MORNING MESSAGE: John Cline
2 Peter 2 – Reader: Keith Harcus
Why would biblegateway.com (the online go-to place for every bible student and scholar – I go there at least 15 times a week) remove a popular bible from its comparative list of some 90 English-language versions? What was it that caused biblegateway.com to delete a new version of the Bible that certain people love? Well, have you ever heard of false teachers? Of counterfeit teachings? That is what was going on. First released in only the New Testament version in 2017, and then later expanded to include the Old Testament, The Passion Translation (or TPT as it is commonly known) came about after former missionary Brian Simmons had, in his words, an experience in which, “Jesus came into my room. He breathed on me. He spoke to me and said, ‘I am commissioning you to translate the Bible’, and he promised me that he would help me. He promised that he would give me the secrets of the Hebrew language.” And then, later in that same interview on Christian tv with interviewer Sid Roth, Brian Simmons declared, “The Passion Translation came from a vision I had in church of an angel named ‘Passion’”. Simmons claims that God has given him a revelation that had been kept hidden from the Church for 2,000 years ago, a revelation that would reveal the contents of the original bible, which only he would have access to. That new revelation would draw out God’s “tone” and “heart” in each passage, a process that resulted in passages being altered by Simmons but which he claims are based on the original Hebrew and Aramaic versions of the bible which the angel named “Passion” had shown him. Of course, no one else knows of any original versions of the bible still in existence, though we would love it if they were. The earliest versions of the bibles we do have are copies based on the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.
In response to Simmons’ claim of having a one-of-a-kind revelation that was given only to him and the numerous changes to the bible text that he wrote down as a result of that “revelation”, biblegateway.com decided that The Passion Translation was not an actual translation of the Bible at all but simply an interpretation of it, a paraphrase, as it were, one that, it has been noted, happens to fall in line with Simmons’ own particular theology, especially his fascination with “signs and wonders”. To many Christians, Simmons has unfortunately put himself in the same camp as Joseph Smith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon church) who started his church in the 1830’s after claiming that he had been told by an angel named Moroni, who was the son of a prophet named Mormon, how to properly translate God’s Word and how to decipher some mystical code words that Mormon had written down and which Joseph Smith later translated and from which popped out the Book of Mormon. You see, when a person claims as did Joseph Smith, and as does Brian Simmons, that God gives only them revelation of what the Bible originally said, well that’s problematical. False teachers and deceptive teaching are the result.
The Passion Translation reminded many of a humorous but fake Bible promoted online called, “The Bible According to a Progressive New Ager”. Have you heard about that one? Its online promotions read, “Do you want a Bible that loves what you love, hates what you hate, and believes what you believe? Look no further! Introducing the Magic Black Sharpie! You can write your own Bible. The Magic Black Sharpie is the ONLY tool able to create the most accurate Bible version ever! The “Me, Myself, and I” Translation! THIS is a Bible everyone can get behind! Come listen to the thoughts of one of our best customers, a Progressive New Ager! Get yours and start being your own god today!” Now, clearly that is a joke, but false teachers and counterfeit teachings are not a joke and they are around us everywhere we look.
Did you hear a couple of weeks ago about Pastor Carlton Funderburke of the Church at the Well in Kansas City who berated his congregation for not buying him a $1,000 luxury watch? During his Livestreamed August 7th sermon, and since then seen online by millions of horrified viewers, Pastor Funderburke angrily said to his congregants, “Let me kick down the door and talk to my cheap sons and daughters. You can buy a Movado watch in Sam’s store, and y’all know I asked for one last year. Here it is the whole way in August (one year later) and I still ain’t got it. This is how I know you’re still poor, broke, busted, and disgusted – because of how you been (dis)honouring me. I’m not worth your McDonald’s money? I’m not worth your Red Lobster money?” That is rather alarming pastoral behaviour!
Or perhaps you saw or read in July about the Leaders of Tomorrow International Church in Brooklyn, New York City? While their Livestreamed worship service was taking place, people in the congregation and online watched in horror as gunmen burst into the sanctuary, went up onto the platform, forced Pastor Lamor Whitehead and his wife onto the floor and then robbed them, making off with – are you ready? – more than $1 million worth of jewelry that the pastor and his wife were wearing. Pastor Whitehead later observed that “it is both a gift and a curse to be a well-known religious leader”. But then Pastor Whitehead – who wears expensive Fendi and Gucci suits and drives a Rolls-Royce, and who is known as “The Pastor of Bling” – had further bad news in that it came out that he has been accused in a lawsuit of stealing $90,000 from a congregant named Pauline Anderson, a lady who he had convinced in November of 2020 to liquidate her life savings and pay him a $90,000 “investment”, all with the promise that he would buy and renovate a home for her, a thing he never did. Whitehead allegedly agreed to pay Anderson $100 per month – since the savings was her only source of income – but only one of the $100 monthly payments to Anderson was ever made, in January 2021, and so the alleged victim is suing him.
Now, I could go on and on…sadly and tragically. False teachers and counterfeit teachings abound in our day and age but their existence is as old as faith itself, as the Garden of Eden events demonstrate. But here are two things that always puzzle me: first, why do Christians fall for these charlatans? And second, has no one ever noticed that the scams these guys run benefit only themselves? They are the ones getting rich, not their listeners. It seems that Christians choose to be the nice guys – “let’s not rock the boat” – which is wrong, but they also don’t want to be informed of the truth for it might make them unpopular or look foolish.
Last Sunday, we started a three-part series preaching through 2nd Peter, the letter containing Peter’s last written words. It was a letter written just before Peter was put to death at the order of the-then Roman Emperor Nero, put to death for refusing to believe the lies of the governing authorities who proclaimed that Nero was a god to be worshipped, the so-called “Son of God” and “Lord of all Creation”. The thing was, Peter knew Jesus, and thus he knew the truth about who was the true Son of God and Lord – and it wasn’t Nero! – and so Peter refused to give in to falsehoods. As a result, he was crucified, upside down at his own request for he didn’t feel worthy to be crucified in the same standing manner as his Lord Jesus.
In chapter 1 which we preached through last week, we saw Peter warning of the dangers of false teachers and their teachings. He stated that while conversion faith was certainly good in that it brought salvation to a Christian, that such elementary faith would not be enough to make a Christian wise and discerning in the face of false teachers and heretical teachings. Peter outlined that if a person would read his letter and do what he advised, though, then that person would become strong in the faith. If they did what Peter said, Christians have this promise from Peter:
You may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:4b)
Having the wherewithal and wisdom to recognize false teachings allows one to draw close to God, to “participate in the divine nature,” which will result in them escaping corruption and slavery to wrong desires. Peter claims that by adding onto your faith attributes & behaviours such as goodness, self-control, perseverance, mutual affection, and love, one’s life is transformed for good. Thus,
If you do these things, you will never fall. (2 Peter 1:10b)
In music terms, chapter 1 was written in a major key: joyful sounding, easy on the ears, encouraging, pleasant. But, then in chapter 2, the music key changes to a minor one and the sounds are fretful, worried, negative, pain-filled. In this chapter, Peter gets blunt about the necessity of his readers to take seriously the dangers of false teachers and counterfeit teachings he writes about. This is a chapter of stern warning. Then, in chapter 3 is the grand finale, with big horns, trumpets, crashing cymbals, and explosive flourishes as Peter focuses on the Day of the Lord, that moment in human history in which the Second Coming of Jesus will occur, a day of a “new heaven and a new earth”. He concludes his letter thus,
Therefore, my dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men (false teachers) and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:17,18a)
That warning ending chapter 3 is exactly the same warning that Peter gave in chapters 1 and 2: do not get swept away by false teachers and counterfeit teachings. He wants his readers to gulp and to take his warning seriously. But I’m getting ahead of myself for chapter 3’s sermon will be week. Today, we will read through chapter 2. Perhaps you remember that in ending chapter 1, Peter wrote about the Old Testament prophetic writings, teachings that were from God and thus were true. Now, in chapter 2, Peter keeps on going but adds more historical insight to that Old Testament time when true prophets and teachers were about:
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them — bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. (2 P. 2:1-3)
I find it fascinating these verses don’t contain a single command. Rather, we are called to be cautious and careful because misinformation and outright error is all around us, and even among us. I came across a statement from John MacArthur which helped me catch the gravity of this passage: “Nothing is more wicked than for someone to claim to speak for God to the salvation of souls when in reality he speaks for Satan and the damnation of souls.” Peter says we are to:
- Beware of false prophets and teachers and their teachings that deny Jesus as sovereign Lord. False teachings always diminish the uniqueness and role of Jesus. We are to:
- Beware of faulty behavior or depraved conduct. To spot false teachers look at their message and their morals. False teachers cater to the lusts of the flesh. And we are to:
- Beware of fake benefits, of fabricated stories, which come out of greed. While promising financial riches to their listener, usually it is only the false teachers and prophets who will get rich. Jesus told us in Matthew 7:5 to:
“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:5)
A judgment will come upon such people, Peter warns. He writes (in a run-on sentence that stretches over six verses, as you will hear) words of non-political correctness and of great intensity regarding both judgment and hope:
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) — if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. (2 Peter 2:4-9)
God will not spare unrepentant sinners or fallen angels but will rescue the righteous. The flip side of that negative judgment on sinning angels and false teachers and sinners is that God saved Noah, whom Peter calls “a preacher of righteousness”, from the flood as well as seven other family members, and then God rescued Lot, whom Peter calls “a righteous man”, from the depraved conduct practiced and celebrated in Sodom, and, that God will similarly “rescue the godly from trials” in whatever age they are living. The message that salvation will not automatically or universally be experienced by everyone would not have been a popular message amongst the first-century Roman authorities and certainly it is not a popular message today. Yet Peter does not hold back in his convictions.
This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not heap abuse on such beings when bringing judgment on them from the Lord. But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish. They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed — an accursed brood! They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey — an animal without speech — who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. (2 Peter 2:10-16)
Peter does not shy away from stating that false teachers and false prophets, as well as their misleading, heretical teachings will not be tolerated by God. He mocks those false teachers by comparing them to Balaam, an Old Testament prophet who had been offered a lot of money to curse the Israelites. But God spoke to Balaam through a donkey, warning him that he had better not say or do any such thing. Four times, though, Balaam tried to ignore what God told him through the donkey and curse the people of God, but he failed all four times as God mixed up his words and he ended up giving messages of blessing over Israel, instead. Balaam finally realized that God was in control, came to his senses, gave up and went home. Balaam was a fool in Peter’s eyes, as well as God’s, as is any false teacher/prophet, and even those who believe those false messages.
These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity — for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.” (2 Peter 2:17-22)
The only hope for any person is Jesus, of turning one’s life over to him. Peter wants his readers to have sufficient knowledge and spiritual discernment to be able to recognize and reject the enticing but entrapping teachings of false teachers/prophets. In fact, God wants the same and when His people sin, God sends a disquiet into their souls. It was Charles Spurgeon who famously said, “The Lord does not permit His children to sin successfully.” Sin always brings guilt and struggle. When we give in to false teachings, God sets a disquiet within our soul.
The good news of the Gospel is that people can be rescued from any bad teaching that leads to their eternal separation from God. That rescuing is the salvation that comes from knowing Jesus, believing in him, and obeying his teachings! We need to understand that false teachers don’t walk around with nametags that say, “Hi, I’m a False Teacher”, so it is crucial to ground ourselves in the truth that will enable us to see what is going on, and to beware of false beliefs, faulty behavior and fake benefits.
Billy Graham was once holding a crusade in England, and at a state dinner held in his honour during that visit, Billy’s wife Ruth Bell Graham was seated beside the top police officer from Scotland Yard in charge of identifying counterfeit money in the United Kingdom. “You must spend a lot of time handling counterfeit money to know what it looks like,” said Ruth Graham to the policemen. “No,” he replied. “We never touch the stuff. All day long we just handle the real thing: genuine currency. And when a counterfeit bill comes our way, we can quickly detect it.” As a Christian, one could go nuts trying to keep up with the latest counterfeit teachings or in attempting to identify false teachers. But, if we do as that police officer suggested and spend our time with the real thing, with Jesus, then, because we will know Him and the truth that is in Him, we will be able to recognize counterfeit teachings and false teachers and prophets. Jesus said this:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31b,32)
“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
You will know truth when you know the Truth, Jesus. But it is up to you. So, please take Peter’s blunt words of warning – but also of encouragement – to heart. Let’s pray.