Influence of False Teachers Today
Copyright © 1996
Indian Hills Community Church
Sermon GR953 - 2 Peter 2:2-3
(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh on May 26, 1996)
Peter shows his concern about the matter of false teachers in 2nd Peter 2. He tells of the influence they have and will continue to have among believers and in the churches that belong to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I have read some comments, to you, from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who has a commentary which is a collection of his sermons on the book of 2nd Peter. Those sermons were preached in the later part of 1946 and the first part of 1947. I want to read another quote from him. The purpose of these quotes is to remind us that the battles and issues, that we face today, are not new. We may look back and say, "Oh, twenty years ago it was different in the evangelical church." When we go back fifty years, we see that the concerns were basically the same as they are today. It seems that we just go through a cycle as the devil continues his relentless assault on the work that God is doing in the world.
Lloyd-Jones says: "I have referred to the ecumenical movement as this idea of a great world church. The argument for it is that because we are small in number, we must sink all of our individual differences and distinctions and preferences. It is a time, we are told, when we should close the ranks, when we should avoid being overly punctilious; when we should avoid, especially, the tendency to insist that everyone should dot his I's and cross his T's exactly as we do. We are told that we should not be arguing about differences in teaching and doctrine. Let all who claim the name of Christian, however vaguely, stand together and present a united front.
One hears that argument constantly. In such a situation, it is not easy to contend for the faith. It is not an easy thing to fight for that which you believe to be the gospel, and which alone, you believe to be the gospel. It is a very difficult thing at such a time to stand for truth, and to say that truth matters even more than unity. Over and above this question of numbers and a common stand is the purity of the faith, and an honest declaration of the word of God as we understand it. If we are to do what God would have us do, we must always set truth in the first position. Even though we may be reduced to a handful of people, we must still contend for the faith. Our one and only concern must be for the truth which was once and forever delivered to the saints."
I think we see the same emphasis brought before the church today. We are told to imagine the impact we could have if we could just overlook our differences and present a united front before the world. Think of what we could accomplish if we could stand together, in the name of Jesus, and let the world see that we are one. But that immediately causes us to talk about the least common denominator that can unite us. We have to get over our denominational barriers, which is another way of saying that we must ignore the doctrinal differences. We cannot be concerned with crossing our T's and dotting our I's alike, as Lloyd-Jones said.
This is unity at the expense of truth. In Ephesians 2:20, we are told that the church has "...been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone." It is the teaching of the apostles and prophets that forms the foundation of the church. God revealed His mind to His people through His apostles and prophets. We have that record of the truth, as given to the apostles and prophets, in our Bible. 1st Timothy 3:15 says that the church is "...the pillar and support of the truth..." Many discussions go ask: What is the church and what is the church to become? The church is to be comprised of those who have been placed in the body of Christ, by the work of the Holy Spirit, through the faith of those who believe that Christ loved them, died for them and rose again.
This local church, established as a visible testimony of the church that Jesus Christ died to build, is to be the pillar and support of the truth. We are to be an organism that exists for the truth, to stand for the truth, to defend the truth, and to proclaim the truth. We are in the truth business, not in the entertainment business. This truth centers in Jesus Christ, who said in John 14:6, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." Then, in His high priestly prayer in John 17:17, Jesus prayed to the Father, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth."
These two come together -- Jesus Christ, the incarnate truth, and the written word of God, which is the revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Do you remember what Jesus said, to the religious leaders of His day, in John 5:39? "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that bear witness of Me." They were aware of this inseparable connection between Jesus Christ and the written word of God.
1. Which Jesus Do You Follow?
One of the ways that the church is being led astray from its moorings and moved from its foundation is by such concepts as, "We want to unite everyone around Jesus", and, "He is our standard." You must realize that is an empty, meaningless statement, unless what you say about Jesus and your understanding of Him is firmly rooted and anchored in the Scriptures. The Muslims believe in Jesus, and He is a great prophet in their understanding. But that is not the Jesus the Scriptures unfold to us. When I come to the word of God, to His truth, I come into confrontation with the One who is the truth -- Jesus Christ, God in the flesh.
God's purposes in the world center in His Son, who is the truth, and the revelation that He has given His word, which is the revelation of Jesus Christ. That revelation is not just the last book of the Bible; it is the entire Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. We understand, then, that the work of Satan, in opposing God, is to oppose the truth. Satan tries to undermine and corrupt the truth in any way that he can. The work of the devil is to corrupt the truth. The work of the church is to be a pillar and support of the truth. The apostles were constantly aware of the dangers that God's people faced from false teachers. They continually warned God's people about the danger of false teaching, false doctrine, and false living.
It was of particular concern to the apostles as they confronted the reality of their death. Turn to Acts 20:25: Here the Apostle Paul confronts the elders from the church at Ephesus. He believes this will be the last time he sees them face to face on this earth, and you see something of the burden he has for them. Paul says, "And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will see my face no more." That is the context in which he is speaking. I expect I will not see you again in this present life. "Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God."
Paul's declaration of his innocence before God is founded on the fact that he faithfully proclaimed the word of God to them. It does not say that he was the most popular of the apostles, that he was the most interesting speaker among the apostles, that they enjoyed him more than anyone else. Very simply, he declared to them the whole purpose of God. Then in verse 28, he tells them, "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." That sounds like 2 Peter 2:1, which says there are those who will deny the Master who bought them. Paul continues in verse 29: "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you..." -- the same thing Peter said in 2 Peter 2:1; there will be false teachers among you -- "...not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw the disciples away after them. Therefore, be on the alert, remembering that day and night for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified." It is the word of God that will strengthen them, build them up and keep them true to the God who has called them to Himself.
2. Pastors are Charged to Guard Their Flocks
The responsibility of the pastors and elders is to guard the flock, to be faithful to the word of God, to see that the church is the pillar and support of the truth. Turn to 2nd Timothy, which is Paul's final letter before his execution. It was written to Timothy, and the burden of Paul in this letter is very similar to what he said to the Ephesian elders. In 2nd Timothy 1:13 -- and we just have to break into the flow here -- Paul exhorted Timothy to "Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me..." Verse 14: "Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you." This is a reminder that there already has been a departure from apostolic teaching. Phygelus and Hermogenes have turned away from Paul and Paul's teaching.
In 2nd Timothy 2:14 we read "Remind them of these things, solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers." Sometimes this verse is taken out of context, and you hear people say, "I do not want to argue about doctrine. I do not want to argue about the interpretation of a passage." That is not what Paul is talking about. Read his first letter to Timothy and read the entire second letter. He is talking about the foolishness of false teachers -- the Judaizers who build all kinds of strange doctrines through the twisting of the word of God and the misuse of words. Read 2nd Timothy 2:15: "Be diligent to present yourselves approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed..." Get along with everyone? That is not what it says, although it is sometimes the way we interpret it. The last statement of verse 15 says, "...accurately handling the word of truth."
I want to be approved by God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed. That means I have to handle accurately the word of truth and avoid worldly and empty chatter. That sort of talk will spread like gangrene. Hymeneaus and Philetus are an example. They were saying that the resurrection had past and they evidently did not believe in a bodily resurrection.
3. Remove Heretics, Do not Smooth Things Over
There is a debate going on in an evangelical seminary now -- and it has been going on for years -- over a professor's teaching that the body raised from the dead was not the same body that was crucified on the cross. I do not know the reason for the debate. It would seem that you would give the heretic the boot. The denomination and the seminary remain tied up in the battle. The most recent information that I have is that we can all rejoice because the professor signed a doctrinal statement. What I want to know is whether he changed his mind and repented of the doctrine that he was promoting and not whether he found a way to sign the doctrinal statement without any change. You see, we want to avoid the conflict and smooth over the problem. We want to get along and we will do it at the sacrifice of truth. Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands.
Refer to 2nd Timothy 3:13 where it says "But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived." Things are not going to get better; they are going to get worse. Verse 15 is a word of encouragement: "You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings..." down through verses 16 and 17, which is where we find that great statement on the inspiration of the Scriptures. Evil men and impostors are going to go from bad to worse, but we are to be anchored in the word of God. That word is apostolic teaching and it is truth given through the apostles and prophets.
In 2nd Timothy 4:1 we read "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, by His appearing in His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season..." I understand this to mean that we are to preach the word -- and to be ready to do it -- when it is popular and when it is not popular. Our responsibility is to preach the word, in season and out of season. Verse 3 continues "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine..." The word doctrine is the same as the word teaching. They will not endure sound teaching. "...wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires." The word accumulate means to pile them up -- to heap them in piles. Some of you experience this when you move to other communities. You look for churches that are seriously committed to the study of the word of God and you say, "Where are they?" You can find all kinds of other things. You can heap those teachers in piles.
We ought not be surprised. It is somewhat disheartening and disappointing. But God warned us that they will turn away their ears from the truth. They will turn aside to myths, but you be sober. Keep your head on straight. Keep thinking biblically. What are we going to do, go with the crowd - go with the many and do what is popular? Paul has a great burden.
4. Peter's Impending Death Intensified the Burden
Peter also has a great burden. In 2nd Peter 1:14, he says that his death is imminent. You can understand his burden. I can understand it as a pastor because I am here trying to impress these truths on your heart and mind through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. But if I knew that this was my last sermon to you, the burden would be even greater. Now I think that I will just come back and remind you again next week and I plan to not let you forget. But if I knew that I was not going to see you next week, I would say, as Paul did to the Ephesians, "I know I won't see you again in this life." I would be overwhelmed with the greater burden to impress on you the need to stay faithful to the word. There will be adjustments, but there must be adjustment in your commitment to the truth and the faithfulness to that truth.
Now we come to 2nd Peter 2:1 where we read "But false prophets also arose among the people, just there will also be false teachers among you..." We are talking about people in the church, and according to 1st Peter 1, he is writing to the churches in Asia. If you want to find out what happened in these churches, read Revelation, chapters 2 and 3. Those chapters are the letters of Christ to the seven churches of Asia. We are talking about the same area -- the same basic churches -- and we see that false doctrine, false teaching and godless living has permeated them.
Do you know the problem? They did not take the warning seriously. They became loose in their thinking, loose in their theology, loose in their lives, and the corruption got greater. They secretly introduced destructive heresies, and we noted that heresies means to bring something in alongside of something else. They infiltrate the church, not by saying, "Let us put the Bible aside or let us replace the Bible," but by bringing in something that will help us in our ministry of serving God and proclaiming His truth. As soon as you add something to the word of God, though, you bring corruption in, and you begin to replace the word of God. We know that is why Revelation 22:18-19 pronounces a curse on anyone who adds anything or takes anything away from what God has said. They even denied the Master who bought them, and we will see, as this chapter unfolds, that they reject the absolute authority of Jesus Christ. That is reflected by the way they live.
Peter says false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. One writer mentioned four characteristics of false prophets in the Old Testament. I just want to note them for you. We will not go back to the Old Testament because these qualities are going to come up as we move through chapter 2, but I want to remind you of what they are. I will give you a verse of Scripture with each of these four characteristics. These four characteristics were true of Old Testament false prophets, and you will see they are true of the false prophets who infiltrate the church today. Now all four may not be clearly evident and all four may not get the same emphasis, but you find them sooner or later.
1. These false prophets in Israel's history were more interested in popularity than in truth. They told people what they wanted to hear. For example, Jeremiah 6:14 says they were saying, "Peace, peace,' but God said there was no peace. These false teachers have a way of putting a spin on the truth, or adjusting the truth. It is true God had promised peace to His people, but only within a certain context and with certain stipulations. But these false prophets came and offered it now. "Yes, we are going to have peace." That is what the people want to hear. They want to be told that all is well.
5. Apostate Preachers Avoid Judgment
You know, it has not changed. There is a popular preacher on the West Coast who has built a ministry, and he has been right up front by saying, "You will not hear about sin in my preaching. You will not hear about judgment; you will not hear about hell." There was a time when the evangelical church looked at him as a heretic, and that was a correct observation. He is an apostate, but do you know that the evangelical church has picked up his thinking, his approach, and swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
There are some other churches -- one in particular -- that has led the way in doing surveys to find out why people do not come to Bible-believing churches. The surveys indicate what people like and do not like. Then the church has developed services. Its Sunday morning service is called a "seeker" service. This is to be a service where the unbeliever will be comfortable, will not be offended, and will want to come back. What do you think you have to take out of the service in order to make the unbeliever comfortable? Do we remove mention of sin or judgment or hell? Why in the world would an unbeliever roll out of bed in the morning, wash his face, put on clean clothes, and come out and sit in a church and be told that he is a sinner under the judgment of God and that he will spend eternity in hell unless he repents and believes. He could be on the golf course. Let us face it; you do not have to be brilliant to know what you have to remove.
Furthermore, does the unbeliever have any interest in serious, in-depth study of the word of God? No - so we want to be entertaining. We want to be popular in our talk and practical in our emphasis. We will do our Bible study at other times. That very philosophy of ministry corrupts the church of Jesus Christ because it starts off with a very unbiblical focus and things can only get worse. But that has become the model for evangelical churches all over the country, and it is spreading out to other places around the world. Now we have to do drama and tell stories because this is what holds people's attention. Did Paul say that "I am innocent of the blood of all men because I held your attention.?" "I'm innocent of the blood of all men because I was good with the stories?" No. Paul says, "I told you the whole counsel of God. I told you when it was in season and when it was out of season. We think, "Oh, we wouldn't be corrupted by it," and the church of Jesus Christ collapses in on itself because it is buying into this folly.
The second characteristic of these false preachers is that they were interested in personal gain. Micah 3:11 said of the prophets of Jerusalem, "...Her priests instruct for a price and her prophets divine for money..." They are in it for gain. We hear that if you want to be successful in the ministry today, there are certain things you can do that will fill your church, make you popular and give you all the benefits to go with it. Those things do not include being faithful in the preaching of the word of God.
The third characteristic is that they were corrupt in their own personal lives. Jeremiah 23:14 reads "Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: The committing of adultery and walking in falsehood..." They found a way to explain it, to tolerate it and to make it acceptable. The church has bought into the idea today that sin is not sin. There are certain problems that come out of your past, and we have to realize that you are not a drunk, you are an alcoholic. You are not sexually immoral, you are a sexual addict. The church has accepted the thinking of the world.
The fourth characteristic is that they were leading people away from God. That is the bottom line. Jeremiah 23:27 says the false prophets "...intend to make my people forget my name..." Let me ask you: Have not the false prophets been effective in our mainline denominations? We need to be careful if we think that would never happen in the evangelical church. It is happening today because the evangelical church is forgetting the word of God.
6. The World Listens to False Prophets
We read in 2nd Peter 2:1 that these false prophets will be present within the church, so we are going to have to be very careful and discerning. Note their impact, verse 2: "Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be maligned." Many will follow and these false preachers will be popular and effective. That should not surprise us. Turn to 1st John 4:1 where it says "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." This does not mean that you go around trying to talk to demons in people. It means you test the motivating spirit in that teacher's or prophet's life by examining his doctrine. Verse 4 says "You are from God, little children, and have overcome them..." Verse 5 says "They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world..." -- you ought to underline this last statement -- "...and the world listens to them."
It is no great thing to fill a building with unbelievers, even for a religious service. Say what they want to hear. Give them what they want, not was God says they must hear. Verse 6: "We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error." If you do not preach and teach the word of God in its truth and purity, in its clarity, how are you going to know the difference between truth and error? You are not. As you preach the truth, you will clean out those who are from the world. They do not want to hear it. But you want to fill the building, so you give them false doctrine.
I used to wonder, "Why do people gravitate toward false doctrine all the time?" It is simple; they are from the world and there is a twist in their hearts. They may subject themselves for a time to the truth, but they are uneasy about it. Either they will harden their hearts and minds so that nothing will penetrate, in order for them to put up with the situation, or they will look for something else. So when someone comes along and brings distortion with the truth, their heart grabs on to that. "That's what I've been looking for in a church; that's what I want." Is it truth? I am always concerned when people leave for another ministry. Are they leaving because they have found a place that will teach the truth more clearly and more faithfully? If so, praise God. They should go and throw themselves into the ministry. If that is not the case, then I am concerned that they are from the world and many will listen to them and many will follow them.
Back in 2nd Peter 2:2, that word sensuality is an ugly word. It means to be without restraint or without control. It is usually used with the idea of impurity or sexual debauchery and shameless behavior. Jude wrote in verse 4 of his letter: They "...turn the grace of our God into licentiousness..." We say that is one thing that we would never do. But I say that the church bought into this when it bought into the psychology and psychiatry of the world. Many people are involved in immorality and we are told that it is necessary to dig into their past. Regardless of a person's background, it is sin and they are guilty before God. If they claim to know Him, the behavior must be stopped immediately. But today we have to talk about your past. We have to talk about the influences that have come into your life to cause this behavior. We have to try to find out what caused you to be immoral. Today sin is something less than an offense against a Holy God. It is something that my parents did to me beyond passing on Adam's sin.
7. Allowance for Sin Is Quackery
We have other "quacks" who infiltrate the church and and say that your sin not only came because of the way you were raised and the things that were done to you, but that you may have demons. Who knows? My great-grandmother may have dabbled in the occult and may have picked up a demon and passed it on, and that demon did not leave when I got saved. All of these things become allowances for sinful behavior. Oh, yes, we say, we have to deal with it. But we cannot expect to just deal with it today; this may take time, preferably at $75 an hour or more each week.
As we will see in verse 3, their greed very quickly will cause them to exploit you. As believers, we get intimidated because these apostates hide under the "Jesus" banner. Since we love Jesus and want to serve Him, we think, "Boy, I just cannot go after them. I just cannot attack them because they claim to love Jesus." I cannot look into their hearts. I cannot tell if they are truly saved or not, but I can examine their doctrine and their lives in the light of the word of God and tell you it is either true or false. That will lead you to the next step, which is what Peter is writing about. Because of these apostates, the truth will be maligned because they have led people into sensuality.
What is the difference between the world and the church today? We have Christians who are in counseling because of immorality, and we have the world into counseling because of immorality. We have Christians who are in counseling because of drunkenness, and we have the world into counseling because of drunkenness. And, praise God, somebody developed the twelve steps! Where would the church be without the 12 steps today? Oh, boy, what a rescue program. Some of you saw the article in the paper last week, and God in that program can be a "red Coke machine." You just need to believe in a higher power. What has happened to the church? Where is the discernment that Paul and Peter called for under the inspiration of the Spirit? We walk around so timidly and say, "I don't think you should talk about those people that way." We have no concept of the holiness of God. We have no concept of the importance of God's truth. The corruption of the devil is spread through the church and the result, at the end of verse 2, is "...because of them the way of truth will be maligned."
8. False Teachers Blaspheme Truth
The impact of these false teachers is two-fold. They not only lure people aside from the truth, they also cause the truth to be brought into disrepute before the world. Blasphemed is the word that is translated as maligned. You now have somebody who stands up and claims to be preaching the truth, while at the same time he tolerates sensuality and licentiousness. We have seen what happens with popular speakers such as Jimmy Swaggart, who was found to be cavorting with prostitutes. Does it not disturb you if you are sitting on an airplane, or some other place, and you have the opportunity to share the gospel with somebody, and they say, "Oh, yes, I used to listen to Jimmy Swaggart." Oh, no! You know they are going to say, "Yeah, he claimed to be presenting the truth. He talked about the gospel and claimed to say you need forgiveness." The result is that the truth is maligned.
We need to be very careful. We all gravitate toward sin. Our fallen nature has a responsiveness to it. Sometimes Christians give the idea that sin is not pleasurable. All I need is for the door to be cracked, then you can say, "Well, your sin is not really sin. It has to do with your parents." I just love to blame my parents. They are in Florida, and I am here. And if I can dump my present problems on them and say they did it to me in Pittsburgh in 1950, I have the door open a crack and the devil shows how pleasurable and desirable that sin is. You are not really sinning against the Holy God. The cause may even be a demon. Boy, now I am trying to squeeze myself through the crack. The result is that the truth is maligned.
What would people say, in this city, if I was found to be involved in serious sin, overt sin. They would say, "See, that discredits everything he has said about the Bible." You say that would not happen but I am a sinner. It is one of my great fears that I would sin in such a way to as bring disrepute on the word of God. David did, and he was a man after God's own heart. I know that I am not above it. God, keep me faithful to Yourself. How does that happen? Stay faithful to the truth today. Stay on track today. If the devil can get you to take a half step off today, then tomorrow it will be a full step. The next day it will be three steps and the next day, five steps. Soon you hear people say, "I do not know how I got into this mess."
Consider your own children. The policeman knocks on your door and says they have arrested your son or daughter at a wild party. You say, what wild party with booze and drugs? "Wait, wait," your child says "You have not heard my side! I was there, but I was not doing it. It was everybody else." What were you doing there? "I do not know. I went down the road and turned right and I ended up there." Uh-uh. But you hear Christians say the same thing -- "Well, I do not know how it happened." Well, you are on this road, where do you think it goes? If you are not going to allow the word to be the light for your path, if you are going to decide that in this area you are not going to live under the authority of the One who is your Master who bought you, where do you think you will end up? Do you think the devil is a fool? You know that he weans us away from the word of God. He weans us away from our Lord little by little and we become insensitive and dull. "...because of them the way of truth will be maligned."
Peter was very concerned about this in his first letter. He repeatedly warned them about having godly conduct so that those who spoke evil against them would not have any grounds. Paul issued the same warning. We studied the role of women and mothers a couple of weeks ago and noted in the context of Titus 2:5 why it is important for women to function in a godly way. It is so the word of God will not be dishonored. You ought to note something here about the way of truth. The truth is not just a body of doctrine. It is that this is the truth, "Your word is truth," Jesus said in praying to His Father.
9. Truth to Believers Is Way of Life
It is more than just a body of doctrinal truth. When you turn from your sin and believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are born into God's family. The way of truth becomes a way of life. It becomes a pattern of behavior and living characterized, guided and governed by truth because He is your despot (verse 1). He is the Master who bought you. You are not your own, "You have been bought with a price," Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:20. "Therefore glorify God in your body." The One who is the truth requires that we walk the way of truth, for there is no distinction between Jesus Christ the truth and the Scripture -- the word of God, -- the truth. True salvation brings you to the way of truth. Why? Because you have been brought into a living relationship with the One who is the truth. Now His truth is to be taken into your life and into the very fiber of your being.
I must say, I shake my head and do not understand what people are talking about when they try to tell me, "You know, I liked the Bible study, but we need something more practical. I need something that I can relate more to my life." I shake my head. I do not know what he is talking about; this book is alive. The word of God is alive. David said, "I deem it more necessary than my daily food." Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 15:16: "Your words were found and I ate them. And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts."
Is that what the word of God means to me? People are saying, "We like to study the word, but we would like something more practical. We would like something that will help us in our living." Well, I need joy and rejoicing in my heart in this miserable world. Jeremiah says that is what the word of God is to him. The word is rich and alive, and you know what? People who have not experienced the transformation of heart, mind and life that comes in true salvation are shaping what is coming from the pulpit. We are trying to give what will entertain and hold the attention of those who have no real burning interest in the truth of God. It is a dead book to them. It is a boring book to them and it does not seem practical. It does not relate to me and where I am. Yet Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:18 and said as we are "...beholding in a mirror the glory of the Lord, (we) are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory...." What is more vital, real and practical than "I should become more like Jesus Christ in every aspect of my being?" Yet people say they need something more practical.
I am not saying that sermons cannot be boring. My preaching professor in seminary used to tell us that it is a sin to bore people with the word of God. I want to be interesting and clear in my presentation, but I cannot make the word of God interesting to the lost. They need salvation. When we begin to shape the ministry to what they find appealing, we begin to depart from the word of God. We find that the length of the sermon is shrinking in our evangelical churches. Oh well, "We want to give them 20 or 25 minutes of punch material. The rest, an hour or so, is music and drama, and everybody goes away saying it was really wonderful. Sure, shave it down; when you get down to 10 minutes, the unbeliever will like it even better. I watch some of the liberal men in town on the public access channel, and they all manage to work verses of Scripture or passages of Scripture into their messages. It is terrible what they do with it. Who said the unbeliever is not in favor of quoting Scripture. The devil found it effective and tried to use it with Christ in Matthew 4. I was reading a homiletics book, and the author, an evangelical, said you ought to keep the message down to 20 or 25 minutes. After you work in his stories and give his illustrations, you have nothing left.
10. Greed Characterizes False Teachers
"T he way of truth will be maligned, and in their greed they will exploit you..." In their greed ... Bottom line, in their greed means they desire to have more. It is a word which we translate as covetousness. These false teachers are driven by what they can get from people, not what they can give to people. They are not driven by the desire to pass on the glorious truth of the living God, to nurture and nourish and feed the souls of God's people. They do not have the desire to bring the glorious gospel, which is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes, to the lost. They have a selfish end and they are greedy. They are looking for gain and they want more.
The Scripture says that those who preach the word can get their living from the word but, God forbid that those who preach the word would be doing it for the desire to get their living from it. I do not want to say this too often, but I would preach the word even if you did not pay me. I appreciate that you do. But woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. I thank God for His grace in His allowing me to be supported through the preaching of the word. I realize that if I have to go sell cars and preach the word, that is what I will have to do. If I have to go do something else, I will have to do it. But He is called me to preach the word. Paul made tents and preached the word. But God does give the privilege of being supported by His people. It is a great blessing. There are those who have a ministry for personal gain. Their desire may be power or it may be popularity. The bottom line is a desire for a good living, with all the perks that go with it.
"They will exploit you..." This is an interesting word, exploit. It is a commercial word and is used only one other time, in James 4:13. There the word is translated engage in business. They exploit you; they make merchandise of you and you become a commodity to these false teachers. You have heard the seed-faith preachers: "Send me your seed of faith, and God will give you an increase. Send me a hundred dollars, and God will give you a thousand." I would like to say, "I'll send you a hundred, let God give you a thousand, then you give me a thousand." No, that is not the way it works. Then I find they live in million-dollar homes and have fancy lifestyles. People have only been a commodity to them for they have been trading in people.
The tragedy is that often it is the people of God who are being exploited. One of these hucksters was holding a meeting in Omaha recently. He was there multiple evenings. "The building can only hold 3,000, so the doors will be open a couple of hours early." I wonder how many people came from evangelical churches. It is a kind of foolishness. We tend to look at extremes, but, remember that they arise from among us, and they do not start off as goofballs. They look decent and they exploit you with false words. How do they do it? Believers get caught up in personalities and not in truth.
11. Fancy Talkers Mold False Concepts
"They exploit you with false words..." The Greek word here for false is plastos. Can you guess the English word we get from plastos? The word is Plastic. It means something molded or made up, something shaped. Plastic is something that can be molded or shaped. These false teachers have words that they use to shape and mold people. They are good with words and they have a way of speaking that draws you and seems to make sense. You like them, but where is truth in this speech?
I am bothered when I read how a survey of churches has been taken to find out what churches are looking for in a pastor. At the top of the list is a good personality. I realize that there is little future for me since they are looking for personalities. We are getting caught up in wanting celebrities. We want someone who says it interestingly, who we enjoy listening to, who is good with words. Would I rather have a stumbling bumbler who is opening the truth to me or a smooth, false talker. The church has made its decision, by and large. As you look across the country, you see churches that are looking for good speakers. These people are crafty with their words, and with those words they have molded and shaped the people. They exploit you and little by little, you are lured away from the truth. People take a half-step away from the truth and say "Well, the teaching is not good, or the teaching could be better, but ..." But what? The church is to be the pillar and support of the truth.
False teachers are weak on the truth, but look at everything else. There is a large, growing, liberal church in town. It may be the largest church in the city now. I look at this church -- all it advertises and all its programs -- and I have a hard time finding a difference between them and some churches that claim to be evangelical. Their doctrinal statements may vary in minor ways. It is getting harder and harder to tell the churches apart. Those churches that do not stand for the truth at all and those that claim to stand for the truth are doing the same things. There is a blurring here, but we are all successful,they say, praise God. Look at the crowds. I fear the crowds are coming to both kinds of churches for the same reason. It is fun, it is entertaining and there is a lot to do.
Wait a minute, what about truth? That is what we are supposed to present. Here is a good test for a church. Some of you will be moving away from here and you will be searching for another church. Ask yourself, "If I brought an unbelieving friend here, would he be offended?" If not, keep looking! Remember the quote from Luther that I have shared with you: "Preach about sin in such a way that they will hate their sin or they will hate you for exposing their sin."
We wonder what is going to be the end of it all. Well, false teachers and deceivers will continue to multiply. Things are going to go from bad to worse, but God has written the last chapter. The end of verse 3: "...their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep." Here is a Hebrew parallelism. In some forms of Hebrew poetry, you say two things in a little different way, in parallel. So here, Peter is saying the same thing a little differently. Judgment and destruction are the same thing. Idle and asleep are the same thing. In other words, since God does not reach down and strike them, since he does not shrivel them up, since their ministries do not just dry up and blow away, we get the idea that maybe there is something to it. Galatians 6-7 says "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap." Do not be deluded, judgment is coming. It will happen on God's timetable. These false teachers will feel the full brunt of the wrath of almighty God. Swift destruction is coming, according to 2 Peter 2:1. It is on the way. You say, "Boy, it's a long time in coming." Yes, but when it comes, it will be with a fierceness that is awesome - an eternal hell. Peter will develop this as we move through the next section.
12. Behavior, Doctrines Become Blurred
Let me read a quote, from another writer, which was written 20 or 30 years ago: "Doubtless such stringent condemnations as Peter's appear to 20th century readers as old-fashioned and inappropriate because we have largely lost any sense of the diabolical danger of false teaching and have become as dulled to the distinction between truth and falsehood in ideas as we have to the distinction of right and wrong in behavior." Notice there is a blurring in the world about what is right or wrong. There are variations now. Homosexual, heterosexual, sex in marriage, sex out of marriage -- everything just gets blurred. When we, as believers, get caught up in the blurring of behavior our doctrines will blur also.
Let me read a passage from Psalms as we draw to a close. David, in Psalm 119:103,104 says: "How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth! From your precepts I get understanding; Therefore, I hate every false way." If you are feeding on the word of God and it is a delight to you, then you will hate every false way. This indifference to sound doctrine that characterizes the church in our day -- this lack of willingness and heart to stand for truth, to hate falsehood -- simply reflects the fact that the word of God is not our delight. It is not sweeter than honey to our souls. We are not getting understanding, so we are indifferent to the corruption that infiltrates us.
The truth of God stands. Remember what Jesus said at the close of Revelation: Everyone who adds to this book and everyone who takes away from this book will come under the eternal condemnation of a Holy God. We may fool one another and we may fool ourselves but we do not fool the living God who searches the hearts and minds. God knows us as we are, even as we sit here this morning.
Let us pray together: Thank you, Lord, for the wonder of Your person, the awesomeness of who You are -- the eternal God, holy and righteous. Thank you, Lord, for the revelation of Yourself in Your Son, Jesus Christ, that One in whom all the fullness of deity dwelt in bodily form. That One who Himself is the Truth. Lord, thank You for the written word which is the revelation of You, the Living God, and Your Son. Thank You, Lord, for the salvation that we have in Him by Your grace. Thank You for bringing us together as a family of Your believers. Thank You, Lord, that this church is to be the pillar and support of the truth. Lord, may we, individually and corporately as your people, be committed to You, our Lord and master, and to Your truth as our guide and foundation. And Father, for any here who have been deluded by false teaching and by their own false thinking, Lord, may they see themselves as You see them. May they see the sin that is so vile and wretched that will sentence them to an eternal Hell. May they bow before You repenting of their sin, casting themselves upon Your mercy, believing in Jesus Christ as the Savior who loved them and died for them. May that be the ongoing ministry of this church in proclaiming the eternal gospel, for Your honor and glory we pray. Amen.
Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.
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