Long before there was an “Agent 007” there was a man named William Melville. He wasn’t a film star, but rather a talented man who helped to establish the first independent intelligence agency, the British Secret Service, and became its first chief. His rise into the office came after 1903, in the steady spiraling toward the First World War when relations between Britain and Germany gradually cooled. Melville lobbied his government to create a counter-espionage service. By 1906 he “obtained” several pieces of deeply troubling German plans as he hired a Courage Brewery representative in Hamburg to supply intelligence for him. Eventually, in 1909 Melville went to Germany himself to recruit more agents. In October 1909 the British War Office authorized the creation of the Secret Service Bureau, and nineteen military intelligence departments—MI1 to MI19 were created. Today, MI5 and MI6 are the most recognized because they remain active to this day. Melville worked in a separate “Special Section” and concentrated on spy-hunting. By August 1914, Melville had uncovered the barbershop of Karl Gustav Ernst at the center of an important German spy ring. With the outbreak of World War I, funding increased dramatically, and Melville recruited more personnel and was attached to the “G-section” that concentrated on investigating suspected spies, while he founded a “spy school” opposite the War Office at Whitehall Court. Adept in the world of espionage, William Melville eventually became too ill to work and died of kidney failure in February 1918.
I mention William Melville because he was a man of incredible technique in the spy craft, but excelled particularly because he didn’t look much like a spy. He looked like an administrator or local mortgage officer. In short, he blended in very well with work-a-day people in the context of his time. It would be easy to become his friend and confidant, and never realize you were speaking with a spy master. The best people working in the spy craft are the ones who seem to have nothing special going on. You need to look deeper to find them. Things that “don’t add up” need to be more carefully scrutinized. Yet, that is rude and uncomfortable – and that is what spies count on.
I don’t want to simply talk about spies today, but our lesson leans into the idea that our spiritual enemy DOES send infiltrators to come into the midst of God’s people to disrupt and destroy the work. Nehemiah had them. Ezra faced them. It is a well-established Biblical truth that God’s work will constantly face the infiltration work of both ill-informed and deliberately dangerous people – and they will present themselves as qualified to lead and teach.
To set the context, you may recall that one of the ways ancient Israelites discovered those who were infiltrating among them in Judges 12 was to make them use a “password” that was pronounced “Shibboleth” to stop people from invading their lines. The writer of Judges reminds:
Judges 12:5 And it happened when [any of] the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,” 6 then they would say to him, “Say now, ‘Shibboleth.'” But he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it correctly.
The word they spoke was wholly unimportant. The pronunciation was the thing that exposed the false and confirmed the true. In our lesson, Peter effectively offers us a short course in “catching” the infiltrator, creating a kind of “Shibboleth” test that helps us to recognize a false teacher if we encounter one. Following a tough lesson in 2 Peter 1 where we suggested there are deliberate and measurable growth marks for a believer, Peter offered a second truth – there will be opposition. Just as you can see growth in the process of 2 Peter 1, careful observation will allow us to see “marks” of false teaching. Here is the truth of the passage…
Key Principle: God unmasked false teachers and exposed their specific and measurable qualities in order that we would know them when we encounter them. Knowledge from the Word concerning false teachers is essential to walk in maturity.
• In the first chapter, knowledge of God’s processes for our growth promised a sense of peace and security to the people of God.
• In the second chapter, knowledge of the enemy’s work encourages vigilance among God’s people.
Peter opened with “The Fact of False Teachers”: They would be a part of the landscape of the church.
The church was called to anticipate attacks on the truth of the Word, and some of them would come from within the church. Note how the passage opened:
2 Peter 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you,
Peter noted in this passage there WILL be false teachers in our churches, the workers of the enemy of God. It isn’t a possibility but rather a warning. Just as God allowed the enemy in the Garden of Eden in the beginning, so He allows the enemy in the sanctuary of the church. Just as God allowed the serpent’s hissing to fall into the ears of Eve, so He openly acknowledges the enemy may don religious garb and stand behind a cross-affixed lectern. The question is: Will the warned leaders of the church do a better job as guardian to the flock than a warned Adam did for his wife?
Have you ever picked up an apple off of a tree, polished it on your shirt and taken a big bite out of it – and then promptly discovered it had a huge rotten area or, even worse, was worm infested? Near Cape May, New Jersey, there was an old farm where I worked during the summer that had a big apple tree, but the farmer didn’t spray the trees for insects. He didn’t like the stuff and that meant that when the apples were finally ripe for picking, it was often hard to find a good one! Many had worms or “bad spots” clearly visible. On occasion, even after a close inspection, it was possible to take a big bite, only to find you had a mouth full of rotten yuck! Instinctively, I spit out the bite. Eventually, I discovered a secret. The farmer noted many of these apples didn’t get rotten by worms boring a hole from the outside at all! Essentially the worms would lay their eggs on the blossoms before the apple even began to form! When they hatched, the larvae were already inside the apple, with a constant food supply readily available. Eventually, they would eat their way out of the apple and that was when the worm holes would appear! Worms crept in unnoticed and unobtrusively, but their secret left behind what would bring about destruction.
When we talk about false teachers, we are talking about a process. Sometimes the teacher was under-trained or poorly trained, and the “seed” of the disruptive and ungodly behavior was allowed to grow unnoticed. At an early stage, a church is still “in bloom” when Satan places some deceptive eggs of destruction. By the time Peter wrote this warning, there were already signs of spiritual worm damage.
It is true that some false teachers are just poorly trained in Biblical thinking, but increasingly I am seeing people who are deliberately out to destroy the faith of our young in the name of “education” balance and “anti-bigotry training”. They aren’t hiding, but many of us are being tempted to hide and let them have their say. We need to take action – not against them – but toward our own. The day will come when we will face them. Today we need to get our house in order and train, train, train our own. “Why?” you may ask. The answer is simple…Even those who claim to be Born Again are not necessarily firmly grounded in the truths of the Bible. Knowing Jesus and knowing what God said in the 1189 chapters of the Bible are very different. Even further, knowing the Bible and understanding the content in the context of God’s work is also very different.
George Barna’s book What Americans Believe cites statistics based on a national survey concerning religious beliefs in our country. In chapter four he states, “The Devil, or Satan, is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” Then asking that segment of his survey respondents who have identified themselves at being Born Again, he states, “Do you agree strongly, agree somewhat, disagree somewhat, or disagree strongly with that statement?” The Born Again population reply with 32 percent agreeing strongly, 11 percent agreeing somewhat and 5 percent did not know. Thus, of the total number responding, 48 percent either agreed that Satan is only symbolic or did not know! A few pages later, Barna asked: “Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and others all pray to the same God, even though they use different names for that God.” Again, the respondents were asked to agree strongly, agree somewhat, disagree somewhat or disagree strongly. Of that population surveyed who identified themselves as Born Again, 30 percent agreed strongly, 18 percent agreed somewhat and 12 percent did not know. That is a total of 60 percent! (What Americans Believe, pp. 206-212). What we are seeing in our time is this: people don’t know the Bible even when they have claimed to have surrendered to Jesus. That is a problem, and will continue to be a problem.
Adam’s greatest problem in the Garden was that he didn’t take God’s warnings seriously. The church must see the problem and address it, or we are simply letting Eve have a “snake conversation.” Parents need to recognize that an occasional hour of Sunday School or Vacation Bible School is no match for the hundreds of hours of social experimentation going on at many a local school, daycare or local club designed for your child. I am not trying to make school teachers the enemy – they aren’t. Yet, even the most Godly among them will tell you they cannot say many true things and remain employed as teachers. The fact is that we have sacrificed truth on the altar of pluralism for my entire life in America – and many believers think their children are going to be invited to think Biblically from their education. The higher in the ranks of that education you follow the trial, the more the Bible will be denigrated or even openly tossed aside. Here is my point: If the Bible isn’t valued to the point where we will deliberately press our children to know it – they will be easy targets for the enemy – and he IS at work prowling to get them.
Peter continued with the Description of False Teachers:
We cannot spot what we do not recognize in false teachers. For that reason Peter wrote:
2 Peter 2:1b …who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.
Don’t bypass the details, but rather notice the technique of what the enemy does to plant false teachers – it will help you to spot them before the damage is too great. They will…
• “secretly introduce”: (paraisago: bring beside) they will come in through conventional teaching and “bring along” some other false teachings. When they are predators, they will be deliberately deceptive and they can smell simple-minded and gullible people like a wolf can detect a crippled rabbit from a quarter of a mile away.
I don’t want to get lost in this, but I was surprised at how the Charlotte NC reporters gave a “pass” to checking on the people who backed the recent “bathroom bill” in the city that caused such a controversy. The bill provided for people to use restrooms that differed from their assigned biological sex. One of the chief sponsors of the bill was Charlotte’s “LGBT Chamber of Commerce”. Though now exposed and ousted, Chad Sevearance-Turner was the president of the chamber while pressing for the bill. No one I can find in the press, while touting his passion and care for the oppressed, thought to publish his past public arrest record. He had been arrested in 1998 (at age 20) and charged in Cherokee County, S.C., with a “lewd act, committing or attempting a lewd act upon a child under 16.” A careful look at the case clearly shows the man has a history of voyeurism. Let me ask you something: Do you honestly believe there would have been such an omission if the man opposed the bill but had a public arrest record? I believe people often get duped because they want what they want and won’t be wise to recognize the sources of coming trouble.
That is in our modern community. Peter warned that in the church, these teachers will bring…
• “destructive heresies”: (hah’-ee-res-is + ap-o’-li-a: heresies of ruin), the nature of the teachings will be of significance to cause ruin to the faith of the hearers.
• “denying the Master who bought them”: (ar-neh’-om-ahee: to refuse the rights of the Master), they will teach that God does not have full rights to demand surrender of all areas to His Lordship. The false teachers don’t always come across as plaid-wearing clowns trying to wow you with on-stage miracles. Sometimes they just want you to think they are going to help you renovate yourself so you can be a better person. They don’t offer spiritual life; they don’t hold up Jesus as the One who gives new birth from above and makes a new creation. They want you to feel better about yourself so you will feel grateful and reward them for lifting you up.
• “bringing swift destruction” (pulling to themselves ruin – the word translated destructive above…), their actions will fragment and destroy bodies of believers. They will be destroyed in the process. They may make a fortune, but they will still face death and judgment prescribed for all others in this life.
Peter moved to Describing the Followers of False Teachers:
The false teachers will be marked in specific areas that are able to be discerned when looking closely, but so will their followers…
2 Peter 2:2 Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned;
The teachers will have in view a publicly known sensuality (as-elg’-i-a: license to do wrong or impure deeds). The term is familiar: Galatians 5:19 “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality…”
The point of this verse is not to identify the teachers, but the type of people that seek and follow after them. These followers will be people who do not desire to surrender to the Lord, but prefer to expand the number of things they can be “licensed” to do that are not of the nature of surrendered believers. Consider this story:
Once the Devil was walking along with one of his cohorts. They saw a man ahead of them pick up something shiny. “What did he find?” asked the cohort. “A piece of the truth,” the Devil replied. “Doesn’t it bother you that he found a piece of the truth?” asked the cohort. “No,” said the Devil, “I will see to it that he makes a religion out of it.” Klyne Snodgrass, Between Two Truths – Living with Biblical Tensions, 1990, Zondervan Publishing House, p. 35.
Here is the point: There IS freedom in Christ – but it is freedom to follow Him and please Him. There is no WORK that saves you – but that doesn’t mean real faith does not have telltale signs in life change. We need to be careful not to allow a “piece of truth” to cover the other pieces that balance it.
Peter then moved on the the Motive of False Teachers:
It isn’t essential we know why people do what they do, but it can be helpful. The teachers are clearly marked by a desire to live the good life here on earth, and greed is easy to spot. I know that because he wrote:
2 Peter 2:3 “…and in their greed they will exploit you with false words;”
The teacher wants FORTUNE, and is willing to teach things that are not true in order to gain personally in the fortune or fame departments. The term “false words” is literally “plas-tos’”: or artificially molded. The word envisions a study room where they sculpt words that will cause people to part with their cash in favor of sending it in an envelope to the teacher. These are people who teach a plastic faith, and we need to see the difference between the authentic and the plastic. Allan Bloom American philosopher, classicist, and academic who died in 1992 wrote:
“Openness – and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings — is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger. The study of history and of culture teaches that all of the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.” – Charles Colson, Against the Night, p. 84.
Dear ones; hear my words very carefully. I believe I can make the case that our children will not be openly taught to believe we are wrong in our faith (in most cases) as much as they will be indoctrinated to become emotionally offended at the notion that you could even think you were right about the most basic issues of truth.
Skepticism has handily replaced real learning in the heart of many of America’s most prestigious educational centers, bearing cynical children without a goal of reaching truth at all.
We must not rant, but we must not be ignorant. Our children are being led away from truth in far too many places while we act as though it is inevitable. It is not. We can answer lies with truth. We can answer false education with real education. We can sit down and look carefully at what they are learning and turn it back on itself. We not only can do this, we must do this – or we have given up our post as guardians.
I thank God for godly men and women who take on the work of training children, both in the public education system and in the church. They are to be commended and cherished for the work they do!
Peter then shared the End of False Teachers:
The destination of the false teacher is judgment, and it will come upon all too swiftly!
2 Peter 2:3b …their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 2:4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; 7and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8 (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment,
The issue of defense against heresy is ultimately about God defending His own work through the church.
Look at the Seven Marks of the False Teachers:
First, they are Indulgent of flesh and Rebellious in spirit:
2 Peter 2:10 and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.
Second they are presumptuously disrespectful:
2 Peter 2:10b…Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, 11 whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord.
Third, they project expertise in things they do not even understand.
2 Peter 2:12 But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed,
A story is told of two men who worked in the audit department of a large bank. They made an overnight trip to a distant branch of the bank, and were dining in a local restaurant. The chief auditor told the other man, “First we’ll hit the tellers, and then get the vault.” They arrived at the bank the next morning, only to be promptly arrested by the state police. Upon inquiry, they discovered that a police captain had eaten at the same restaurant and had overheard the conversation about “hitting the tellers and getting the vault.” The police captain had made a very good assumption about the situation, based on the information as he had overheard it, but his assumption was also very wrong.
Fourth, they mix and mingle among the people of God carousing in their deceptions.
2 Peter 2:13 “…suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children;
Fifth, they love the wages of unrighteousness.
2 Peter 2:15 “…forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness…
Peter used Balaam as an example of those who ‘love the wages of unrighteousness’. What does that mean? Just what it says! They follow the path of unrighteousness for the very reason that it pays more – if you are using the values of the fallen world! Balak, king of Moab, saw the wandering Israelites as a military threat. So he hired Balaam, already known as a prophet for hire, to put a curse on them. “Have curse. Will travel”
Sixth, they talk big and allure others through the lusts of the flesh and lewdness:
2 Peter 2:17 These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. 18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error,
Seventh, they promise freedom but on closer inspection you can see they are slaves themselves. Some years ago Clark Tanner wrote these words:
2 Peter 2:19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. …
I don’t want to end this lesson with THEM. I want you to see that God offers more than doom and gloom ranting. There are ways to grow in discernment and spot someone exhibiting the traits of a false prophet or teacher. Your assignment is to grow by:
1. Identifying the SOURCE of truth: Ask often of those sharing religious sounding material: “Do they practice sound Biblical hermeneutics in sourcing their truth accurately according to the scriptures?” Paul wrote, “Study to show yourself approved of God. A workman who does not need to be ashamed. Handling accurately the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15) Preach the word, be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction.” (2 Tim. 4:1,2)
2. Recognize the call to SANCTIFICATION – Jesus said, “Sanctify them in your word, your word is truth.” (John 17:17) If Holiness is what we need, are they leading people toward that, or toward indulgence?
3. Listen closely to their main SUBJECT – You can tell a lot about a person by the main subject of their conversations. Paul said it best. “I am crucified with Christ nevertheless I live yet not I but Christ who lives within me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20) Let our teaching be about Christ, His love, His purpose, His priorities and His will for the lives of people.
4. Examine their words about SALVATION – False prophets distort the true gospel of salvation. Paul made it clear in Eph. 2:8,9 when he wrote, “It is by grace we are saved through faith and not of ourselves. It is a gift from God not as a result of works that anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Let everyone be disavowed of any notion that they can earn their salvation through works of righteousness which we have done instead of by His own mercy and grace whereby we receive our regeneration. (Titus 3:5)
5. Look closely at their attitude concerning SERVICE – False prophets and teachers have a sinister way of being self-serving. Paul wrote, “We preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor 4:5) Let us make our theme song, “Make me a servant, humble and meek. Lord let me lift up those who are weak. And may the prayer of my heart always be. Make me a servant today.”
6. Guard against hoarders and look for SENDERS – If someone is not involved in the sending out of workers into Christ’s harvest fields in evangelism, service ministries and mission ministries for the sake of the great commission they are living in disobedience to God. Jesus gave the great commission six times in the New Testament to give emphasis and dimension to His key commandment. Jesus taught, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send forth workers into His harvest fields.” (Matt. 9:36-38)
Remember: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” – C.S. Lewis. We must be diligent about learning, in order that we can discern truth. Every mother knows to check the temperature of the food before the child takes a bite, to save the child from pain and injury. We need to do the same with spiritual food.
God unmasked false teachers and exposed their specific and measurable qualities in order that we would know them when we encounter them. Knowledge from the Word concerning false teachers is essential to walk in maturity.