Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sermon: 2 Peter 2: 1-22 This Teacher Will Self-Destruct

In the church today, the only heresy left is that there’s such a thing as heresy. So says Don Carson, as he surveys the state of the church in this postmodern age. What he’s saying is that anything goes - you can say, think, believe whatever you like. The only wrong belief is that there’s such a thing as wrong beliefs.

We’re continuing our series in Peter’s second letter, and, in contrast to today, Peter insists that there is such a thing as false teaching - and we must be aware of the dangers of following such false teaching. We’ve already seen how Peter is urging us to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, and Johnny helped us last week to see how the Scriptures help us to do just that, because they are God’s word - written by men led by the Spirit.

Look at verse 1. While men spoke from God, in the history of the people of God, there were also false prophets. Think of Korah, who set himself up against Moses (Num 16), or the 400 false prophets promising Ahab victory in war when Michaiah proclaimed he would be killed (1 Kings 22), or those who opposed Jeremiah, declaring ‘peace, peace’ when there was no peace. And Peter is saying that, just as there were false prophets before, so now in the church there will also be false teachers among us.

You see, there is such a thing as false teaching. It’s clear from what Peter says. Look at verse 2 - ‘because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.’ If Christianity is the way of truth, then they have turned off that path, they’ve left the truth and are teaching lies - false words in v 3, gone astray in verse 15.

Let’s look more closely at the marks of a false teacher, the way to identify a false teacher before seeing what God will do about false teaching.

In the middle of verse 13, we have a description of the false teachers as ‘blots and blemishes’. In a sense, it’s a bit like a spot or a pimple on your face. It’s something that doesn’t belong, something that doesn’t look right, something that (with all those TV ads) you can get rid of. The false teacher is a blot and blemish at the feast, because they stand out, revelling in their deceptions.

Some of the ways they stand out are in their sensuality, their blasphemy, and their greed. Look at verse 2. Many will follow their sensuality, just as in verse 18, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh. It’s all about being sensual, what you feel, indulging in the sinful passions of the flesh - with eyes full of adultery (14), insatiable for sin.

There are those who will say, especially to younger Christians, if it feels right, do it. Don’t be bound by rules, just go with your instincts. Lady Gaga (while not being a false teacher, is certainly a preacher of modern culture) insists that ‘I'm beautiful in my way 'Cause God makes no mistakes, I'm on the right track, baby, I was born this way.’

So some will say, it doesn’t matter how you live, how many partners you have, whatever your orientation, just do what feels right. Sensuality - which goes down really well with our sinful nature, but certainly does not please God.

As well as sensuality, false teachers will be marked by blasphemy (or slander in the NIV). They blaspheme the glorious ones (10), speaking about things they really don’t know anything about (12), seeming to speak with authority, but totally in the wrong. There are some who will speak for a long time and say very little; those who speak with impressive speech, but haven’t a clue what they’re talking about; others who will declare with authority things that aren’t actually clear.

It’s why it’s so important to have the Scriptures open in front of you when listening to the preacher - to make sure that what he is saying is what the Bible says, and not just unhelpful speculation. There are things that we aren’t told, things that may be a mystery until we stand in the new Jerusalem, but it doesn’t help to speculate or declare what God has not revealed!

So we’ve thought about sensuality, blasphemy, but we also see the false teacher is marked by greed. Did you notice it as Stuart read the passage? It’s there in verse 3 - in their greed they will exploit you with false words; and we also see it in 14-15: ‘They have hearts trained in greed... They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing.’

Balaam is someone we meet in Numbers 22-24. Balak, the king of Moab is afraid of the people of Israel as they journey towards his land on their way from Egypt to the promised land. So he summons Balaam, who is a kind of fortune-teller or prophet - you pay him enough, and he’ll curse your enemies so that you can win the battle. Despite being told not to go to Moab, Balaam goes ahead - putting his greed ahead of God’s word.

It’s not hard to see greedy preachers in today’s church - whether it’s a megachurch pastor with his own private jet, or a minister saying nice things to people so the congregation increases and his pay increases as well. It’s another warning sign, if there’s greed in the heart of the teacher.

At it’s heart, false teaching is so dangerous because of what it can do to congregations and individuals who are led astray by it. Look down to verse 19. ‘They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption.’ Come, follow us, and you can be free to do what you want; come, listen to us, and you don’t need to worry about anything. It sounds so attractive, doesn’t it?

But it’s like a bee sitting on a blob of jam calling out to his friends, come on, it’s great, lovely sweet jam, as much as you can eat... not realising he’s stuck, and the lid of the jam jar is fastened tight. To follow the false teacher is like a sow washing herself and then getting dirty; a dog returning to its vomit; to turn away from the knowledge and truth of the Lord Jesus, and to be even more enslaved than before.

So if that’s what false teaching looks like, what should we do about it? Will we become like some, who are so constantly watchful and suspicious that everyone else is a false teacher apart from themselves? Will we become fearful, confused as to who to listen and what to do?

Thankfully, alongside his warning, Peter also gives us some encouragement. While calling for us to be watchful - listening to the apostles teaching and the prophetic word of Scripture, he also points us to what God will do about false teaching.

Look at verse 3. ‘Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.’ False teachers are condemned, and facing destruction.

There’s condemnation because they have turned away from the truth, they have exploited with false words, but perhaps the most surprising thing is that their condemnation is from long ago - because God does not change, and God’s word is truth, then the condemnation stands for all time - the curse of disobedience and false teaching (just as the serpent was condemned in Eden).

The condemnation leads to destruction. As you hear that word, you might think, well, that’s a bit harsh, but we can see the connection right there in the first verse: ‘false teachers... who will secretly bring in destructive heresies... bringing upon themselves swift destruction.’ Because the heresies are destructive, they themselves face destruction. Now it’s not, as some may think, annihilation, so that while God’s people enjoy eternal life, the wicked simply cease to exist; but rather it’s ‘the gloom of utter darkness’ (17) - despite what Rob Bell may think about hell not being forever, or there being escape routes from it, there is destruction for the false teacher.

We see that so clearly in the one section we haven’t touched yet. Remember how Peter says that the Scriptures were written by men moved by the Spirit? He turns to those Scriptures to show how God in the past has punished false teachers and kept his faithful people. From verse 4 there are four ‘ifs’ - if God cast the sinning angels into hell; if God brought a flood to destroy the ungodly (but preserved Noah and his family); if God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah as an example; and if God rescued righteous Lot - do you see the contrasts there - Noah the preacher of righteousness as opposed to the ungodly all around him; righteous Lot as opposed to the sensual conduct of the wicked in Sodom - if all these things happened (and they did!), ‘then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgement.’

Back in 1 Samuel God declares that he will honour those who honour him; those who keep his word. It’s a hard thing to do, when faced with so much false teaching, tempting teaching, sensual teaching, but Peter wants us to look at where the two paths are heading.

False teachers will be destroyed, virtually self-destructing as they pursue their agendas. Steer clear of false teachers; hold firm to the scriptures - God’s precious promises, and particularly this promise that God will rescue you from trials, as you trust in him.

So who are you listening to? While promising freedom, those false teachers bring slavery and condemnation. It’s only in the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ that we find rescue, and freedom, and life.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 27th March 2011.

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