2 Peter 1-3 – False Teaching
Perhaps a fitting phrase for this letter is famous last words. We’ve been studying Peter’s letters for several weeks now. He’s brought our attention to what it means to have “new birth.” He has encouraged us to honor one another in all relationships, and especially marriage. He has urged us to “stand firm” in our beliefs. And, in this letter Peter demands that we pay attention to what we are being taught. Peter urges us to assessing what kind of teaching we are receiving in our Christian Conferencing.
The letter opens a gracious greeting. He calls himself by his two proper names Simon Peter. Simon is his birth name; Peter the name Jesus gave him. Peter immediately acknowledges that the grace he has received is available for all, and has been poured out on his hearers. Peter notes that the hearer has “faith equal to ours” (1.1). Peter provides an outline of the Christian life (1.3-9). He requires of the hearer to confirm their call and election and thus be welcomed into the everlasting kingdom of Jesus, our Lord and Savior (1.10-11).
Facing his death Peter wants to remind the church to hold to their true beliefs and remember the Truth of the Good News (1.12-15). Peter urges the hearers to remember and keep on remembering (1.12,13,15) so they will not forget the Truth. Peter reminds the hearers that he has been an eyewitness to Christ Jesus. Peter saw with his own eyes his baptism under John’s authority, the many miracles, and even the transformation on the mountain with Moses and Elijah (1.16-18). Peter stresses that the false reports may seen like interesting tidbits of information, but they are incorrectly presented. The teachings they have been receiving are not completely accurate. Peter simply wants them to be made aware of the complete Truth.
Peter is facing the end of his life. He will soon be crucified upside down on a cross. And, his biggest concern is that the Good News of the Gospel of Christ Jesus will be communicated inaccurately. Peter is leaving nothing to chance. He explains it very plainly – there will be false teachers.
Peter recognizes that there are some in the church proper who misalign the story of Jesus Christ and attribute his work on this earth as only a myth or a good story. Peter connects these false teachers to fallen angels, the ungodly people of Noah’s day, the ungodly people of Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as the false prophet Balaam (2.1-22). It is important for us to understand that Peter was not addressing people outside the Body of Christ, instead he was addressing the false teachers WITHIN the Church.
The false prophets of the Old Testament are comparable to the false teachers of the New Testament, and, by extension, may even be seen as similar to false teachers in today’s society. These people of whom Peter is speaking are referred to in verse 2.14 as “cursed children”, due to the very nature of their rebellion and their unspeakable sins against God. Some Christians feel that this is an indicator of losing one’s salvation, while others believe that such a person was never saved in the first place (2:20-21).
Regardless of one’s viewpoint, Christians generally agree that this dire warning should be heeded, as it renounces all those who are guilty of false teachings, false doctrines and of fostering a false sense of security in others. Primarily, it seems to be addressing those who have known Christ and Christianity, and yet still manage to turn their back to it.
False teachers are greedy people. These false teachers were like the false prophets from the Old Testament. Peter instructs the hearer that the false teachers who rise up will have destructive opinions and unrestrained immorality. They will slander and defame the truth (in you) and deceive you with lies for they are greedy.
False teachers are sexually seductive people. Peter compares these false teachers with the angels who sinned by cohabitating with humanity, and were punished for their sexual assault on humanity. Peter compares the false teachers to those in Noah’s day who were ungodly. Peter compares the false teachers to those who lived in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which were brought down to total destruction because of their ungodly behavior. These people were unrestrained in their immorality, and the righteous man Lot suffered among them. Peter calls them wreckless and brash. These false teachers are not afraid to insult the truth. Peter explains that the false teachers don’t understand, but are irrational in his or her thinking – mere animals.
Peter remains clear in this point – that false teachers seduce those who are weak in their faith. Weakness may mean brand new Christians, or maturing Christians who have fallen away from their spiritual disciplines and have become susceptible to harm.
False teachers are tangled up in their own thoughts and processes. False teachers seek to make a name for themselves instead of disciples for Jesus. False teachers seek to promise freedom, but that freedom becomes a form of slavery. False teachers are promising a short cut. They flatter the ears of with empty, self-important words. They seek out new converts and old converts who are not practicing their spiritual disciplines, and cannot defend their faith.
False teachers tell a different Gospel. Peter knows that Judgement Day is coming (3.1-2). It is only by God’s grace that the day of judgement has been delayed. This is his second letter and he is writing to stir up sincere understanding about the fulfillment of the holy prophets words verses the false teachers. Peter wants the church to understand that delayed judgement is merciful. Jesus desires for all people to have a change of heart and life, and he will wait for us to complete our task.
False teachers don’t inspire their listeners to live a godly life. Peter inspires the church to live a life of holiness of head and heart, thinking and acting. Peter inspires us to wait for the new heaven and the new earth where righteousness is our home. But until that time, we are to strive to live a life filled with righteousness adding to each godly quality another – faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, affection for others, and love. This letter plainly states that not all professed Christians will believe that Christ will return in glory and honor, but will instead continue pursuing their own sinful lusts, without even a hint of shame or repentance.
False teachers question the return of Christ. If anyone has ever wondered about the Christian answer to the question of why God has not already put an end to all the suffering, misery, pain, and such that mankind endures in this life, perhaps the answer may be found here in this letter. According to Peter, God desires to give all men the opportunity to repent and return to Him, serving Him willingly as their Lord and their Master. Since God never rudely forces anyone to do anything against his or her will, He instead gently inspires eagerly to turn from their way o living to something much better.
False teachers don’t inspire true worship. This, as anyone with children can attest, is the mark of a patient, loving parent, and it takes time to convince the errant of their poor behavior. God’s desire according to Peter is for every person to worship Him wholeheartedly without coercion. And, while we wait for Christ’s return we wait patiently, building up our godly behaviors and making every effort to be found in peace with purity and faultlessness (3.14-18).
Today there are many teachers in the church. It is the role of the teacher to recount the stories of the Bible, and ensure the accurate remembrance of our history. If you have lost your memory, you will not know the true Gospel. It is the role of the modern day prophet to cast vision for the church and her people, and offer encouraging words when the people have become hopeless or have fallen into sinful behaviors. The prophet functions as he or she is lead by God, not in his or her own strength or understanding. If you have lost your vision, you are lead astray. It is the role of the preacher to apply the Word of God to our modern day lives that we might become the people God has called us to be. If the preacher does not speak from both the true Gospel with an eye for the future, the sheep will become lost. It is the role of the evangelist to bring the sheep into the fold for the church body to grow them up into maturity. A modern day apostle would be someone called to establish new churches in unreached places.
There are many gifts in the body of Christ and some of those gifts are also offices of leadership in the gifted area. God gives many gifts to the body, and some of the gifts are also designed to become leadership gifts. Each newborn Christian is given a gift set through the Holy Spirit. However, what Peter is saying to us today is that we are not to malign (damage, slander) the Gospel with our own ways of thinking.
The Gospel stands on its on merit and truth. Our job is to convey the Orthodox Christian faith handed down to us in every area of our lives. If we depart from the foundational truths of Scripture, we are in error like the angels that fell from Heaven …like the people of Noah’s day who were consumed by the flood waters …like ungodly people of Sodom and Gomorrah who were consumed by fire …or like the false prophet Balaam who sold-out God’s people for a payment.
What would John Wesley say?
John Wesley believed that Scripture was the most important guide to living. Wesley understood that Scripture was transformative, and nothing else could transform the heart into holy living like Scripture. Further, Wesley understood the significance of discipleship. Our heritage of American Methodism has a rich tradition of Christian nurture. Although evangelism was a key component of Wesley’s ministry, he understood that God expects more of us that simply believing in God. Wesley understood that God requires of us to live a holy life. Historical Methodism demands of her people to become “perfect” as his or her Heavenly Father is “perfect.”
Means of Grace
The Wesley brothers developed a style of nurture called a “means of grace.” These “means of grace” included prayer, searching the Scriptures, the Lord’s Supper, fasting, and Christian conferencing or mutual accountability within the context of a Christian community. There is no reward for the doing of spiritual disciplines; we cannot earn God’s favor. But it is through these “means of grace” that God can and does lavish his grace upon us.
The basic teachings of Wesley motivated us even today. Wesley was not looking out for fame or fortune or ungodly relationships. Wesley desired nothing but God’s best for himself and his people.
- And, prayer was a key component by which grace was poured out upon the people. Prayer connects us with God and makes us aware of his presence with us. Wesley once remarked that without prayer a Christian will fall away into a wilderness of confusion, powerlessness, and defeat. The discipline of daily prayer gives our mind clarity and hope; prayer strengthens the mind for spiritual victory. When one is suffering hopelessness, prayer is the answer.
- If you have lost your way, Wesley would tell you to search out the Scriptures for words of encouragement that will aid you in righteous living. Truth resides in Scripture, and not in human reason or opinion or feelings.
- If you have found yourself struggling for strength to get through the day, remember to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Methodist understand that the Lord’s Supper was instituted by Christ himself for his followers to partake of it as often as they gathered together in his name. John Wesley is said to have taken Communion every 4 or 5 days. He stated that one should take Communion “as often as you can.”
- The spirit task of fasting gives us an opportunity to detach from this earthly experience to focus on the unseen spiritual reality within us and around us. Early Methodists fasted every Friday evening.
- When we have lost our way on our spiritual journey, Christian Conferencing can provide a mirror to observe our beliefs and actions in the context of a broader group. Jesus taught us by example that accountability is critical for Christian maturity and growth. Jesus himself was accountable to an inner circle of three men as well as a larger cohort of 12 men. American Methodist took themselves quite seriously in their discipleship training, and in their church membership. People were expelled from class and from the church proper for their sinful behaviors.
John Wesley’s Famous Last Words
John Wesley’s last letter before he died was sent to William Wilburforce, a man of political standing in England’s parliament. Wilburforce had been fighting for emancipation for the slaves in England and in the East Indies. Wilburforce had converted under Wesley’s ministry. And, in 1791 Wesley urges Wilburforce to not grow weary in well doing but continue to fight for the freedom of slaves. The final abolishment of slavery would come some twenty years later. In 1807 the Slave Trade Act outlawed slave trade.
John Wesley was intent on observing the good death of many a soul in his care. During his lifetime, people aimed toward living a godly life until in their dying they experienced a “good death.” Wesley wrote an account of the testimony of Jane Cooper in his book A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. In his observations Jane Cooper died praising Jesus. Many a Christian of that day aspired to give God their very best unto the end. And, on his deathbed John Wesley himself was quoted as singing a beloved hymn and testifying, “The best of all is, God is with us” (Heitzenrater, 308).
And, what about you? What will your last days be like? Will you be holding to the Orthodox faith handed down to you by the Apostles and the Early Church Fathers? What will your last letter to the church say – an email, a Facebook post, a tweet, a post on Pinterest? What will your dying words be? Will you be singing like John Wesley?