Normally, my Palm Sunday and Holy Week posts would start with this one.  However, what St Peter says to his new converts is so relevant to modern Christians, that, in light of my other posts over the past week, I shall share this reading with you today.

2 Peter is not in any of the three-year Lectionary readings. This qualifies it for my Forbidden Bible Verses series, also essential to our understanding of Scripture. The Apostle warns his people about what they must avoid in their Christian lives, principally, false teachings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version.  Exegetical sources can be found at the end of the post.

2 Peter 2:1-9

False Prophets and Teachers

1But 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. 2And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

4For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8(for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); 9then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,

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In the letters from 1 Peter, the Apostle instructs his new converts on holiness, the importance of the Gospel, conduct in society, conduct in marriage, good stewardship of God’s gifts and the relationship between the young and those in authority. 2 Peter 1 discussed the necessity of self-control and goodness.

My recent posts have covered the errors of Communism, the mistaken trend of secular pietism, the warped Christianity promoted by Oprah Winfrey and Rick Warren, the influence of the UN on our churches, the appeal of Theosophy and New Age falsehoods, the New Age movement away from church and false teachings from popular ‘spritual’ author Eckhart Tolle.

Conclusion: false teachers are just as alive and well now as they were in Peter’s day.  Sadly, there are probably more of them, too.  Dangers to the Church lie within — very real hazards for Christians.

Peter warns his converts — and us — about these people straightaway in the first verse of this letter.  Note that he says they will deny even ‘the Master who bought them’, a reference to Jesus Christ who died on the Cross as a ransom for their sins. If you look at the Eckhart Tolle, Theosophy and Oprah links above, you’ll see that is still true today, 2,000 years after Peter wrote his letter.

The Calvinist Bible scholar and minister, Matthew Henry, wrote in the 17th century (emphases mine):

Damnable heresies are commonly brought in privily, under the cloak and colour of truth. Those who introduce destructive heresies deny the Lord that bought them. They reject and refuse to hear and learn of the great teacher sent from God, though he is the only Saviour and Redeemer of men, who paid a price sufficient to redeem as many worlds of sinners as there are sinners in the world.

The Revd Gil Rugh, Pastor of Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, adds (NT verse emphasised in the original):

We must be sure we have a biblical perspective on life and what it means to be a child of God in this world. Jesus prepared His disciples on the last night before His crucifixion. John’s gospel, beginning in chapter 13, records His discourse. At the close of the discourse, in John 16:33, Jesus says to them, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

The thinking of God’s people sometimes becomes blurred. We think the peace that God promises to our hearts and minds should be characteristic of our lives in the present world. We think we should have no tribulation, conflict, and difficulty. We begin to make adjustments that move us away from God and His plan for us. Martin Lloyd-Jones, in a sermon preached in 1946, said: “The New Testament picture of life is that it is the scene of a mighty, terrible, spiritual struggle and conflict. Everywhere you are given a sense of crisis, a sense of judgment. Life in this world, according to this Book, is the scene of a mighty, terrible conflict between two vast powers, and they are both spiritual powers: God and all His forces on the one hand, and Satan, the devil, and all his forces on the other. The result is that there is never any easy optimism to be found in the New Testament. There is no vague, general superficiality. All along its message is one of preparing us for this conflict, of enabling us to realize the nature of the conflict.”

This is why I can never understand why people say that the New Testament is all about ‘love’.  It’s also about struggling against evil and avoiding damning judgment.  If you don’t believe me — read it and see. The first I recall of hearing this error ad nauseum was in 1970, when the young and approachable Fr H would say our primary school Mass.  ‘The Gospel is about love, boys and girls — love!’ Yet, ‘love’ was not enough for Fr H. Twenty years later, the diocese defrocked Fr H for teaching heresy. (I did not hear that he was a paedophile, just that he had unorthodox teachings.) Even then, he insisted on quietly maintaining a house church where he said Mass and consecrated the Host. I understand he has now left town, possibly the state. Hmm!

Back to our reading.  In verse 2, Peter states clearly that many will find these false teachings appealing.  See my aforementioned links to see how this plays out today.  Look at all the churchgoers and pastors going gaga for Rob Bell’s Love Wins.  Why?  Because it is a seductive message, one that we wish to hear. It’s about worldwide unity and God’s ultimate forgiveness of all our sins.  Wrong!  If you don’t believe me — pick up a New Testament and read it.

Here is what Martin Lloyd-Jones said in 1946 — around the same time that the Fabian Julian Huxley’s UN and UNESCO were created:

For I think you will agree that the prevailing tendency is not to talk about and write about the truth itself. The whole emphasis at the moment is that we should all be getting together and forming great organizations. The concern is not so much as to the truth of the message, but to gather ourselves together into one great community. The tendency today is to minimize truth in favor of organization, and men are telling us with unwearied iteration that the greatest tragedy of the world is the disunited church. But the tragedy, the greatest tragedy as I understand the New Testament, is not the disunity of the church, is not the fact that the church is divided into groups and denominations, is not that we are not all in one organization, but that all the sections are preaching a false message and that there has been a departure from the truth of God as it is in Jesus Christ.

Pastor Rugh reminds us:

We must understand that the Devil, who is at the foundation of all that is false, is basically a counterfeiter. Remember the events that led to his fall into sin? He declared “I will be like God. I will be like the Most High. I will exalt my throne.” What is the Devil saying? “I will counterfeit God. I will replace God, so that people will follow me instead of God.” Down through history, Satan is at work deluding and deceiving the people of God. One writer says that wherever God’s people build a house of prayer, the Devil establishes a chapel there. That is a picture of Satan’s work. He is always counterfeiting God’s true work.

It is interesting that St Peter brought up the notion of greed and avarice in verse 3 — even in the early Church, heretics with an eye on money preyed upon the innocent. Beware!  You don’t have to part with hard-earned cash in order to be saved.  Find a Bible, attend a good church and pray for discernment instead.  The better you know the New Testament, the easier this becomes.  Pastor Rugh advises how to evaluate a 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.”

He adds:

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 …

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.

So, as Peter says at the end of verse 3, judgment will come.  God overlooks nothing — good or evil.  He gives us an exposition of this in the remaining verses of this passage. In verse 4, he says that the wicked angels were condemned and will receive everlasting damnation at the Final Judgment. God instructed Noah on saving his and his family’s life prior to the flood, yet the rest of humanity (as small in number as it was) perished. God also led Lot away from Sodom and Gomorrah.  Those of us who ignore or twist these lessons from Scripture are denying God’s sovereignty.

Matthew Henry warns:

Observe, 1. No excellency will exempt a sinner from punishment. If the angels, who excel us vastly in strength and knowledge, violate the law of God, the sentence which that law awards shall be executed upon them, and that without mercy or mitigation, for God did not spare them. Hence observe, 2. By how much the more excellent the offender, by so much the more severe the punishment. These angels, who had the advantage of men as to the dignity of their nature, are immediately punished. There is no sparing them for a few days, no favour at all shown them. 3. Sin debases and degrades the persons who commit it. The angels of heaven are cast down from the height of their excellency, and divested of all their glory and dignity, upon their disobedience. Whoever sins against God does a manifest hurt to himself. 4. Those who rebel against the God of heaven shall all be sent down to hell. There is no place nor state between the height of glory and the depth of misery in which they shall be allowed to rest. If creatures sin in heaven, they must suffer in hell. 5. Sin is the work of darkness, and darkness is the wages of sin. The darkness of misery and torment follows the darkness of sin. Those who will not walk according to the light and direction of God’s law shall be deprived of the light of God’s countenance and the comforts of his presence. 6. As sin binds men over to punishment, so misery and torment hold men under punishment. The darkness which is their misery keeps them so that they cannot get away from their torment. 7. The last degree of torment is not till the day of judgment. The sinning angels, though in hell already, are yet reserved to the judgment of the great day.

On the other hand, as with Noah:

2. If there be but a few righteous, they shall be preserved. God does not destroy the good with the bad. In wrath he remembers mercy. 3. Those who are preachers of righteousness in an age of universal corruption and degeneracy, holding forth the word of life in an unblamable and exemplary conversation, shall be preserved in a time of general destruction. 4. God can make use of those creatures as the instruments of his vengeance in punishing sinners which he at first made and appointed for their service and benefit. He destroyed the whole world by water; but observe, 5. What was the procuring cause of this: it was a world of ungodly men. Ungodliness puts men out of the divine protection, and exposes them to utter destruction.

There are preachers who talk about divine protection.  Many people scoff and say, ‘Just another fundie … ‘  Yet, there is a biblical basis for such protection.  Pastor Rugh explains in more detail and adds:

Pride is at the heart of all of our sin. That is why we chaff so much at being told that we are sinners. When we are told that we are defiled, unworthy and deserving of hell we do not want to hear it! I want to hear that which will exalt me and lift me up because I think highly of myself.

Note what St Peter says in verses 8 and 9.  Sodom and Gomorrah’s sins tormented Lot in his righteousness.  This is true of good Christians who find today’s sins against God and man distressing.  We try to help and to change our surroundings, yet, it seems, we can do only so much.  Imagine how Lot felt with a band of violent reprobates banging on his door, yelling to be let in.  Sadly, many other good people around the world experience the same today.  It is difficult to have patience and avoid feelings of desolation.  Yet, Peter notes that God takes care of His own. As Matthew Henry reminds us:

This is the righteous man whom God preserved from the desolating judgment that destroyed all round about him. From this instance we are taught to argue that God knows how to deliver his people and punish his enemies. It is here presupposed that the righteous must have their temptations and trials. The devil and his instruments will thrust sore at them, that they may fall; and, if we will get to heaven, it must be through many tribulations. It is therefore our duty to reckon upon and prepare for them. Observe here, (1.) The Lord knows those that are his. He has set apart him who is godly for himself; and, if there is but one in five cities, he knows him; and where there is a greater number he cannot be ignorant of nor overlook any one of them. (2.) The wisdom of God is never at a loss about ways and means to deliver his people. They are often utterly at a loss, and can see no way; he can deliver a great many. (3.) The deliverance of the godly is the work of God, that which he concerns himself in, both his wisdom to contrive the way and his power to work out the deliverance out of temptation, to prevent their falling into sin and their being ruined by their troubles. And surely, if he can deliver out of temptation, he could keep from falling into it if he did not see such trials to be necessary. (4.) God makes a very great difference in his dealings with the godly and the wicked. When he saves his people from destruction, he delivers over his enemies to deserved ruin. The unjust has no share in the salvation God works out for the righteous. The wicked are reserved to the day of judgment. Here we see, [1.] There is a day of judgment. God has appointed a day wherein he will judge the world. [2.] The preservation of impenitent sinners is only a reserving of them to the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.

This goes contrary to what Rob Bell and many of our ‘make nice’ clergy preach to us today.  There is real sin in the world and, with that, the deep suffering which the righteous endure.  This is Satan’s way of trying to get us to renounce God and His Son Jesus Christ.  Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, whose story I’ll explore after Easter, described how his Communist torturers mercilessly beat Christian political prisoners to get them to blaspheme our Lord. Pastor Wurmbrand had difficulty walking after they flayed the soles of his feet.  He spent the rest of his life walking around in socks whenever he could. Shoes were just too painful.

We would do well to remember that evil is alive and well.  Yet, God remembers the righteous, today and always.  Let us remember in our prayers the many good and faithful Christians around the world who struggle against not only false teaching but very real suffering.

Next time: 2 Peter 2: 10-22

Further reading:

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

‘Destructive Heresies in Today’s Church’ – Revd Gil Rugh, Indian Hills Community Church, Lincoln, NE

‘Influence of False Teachers Today’ – Revd Gil Rugh

‘The Certainty of God’s Judgments’ – Revd Gil Rugh