SUNDAY NIGHT CROSSTRAINING NOTES
False Teachers and Their Teaching
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Sunday, January 2, 2011 - 6:00 p.m.  Sermon #: 1433
Pastor Don Horban

2 Peter 2:1-3 - “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. [2] And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. [3] And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

There is no way of missing the sudden change of tone upon entering the second chapter of this letter from Peter. Without any doubt it is one of the darkest and sternest collection of thoughts and warnings in all the Scriptures.

If we weren’t teaching our way right through the whole letter, a church would rarely, if ever, read these words in worship service. Of course, that is one of the primary benefits of studying a whole book in sequence. You don’t get to choose the topics you like. The subjects are laid out for you in advance. If you’re going to be thorough and honest, you have to take all the medicine the Holy Spirit dishes up for you.

The last three verses of the first chapter are the link to the second chapter - “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, [20] knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. [21] For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”(2 Peter 1:19-21).

This is the foundation for truth in the church. We have God’s sure revelation. These Scriptures aren’t the thoughts and ideas of men. God has spoken. God has revealed. Our lives are to be anchored in the Scriptures.

But then Peter warns the church of a great danger. Not everyone teaches Scriptural truth. Not all the teachers and preachers and leaders are speaking the mind of Father God. He makes his point absolutely clear - “There will be false teachers among you” (2:1). There is no doubt in Peter’s mind. He is absolutely certain about it - “There will be false teachers among you.”

I’m not sure the church expects false teachers to be active or even present anymore. “Perhaps in the Old Testament there were false prophets and teachers, but we have been given the Holy Spirit. False teachers wouldn’t have a chance in the church today. I would never be taken in by false teaching!”

The whole issue of false teachers in the church raises some tricky questions. Why would God allow false teachers in His church? Isn’t He sovereign? Doesn’t He care about His flock? Why would Peter have to warn this New Testament congregation about the false teachers that were certainly going to come?

Let me give what I think is the best answer to that “why” question, because I think the Bible does give a clear answer in some dusty old verses from the book of Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 13:1-5 - “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, [2] and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, 'Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, 'and let us serve them,' [3] you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. [4] “You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. [5] But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”

The important words are in verse 3 - “.... you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” God is testing people through the words of these false teachers. Here’s how the test works:

The words of the false teachers seem to have power. Their message seems to work - their predictions come true. These people are full of the supernatural. They leave people in awe. Why do their words ring so true? The text says God makes sure their words come true. So, they gather quite a following around themselves. People like what they hear. They like what they see.

But there’s a problem. These leaders begin to depart from the sure word of the Lord. Now, there was no Bible like you and I have. But there were the commandments. People did know God had spoken on the mount to Moses. And these teachers, who were saying and doing amazing things, were teaching things contrary to those commandments of God.

In other words, there is enough power manifest to meet their felt needs, with accurate predictions about rain and crops and success, but what they’re saying, while on a surface level is satisfying, isn’t filling their minds with the truth about God and His Word. So here comes the test. Would the people listen to these leaders (whom God had empowered) and have their desire for the supernatural satiated, or would the people refuse to be bought and remain true to the content of God’s revealed Word.

Now, to be sure, Deuteronomy doesn’t actually teach that God brings all these false teachers among His people. But, I believe, the text does teach that, in His great sovereignty, God uses even these false teachers to do some good.

God says, “I still have a plan for all these false teachers among you. I’m the one empowering them. I’m the one giving them such success. Now I want to find out whether you will follow whatever seems new and powerful, or will you remain rooted in My revealed word.”

God still tests people by what they listen to and what they respond to. This whole issue is still alive and well today. Like it or not, every letter in the New Testament warns the church about false teaching. We worry about a lack of blessing. God worries about a lack of truth. Of course, we don’t have to choose between those two things. But we do have to be careful and cautious.

Let’s look at what Peter has to say about these false teachers in the church:

1) PETER SAYS FALSE TEACHERS ARISE IN THE CHURCH IN SUCH A GRADUAL AND SUBTLE WAY THAT THEY AREN’T EVEN NOTICED BY THE CARELESS

2 Peter 2:1 - “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.

Obviously, you don’t invite these people into your church. You don’t put an ad in the paper “False Teachers This Sunday Night!” Peter says they arise from within the church itself. He says they gain a platform secretly among people who will listen. Peter says these churches are to actually expect that these false teachers will arise. He warns them to be looking out for them. Peter’s not being paranoid or morbid. But he doesn’t want these Christians taken by surprise. He doesn’t want them to just assume that everything they will hear is going to be the truth.

It is constantly amazing to me how many people don’t even think in terms of teaching being true of false. It’s much more common for people to measure truth by how it makes them feel, or how comfortable they are with it, or whether it meets their needs. Truth and error don’t even seem to enter into the equation in many people’s minds.

That’s precisely why Peter writes these words. False teaching can meet felt needs. False teaching can pack great power. It will attract larger crowds than sound doctrine. False teaching can be accompanied by miracles. False teaching can soothe hearts and minds. False teaching can have great appeal. But, for all of that, it will still be false teaching if it is not rooted in the Word of God.

So as Peter gets ready to leave this earth - as he says his final farewell to this group of churches - he warns them that this threat to their souls is coming. “There will be false teachers among you! You need to be alert. They don’t advertise themselves. They come in secretly. That’s why I’m alerting you in advance.”

Listen, it is dangerous and it is wrong for you to feel that there could never be false teaching in Cedarview Community Church. I wish that were the truth. The pastors and leaders try their best to make sure that it is so. But you should never assume it. Always stay alert. Always measure by God’s Word.

2) PETER CAUTIONS AGAINST THE HORRIBLE HUMAN TENDENCY TO MEASURE THE TRUTHFULNESS OF A MESSAGE BY THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO LISTEN TO IT

2 Peter 2:2 - “And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.”

Now, the obvious point of application in this verse comes from that word, many - “Many will follow...” This is such a common temptation for all of us that it’s no wonder Peter warns us in advance against it. People will always follow the crowd. You can see this principle in the use of polls and surveys in our society. You should buy your hamburger at McDonalds. Why? Fifty billion other people have. Are they all wrong?

But what may not be quite so obvious in this verse is the reason so many people will follow these false teachers. Look at it again: 2 Peter 2:2 - “And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.”

At first glance, that word sensuality, almost seems out of place in a verse about teaching. Does Peter mean these teachers were holding orgies in the church basement? No, but I did come across this interesting comment on this very verse in a commentary written in 1658, by Alexander Nisbet: “It is not strange to see the most dangerous heretics have many followers, every error being a close friend to some fallen lust.”

He means that false teachers appeal to something in the listeners. The message is, to use Peter’s term, one of sensuality in that it appeals to some fallen desire.

Paul describes this very same process in 2 Timothy 4:3 - “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions....”

Please notice, sound doctrine is linked with that word “endure.” Sound doctrine must be endured because it never does line up with our own desires. Sound doctrine confronts our desires. It doesn’t stroke. In another place Paul says sound doctrine rebukes, corrects and instructs. Well, people don’t pile up teachers like that for themselves.

Then notice, Paul says there is another kind of teacher. This teacher teaches according to the desires of the people. Paul says these teachers scratch where the people itch. Doesn’t it feel great to have your back scratched in just the right place? No wonder Paul says the people don’t have to endure those teachers. He says they accumulate those teachers. They collect them.

So Peter says you can’t judge the truthfulness of the teaching by the number of followers. You can judge the popularity of the teaching. But never the truthfulness of it.

But there is still another truth in this second verse. It’s one that is frequently overlooked. And it’s even more sobering than the others we’ve looked at:

3) AS PEOPLE TAMPER WITH THE TRUTH, AND AS FALSE TEACHING GAINS ANY HEARING IN THE CHURCH, PEOPLE LOSE THEIR APPETITE FOR THE TRUTH OF GOD’S WORD

Look carefully at the last phrase in that second verse:

2 Peter 2:2 - “And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.”

Notice the downward cycle of error. As more and more people just begin to give an ear to error, as they find the message more and more to their liking, as things that are off base get taken with increasing seriousness, people actually begin to malign - to mock - things that they once valued as true.

This is the sure work of the enemy. It’s not just that these people - these people in the church - don’t hunger for the truth as much anymore. They actually begin to deny it all together. Other people watch. They begin to lose confidence in the truths they once believed. They begin to question the foundation of the faith. “Surely, if so many people are listening to this, then my old beliefs must be hopelessly outdated. Why would these intelligent people follow this other teaching?” And the value of the truth is undercut in their minds.

Interest in the truth is not something you can turn on and off. A love for the truth is grown over time as you learn the truth, study the truth, and obey the truth. Give your heart, even briefly, to the fashionable sparkle of error and you lose, bit by bit, both your appetite for the truth, and your discernment of the truth. The way of the truth gets maligned, Peter says.

4) MOST FALSE TEACHING HAS ITS ROOT IN GREED AND OFFERS A MESSAGE THAT APPEALS TO SELF

2 Peter 2:3 - “And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

As always, the kind of teaching that has the most appeal is the kind that offers rather than requires. Most false teaching majors on benefits to be had rather than duties to be performed.

“Well, what about that, pastor Don? Isn’t the Christian message one of grace? Isn’t it all about what God has done for us rather than what we do for Him?”

Absolutely. And Peter wouldn’t deny that for all the world. The real issue isn’t whether or not ours is a gospel of grace. It is. The real question is, what is that grace like? And how is it received? And what does it do in my life?

There’s an arresting verse in Jude that deals with the very same issue Peter was addressing in his letter: Jude 4 - “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Do those words sound at all familiar? Teachers creeping in secretly, even denying the Lord Jesus Christ? But how were they denying Jesus? Were they saying Jesus wasn’t the Son of God? No they weren’t. Weren’t they preaching grace. Yes, they were. But they were preaching grace in such a way that they were actually denying the message of the cross. Jude says they had turned grace into sensuality.

We don’t use that word licentiousness much anymore. But we do use the word license. We still talk about giving a person license to do something - “Well, I know he shouldn’t have done that, but there were unusual circumstances, so I’ll grant him license in this case.”

Jude says you actually deny Jesus Christ when you treat grace as a license to sin. And that’s what was at the root of the message of the false teachers in 2 Peter chapter 2. The message was rooted in personal greed. The message was geared to exploit people by just granting them all their wishes. The cross was taken out of the message. The cost of following Jesus was ignored and covered. Obedience was shouted down as being legalistic.

Here’s why all this matters so much. All of these warnings need to be heeded. But, perhaps even more importantly, all of these warnings need to be heeded with the right spirit and understanding. The warnings are serious. But they are not without spiritual life. There’s a reason Peter says what he says, even in these hard sounding verses. Let me remind you what his reason is:

2 Peter 1:19 - “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts....”

Hear the heart of Father God. He wants to light up your heart. He wants to shine His love and power into your earthly days. He wants to strengthen your daily living with the fuel of His precious and magnificent promises. But even God can only do that through the truth. Don’t sell yourself short. Beware of false teachers. More on this important subject next time.