FALSE TEACHERS 2 Peter 2
“Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute” (2 Peter 2:2).False doctrine produces a perverted lifestlye.
The later epistles of the New Testament, 2 Peter, 2 Timothy, and Jude, all describe and warn against false teachers. In the early decades the church was threatened by Judaizers, who attempted to bring Christians under the yoke of Mosaic Law. But by the mid 60s a different breed of false teacher emerged. These men treated the faith as a “philosophy.” In the first century a number of philosophies competed for popularity. Each had its own doctrines, and each emphasized a lifestyle in keeping with its basic tenents. Street teachers sought to attract adherents by giving lectures on how to live one’s life, solve personal problems, and find meaning in life. From descriptions in 2 Peter and Jude particularly, it seems that the false teachers that threatened the church from within were the cultural equivalent of these traveling philosophers. But they twisted Christian doctrine, and taught a way of life that was antagonistic to godliness. It may well be that some of the gross descriptions of Christian practices found in second century Roman writers reflects the actual behavior of some who falsely called themselves Christians, and followed false teachers like those Peter described here! False teachers remain a threat to the Christian church. And 2 Peter 2 remains a source of insight into their teaching, their character, and their appeal.
False teachers who exploit believers (2:1–3) face certain judgment (vv. 4–10). They are marked by arrogance (vv. 11–12) and im- morality (vv. 13–17), and by teaching that appeals to man’s sinful desires (vv. 18–22).
Understanding the Text
“There will be false teachers among you” 2 Peter 2:1. It’s not, “there may be.” It’s “there will be.” We can count on it today as well as in Peter’s time. Within the broad framework of what is called Christendom, there are cults and churches whose doctrines are anti-Christian. Some who stand in the pulpits of churches which were historically Christian are false teachers too. Peter said false teachers introduce “destructive heresies,” meaning that they lead adherents to destruction. This first verse gives us a simple doctrinal test. The false teacher leads followers to destruction because he denies “the sovereign Lord who bought them.” The earliest heresies redefined Jesus. In some systems He was a lower angel. In some He was a man raised to Deity at His baptism, or at His resurrection. In some systems Jesus only appeared to be human, but was in fact a spiritual “projection.” But Scripture clearly presents Jesus Christ as God the Son, the sovereign Lord of the universe come in the flesh, born a human being that through the union of God and man He might purchase our redemption. Most modern heresies still stumble over Jesus. Any who deny the full deity and actual humanity of Jesus Christ are false teachers. And what they teach is destructive heresy. “Many will follow their shameful ways” 2 Peter 2:2. This is a second basic characteristic of false teachers and false teaching. It produces “shameful ways.” It’s a familiar saying now, that you can tell a tree by its fruit. You can tell false teaching from sound doctrine by its fruit too (see DEVOTIONAL). “In their greed these teachers will exploit you” 2 Peter 2:3. The third characteristic of false teachers is greed. Peter had described godly leaders in his first letter: they are shepherds caring for God’s flock, not greedy for money but eager to serve (1 Peter 5:1–4). In contrast false teachers serve for money, and are motivated by it. We ought not be too quick to label someone a “false teacher” on the basis of his or her income. The issue here is one of motive and exploitation. The false teacher is greedy. A false teacher exploits, lies, and diverts money given for ministry to personal use. While the greed of a few notorious Christian leaders is regularly exposed by the media, we can thank God for the many thousands who minister today, despite low pay and poor benefits, out of love for God and His people. “If God did not spare” 2 Peter 2:4–10. Peter looked back into sacred history and found examples that drove home his point. False teachers will surely creep in to corrupt the church. But God knows how to save the godly, and “hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment.” Peter carefully selected his illustrations. The presence of false teachers in the church is serious. But it is not disastrous! So we need not panic. God will protect the righteous man. And God will punish the false teacher. Peter’s comments direct us to the best way that we can protect ourselves and others from false teachers. We focus, as did Noah and Lot, on preaching and living righteousness. Commitment to live a godly life, even when others live “filthy lives” around us, will guard us from going astray. “Creatures of instinct” 2 Peter 2:11–12. Both Testaments use the metaphor of “brute beasts” and “creatures of instinct” to describe unbelievers who are actively hostile to God. They have completely abandoned the spiritual quest, and chosen to live like animals, in that this present world alone exists for them. We human beings can choose to live like animals. We can seek to satisfy every craving, without standing in judgment on whether our desires or actions are morally right. But those who choose to live like mere animals by that choice determine their fate. They doom themselves to perish. “Reveling in their pleasures” 2 Peter 2:13–16. Peter went on to describe the beast-like life that some human beings live. Man’s present instincts reflect the corruption of our nature by sin, and thus are no trustworthy guide to godly living. Man’s corrupt instincts call for pleasures that stimulate and deaden, as modern drugs and alcohol (v. 13). Man’s corrupt instincts lead to adultery (v. 14), and are expressed in a greed that wrongfully deprives others (v. 14). Peter’s reference to Balaam was sarcastic. That prophet, moved by a passion for money, acted on instinct—when a mere animal, his donkey, knew better! Don’t listen to folks who tell you that since certain desires are “natural” they must be all right. What most men do by instinct is wrong. As Christians, we’re called to judge our instincts, and to choose what is right. “They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity” 2 Peter 2:17–19. The greatest slavery we can experience is slavery to our passions. “I can’t help it!” has been the cry of those addicted to drink, drugs, and sexual depravities down through the ages. The surest road to misery is to do just what you want, whenever you want to do it. Soon you find that you no longer want what you do—but you are unable to help yourself. That, slavery to one’s own depravity, is the most terrible slavery of all. “It would have been better” 2 Peter 2:20–22. The two proverbs quoted in verse 22 explain Peter’s comment. Each describes an animal which behaves according to its nature. Just so the individual who is introduced into the Christian community and makes a profession without experiencing regeneration. He sees in the holiness of God’s people what it means to escape the corruption that is in the world through lust. But his unconverted nature causes him to revert to his old ways. Such a person might better never have been exposed to godliness. In turning his back on God his condemnation will be greater than before. You can’t be a “halfway” Christian, or a “social believer.” Ulimately you will choose to go all the way, in full commitment to Jesus. Or your natural instincts will win out, and you’ll turn away from the faith entirely. If you’re in that halfway state, go the whole way, quickly. It’s better to never have known the way, than to know it and turn back.
The Way of the Cross(2 Peter 2:1–3, 17–22)
One early Roman commentator on Christianity, Galen (born around ß.S. 130) had no use for Christian doctrine. In one of his medical treatises he took time out to discuss, and reject, Moses’ treatment of the Creation. But Galen was impressed that Christians, “in self-discipline and self-control in matters of food and drink, and in their keen pursuit of justice, have attained a pitch not inferior to that of genuine philosophers.” This may have been the most impressive thing about the early Christians to the pagans of their day. Certainly the educated pagan was put off by the Christian emphasis on faith. The Christian doctrine of Creation and especially of Resurrection seemed utter nonsense to those brought up on the idea that matter was eternal, and that God was subject to and not above natural law. And the pagans fiercely resented the Christian’s refusal to participate in public religious observance. Such exclusiveness seemed tantamount to hatred of mankind itself, for the welfare of the state depended on expressing piety toward the gods. But then, there was that virtuous life. How could such ordinary, mostly uneducated people attain the self-discipline and virtue thought to be reachable only by the philosopher who dedicated his life to study and self-mastery? False teaching has no such power to help its adherents attain godliness. In fact, one of the characteristics of false teaching is that it appeals to man’s lower nature. It promises freedom rather than demanding self-control. It offers pleasures rather than calling for commitment. And many a true Christian has, through the de-emphasis of godliness, been led astray by teachers whose emphasis is utterly, tragically false. So watch out if a teacher promises you “freedom”—and means that you will be able to do whatever you want. And watch out if a teacher promises riches and ease! Jesus has never led His followers to Disneyland. The Jesus road winds off, over the hills, and there, ahead, you can glimpse Calvary.
Christ brings us both comfort and cross.
“Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first He suffered pain, and entered not into glory before He was crucified; mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.”—Book of Common Prayer