The Work of False Teachers

In the last message from 2 Peter we saw the reliability of the Bible as an eye-witness report and a divinely inspired book (1:16-21). Because of that, we can trust that what the prophets wrote in the Bible is true. But there are others who have claimed to be prophets, who contradict what the Bible says. It is these types of prophets which Peter writes about at the beginning of chapter two (2:1-3).

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.

Their work is continual (1a).

False teachers are not something new. They have existed since time began. But can you name any false prophets who are mentioned in the Old Testament? Several are mentioned: Balaam (Numbers 31:16), the old prophet who lied to the nameless prophet (1 Kings 13:18), the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18), Ahab’s false prophets (1 Kings 22:1-7), and the prophets during Jeremiah’s life (Jeremiah 23:9-11). Unfortunately, the people of Jeremiah’s day enjoyed the ministry of false prophets. “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so” (5:31).

Peter warned his readers that the same thing would happen to them. But this time they would be false teachers. No long robed prophet would shout from a street corner. Instead, teachers from within the congregation would be the problem. They would teach what sounded good, but the result would be disastrous.

A few years ago, I received a Sunday afternoon phone call from a man who wanted to have a Bible Study with me. He turned out to be a Jehovah’s Witness. After arguing with him for a while, I hung up the phone. You have had these people come to your front door. They often seem to know the Bible, but they are actually false teachers.

For the past year I have been writing articles for a blog on the internet. While there are some good blogs out there, discernment is always necessary. You have to realize that there are no “minimum requirements” for writing blog articles. Anybody can write about anything. And most anybody can read what is written. Because of that, a lot of trash is available. If you are in the habit of reading blogs, you need to be very careful.

Let me add another note here. Don’t get in the habit of reading, watching, listening to Christian media which is not recommended by your pastors. If we speak out against something, it is for your own good. This is not a power play situation. It is something that needs to be said. If false teachers were to come from the midst of the congregation back then, we had better be on our guard when reading, listening, and viewing things outside of our congregation.

Their work is characteristic (1b).

When you speak of characteristics, what do you mean? You are usually listing the qualities that best describe something. Some qualities are present so often in a person’s life that you can say it is characteristic of him. The same is true of false prophets. They may have a slightly different message, but they almost always use the same method. It’s called infiltration. The false teacher does not immediately voice his strong opinion. Instead he slowly introduces thoughts that are just a little bit different. He patiently works with people so that they come over to his side. (Compare this to the method used by the serpent in Genesis 3).

Peter uses an interesting word to describe these actions. It is the Greek word, παρεισαξουσιν, which refers to “bringing alongside or to smuggle in.” It isn’t something out in the open. It is something done behind the backs of those in authority.

I remember hearing a story about an illegal drug ring which successfully smuggled drugs by means of a Cadillac. The car had been stopped and searched but the drugs were never found. Finally, a mechanic looked over the underside of the car and noticed that the gas tank’s straps had been replaced recently. After lowering the gas tank, he discovered that the tank contained a secret compartment in which were stashed the illegal drugs.

The false teachers whom Peter describes are not smuggling illegal drugs. But they are smuggling in heretical teaching which leads to destruction. The Greek word for heresy “in classical Greek simply meant schools of philosophy. But new Testament writers used it to describe religious parties or sects (e.g. the Sadducees or the Pharisees, or factions probably based on false doctrine” (BKC). These false teachers taught some truth. But they also taught some things that eventually led to some very radical teaching.

Notice that Peter describes them as denying the Lord who bought them. Some would say that this refers to Christians who later denied the Lord. But that is not how I take it. This does not imply that they were once saved and later lost their salvation. Rather, it show their rejection of the one who died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). The danger is that those who follow their teaching may also go so far as to reject the One who died for them and rose again. For those who teach others to reject the Savior, there is reserved a sudden destruction.

Their work is corrupting (2-3a).

You would hope that nobody would follow these false teachers. You would hope that each person in our congregation was discerning enough to see through false teaching. But even some of the best have been drawn away into heretical teaching. Paul tells us that Peter and Barnabas were drawn away for a period of time by the teaching of the Legalists (Gal. 2:11-13). If they could fall, who are the rest of us to say that we are strong enough to resist?

The problem is that these false teachers somehow gain a following. Because their words are so convincing, people begin to turn from the truth to follow their “pernicious ways” (KJV). What exactly does that mean? An online dictionary used the word in this sentence: “Half-truths can be more pernicious than outright falsehoods” (Word for the Day). You get the idea that the half-truths of false teaching cause more damage than expected. But the word is also used to describe unbridled living. A lack of self-control will always lead to destruction. The lives of certain RC priests, Mormon leaders, and ungodly teachers are sad examples of the direction to which false teaching can lead.

But what is even more tragic than the fall of a human being, is that the truth is blasphemed by their behavior. Most people in the world do not differentiate between cults and fundamentalists. If you say the name Jesus and talk about the Bible you are all lumped into the same category. When a false teacher is finally exposed, his actions tarnish the reputation of what is really true.

The Boy who Cried Wolf” is a good example of what Peter is saying here. The boy lied so many times that nobody believed him when the truth was told. So it is with the false teachers. They promise great things that work on a man’s covetous nature; but their words are not true. Soon, many people don’t know who to believe. You get the idea that Pilate felt this way when he said, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

Their work is collapsing (3b).

These words of warning are important for believers. It is important to be on guard against the infiltrations of false teachers. But after the description of them it would be nice to hear something encouraging. That’s exactly how Peter ends this paragraph. The work of false teachers will not stand. Teaching that is built on falsehood will receive God’s judgment. Now how is that encouraging? It is encouraging because the Lord wins in the end. No matter the current results, God is still on the throne and will not allow these things to go unpunished.

While there are times where false teaching seems to have the upperhand, their judgment is coming. For a long time, God has been patiently watching and has been preparing a judgment for those who turn others from “the way of truth.” God is not like someone who is nodding off to sleep. He is fully aware of what is happening and at the right time, his judgment will fall.

Think back to Balaam. He was a prophet who wanted money more than God. So, he eventually led the people of Israel into immorality. Was he ever judged for his sin? Yes, read Numbers 31:7-8. What about the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel? Yes, they too met destruction (1 Kings 18:40). But even if a certain false prophet lived to a ripe old age, be sure that God’s judgment will finally fall (Rev. 20:11-15).

Conclusion:

At the end of his life, the apostle Peter was led by the Holy Spirit of God to write these words to a group of believers in modern day Turkey. He wanted them to be ready for the dangers ahead. So, he wrote this letter to them. In it he encourages them to rely on the trustworthy Bible as God’s inspired Word. It is still the only infallible source of revelation from God. So, we need to trust it.

But false teachers will attempt to pull away a following with their heretical beliefs. How can we protect ourselves from that danger? Turn back to the first chapter of this letter. Peter says that God’s “divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (1:3). And at the end of the book, he concludes with the same idea: “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (3:18). There is our answer. Read your Bible so that you can grow in your relationship with the Lord Jesus who is the Truth. He will not lead you wrong.