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False Teachers - An Exposition of 2 Peter 2:1-22

Posted by James P. McGarvey , 28 July 2014 · 1174 views

(I gave this message at Pines Baptist Church in Pembroke Pines on July 27, 2014. You can listen to the message online or download it at: http://www.pinesbapt...hurch.org/media.)

Peter begins verse one of chapter two with the transitional word "but," indicating a contrast between what he has just written, at the close of chapter one, and what follows in chapter two.

In chapter one Peter reminded his readers of several things. He reminded them that they had become partakers of the divine nature through a work of God's grace. He reminded them of the importance of spiritual growth. He reminds them to "be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election."

As chapter one comes to a close he points out that our Christian life and experience is grounded in God's revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus Christ and in the written Word. Peter writes, "we did not follow cleverly devised myths." Rather, he makes the case for the historicity of Jesus Christ and the authenticity and authority of the Scriptures.

He insists on the reliability of the Scriptures because they were not "produced by the will of man, but men spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." Then comes the contrast, chapter two, verse one, he writes,

"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you."

And so chapter two begins with a warning regarding false teachers. When I first began to study this second chapter, I was taken back at what I observed with regard to Peter's description of the false teachers of his day. I realized the characteristics he identifies very accurately describe false teachers of our day.

In other words, his warning regarding false teachers is as relevant in the 21st century as it was in the first century. It's as though he was writing to a 21st century church audience. Which of course, we know, in a manner of speaking he was!

In this chapter, Peter does not focus as much on the content of the false teacher's teaching as with what is perhaps, even more valuable to us, the characteristics that identify false teachers. He does not provide us with a compendium of their teaching as much as the distinguishing features or marks of false teachers.

Pastor John McArthur, speaking of chapter two, says

"...this is the core of the letter. The letter is a warning about false teachers and their teaching and here in this middle chapter of these three brief chapters he describes the false teachers. He wants us to know what they look like. He wants us to know what they act like. He wants us to know what they talk like. He wants us to know how they function and operate."

So notice first of all, nine characteristics or distinguishing marks of a false teacher. Now understand that all nine characteristics are not necessarily found in every false teacher.

First of all, note their place of work. Their sphere of influence, if you will. While this might surprise some of us, Peter is writing to Christians. He says they are at work "among you" verse one, "there will be false teachers among you."

I have a small commentary from my Dad's library, entitled "The General Epistles" by Charles Eerdman, a commentary on the books of James, 1,2 Peter, 1,2,3 John and Jude. 2 Peter is one of the "general" epistles, that is a letter not written to a specific church like the book of Ephesians written to the church at Ephesus, or the book of Romans Paul's letter to the church at Rome, but to a broader or undisclosed audience.

Though Peter writes to a wider audience "the among you," still refers to the church as opposed to the world at large. The sobering warning here, is that the church is the workplace of the false teacher. The environment in which false teachers operate! That's not to say there are not false teachers in the world. It is saturated with them. But here Peter is determined to instruct us regarding the false teachers operative in the church of Jesus Christ.

Secondly, notice their method, the method of their work. Again verse one, they "secretly bring in destructive heresies." In other words, the false teacher does not announce his presence. He doesn’t parade around the church with a name tag identifying himself as a false teacher. On the contrary, the modus operandi of the false teacher is one of subtlety, secrecy and deceit. Very similar to Jude's warning, with regard to false teachers, in verse 4 of his letter, "For certain people have crept in unnoticed," or "certain men...have secretly slipped in among you." (NIV)

They're like a stealth bomber designed to remain unseen, undetected by the enemy.
These false teachers fail the test of full disclosure. They are experts at cover-up and concealment. Perhaps Peter had Jesus' warning in mind, Matthew 7:15,

"Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves."

The false prophet is a master of disguise. He is not what he appears to be. The wolf masquerading in sheep's clothing is not inwardly what he appears to be outwardly. Therein lies the danger to the unsuspecting. And it is interesting that Jesus says the false prophet is clothed in sheep's clothing. Sheep are harmless and helpless animals. Whereas a wolf is a natural predator of sheep. A natural enemy of sheep.

And a ravenous wolf is a vicious wolf. He is a danger and threat to the safety and very life of the sheep. Do you see the seriousness found in the imagery Jesus uses here?

Similarly, in his second letter to the Corinthians the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:14, 15a described false teachers this way.

"For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguise’s himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness."

Did you get that? Disguised as an apostle of Christ? Disguised as "servants of righteousness?" Yes, they follow the lead of Satan who disguises himself as an "angel of light."

You see a false teacher merely imitates his father. Jesus said as much when he said, in John 8:44. "the devil...has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies."

Here's the point Jesus, Peter and Paul are making. False teachers never come to us as false teachers. They are masters of deception, wolves in sheep's clothing. They appear to be men of God. They appear to be men of the Gospel, even disguised as "apostles of Christ," "servants of righteousness." They associate with the people of God, and are comfortable in the house of God. They don't come as servants of Satan, but as servants of God just as Satan disguises himself as an angel of light! In reality they are agents of Satan on a mission to destroy the lives of men and women and the work of the Gospel. We cannot take their threat lightly.

Thirdly, notice the nature of their message. Still in verse one, "they secretly bring in destructive heresies." The word "destructive" means damnation. Heresy doesn't bring life. It destroys your faith. It brings death and destruction. In verse 17, Peter says of the false teachers, "These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm."' The value of a spring is that is satisfies your thirst. False teaching will leave your soul thirsty and the clouds you look to for a refreshing rain will be blown away leaving you spiritually dry and barren.

The word heresy comes from a verb that means to choose. As William Barclay points out, originally it meant, "a line of belief and action a man had chosen for himself." (W. Barclay) It has also been translated by the word "opinion." Someone pointed out that it came to mean "a self-designed religious opinion" or "chosen beliefs" (NBC)

That's what heresy is. It's not based on transcendent or revealed truth. It' an opinion someone has chosen to embrace. In contrast, writing of his ministry, chapter one, verse 16, Peter declared that,

"...we did not follow cleverly devised myths [or invented stories - NIV] when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

So a false teacher is someone who chooses for himself what he will believe without regard for Biblical truth.

Fourthly, their denial of Lordship, verse one, "denying the Master who bought them." This is, perhaps, the defining characteristic of false teachers. It is the root of all that characterizes them. They deny the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Remember the words of Jesus, Mark 10:45. "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Simply stated Jesus Christ died a substitutionary death. He purchased our freedom by shedding His blood on the cross. The Bible says, "The wages of sin is death." We have forgiveness of sin, freedom from the penalty of sin, and freedom from the power of sin for one reason and one alone. He purchased our freedom when He shed his blood. He paid the ransom that set us free from the curse of the law.

And by that ransom He has a claim to be Master and Lord. Paul explained it this way to the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

"Or don't you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." This is the theological basis for the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the life of the believer.

The word translated "master" or "Lord" is the word despotyn, from which we get our word "despot." A despot is a ruler who has unlimited power and absolute authority. As Master or Lord, Jesus Christ has the right and the claim to absolute control of the
believer's life.

False teachers, are "denying" present tense, that is, they are continually denying "the sovereign Lord who bought them" writes Peter.

As someone has pointed out, denying, means to say no. It means to be unwilling. It means to refuse. It's a strong word, to say no to." (J McArthur)

In verse ten Peter notes that they "despise authority." At this point Peter is saying you can identify a false teacher by their denial of Christ's lordship in their personal lives. In other words, they refuse to submit themselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. They are accountable to no one but themselves.

And as we will see in a moment this has considerable moral and ethical implications and consequences. You see, a false teacher might be orthodox in his doctrine, that is, say the right things, use the language of the church, even proclaim the gospel while not living in personal submission to the Lordship of Christ. And that will eventually come to light in their personal conduct.

Number five, notice, their success verse two. "And many will follow their sensuality." There are two things I want to point out from this statement, the size of their following and the reason for their popularity. Their success or popularity is measured by the number of those following them. "Many will follow them." False teachers have large followings. That defines their success. It speaks of their popularity.

The fact that they are successful should not surprise us. Perhaps Peter is echoing the words of Jesus. Again Matthew seven, just prior to his warning about wolves in sheep clothing Jesus he says, Matthew 7:13,

"Enter the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

The way that leads to hell has a wide gate and it's an easy way. And many enter the wide gate. In contrast, the way that leads to eternal life, has a narrow gate and the way is hard, and few find it.

What does Jesus mean, by a "narrow gate?" Salvation is through Jesus alone. On another occasion, Jesus said, John 14:6, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." That is Jesus' unambiguous truth claim. Peter understood the exclusivity of Jesus' claim. He boldly proclaimed to the religious authorities who had arrested him (Acts 4:12) "...there is salvation in no one else for here is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

What does the "hard" way look like? Again, Jesus' words, Luke 9:23,24 "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up is cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."

Do you see the Lordship of Christ in those words? Elsewhere, Jesus, speaking of the end of the age, said, Matthew 24:9,10,

"...you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away... And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray." Sobering words!

Do you see the direct relationship between persecution and the many who fall away and follow false prophets? Especially In this day with the popularity and proliferation of mega churches and media driven ministries, please remember that size or numbers have never been the test of sound teaching or Biblical orthodoxy.

The success of the church has never been measured by size, prominence, prestige or power. God's people have always been a remnant, a minority. You have just heard the words of Jesus to that effect.

Please do not misunderstand me at this point. I am not saying or even insinuating that there is a relationship between mega churches and false teachers. I'm simply pointing out the obvious truth of this text with regard to false teachers. They have a great following. Both Jesus and Peter are clear on that point.

This should dispel any notion in the church that bigger is always better. This is the principle I take away from Peter at this point, with regard to the "many" that follow false teachers. If there is a large following be sure you know why there is a large following. It might be because the Word of God is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit. Or as Peter suggests there might be another reason.

Characteristic number six, given to sensuality, verses two, ten and fourteen. "And many will follow their sensuality," verse two. That is, the sensuality of the false teachers. "Sensuality" is also translated "licentiousness," or "lasciviousness" (Analytical) or "shameful immorality" (NLT).

Michael Green says it is, "a strong word for reckless and hardened immorality." William Barclay, "The word...describes the attitude of the man who is lost to shame and cares for the judgment of neither man nor God."

Peter paints a very troubling portrait in this regard, adding in verse ten, that false teachers are "those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion" or "those who follow their own twisted sexual desire" (NLT). There is even the suggestion in the Greek here of sodomy.

In verse 12, Peter says false teachers are "like irrational animals, creatures of instinct." An animal cannot think. He is not a rational being. An animal is governed by instinct, not reason. Similarly, Peter says the false teacher responds instinctively in passion and self indulgence. William Barclay writes, "The evil men are like brute beasts, slaves of their animal instincts."

Verse 13, "They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you." Then in verse 14, "They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin." According to a lexicon, (A&G) literally this is how the text reads, "eyes that are full of an adulteress, in other words, always looking for a woman with whom to commit adultery." Peter continues, they are "insatiable for sin," or "they never stop sinning" (NIV).

Again, John McArthur, "It's not their theology that unmasks them it is their morality that unmasks them."

Remember what we have already noted. These are false teachers who look like, act like and in many instances speak like men of God, but all the while are master's of disguise, not being inwardly what they appear to be outwardly.

Peter continues, still in verse 14, "They entice unsteady souls." Here's the tragedy. Not only does this immoral behavior characterize the false teacher, but it directly impacts the "many" that follow the false teacher. The many follow their sensuality.

One pastor put it this way, "Why will they be so popular? Why will so many follow them? Because they can have Christ and they can have sin." (J McArthur)

The Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:3, wrote the young pastor Timothy, "...people will not endure 'sound' teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves, teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths."

False teachers pander to the desires of their audience. You see, a church can grow in numbers because the audience hears what they want to hear, a message that suits "their own passions." Or, it can grow because of the transforming power of the Gospel, proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit. It can grow because its message and methods appeal to the sensual, worldly visceral nature of man, or because the truth and grace of the gospel are taught without compromise in dependence upon the Spirit of God rather than appealing to the passions and self indulgence of the audience.

As Michael Green points out, "purely emotional religion leads, often enough, to immorality…."

This inevitably leads us to the seventh characteristic. Notice, they shame the cause of Christ, verse two, "and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed." William Barclay translates it this way, "And many will follow the way of their blatant immoralities and through them the true way will be brought into disrepute."

The ministry of false teachers inevitably undermines the gospel witness of the church. It defames the cause of Christ. This is one of the reasons for their impending judgment we will note in a moment.

The eighth characteristic is perhaps one of the most prevalent in our day; their motive is greed, verse three, "And in their greed they will exploit you with false words." Here Peter discloses the underlying motive of the false teacher. If a denial of the Lordship of Christ, is the defining characteristic, of the false teacher, greed is the defining motive.

The Greek word translated greed is made up of two words; the word for "more" and the verb "to have." It means, "the desire to have more" (Barclay). As William Barclay points out, it can represent an honorable desire. But here, he writes, it "...comes to mean the desire to possess that which a man has no right to desire, still less to take." He continues, "So it can mean covetous desire for money and for other people's goods; lustful desire for someone's person; unholy ambition for prestige and power."

In verse 14, Peter adds, "They have hearts trained in greed." The word translated trained" (the verb "gumnazo") is the same word used of an athlete training for competition. Here it is used of one who trains his mind in this matter of greed for what belongs to others. In other words their greed is intentional. In fact they work at it.

Again, William Barclay, "These people have actually trained their minds to concentrate on nothing but the forbidden desire. They have deliberately fought the conscience until they have destroyed it; they have deliberately struggled with their finer feelings until they have strangled them."

Back to verse three, Peter says, "in their greed they will exploit you." The Greek word translated "exploit" (emporeuomai) literally means "to make merchandise of." We get our word emporium from it. An emporium is a place of trade, a commercial center. Edwin Blum, "religion will be commercialized--they will 'buy and sell,' ...and exploit people." he writes. To put is simply, they're after your money and the power, prestige
notoriety and prominence that accompany their success!

The communication technology available today has provided false teachers with incredible media exposure through which to exploit their audience in this regard.

Notice the method used to exploit the audience. Still in verse three, Peter says, they use false words" or "phony arguments" (Green) Literally it reads, "with fabricated words." The word "fabricated" or "false" is the Greek word "plastois" from which we get our word "plastic." It comes from the verb "to mold" (Vine) and is used metaphorically here of something that you make up, in other words, it's not genuine or real.

Some of you remember when a chrome bumper or trim on a car, was actually made of chrome. Now it's made of plastic molded to look like chrome. It's fake chrome. That's what the word means. Merriam Webster, the adjective "plastic" means, "capable of being made into different shapes."

You see, false teachers go for your wallet with phony words, plastic words. With something they've made up. Quite simply, they manipulate their audience with lies! They distort the truth to get your money.

Two weeks ago, The Christian Post reported that a pastor and self proclaimed "popular television personality" emailed a newsletter to ministry supporters soliciting a donation of $229. The pastor wrote, quote,

"I feel strongly that a seed of $229 in accordance with 1 Chronicles 22:9 is a breakthrough seed for the month of July. It's a turnaround, God ordained,
demon slaying, abundance bringing seed." The pastor continued, "Not only will this seed defeat your enemies, but I believe it will bring about an unexpected abundance of miracles. Do not hesitate to follow a prophetic instruction."

The recipients of the email were offered a three part teaching series and a book in return for the $229. However, the Post reported that, "If recipients of the…newsletter are unable to 'produce' the 1 Chronicles-inspired 'seed' or 'offering' then they are told, 'get a seed of $31 or more for the 31 days of July and 1 Chronicles 22:9 (22+9=31).'"

On June 26 of this year an Atlanta newspaper published an article naming eight pastors whose net worth was 200 times greater than the people who lived in their local communities. The net worth of the eight pastors ranged from 5 to 50 million dollars; the size of their congregations from 15 to 40 thousand. Two of them preach in countries where over half of the population survives on two dollars a day. One pastor's annual salary was reported to be $900,000 and he lives in a ten thousand square foot Beverly Hills mansion while most of his congregation are reportedly from an impoverished part of the city where the annual medium income is just under 28 thousand dollars. "In their greed they will exploit you."

The ninth characteristic. They prey upon the weak. Peter says, the false teachers "entice unsteady souls," verse 14. They "lure to their ruin" (NEB), "they seduce the unstable" (NIV). The word "entice" comes from the world of fishing. It literally means "to catch with bait." Remember that bait always hides the hook. In other words, while the bait is effective in enticing the victim it hides the danger from the victim. And those at risk are described by Peter as "unsteady souls."

Michael Green comments, "They were easily toppled over because they had not planted their feet firmly enough in Christ. That is why the false teachers represented such a danger to them."

Verse 18, "they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error." They go after those young in their faith. Those still learning to walk like a toddler still unsure of their footing and balance.

Do you see why Peter emphasized spiritual growth in chapter one? Remember, he wrote verse 10, "if you practice these qualities you will never fall."

Well, how will God deal with these false teachers? Note the promise of their judgment. You'll remember that Jesus was very straightforward regarding the outcome of those who choose the wrong gate. It led to destruction - to hell.

Likewise Peter warns of the destruction that awaits the false teachers. In verses 4-9, Peter gives us three reasons for the judgment of false teachers. He cites three historical precedents. The judgment of angels who sinned, verse 4; the great flood of Noah's day, verse 5; and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, verse 6-8. He describes the certainty of what God will do in the future based on what He has done in the past. He says, "If God did not spare the sinning angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell,"verse 4; "if God did not spare the ancient world" in Noah's day but "brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly," verse 5; If God turned the "the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes," and "condemned them to extinction," verse 6 "then the Lords knows how to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment," verse 9. Verse 6, what he did to Sodom and Gomorrah is "an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly," he writes.

Peter's words are graphic, even brutal and ruthless. These false teachers, verse 12, "like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed...will also be destroyed in their destruction."

If you wonder why Peter uses such forceful language, remember he writes as a pastor, a shepherd attempting to protect his flock from predatory, ravenous wolves intent on their destruction.

In closing, a concluding challenge. You don't have to be a false teacher to heed Peter's words. Remember Jesus' warning about false prophets who come to us as wolves in sheep's clothing in Matthew 7:15? Jesus goes on to explain how you recognize false prophets, verse 16, "You will recognize them by their fruits." That's essentially what chapter two is all about. Peter has exposed the fruit of false teachers. But then Jesus continued with these sobering words, verses 7:21-23,

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness."

This conversation fits perfectly with what Peter teaches in chapter two! Jesus could very well be talking about false teachers here. But I'm sure it has application beyond false teachers. It certainly is a warning to those who are presumptuous in their faith. In fact, the depth of deception underlying the presumption Jesus identifies here is frightening.

Here's the danger of deception. If you are deceived, you do not realize that you are deceived. And the danger of presumption is that you think you have something that you don't have. In other words, presumption of salvation is a form of deception that should concern each of us. That is why assurance of salvation is one of the reason why spiritual growth matters. Peter made it an issue back in 1:10-11, when he wrote, "brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling, and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you entrance into the eternal kingdom."

I hope you see the urgency of Peter's words in light of Jesus' warning. If you are a professing Christian and do not have assurance of your salvation Jesus and Peter's words should be an incentive to, as Peter wrote, "confirm you calling and election."

If you don't know Jesus Christ this morning, Jesus' and Peter's words place you in a perilous place spiritually. Not only are you vulnerable to the deception of false teachers, as described by Peter, but your soul is in jeopardy with regard to eternity. Jesus words, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness" are serious words, which we cannot afford to take lightly.

Do you know Jesus Christ? You've heard the gospel this morning. He came to serve and give His life a ransom for many. Are you one of the "many"?

In Peters' first sermon (Acts 2:21) he quoted the prophet Joel who wrote, "everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved." If the Lord is speaking to your heart this morning, call out to Him for salvation, and He will save you!

© James P McGarvey All Rights Reserved