent the king’s messengers away. But when King Balak sent more princes and promised more money, Balaam decided to “pray about it” and finally bought in because of greed. The second time, God tested Balaam and allowed him to go with the princes. This was God’s permissive will, designed to see what the prophet would do. Sometimes God does not stop you from a bad decision and bad direction, friends. Balaam jumped at the chance.
But as he started to go astray, God rebuked the disobedient prophet through the mouth of his donkey. Numbers 22:30, “The donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your donkey?’” Animals obey God, even when their masters don’t! Isaiah said in Isaiah 1:3, “An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master’s manger, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand.” So learn from your pets–they know who feeds them.
God permitted Balaam to set up his altars and offer his sacrifices, but God didn’t permit him to curse Israel. Instead, God turned Balaam’s curse into a blessing. Deuteronomy 23:4 and 5, “And because they hired against you Balaam … to curse you. 5Nevertheless, the Lord your God was not willing to listen to Balaam, but the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the Lord your God loves you.”
Balaam wasn’t able to curse Israel, but he was able to tell King Balak how to defeat Israel. In Numbers 25, Balaam told the king all the Moabites had to do was invite the Jews to be friendly neighbors and share in their feasts. Numbers 31:16 says, “These caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord…, so the plague was among the congregation of the Lord.”
Balaam encouraged the Israelites to practice idolatry, immorality, and intermarriage in a second attempt to destroy them–this time by assimilating them into pagan culture. Instead of living separately, Israel compromised by enjoying the Moabite feasts, then ultimately by participating in their pagan orgies. As a result, God had to discipline His nation, and thousands of them died.
What is the passion of the false teacher and the mission of most of the messages in this world? Greed and lust. Balaam loved money and he led Israel into lustful sin. He was a man who could get messages from God, yet he led people away from God. When you read Balaam’s oracles, you cannot help but be impressed with his eloquence–yet he deliberately disobeyed God.
But what’s even sadder is Balaam’s response. In Numbers 22:34, Balaam said, “I have sinned,” but his confession was not sincere. In Numbers 23:10 he even prayed, “Let me die the death of the righteous.” Yet he did not want to live the life of the righteous. Because Balaam counseled King Balak to seduce Israel, God ultimately judged Balaam. He was slain by the sword when Israel defeated the Midianites in Numbers 31:8.
The main lesson–Balaam rebelled against the Word of God and the will of God. Just like the false teachers Peter describes, Balaam knew the right way but deliberately chose the wrong way because he wanted increase his portfolio. No doubt he had a true gift from God, since he ended up uttering some beautiful prophecies about Jesus Christ. But he prostituted that gift to gain fame and fortune.
You know this story–you’ve heard it. The bank officer approached his junior clerk and secretly asked, “If I gave you $50,000, would you help me alter the books?” The clerk said, “Yes, I guess I would.” The officer then asked, “Then would you do it for $100?” The clerk said, “Of course not! Who do you think I am, a common thief?” The officer replied, “We’ve already determined that. Now we’re just dickering over the price.” The covetous person always has a price. And when that price is met, the greedy ones will do whatever is asked–even revolt against God, to make money.
At the end of verse 16, do you see what Peter called this attitude? Madness. The word madness means to be totally deranged. Balaam thought he was doing a wise thing–after all, he was taking advantage of an opportunity that might never come along again. But all rebellion against God is madness and can only end in tragedy. Listen to verses 14b to 16, “Having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; 15forsaking the right way, they have gone astray [they were deceived], having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.”
The false teachers, like Balaam before them, forsake the right way. The right way is obedience to God’s Word–Balaam deliberately forsook Scripture. And when the false teachers manipulate the Bible, when they read into the Bible, like Balaam they too will suffer eternal torment.
#5 Their PENALTY Verse 17
Verse 17, “These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved.” These false teachers give nothing of substance because they have nothing to give. They are like a dry well. They cannot deliver what they promise. Even if they could, it would only be temporary–like a mist or a fog that disappears when the wind blows.
Peter, in verse 17, uses two poetic figures (springs and mists or clouds) which represent water–the most precious commodity in the Middle East. Peter’s two metaphors describe the false teachers as clouds that don’t give rain, and springs that give no water for a drink. Water here represents spiritual sustenance. False teachers may appear incredible, like a powerful storm, making amazing promises–but they will not satisfy the need of your heart. Like a spring with no water or clouds that give no rain–false teachers can’t quench the thirsty heart.
I took a 3-day hike in the desert, and every spring on the map was dry or undrinkable. Walking up to each one was a major promise that gave no satisfaction to our thirst. Like a mirage in the hot desert sand, Peter describes the false teachers as those who promise what they cannot deliver. They offer the spiritually thirsty false hopes of relief. Like rainless, heavy storm clouds, false teachers provide no life-changing refreshment. They’re impressive, but give no help. False teachers even create the awe of a windy storm, but deliver no water for your spiritual life.
Peter declares the result in verse 17, “For whom the black darkness has been reserved.” Because they live for fame, money, and lust, and make only empty promises, they will suffer the consequence of the worst punishment anyone can ever experience–the blackness of darkness, that is Hell. Matthew 8:12, “will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jude 13b, “for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.”
Peter says this blackness is, verse 17, “reserved for them.” The tense for the Greek verb reserved tells us this blackness has been kept for them in the past and is now awaiting them forever. This is Hell. The darkness of Hell is not merely a room with the lights turned off–but a thick, fierce, comfortless dark isolation that endures throughout eternity. Never any light. Peter never hesitated to announce the terrible penalty that awaits false teachers, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. Hell includes pain of black darkness with painful torture and torment of fire. All those without Christ will be in darkness forever.
TAKE THIS HOME
A Clean the lens of your DISCERNMENT
Paul prays in Philippians 1:9, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.” God wants you to mature in the application of biblical knowledge and to grow in your recognition of truth and error. Can you biblically explain why the gift of tongues is apostolic, women can’t be elders, an improper focus on social issues undermines the Gospel, God is absolutely sovereign in salvation but you are still responsible to respond in faith, that discipleship is not an option, that ministry to the body is expected of every believer—can you? If not, pick a sound theology and start reading. You must grow in discernment.
B Filter the input you receive from every SOURCE
Wisdom dictates I plead with you to stop watching, listening to and reading so much deception. Today, truth is relative and lying is normative. Reporters and bloggers do not have to be objective, but are actually encouraged to be subjective to reflect their own opinion. If you drink in ten minutes of Bible study, then 53 minutes of internet deception which is designed to undermine God’s truth, you will live by fear and embrace errant thinking.
Give your life to worship. What does that mean? Romans 12:1 and 2, “Present your bodies a … sacrifice, … which is … worship. 2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” You cannot renew your mind if you’re saturating your mind with error all day long. Filter your input, friends.
C Grow convinced that Christ and the Gospel are the best ANSWER
You and I must understand the truth, since it is the truth which tells us of Christ. But before convincing anyone of error, they must know the One who is the Truth. Don’t battle errant issues in someone’s life, even if they call themselves a Christian. First ask them if they know Christ–the Christ of the Bible, the Christ who is God, who was born a man, lived a perfect life, offered Himself as our substitute to take God’s punishment for our sin upon Himself on a cross, rose from the dead and lives to provide salvation for His children who turn from their sin in repentance and depend on Christ by faith–who worship Christ with their entire life, who follow Him as Lord, who love Him as their first love, who exchange all that they are for all that He is. Maybe you are one who needs to find purpose, forgiveness and Heaven forever in Christ.