Churchmouse Campanologist continues an examination of St Peter’s epistles.  Whilst brief, they are powerful.  He wrote them before his death and wanted to impress upon his new converts the importance of holiness and discernment.

Before Easter, my last entry concerned the first nine verses of this chapter, which you might wish to read before looking at this post in more detail, particularly since verses 9 and 10 are part of the same sentence.  The shorter and equally intense Jude 1 covers the same themes.

This is a particularly strongly-worded letter about false teachers.  It is as relevant today as it was when Peter first wrote it.  Unfortunately, it has been excluded from the standard three-year Lectionary, making it ideal for my continuing series, Forbidden Bible Verses, which are also essential to our understanding of the Holy Bible.

Today’s reading is from the ESV (English Standard Version).  You can find exegetical sources at the end of the post.  They come from the 17th century Calvinist minister Matthew Henry and the Revd Gil Rugh, pastor of Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.

2 Peter 2:10-22

10and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and(B) despise authority.

Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, 11 whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, 13suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. 14They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, 16but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.

17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”

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As I mentioned above, this is a particularly intense epistle and one can only wonder what those hearing it firsthand in their small church group must have thought.  If you have ever received a letter from a loved one or a longtime friend which has content which communicates a sense of urgency and depth, you’ll know what I mean.  It is not unknown for people to write something which seems ‘out of the blue’ or slightly dramatic to the one reading it.  Yet, the letter writer often knows that their communication might be the last for a very long time, if not forever.  This is St Peter’s vantage point at the time he wrote and the context in which we should understand it.

In verse 9, Peter said that the Lord protects His believers and reserves punishment for those who sin against Him.  Verse 10 completes the sentence, clarifying that special judgment will be passed not only on those who indulge in lusts and appetites which defile the flesh but also on those who mock and subvert authority.  Note that he says those who defy authority do so in a wilful, knowing manner, free from fear.  Yet, even the angels — as powerful as they are — do not pass judgment on them (verse 11).  Note the parallel in Jude 1:8-9:

8 In the very same way, those dreamers pollute their own bodies. They don’t accept authority. They speak evil things against heavenly beings. 9 But not even Michael did that. He was the leader of the angels. He argued with the devil about the body of Moses. But he didn’t dare to speak evil things against the devil. Instead, he said, “May the Lord stop you!”

In verses 12 and 13, Peter firmly labels these false teachers as ‘irrational animals’ who follow their own carnal appetites.  Those appetites may be for excesses and sin involving sex, food, drink or greed. He says that, like animals living by instinct, they are meant to be ‘caught and destroyed’, inferring that God has judgment and death in mind for them. These people will suffer for what they have done.  They have offended God, made light of His Son’s sacrifice on the Cross and also led vulnerable, ignorant souls astray.  They will suffer — the ‘wage’ for their wrongdoing.  As St Paul says in Romans 6:23 (emphases mine):

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Peter tells his audience in the latter sentences in verse 13 that these pleasure-seeking false teachers love pursuing daytime pleasures instead of working for God in diligence and truth.  Their deceptions which they discuss at mealtimes make them no better than blots and stains.  Note another parallel with Jude, verse 12 (same link as earlier):

12 They are like stains at the meals you share. They eat too much. They have no shame. They are shepherds who feed only themselves. They are like clouds without rain. They are blown along by the wind. They are like trees in the fall. Since they have no fruit, they are pulled up. So they die twice.

And they take innocent, misguided people along with them into the abyss (verse 14).  Matthew Henry explains:

Those whose hearts are not established with grace are easily turned into the way of sin, or else such sensual wretches would not be able to prevail upon them, for these are not only riotous and lascivious, but covetous also, and these practices their hearts are exercised with; they pant after riches, and the desire of their souls is to the wealth of this world: it is a considerable part of their work to contrive to get wealth; in this their hearts are exercised, and then they execute their projects; and, if men abandon themselves to all sorts of lusts, we cannot wonder that the apostle should call them cursed children, for they are liable to the curse of God denounced against such ungodly and unrighteous men, and they bring a curse upon all who hearken and adhere to them.

Isn’t this just like the easy-believism gospel?  Just ‘come up to the front, say a prayer and you’ll be saved’?  Or the get-rich-quick gospel?  ‘God wants you to have a beautiful home and a new Cadillac’.  Wow — God really caters for our sinful appetites (not!).  I’m afraid you’ll find no Bible verses supporting such falsehoods.

In verses 15 and 16 Peter discusses the story of Balaam’s ass, found in Numbers 22.  Balaam rebels against the Lord, even when an angel intervenes to try and stop him and when Balaam’s donkey speaks!  Balaam’s reaction is to start thrashing the beast.  This is a wonderful illustration of God’s omnipotence and providence as well as man’s innate stubbornness!  Here is an excerpt from verses 24-34:

24Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. 25And when the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So he struck her again. 26Then the angel of the LORD went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” 30And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.” 31Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. 32And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. 33The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” 34Then Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.”

Note that Jude also mentions this episode from the Old Testament in verse 11:

11 How terrible it will be for them! They followed the way of Cain. They rushed ahead and made the same mistake as Balaam did. They did it because they loved money. They are like Korah. He turned against his leaders. Those people will certainly be destroyed, just as Korah was.

Pity that Balaam’s story is also excluded from the Lectionary. I’ll cover it in a separate post.

The Revd Gil Rugh warns us about false teachers and our own spiritual state:

Don’t be enamored by their claims. Distance yourself from them. Have nothing to do with them. Look for what is wrong with them, not what you might find that you like about them …

There’s no real difference in character between a false teacher and a plain unbeliever. If you have never come to grips with the reality of your sin, the reality of the finished work of Christ on the cross; if you have never turned from your sin and believed in Him and Him only, letting go of everything else, then you are in the same position as these false teachers. That may be why nothing comes together for you in the Scripture. We study it, and it doesn’t make any sense. This may be why you don’t have any spiritual perception. That’s not said as an insult. That is said as simplistic fact.

In verse 17, Peter describes false teachers as clouds which promise to bring refreshment but never do. And, as one of my grandmothers used to say, ‘God will punish!’ How many clergy can we think of — personally and on the world stage — who are silver-tongued foxes.  Oh, they speak so well, they’re glib, they quip, they sound so sincere. We feel so much better for having heard them or read their books. Yet, when we check their sermons and speeches against Scripture, we come up empty-handed.  They are speaking falsely in the name of God and His Son.

Jude (verse 13) also uses a water analogy and emphasises God’s promise of darkness as punishment:

13 They are like wild waves of the sea. Their shame rises up like foam. They are like falling stars. God has reserved a place of very black darkness for them. He will keep them there forever.

Peter (verse 18) says that false teachers will boast, yet delight in their slavery to carnality.  Their demeanour can lure vulnerable new enquirers into serious sin.  Jude — in verse 16 of his letter — observes of false teachers:

They find fault with others. They follow their own evil longings. They brag about themselves.

In verse 19, Peter warns us against being drawn in by promises of freedom.  This refers to antinomianism, which we can see today in easy-believism and the error of ‘once saved, always saved’.  Not strictly true, even if we have received the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.  We can fall into a long-term trap of thinking we can live like libertines, like the Nicolaitans whose practices Christ condemned in Revelation 2:6 and in Revelation 2:15.  And we should not wish to die suddenly in the midst of serious sin.  An obvious illustration of this would be in flagrante delicto.  It does happen, and I do recall reading many more stories about such deaths in the past than I do now.  It seems that, by reporting it, the news items also served as cautionary moral stories for instruction.

Note the second sentence of verse 19:

For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

Mr Rugh explains (emphases in the original):

There is a permanence about the slavery – “…by what a man is overcome…” is in the perfect tense in the original Greek. Perfect tense is where something happened in the past and the results continue in the future. So this text denotes something permanent. It is a settled condition of these people. We are not talking about a Christian whom we say is overcome by temptation and has sinned. We are talking about people who live in the realm of being overcome. That which overcomes a person dominates their lives; “…by that he is enslaved.” The word enslaved is also in the perfect tense. What continues to overcome you, dominates your life, enslaves you. John 8:34: “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.'” A characteristic of sin is that it enslaves, and everyone who sins is the slave of the sin …

You see, there is no such thing as the kind of freedom false teachers are promoting, a grace without restraint, a freedom without balance. True freedom is the ability to function as I was created to function. A fish is free in the water because the fish was created to function in the water. I was created for a personal relationship with the living God who created me in His image. I am free when I can function as he created me to function. Everyone in the world is a slave either of sin or of righteousness, either of the devil or of God. There are only two kinds of people, and both kinds are slaves. But one slave is a free slave because that slave is functioning in the relationship in the manner for which he was created in the image of God. That is true freedom. Jesus said, in John 8:36, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

There is a real spiritual danger in thinking, ‘Well, I’m only making a temporary detour from my Christian life.  Normal service will resume tomorrow’.  Peter warns us about this in verses 20 and 21, repeating Jesus’s words in Matthew 26:24 (also in Mark 14:21):

The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

Peter draws an apt metaphor in verse 22, comparing fallen Christians to animals with a liking for filth. You can try to keep a dog and a pig clean, but they will always be drawn to waste or dirt.  And the same might hold true for Christians who fall away from the Lord, lured by the excitement and satisfaction of serious sin.  Sometimes, there is no turning back.  If we are obstinate enough, the Lord may leave us to our own devices in time.

Two more verses from Jude — 4 and 7 — tie in with Peter’s letter:

4 Certain people have slipped in among you in secret. Long ago it was written that they would be judged. They are godless people. They use the grace of our God as an excuse for sexual sins. They say no to Jesus Christ. He is our only Lord and King.

7 The people of Sodom and Gomorrah and the towns around them also did evil things. They gave themselves over to sexual sins. They committed sins of the worst possible kind. They are an example of those who are punished with fire. The fire never goes out.

Matthew Henry has this to say to Christians, still relevant 300+ years later (emphases mine):

Those who have, for a time, escaped the pollutions of the world, are at first ensnared and entangled by false teachers, who first perplex men with some plausible and specious objections against the truths of the gospel; and the more ignorant and unstable are hereby made to stagger, and brought to question the truth of doctrines they have received, because they cannot solve all the difficulties, nor answer all the objections, that are urged by these seducers … When men are once entangled, they are easily overcome; therefore should Christians keep close to the word of God, and watch against those who seek to perplex and bewilder them, and that because, if men who have once escaped are again entangled, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.

Now, this chapter has as much to do with the emergents (e.g. Rob Bell, Brian McLaren) and legalistic Social Gospel Evangelicals (e.g. Rick Warren).  However, it also pertains to legalists of all denominations who may be latching onto the latest craze of the moment (e.g. extreme headcoverings for women, total female submission to men) or dominionists who wish to conquer the world through the seven cultural mountains (e.g. C Peter Wagner).  The dominionists and extreme legalists often embark on moral crusades, like Travis Bickle did in Taxi Driver, to ‘clean up’ the world.

Mr Rugh advises us that such moral clean up operations are misguided, dangerous and Pharisaical:

There is great danger in moral reformation. We don’t need reformation. We need regeneration. Keep that in mind. The church loses sight of this as it loses its hold on its responsibility to be the pillar and support of the truth. It gets caught up in all kinds of movements of moral reformation to clean up a life. But, do you realize we are making that person more a convert of hell? If I talk to a drunk, I don’t tell him he ought to clean up his life and stop drinking. It would make his relationship with his wife better, it would make his relationship with his children better. It would give him a better job. No. My goal is not so sweep clean the house. Do you realize that before, he was a drunk on his way to hell, and now he is a non-drunk on his way to hell. He is harder to reach now because he’ll go around and give testimonials about how he cleaned up his life. He may acknowledge that you have to believe in God, whatever that God is to you, as a higher power. We as Christians would be more comfortable living in a world where sin was not so openly displayed. Do I want to get in an argument with someone over abortion? Do you realize people who are pro-life, or whatever you want to call them, are on their way to hell just like those who practice abortion? I’m not minimizing the ugliness of the murdering of unborn babies any more than I am minimizing the seriousness of the sin of drunkenness. I am saying people become anti-abortion, parade against abortion, and when it is all said and done and life is over, they will go to an eternal hell. What is the church doing giving some kind of idea through the political process or whatever that if we can only clean up this country…? The church is becoming more like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They are telling people to clean it up. Stop doing these vile things. God is unhappy because of those vile things. Do you realize that if they stop doing those vile things they will be like the Pharisees who cleaned up the outside? We as Christians go around and say, “My, haven’t we done something? We stopped abortion. We did away with drinking. We got laws passed so you can only have sex within marriage. We have really done something.” We have turned our country into a country of Pharisees, twice the subjects of hell than when we began. You want to stand before the bema seat and tell God that’s what we did? There’s great danger in moral reformation. The true believer has no part of it. And this is where false teachers are infiltrating the church. They are great reformers. I could give you a list of some of the false teachers. What they do is they come in and they lead the church astray by saying, “Let’s reform people. Let’s reform society. Let’s make a difference. Your vote can count. We can clean up our country and turn it back to God.” But this will happen only by the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and nothing else. When sinners are born again the drunkenness will be taken care of. When they are born again the abortion stance will be taken care of. When they are born again the immorality will be taken care of. Moral reformation brings great danger.

Next week:  2 Peter 3 — selected verses

Further reading:

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

‘The Characteristics of False Teachers’ – Revd Gil Rugh, Indian Hills Community Church, Lincoln, NE

‘The Deceptions of False Teaching’ – Revd Gil Rugh

‘The Awful Judgement of False Teachers’ – Revd Gil Rugh