The Flawed Hope of Self-Salvation

11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.  Genesis 12:11-20 ESV

Due to a severe famine in the land of Canaan, Abram was forced to seek refuge in Egypt. But upon his arrival, Abram immediately began to second guess the wisdom of his decision. He was far from home and way out of his comfort zone. Find himself in unfamiliar surroundings yet again. Abram quickly recognized that his new neighbors looked and sounded nothing like him. And his reaction to these uncomfortable circumstances reveals a great deal about Abram’s current mindset.

Even before arriving in the land, Abram began to develop a plan for dealing with what he believed would be a far-from-friendly welcome. Just as he was about to cross the border into Egypt, he came up with a strategy for dealing with what he expected would be a culture of questionable morals.

he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live.” – Genesis 12:11-12 ESV

Abram feared that his wife’s stunning beauty would make her an object of desire to the Egyptians. And he feared that once they discovered that Sarai was his wife, one of them would simply kill him so he could have her as his own. In ancient cultures, women were often seen as little more than the personal property of their husbands. It was usually considered illegal to take a man’s wife. But if the husband were to die “unexpectedly,” then she would become available for purchase.

So, fearing the worst, Abram orders Sarai to tell anyone who asks that she is his sister.

“Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” – Genesis 12:13 ESV

Notice Abram’s self-obsessed outlook. He can’t stop talking about the need to protect his personal well-being. He wanted things to “go well” for him, but he shows little concern for how his little ruse might impact the life of Sarai. And as soon as they crossed the border into Egypt, Abram’s worst fears were realized.

When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. – Genesis 12:14-15 ESV

Now, to be fair, when Abram commanded Sarai to say that she was his sister, it was technically true. According to Genesis 20:12, Sarai was Abram’s half-sister because they shared the same father but different mothers. And Abram would use this convenient half-truth as a clever means of self-protection when dealing with those of less scrupulous character. But little did Abram know that his plan would backfire in such a dramatic fashion. Pharaoh himself developed an eye for the lively Sarai and had her taken into his house. And, strangely enough, Abram actually benefited from his self-centered strategy.

And for her sake he [Pharaoh] dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. – Genesis 12:16 ESV

Believing Abram to be Sarai’s older brother and official guardian, Pharaoh offered Abram what was essentially a bride price for having taken Sarai into his harem. She became Pharoah’s property and Abram was reward for it. All along, it had been Abram’s hope that things would “go well” for him, and now it had. He had benefited greatly from Sarai’s compromising situation.

But, as has been the case all along in the book of Genesis, God was operating in the background, unseen by Abram, Sarai, or Pharaoh. But it wasn’t long before He made His presence known.

…the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. – Genesis 12:17 ESV

This leader of the nation of Egypt had used his great power and wealth to purchase another trophy for his harem. And Abram had experienced a sizeable boost to his financial net-worth. But both of these men were in for a shock. Pharaoh suddenly found  his royal house facing a series of devastating plagues. Unknowingly, he had taken the bride of Abram and enslaved her as one of his servants. She had gone from being the wife of Abram to just one of the many concubines in Pharaoh’s royal harem.

Once again, the original Jewish audience to whom Moses wrote this book would have sat up and taken notice upon hearing this story from the lives of Abram and Sarai. They would have immediately seen the parallels between the enslavement of Sarai and that of their ancestors. Years later, 70 descendants of Abram would seek refuge in the land of Egypt, attempting to escape a famine in the land. They would enter Egypt as the “bride” of Yahweh. But in time, they would become the personal slaves of Pharaoh. And God would bring upon Pharaoh and his royal house a series of ten plagues, each designed to force the release of His people. The prophet Isaiah would later remind the nation of Israel of their unique status as God’s bride.

For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called. – Isaiah 54:5 ESV

So, there are tremendous similarities between the story found in Genesis 12 and that of the Israelites recorded in the book of Exodus. Unlike his successor, the Pharaoh in Abram’s day proved to be teachable and ready to rectify the grave mistake he has made.

So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” – Genesis 12:18-19 ESV

Pharaoh, suffering under the judgment of God, was ready to repent and make restitution. Rather than punishing Abram for his deceitfulness and the pain he had brought upon the royal house, Pharaoh released Sarai, and sent Abram on his way with his wife restored and his newly acquired wealth intact.

You would think that Abram learned a valuable lesson from this potentially devastating encounter with Pharaoh. But, amazingly, he would live to lie another day. Just a few chapters later, Moses records yet another incident where Abram pulled this highly flawed strategy out of his bag of tricks. Despite its highly questionable efficacy, Abram would utilize this same plan  years later when dealing with Abimelech, the king of Gerar. He seems to have learned nothing from his former attempt at self-preservation.

And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. – Genesis 20:2 ESV

As before, God intervened and delivered a terrifying message to Abimelech in a dream.

“Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” – Genesis 20:3 ESV

Fearful for his life, Abimelech declared his innocence to God and was told to return Sarai to Abraham. Essentially, God told the petrified king, “No harm done.” He had sovereignly protected Abimelech from doing anything to Sarai. But when the king confronted Abram and demanded to know why he had done such a thing, Abram was quick to justify his actions and explain his warped rationale.

“Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, “He is my brother.”’” – Genesis 20:12-13 ESV

And like the earlier story, Abram walks away blessed rather than chastened by God.

Then Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and male servants and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and returned Sarah his wife to him.  And Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you. – Genesis 20:14-15 ESV

God was not rewarding Abram for his deception and dishonesty. Nor was He condoning Abram’s methods. He was simply fulfilling the promise He had made to bless Abram (Genesis 12:2). And he was slowly teaching His stubborn servant a much-needed lesson about divine sovereignty and providential care. Even Abram’s ill-fated attempts to act as his own god could not jeopardize God’s plans or prevent God’s promise from being fulfilled. This was so much bigger than Abram. He was simply a conduit through whom God would bring a blessing to all the nations of the earth. And God was not going to allow Abram to derail the divine plan for mankind’s redemption.

Mankind’s constant attempts at self-salvation will always fall short. But God’s promise of future blessing will never fail to come to fruition.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

You Can Doubt God, But Never Discount Him

1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 2 Peter 3:1-7 ESV

Peter feared that the “destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1 ESV) of the false teachers would take their toll on those who were spiritually immature. He even declared that these men “entice unsteady souls” (2 Peter 2:14 ESV) and lead them down a path of destruction. Driven by greed and the need for power and influence, these false teachers will say anything that might entrap the weak-willed and spiritually vulnerable.

With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception. – 2 Peter 2:18 NLT

Peter seems to indicate that the ones most susceptible to these attacks will be the newly saved. They lack the spiritual maturity and strength to withstand the assaults on their faith that will come in the form of deceptively alluring lies. And, as a result, they will find themselves being lured back into their old ways of life, marked by slavery to sin rather than freedom in Christ.

when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. – 2 Peter 2:20 NLT

Peter used two old and probably well-known proverbs to describe such people.

“The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” – 2 Peter 2:22 ESV

These two visual metaphors were meant to be vivid reminders of the unacceptable nature of spiritual apostasy. Peter wanted his readers to be appalled at the thought of falling away from the faith. He compared it to a dog eating its own vomit – a thoroughly disgusting image that was meant to illustrate just how unacceptable it was for a believer to become enslaved by sin again.

The author of Hebrews describes how difficult it can be for a fallen believer to return once again to faith. It is not impossible, but it is highly improbable.

For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come— and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame. – Hebrews 6:4-6 NLT

Peter and James are not suggesting that believers who are enticed to return to their old sinful ways have lost their salvation. But they are clearly stating that it is possible for an immature Christ-follower to be lured back into their pre-conversion state of slavery to sin. The potential for “backsliding” was an ever-present reality for every follower of Christ, and this is why the apostles so strongly promoted the need for ongoing sanctification.

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. – Colossians 3:5-10 NLT

Failure to put off the old and put on the new would eventually result in spiritual regression, not spiritual transformation. It would be like a cleanly washed sow returning to the mud and the mire. Unaccustomed to the value of cleanliness, a pig will return to its old familiar and comfortable habits. It’s only natural. And the same thing is true of a believer who fails to supplement his faith with moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Peter 1:5-7).

There is no place for complacency in the life of a believer. The Christian life is not intended to be static or stagnant. Growth is expected and intended as a sign of spiritual health and well-being. The presence of the Holy Spirit within the life of a believer is intended to result in heart transformation that produces behavior modification. But the believer who fails to make progress will eventually regress. The constant presence of their old sin nature will lead them to return to the “vomit” of their former life. And though cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, they will find themselves covered in the muck and mire of sin once again.

All of this is why Peter makes such a big deal out of the false teachers. He knows they will find a ready and willing audience, and he also knows that some within the congregations to whom he was writing would follow the way of the dog and the pig. So, as he opens up the next section of his letter, he reminds his readers that this is the second time he has had to write them. In his former letter, he spent a great deal of time teaching them about the difference between their current suffering and their future inheritance. He knew that they were undergoing difficult trials because of their faith in Christ. But he also knew that they could live with great expectation because they had “a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter1:4 NLT).

Peter had wanted them to know that, despite all that was happening to them in this life, they could rejoice because God had something incredible in store for them in the next life.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

And Peter had told them that the prophets of written about this coming salvation, even though they couldn’t fully comprehend its meaning or significance.

They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward. – 1 Peter 1:11 NLT

But their inability to understand the scope of God’s promises did nothing to invalidate the reliability of God’s word. Those men had written under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, declaring the truth concerning God’s redemptive plan – a plan that included the glorious inheritance to which Peter had referred in his first letter. That’s why Peter wrote in his second letter: “I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Savior commanded through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2 NLT). He was taking them back to those promises penned by the prophets and then declared by him and his fellow apostles. Peter and his companions had come to understand that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and that there was far more to His kingship than a temporal reign in the city of David. Jesus had come to do something far more spectacular than return Israel to power and prominence. He had come to redeem fallen mankind and to one day restore all creation to its former glory. 

And yet, there were false teachers who were questioning the truth of God’s Word as proclaimed by the prophets and contradicting the teachings the apostles had received from Christ Himself. Peter continued to warn that “in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires” (2 Peter 3:3 NLT). And he provided a specific example of how they will question the writings of the prophets and the words of the apostles. They will say:

“What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” – 2 Peter 3:4 NLT

Notice the subtlety of their line of questioning. The apostles had been teaching that the writings of the Old Testament prophets had clearly proclaimed the second coming of Jesus. But these false teachers were arguing that everything remained just as it was when those men had penned their words. Nothing had changed. Jesus had not returned and, by inference, they were suggesting that He never would. The false teachers were propagating a form of deism. They believed that God existed but that He did not involve Himself in the daily affairs of man. In their estimation, Jesus had been nothing more than a godly man whose good life could be emulated. But He had not been God in human flesh who sacrificed His life for sinful mankind.

In essence, the false teachers were accusing the apostles of lying and twisting the words of the prophets. They were suggesting that Peter and his companions had fabricated the whole God-in-human-flesh idea and had made up the story of Jesus’ resurrection. These arrogant men were denying the teachings of the apostles but, more than that, they were calling into question the veracity of God’s Word. Peter boldly declares:

They deliberately forget that God made the heavens long ago by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. – 2 Peter 3:5-6 NLT

Whether they believed it or not, God had intervened in the affairs of the world before, and He would do so again. While the false teachers would go on questioning divine intervention and future judgment, it did nothing to alter the reality of either one – a point that Peter made perfectly clear.

by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed. – 2 Peter 3:7 NLT

Just because they had not yet witnessed the second coming of Jesus did not mean it was a figment of the apostles’ imaginations. It was easy for them to point out that Jesus had not yet returned. But Peter attempted to keep their focus on the promises of God. If God said it, He could be trusted to do it. It didn’t matter whether these men believed God or not. God was not hindered by their lack of faith. He was in no way hampered by their doubts about His sovereignty and providential power. God had judged the world before and He would do so again. And, according to Peter, the false teachers were “being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed” (2 Peter 3:7 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Wake-Up Call to the Spiritually Weak

17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 For 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. 21 For 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. 22 What 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.” 2 Peter 2:17-22 ESV

It seems readily apparent that Peter was influenced by the letter written by Jude or perhaps it was the other way around. Both men had strong opinions concerning false teachers and there are a number of noticeable similarities between the way they describe them. Jude wrote:

…these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. – Jude 10 ESV

And the same unflattering assessment is found in Peter’s letter.

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… – 2 Peter 2:12 ESV

Both men used stories from the Old Testament to highlight the judgment awaiting these false teachers. Peter and Jude each included the judgment that came upon the angels who chose to join Satan in his failed coup attempt against God.

…the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day… – Jude 6 ESV

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… – 2 Peter 2:4 ESV

Jude was unsparing in his criticism of these men, describing them as “hidden reefs…waterless clouds…fruitless trees…wild waves of the sea…wandering stars” (Jude 12-13 ESV). And Peter, while using a few less metaphors was equally as critical. He referred to them as “waterless springs and mists driven by a storm” (2 Peter 2:17 ESV). And both men declare the same fate for these deceptive and unreliable purveyors of falsehood. 

For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. – 2 Peter 2:17 ESV

for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. – Jude 13 ESV

Peter and Jude both believed that these false teachers were guilty of something far more egregious than sharing opinions that differed from their own. According to Jude, they were “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4 ESV). Peter accused them of having “eyes full of adultery” and of being “insatiable for sin” (2 Peter 2:14 ESV). And he wasn’t done.

“They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!” – 2 Peter 2:14 ESV

Like the apostles, the false teachers’ tool of the trade was words. They propagated their opinions through the use of their powerful oratory skills. That’s why Peter opened his letter by stating, “we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (2 Peter 1:16 ESV).

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul reminded his audience that he had not come to them with “lofty words and impressive wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:1 NLT). He proudly confessed: “my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5 NLT).

When Paul had first arrived in Corinth, he had not tried to impress his audiences with his oratory skills or rhetorical acumen. In fact, he didn’t rely on human wisdom or his own personal speaking skills at all.

…we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. – 1 Corinthians 2:13 NLT

Peter accused the false teachers of doing just the opposite. Their words were “loud boasts of folly” with which “they entice by sensual passions of the flesh” (2 Peter 2:18 ESV). The Greek word that is translated as “loud boasts” is ὑπέρογκος (hyperogkos), and it literally means “over swollen” or “extravagant.” They used high-sounding language that was meant to impress and their listeners. And Jude used the very same word when describing the false teachers

These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters [hyperogkos], showing favoritism to gain advantage. – Jude 16 ESV

But Peter points out that their over-inflated words were nothing but meaningless vanity. The Greek word is ματαιότης (mataiotēs), which means “what is devoid of truth and appropriateness.” While their words may have been impressive to hear, they were empty of beneficial content. Like waterless springs, they contained no life. To borrow from Shakespeare, the words of these false teachers were nothing more than “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

And Peter pointed out the folly of their self-proclaimed wisdom.

They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. – 2 Peter 2:19 ESV

They were the enslaved promising freedom to their fellow captives. They were the blind leading the blind. And as Jesus so succinctly put it, “if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:14 NLT).

What made these men so dangerous was their ability to coerce and convince others to walk away from the truth. Yet all the while, they were overcome by greed, lust, and the need for power and authority. And Peter knew that, if left unchecked, their powers of coercion would eventually drag others down with them.

many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. – 2 Peter 2:2 ESV

This was Peter’s greatest concern. He feared that a steady diet of false promises and blasphemous teaching would eventually persuade weak-willed and spiritually immature believers to abandon the faith. Peter knew this was a very real possibility and he even described what it looks like when it happens.

…when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. – 2 Peter 2:20 NLT

It’s important to note that these false teachers were plying their wares within the local congregations. They were not disseminating their false doctrine among the lost, but among those who had placed their faith in Jesus Christ. They had targeted the body of Christ. Like the Serpent in Eden, these individuals had “crept in unnoticed” (Jude 4 ESV), and hidden within God’s garden – the church, where they were subtly and slyly asking, “Did God actually say…?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). They were questioning the veracity of God’s word concerning Jesus, salvation, sin, and future judgment. They were encouraging infidelity and even immorality, and, ultimately, they were instigating open rebellion against God. And Peter warns his readers how devastating it would be if some of them bought into the lies and turned their backs on God.

It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life. – 2 Peter 2:21 NLT

There is a very real and serious question raised by Peter’s language. Is he promoting the idea that believers can somehow lose their salvation? What about once-saved, always-saved? Is Peter inferring that all those who buy into the lies of these false teachers will forfeit their citizenship as sons and daughters of God?

There are two possibilities here. First, Peter is suggesting that there are those within the local fellowship who have claimed to be Christ-followers, but whose faith was not genuine or sincere. Their willing association with the body of Christ had given them the false assurance of salvation, but they had never truly placed their faith in Christ. This made them highly susceptible to the lies of the false teachers.

But the second possibility is that there were within these local congregations, weak and immature believers whose faith was not yet strong enough to withstand the attacks of the enemy. They were those whom Paul referred to as “weaker brothers” (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8). Within every local congregation, there will be those who are strong in their faith and able to stand against the enemy’s relentless attacks. But there will also be those who are spiritually immature and prone to fall back into the old, ingrained habits they embraced before coming to faith in Christ.

Peter opened his letter by reminding his readers that God “has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). Then he went on to encourage them to “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…knowledge…self-control…steadfastness…godliness…brotherly affection…and… love” (2 Peter 1:5-7 ESV).

In other words, Peter expected every believer to grow up in their salvation, continually adding to their character the attributes of Christ through the fruits of the Spirit. To not grow was unacceptable and, ultimately, dangerous.

For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. – 2 Peter 1:9 ESV

Peter went on to remind them, “if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:11 ESV). This means that if they failed to practice these qualities, there was a very real possibility that failure was in their future. Falling away does not necessarily mean a loss of salvation. It can simply refer to a lack of fruitfulness in the life of a believer. It can and does happen all the time. When a believer fails to supplement their faith with the character of Christ made possible through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God, they run the risk of remaining spiritual infants. The apostle Paul revealed that these weak and vulnerable believers were part of the local congregation in Corinth.

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. – 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 NLT

Peter was addressing local congregations that were having to deal with the influence of false teachers. His concern was that the weak and spiritually immature among them might fall prey to the predations of these men. He wasn’t worried about believers losing their salvation. But he was concerned that they could be easily persuaded to embrace their former pre-conversion lifestyles. Peter knew that the old sin nature remained actively alive within every believer. And his greatest concern was for those who lacked the spiritual strength to resist “the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16 ESV).

Peter had a strong desire to warn the weak and vulnerable within the local congregations because they were the most susceptible to the relentless attacks of the enemy.

With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception. – 2 Peter 2:18 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Sincerely Wrong and Deceptively Deadly

10 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, 13 suffering 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. 14 They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15 Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, 16 but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. 2 Peter 2:10b-16 ESV

Who were these false teachers? What were they like? Peter gives us a rather unflattering portrayal of them and wastes no time trying to hide his true feelings about them. He describes them as bold (tolmētēs) and willful (authadēs), two words that portray them as presumptuous and self-willed. Having convinced themselves that their opinions are right, they boldly and arrogantly propagate those heretical opinions to anyone who will listen. And Peter even describes them as blaspheming the glorious ones. The Greek word he used is doxa, and it had a variety of meanings. It is most often translated as “glory,” but can also be used to refer to “that which belongs to God.” But when considering the context of this passage, it appears that Peter was using it to refer to the majesty or glory of angelic beings. Evidently, these false teachers had been in detrimental terms about angels, possibly even questioning their actual existence. This would have aligned their official doctrine very close with that of the Sadducees, a religious/political party that held the majority of the seats in the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish religious council of the day. The Sadducees had played a major role in the Sanhedrin’s opposition to and eventual elimination of Jesus.

These wealthy members of the Jewish aristocratic class were extremely self-sufficient and tended to downplay the involvement of God in everyday life. They also denied the doctrine of a bodily resurrection and they would later oppose the apostles’ preaching that Jesus had risen from the dead. Since they refused to accept the possibility of resurrection after death, they denied the existence of an afterlife, teaching instead that the soul simply perished alongside the body. So, it only made sense for them to conclude that there was no form of reward or punishment after life ceased. And this same way of thinking led them to deny the existence of a spiritual world, including the existence of angels or demons. Everything that was to be experienced and enjoyed had to take place in this life because there was nothing that would follow death.

It seems apparent that the false teachers to whom Peter refers had been influenced by this same kind of thinking. Far from shy and anything but unsure about their views, these over-confident “teachers” were promoting their man-made ideas among the vulnerable and sometimes gullible believers who populated the fledgling faith communities of the day. And Peter was genuinely concerned about their growing influence.

He compares them to “irrational animals, creatures of instinct.” Like wild beasts, these individuals were driven by their basest animal urges. Their behavior was motivated by their own self-satisfaction. Jude makes a similar accusation in his letter, saying, “these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively” (Jude 1:10 ESV).

Because these men were so confident in their views, they spoke flippantly and facetiously about things they didn’t understand. There are some scholars who believe their disbelief in angelic beings had led them to speak satirically about the angels who fell alongside Satan when he attempted to rebel against God. The word Peter and Jude both used is βλασφημέω (blasphēmeō) which means “to speak reproachfully, rail at, revile” (“G987 – blasphēmeō (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org).

Again, Peter speaks of them blaspheming “the glorious ones,” using the term, δόξα (doxa), a term that be used to refer to angels. In this case, Peter could have been talking about those angels who fell from their once glorious position in heaven and were cast down by God. These false teachers were evidently belittling these fallen angels or denying their existence altogether. But as a way of contrast, Peter indicates that angels – ἄγγελος (aggelos) – “though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord” (2 Peter 2:11 ESV). Here he appears to be referring to those angels who still reside in heaven. These “good” angels do not speak reproachfully to God about those angels who have fallen. Yet these false teachers do. Jude explains that they blaspheme all that they do not understand. They discount or dismiss what they do not know. Peter says they blaspheme “about matters of which they are ignorant.” Blasphemy, at its root, refers to “stupid speech.” It is to speak authoritatively, yet ignorantly, about things you do not understand. And just like the false prophets to whom Peter referred earlier, these men would “be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing” (2 Peter 2:12-13 ESV).

It seems apparent that these overconfident purveyors of false doctrine were spouting opinions about a wide variety of matters. They were also conducting their lives in a manner that was inconsistent with true faith in Christ. Peter accused them of wrongdoing, of reveling in the daytime, having eyes full of adultery, and an insatiable appetite for sin. They were hedonistic, driven by their sinful desires, and addicted to the finer things in life. Peter’s reference to their eyes being full of adultery would seem to indicate that their minds were overflowing with thoughts of unfaithfulness to God. While it could mean that they were involved in literal adultery, it makes more sense within the context to see this as an indictment of their faithfulness to God and His Word. Their unfaithfulness was deceiving and leading astray those who had “unsteady” or unstable souls. The spiritually immature were especially susceptible to the teachings of these individuals.

Jude’s description of them is quite revealing.

These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted;  wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. – Jude 1:12-13 ESV

They were like waterless clouds. They appeared to bring much-needed rain but were simply blown by the wind, never delivering that which they promised. They were like fruitless trees, dead and uprooted, capable of providing nothing in the way of real nourishment. They were like crashing waves, loud and impressive, but ultimately destructive. And like wandering stars, they were unreliable as guides to the lost. They could not be relied upon for direction in life because they were inconsistent and constantly changing their opinions.

Both Peter and Jude accuse them of following “the way of Balaam.” This refers to a story in the Old Testament when Balaam, a false prophet, was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse the people of Israel. When God prevented Balaam from doing so, the false prophet counseled Balak to invite the people of Israel to join the people of Moab in a feast to honor their false god. The book of Numbers records what happened: “Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord” (Numbers 31:16 ESV).

The Moabites were known for their practice of prostitution as part of the worship of their god. The Israelites, under the deceptive influence of Balaam, soon found themselves participating in the immoral festivities associated with the worship of the false gods of Moab.

While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. – Numbers 25:1-3 ESV

So the false teachers, like Balaam, were guilty of leading the people of God astray. He “loved gain from wrongdoing.” He had been in it for what he could get out of it. And like Balaam, these false teachers would obstinately walk in their own sinful state of delusion, refusing to listen to the words of God and the warnings of His prophets. These false teachers had developed a false sense of security, ultimately believing that what they were saying was true. Their greatest danger was the sincerity and sense of authority they evoked. They appeared to believe that what they taught was true. They came across as confident and sure of themselves. But as Jude describes them, they were like “hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves” (Jude 1:12 ESV).

They were dangerous. They were subtle and seductive. They were self-serving and focused only on satisfying their own desires. So, Peter warned that these people were to be avoided at all costs. They were to be exposed and expelled from the church. They were not bad teachers. In fact, most of them were very good at what they did. The problem was that they were highly influential and inspirational. They were persuasive and their teaching came across as reasonable and right. But that was the hidden danger behind all their sophisticated rhetoric. The bottom line was that they had “wandered off the right road” (2 Peter 2:15 NLT). They had taken the wrong path and were teaching an errant gospel.

In what appears to be a rather humorous self-reference, Peter takes his readers back to the Old Testament story of Balaam. He reminds them that Balaam “was stopped from his mad course when his donkey rebuked him with a human voice” (2 Peter 2:16 NLT). God had intervened and prevented Balaam from cursing the people of Israel. In a highly unlikely miracle, Balaam received a divine word of warning from his own talking donkey. God used this “irrational” and unthinking animal to declare truth to a revered prophet who was blind to the danger he faced. It seems that Peter was portraying himself as the donkey, an unlikely instrument in the hands of God, who was attempting to warn the blind and susceptible believers of the potential danger they faced.   

And, for Peter, that danger was both real and potentially deadly. That’s why he continued to express his strong feelings about these deceptively dangerous promoters of heresy.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

An Ever-Present Danger

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

Peter has just stressed the superiority of the Old Testament prophets and the God-ordained nature of their messages.

…no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:20-21 ESV

And Peter has confirmed that he and his fellow apostles had seen the validity of their words confirmed in the life of Jesus. In fact, Peter and his companions had received a personal lesson on Messianic prophecies from the lips of Jesus Himself. In one of His many post-resurrection appearances, Jesus surprised His followers by showing up unexpectedly in the room where they had gathered behind locked doors.

Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things.” – Luke 24:44-48 NLT

Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, using books of the law, the prophets, and even the Psalms, revealing every passage that had been written about the coming Messiah and how He had fulfilled each of them.

The prophecies found in God’s Word could be trusted because they had been proven true. But even during the days of Jeremiah, Isaiah, and the other prophets of old, there had been other men who claimed to be speaking on behalf of God. They had declared themselves to be divinely-appointed messengers but their words were contradictory to those of God’s chosen prophets. And the prophet Ezekiel delivered God’s stinging indictment against these charlatans.

Then this message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, prophesy against the false prophets of Israel who are inventing their own prophecies. Say to them, ‘Listen to the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: What sorrow awaits the false prophets who are following their own imaginations and have seen nothing at all!’” – Ezekiel 13:1-3 NLT

God exposed them as fakes and frauds. Their messages may have been clever, creative, and even convincing, but they were not from God. In fact, God went on to declare that their messages had been detrimental rather than helpful.

“They have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation. They have not helped it to stand firm in battle on the day of the Lord. Instead, they have told lies and made false predictions.” – Ezekiel 13:5-6 NLT

These men were nothing more than liars and deceivers, and their false prophecies were giving the people of Israel false hope. While God’s true prophets were warning the people of Israel of pending judgment for their unfaithfulness and calling for repentance, the false prophets were declaring, “all is peaceful” (Ezekiel 13:10 NLT). God accused them of “whitewashing” the wall of rebellion that the people had built against Him. In other words, they were guilty of trying to put a positive spin on a very negative situation. And God warned them that they would suffer severely for their lies.

“Because what you say is false and your visions are a lie, I will stand against you, says the Sovereign Lord. I will raise my fist against all the prophets who see false visions and make lying predictions, and they will be banished from the community of Israel. I will blot their names from Israel’s record books, and they will never again set foot in their own land. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.” – Ezekiel 13:8-9 NLT

With all that as a backdrop, Peter’s words take on a much more forceful tone. Just as God had not tolerated the lies and deception of the false prophets, Peter was not about to put up with the fakes and frauds of his day. He knew that whenever the truth of God was proclaimed, it would be accompanied by lies. Yet those who propagated the lies would claim to be speaking the truth.

But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. – 2 Peter 2:1 NLT

It wasn’t a matter of if, but only when. Peter knew that when the truth of God was opposed or contradicted by lies, Satan was behind it all. He could still remember the words that Jesus had spoken to the religious leaders of Israel.

“…you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

The enemy hates the truth and will do everything in his power to refute it with cleverly-worded counterclaims that are meant to confuse and mislead. That’s why Peter warns that these self-proclaimed truth-tellers “will cleverly teach destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1 NLT). They will promote ideas that are inconsistent with the gospel of the Kingdom, as preached by Peter, Paul, and the rest of the apostles. But they won’t stop there. They will even “deny the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1 NLT). For Peter, this was the most egregious aspect of their deceitful plan. During Peter’s lifetime, he would hear of heretical teaching infiltrating the church that denied the deity of Jesus. These people taught that Jesus had been a man and nothing more. He simply lived an exemplary life that could be easily emulated by His followers. Others taught that Jesus had been divine and had only appeared to be a man. So, according to this teaching, His suffering and death had been simulated and not real.

All of these heresies were attempts to explain away Jesus’ claim to be the God-man, a truly unique individual who was 100 percent God and, at the same time, 100 percent human. Because men found it difficult to resolve this seeming contradiction, they began to use their imaginations to develop more feasible explanations. But in doing so, they were denying the clear teachings of the Word of God, and they were contradicting what Jesus had claimed about Himself.

In essence, they were teaching “a different Jesus,” which is exactly what the apostle Paul had warned the believers in Corinth about.

You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed. – 2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT

And Paul was appalled to find out that the churches in Galatia had fallen prey to the same heretical teaching.

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. – Galatians 1:6-9 NLT

The enemy had been busy. Satan had raised up a host of false teachers who were disseminating his imaginative but wholly fictitious version of the truth. And Peter expressed his concern that “Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality” (2 Peter 2:2 NLT). He knew these false teachers would find a ready and willing audience to embrace their heretical ideas. The early church was filled with immature believers who were easily susceptible to falsehood. As Peter revealed in his first letter, many of these people were suffering persecution for their faith and struggling with doubts and fears concerning the gospel. Following Christ had turned out to be far more difficult than they had expected. So, when these self-proclaimed apostles or messengers showed up with their more reasonable and acceptable version of the truth, they were all ears. 

But Peter warned that these men were motivated by greed, not the gospel. They were marketing their pseudo-gospel for what they could get out of it. These prophets of profit were users and abusers, and Peter warned thatGod would hold them accountable for their actions.

In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed. – 2 Peter 2:3 NLT

But it was not just the false teachers who would suffer. Peter wanted his readers to know that buying into their lies would lead to apostasy, a sin that has always resulted in serious and even deadly consequences. This matter was not to be taken lightly, and false teachers were not to be treated politely.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

So Close, But Yet So Far

11 Now an old prophet lived in Bethel. And his sons came and told him all that the man of God had done that day in Bethel. They also told to their father the words that he had spoken to the king. 12 And their father said to them, “Which way did he go?” And his sons showed him the way that the man of God who came from Judah had gone. 13 And he said to his sons, “Saddle the donkey for me.” So they saddled the donkey for him and he mounted it. 14 And he went after the man of God and found him sitting under an oak. And he said to him, “Are you the man of God who came from Judah?” And he said, “I am.” 15 Then he said to him, “Come home with me and eat bread.” 16 And he said, “I may not return with you, or go in with you, neither will I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place, 17 for it was said to me by the word of the Lord, ‘You shall neither eat bread nor drink water there, nor return by the way that you came.’” 18 And he said to him, “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.’” But he lied to him. 19 So he went back with him and ate bread in his house and drank water.

20 And as they sat at the table, the word of the Lord came to the prophet who had brought him back. 21 And he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have disobeyed the word of the Lord and have not kept the command that the Lord your God commanded you, 22 but have come back and have eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which he said to you, “Eat no bread and drink no water,” your body shall not come to the tomb of your fathers.’” 23 And after he had eaten bread and drunk, he saddled the donkey for the prophet whom he had brought back. 24 And as he went away a lion met him on the road and killed him. And his body was thrown in the road, and the donkey stood beside it; the lion also stood beside the body. 25 And behold, men passed by and saw the body thrown in the road and the lion standing by the body. And they came and told it in the city where the old prophet lived.

26 And when the prophet who had brought him back from the way heard of it, he said, “It is the man of God who disobeyed the word of the Lord; therefore the Lord has given him to the lion, which has torn him and killed him, according to the word that the Lord spoke to him.” 27 And he said to his sons, “Saddle the donkey for me.” And they saddled it. 28 And he went and found his body thrown in the road, and the donkey and the lion standing beside the body. The lion had not eaten the body or torn the donkey. 29 And the prophet took up the body of the man of God and laid it on the donkey and brought it back to the city to mourn and to bury him. 30 And he laid the body in his own grave. And they mourned over him, saying, “Alas, my brother!” 31 And after he had buried him, he said to his sons, “When I die, bury me in the grave in which the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones. 32 For the saying that he called out by the word of the Lord against the altar in Bethel and against all the houses of the high places that are in the cities of Samaria shall surely come to pass.”

33 After this thing Jeroboam did not turn from his evil way, but made priests for the high places again from among all the people. Any who would, he ordained to be priests of the high places. 34 And this thing became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth. 1 Kings 13:11-34 ESV

After delivering God’s message of judgment to Jeroboam and having destroyed the altar dedicated to one of Jeroboam’s false gods, the young prophet had begun his return journey to Judah. He had successfully fulfilled His God-ordained mission and had been given strict instructions to spend no additional time among the northern tribes. He was to accept no forms of hospitality or allow anyone or anything to delay his return home. He was even warned to take a different route back to Judah in order to prevent anyone from interfering with his mission. And this young prophet had proved to be obedient to the will of God. He had rejected Jeroboam’s tempting offer of a meal and a reward, declaring his intentions to remain faithful to every detail of God’s instructions.

“Even if you gave me half of everything you own, I would not go with you. I would not eat or drink anything in this place. For the Lord gave me this command: ‘You must not eat or drink anything while you are there, and do not return to Judah by the same way you came.’” So he left Bethel and went home another way. – 1 Kings 13:8-10 NLT

But as the story continues to unfold, we find the young prophet taking what appears to be an unsanctioned break under a large tree. Having not yet crossed the border into Judah, he decided to take a much-needed rest. While the text does not tell where the young man began his journey to Judah that day, it is likely that he had spent many hours making the trip to Bethel. If he began his trip from Jerusalem, it would have been a 90-mile trek to Bethels. And now, after having destroyed the Jeroboam’s altar to his false god, the prophet was having to walk all the way back. So, it makes perfect sense that he was weary from all the activity and excitement of the day. He was tired, hungry, and alone. But he had not yet completed his mission. He had been instructed by God to return to Judah without delay and to avoid all distractions.

Yet, as the young man rested under the tree, he was approached by a stranger – an old prophet who happened to live in Bethel. The author provides few details about this man, except that he was a prophet and a father. His sons, who had witnessed the events at the altar that day, returned home and told him all about all that the young prophet had said and done. Intrigued by what he heard, the elder prophet commanded his sons to saddle a donkey so that he could seek out his young peer. It seems likely that he simply wanted to verify the message the younger prophet had delivered. As a prophet himself, this older man would have been interested in whether the message delivered by the young man was actually from God. If it was, there were dark days ahead for the northern kingdom. Remember what the young prophet had declared at the altar earlier that day.

“A child named Josiah will be born into the dynasty of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests from the pagan shrines who come here to burn incense, and human bones will be burned on you.” – 1 Kings 13:2 NLT

Those were serious words that implied future judgment against the northern kingdom and this senior prophet was anxious to verify their veracity. So, he mounted his donkey and began his search for the one who had delivered this foreboding message. And because the young prophet had decided to take his unscheduled rest stop under the tree, the older prophet caught up with him before he had crossed over into Judah. This is where it gets interesting.

Based on what happens next, it is difficult to understand the motives of the older man. But we are clearly told that he used deception in order to convince the younger prophet to return to his home for a meal. His offer had been rejected by the young man because it violated the command of God.

“I am not allowed to eat or drink anything here in this place. For the Lord gave me this command: ‘You must not eat or drink anything while you are there, and do not return to Judah by the same way you came.’” – 1 Kings 13:16-17 NLT

It is clear that they were still within the borders of Israel. The young prophet had not yet made it to the safety of Judah. But, anxious to hear more about the young man’s message from God, the older prophet lied to him. He falsely claimed to have been given a message from an angel commanding him to bring the young man to his home for a meal. Driven by hunger, the young prophet lowered his defenses and accepted the offer. But in doing so, he disobeyed the command of God. He allowed his physical appetites to cloud his thinking and compromise his convictions.

The text indicates that the young prophet ended up violating the divine decree by sharing a meal in the older prophet’s home. And as soon as he had eaten the food he had been commanded to avoid, the young man received a stinging rebuke from God delivered by the very man who had just deceived him.

“This is what the Lord says: You have defied the word of the Lord and have disobeyed the command the Lord your God gave you. You came back to this place and ate and drank where he told you not to eat or drink. Because of this, your body will not be buried in the grave of your ancestors.” – 1 Kings 13:21-22 NLT

This time, the older prophet had spoken the truth. His lie had caused the younger prophet to disobey God. And now, he had the unpleasant responsibility of delivering God’s message of judgment against the very man he had deceived and caused to disobey. The rest of the story reads like something out of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. The young man, with a full stomach and a heavy heart, began his journey home. But before he could make it into Judah, he was attacked by a lion. The beast killed the prophet but left the donkey unmolested, then stood sentry over the fallen body. And passing travelers saw the strange scene and reported it back in Bethel. Upon hearing the news, the older prophet retrieved the body of the young man and placed it in his own tomb, located in the city of Bethel.

The old man was now fully convinced that what the young prophet had said had been the word of God.

“For the message the Lord told him to proclaim against the altar in Bethel and against the pagan shrines in the towns of Samaria will certainly come true.” – 1 Kings 13:32 NLT

Yahweh had used this young, unnamed prophet to declare His judgment against the ten northern tribes. Their continued apostasy would eventually lead to their destruction. When it came to His chosen people, God was deadly serious that they obey Him. Whether they were a fully united confederation of 12 tribes or divided into two rival kingdoms, they remained His prized possession and were obligated to live according to His commands. Obedience would bring the blessings of God. But disobedience would bring His curses. And the young prophet had learned the costly lesson that partial obedience was insufficient and unacceptable to God. He had almost completed his mission but had ultimately failed. He had been sent by God but had ended up being punished by God for allowing the things of this world to distract him from his end goal. Had he crossed the border into Judah, he could have eaten his fill of food. But he compromised. He allowed his physical appetites to cloud his thinking and distract him from his God-given assignment. And he paid dearly for his mistake. This young man’s life is a perfect illustration of what the apostle John warned about in his first epistle. The young prophet’s desire for physical pleasure ended up superseding his love for God and it proved not only disappointing, but deadly.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Truth-Tellers Vs Ear-Ticklers

Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
    who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace”
    when they have something to eat,
but declare war against him
    who puts nothing into their mouths.
Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
    and darkness to you, without divination.
The sun shall go down on the prophets,
    and the day shall be black over them;
the seers shall be disgraced,
    and the diviners put to shame;
they shall all cover their lips,
    for there is no answer from God.
But as for me, I am filled with power,
    with the Spirit of the Lord,
    and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
    and to Israel his sin. – Micah 3:5-8 ESV

In these verses, you can almost sense Micah’s anger as he addresses his adversaries – those individuals who had chosen to deliver a different message to the people of Judah. Micah’s job was hard enough without having to deal with the constant presence of those who contradicted his words by offering the people false promises of hope. These men were responsible for the attitude of arrogant pride that pervaded the nation of Judah. They were willing to tell the people what they wanted to hear– in return for personal gain and popularity. But their attempts to paint a rosy picture of the future was in direct conflict with the message God had given Micah, Isaiah, and the other prophets.

And while their message that all would be well in Judah won them plenty of friends and made Micah persona non grata in the community, they were not speaking for God.

Your prophets have said
    so many foolish things, false to the core.
They did not save you from exile
    by pointing out your sins.
Instead, they painted false pictures,
    filling you with false hope. – Lamentations 2:14 NLT

“From the least to the greatest,
    their lives are ruled by greed.
From prophets to priests,
    they are all frauds.
14 They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace. – Jeremiah 6:13-14 NLT

These men were using their perceived position as prophets of God for personal gain. Micah accuses them of telling people what they wanted to hear as long as they got something in return.

You promise peace for those who give you food,
    but you declare war on those who refuse to feed you. – Micah 3:5 NLT

They didn’t care about the well-being of the people and they didn’t speak for God. They were fabricating tales designed to make people feel good. Rather than calling the people to repentance, they were encouraging them to continue doing the very things that God had promised to judge. And the people were drawn to these false prophets with their pleasant-sounding, ear-tickling lies disguised as messages from God.

The apostle Paul warned Timothy to expect this same kind of behavior in his day. Wherever and whenever the people of God gather, they will attract charlatans and frauds posing as pastors, teachers, and prophets of God.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

And the primary danger of these posers and fakers is that their message is always designed to appeal to the sinful nature of men. Rather than convict of sin, they will encourage compromise with the world. Instead of calling God’s people to repentance, they will lead them into further sin, by promoting and condoning behavior that is not in keeping with God’s will.

But while these false prophets will always find a ready and willing audience, they will also discover that God stands opposed to all that they do. Deeming themselves to be shepherds of God’s sheep, the Great Shepherd was going to repay them for the damage they had done to His flock.

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the LORD.

Therefore, this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to these shepherds: “Instead of caring for my flock and leading them to safety, you have deserted them and driven them to destruction. Now I will pour out judgment on you for the evil you have done to them.” – Jeremiah 23:1-12 NLT

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey. – Ezekiel 34:9-10 NLT

Micah has strong words for those who were misleading the sheep of Judah. And, addressing their claim to be speaking on behalf of God, he warns that their days of prophecy and divination were coming to an end. Micah knew that he was speaking for God and that all the judgments he had been warning about were going to take place. When they did, these false prophets would themselves plunged into the darkness of ignorance, unable to explain away the suffering and sorrow taking place all around them.

When the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem finally came, these false prophets would be exposed for what they really were: Liars. Their 15-minutes of fame would come to an abrupt and painful end. It will be difficult to sell a message of “peace” and “all will be well” when the Babylonians are destroying your city and taking your friends and neighbors captive.

Anyone can claim to speak for God but, ultimately, they will have to answer to Him for all that they have said on His behalf and in His name. No matter how attractive their message may have been and despite the number of people it may have fooled, God will be the one who repays them for the lies they have spread in His name.

The sun will set for you prophets,
    and your day will come to an end.
Then you seers will be put to shame,
    and you fortune-tellers will be disgraced.
And you will cover your faces
    because there is no answer from God. – Micah 3:6-7 NLT

But Micah boldly proclaims his confidence in who he is and in all that he has said.

But as for me, I am filled with power—
    with the Spirit of the Lord.
I am filled with justice and strength
    to boldly declare Israel’s sin and rebellion. – Micah 3:8 NLT

As a messenger of God, Micah had the full backing and support of the Spirit God. His message, while unappealing and unpopular, was true. When Micah spoke, he did so with God’s blessing. His message was just and right because it came from the lips of God Himself. He could speak confidently and powerfully, boldly declaring the sins of the people of Judah, even when they rejected his words and resisted his efforts.

They didn’t have to listen to him, but it would be in their best interest if they did. They could continue to pay the false prophets to tell them what they wanted to hear, but it would prove to be a poor investment. They could deny the warnings of Micah and refuse to believe that judgment was coming, but it wouldn’t change a thing. The truth of God is not always easy to hear. His condemnation of our sin and His call to repentance is intended to bring about conviction and to promote confession. But our sin natures inflate our pride by encouraging a belief in our own self-righteousness. We refuse to believe we’re as bad as God says we are. And so, we seek out teachers, preachers, authors, and speakers who will promote and encourage our sense of self-worth and assuage any feelings of guilt or conviction we may be feeling.

But self-deceit and false teaching will never produce fruit in keeping with true repentance (Matthew 3:8). Trying to convince yourself that you’re inherently good and surrounding yourself with those who will support that conclusion will only lead to disappointment. That’s why the people of God need to seek out those who will speak the truth of God boldly and unapologetically – men and women who share the conviction of Micah and who stand side-by-side with the apostle Paul in his conviction to preach the gospel faithfully, regardless of the cost.

Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition. So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery.

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. – 1 Thessalonians 2:2-6 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Do your best to come to me soon. 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. 12 Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15 Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. 2 Timothy 4:9-15 ESV

When reading the letters of Paul, it can be easy to assume that he was a spiritual loner who, by virtue of his job, traveled from place to place, and never put down any roots. He can come across as a kind of spiritual soldier of fortune, making his way from one city to the next, staying just as long as it takes to make enough converts to start a local church. His work done, Paul would pack his parchments and scant belongings and head to yet another town where he would start the whole process over again.

This image of Paul as a type-A personality with an over-zealous constitution and a somewhat legalistic, doctrinally-driven mindset is inaccurate and unfair. Even a cursory reading of his many letters will reveal a man who had a deep love and concern for others. Yes, he was driven. He was a man on a mission. And he would not allow himself to be distracted by the cares of this world. But that does not mean he was callous, cold, or uncaring. As a leader, Paul had an unwavering commitment to preach the gospel with boldness, in the face of intense opposition from some and the stubborn obstinance of others. Yet, he had a pastor’s heart that beat fast for each and every person who came to faith in Christ through his ministry.

You can sense Paul’s love and concern in the way he addressed those under his care.

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. I wish I were with you right now so I could change my tone. But at this distance I don’t know how else to help you. – Galatians 4:19-20 NLT

I am not writing these things to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children. For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you. – 1 Corinthians 4:14-15 NLT

…we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too. – 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 NLT

Like any loving parent, Paul could be demanding and doting. He could admonish and encourage. He was deeply concerned for the well-being of each and every individual who had come to Christ under his ministry. They did not view them as notches on his belt or numbers on a spreadsheet. They were his spiritual children and he cared deeply for them. Just as much as he cared for Timothy.

So, as Paul begins to draw his letter to Timothy to a close, he mentions seven different individuals with whom he had developed relationships: Demas, Crescens, Titus, Luke, Mark, Tychicus, and Alexander. Some of these names are more familiar than others, appearing elsewhere in the New Testament. But there are a few whose exact identities and roles in Paul’s life remain a mystery. But this list of names reveals the diverse nature of Paul’s relational pool. The sheer scope of his ministry necessitated interaction with a wide range of individuals, some of whom he developed deep and lasting relationships. Others remained relatively unknown to Paul, but their anonymity did not diminish his care for them.

Seemingly convinced that his conviction and death at the hands of the Romans was drawing near, Paul appealed to Timothy to come to visit him in Rome. You can almost feel Paul’s sense of loneliness as he pleads with his young friend to make the arduous trip from Ephesus to Rome. Paul has just finished urging Timothy to be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill his ministry (2 Timothy 4:5). And yet, now he expresses his desire for Timothy to drop everything and come to Rome so that he can see him one last time. 

And Paul’s explanation for this impromptu visit was that Demas had deserted him. It seems clear that Demas was a ministry associate of Paul’s and had been working alongside him during his imprisonment in Rome. But Paul accuses Demas of jumping ship, having fallen “in love with this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10 ESV). As a minister of the gospel, Paul had the extreme joy of leading many people to Christ and of training others for ministry. But he also had the unenviable task of watching some stray from the path of faith. Earlier in this same letter, he mentioned Hymenaeus and Philetus, who had “swerved from the truth” (2 Timothy 2:18 ESV). In his first letter to Timothy, Paul had called out Hymenaeus and Alexander, accusing them of having “suffered shipwreck in regard to the faith” (1 Timothy 1:19 ESV).

Paul knew what it was like to feel betrayed and abandoned by the very ones in whom he had poured his life. He had experienced the pain of watching leaders wander from the truth into false doctrine. He had witnessed countless individuals walk away from the faith because the path was more difficult than they expected. And now, he had been forced to watch Demas abandon his calling because his love for Christ had been replaced by a love for the things of this world. Demas had lived out exactly what Paul had warned Timothy about. He had become a lover of pleasure rather than a love of God (2 Timothy 3:4). Demas had failed to fulfill his ministry and this had to have caused Paul much pain and disappointment.

But not all of Paul’s ministry companions had walked away from the faith or deserted his side. Some, like Crescens and Titus, had left Paul in Rome so that they might carry the gospel to places like Galatia and Dalmatia. These men must have brought Paul great encouragement as he watched them do the work of the ministry he was no longer able to perform. But it was probably difficult for him to send these men into the world, knowing that they were going to face difficulties and trials, just as he had.

The departures of Crescens and Titus had left Paul with one remaining companion, the physician, Luke. It seems that, even while imprisoned in Rome, Paul had enjoyed regular visits from many of his friends and ministry associates. But, as the reality of his pending death grew clearer, Paul desired to reconnect with those whom he had not seen in some time. This included John Mark, another one of his former disciples and companions. Acts 13 reveals that, at one point on one of their missionary journeys, John Mark had left Paul and Barnabas and had returned to Jerusalem. No explanation is given for his departure, but Paul instructs Timothy to pick up John Mark and bring him to Rome. And Paul seems to provide Timothy with the assurance that all will be go well in Ephesus in his absence because he had sent Tychicus to serve in his place.

Paul also instructed Timothy to bring some specific items that he needed. One was a cloak Paul had evidently loaned to someone named Carpus. He also requested some books and parchments that he had likely lent to Timothy to assist in his studies. These could have included scrolls from Paul’s personal library that contained copies of the Old Testament scriptures. Even in old age and facing imminent death, Paul was still reading, learning, and studying. And as his letter to Timothy illustrates, even in prison, Paul was still teaching, training, encouraging, and pouring his life into others.

Finally, Paul warns Timothy to avoid someone he describes as Alexander the coppersmith. Paul accuses Alexander of having done him “great harm” opposing his message. No further explanation is given, but it seems clear that Timothy was familiar with Alexander and Paul wanted him to avoid this man like the plague. Once again, this warning fits in with Paul’s earlier admonition to Timothy regarding godless people.

They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! – 2 Timothy 3:5 NLT

The gospel ministry will be accompanied by all kinds of people. There will be true converts and there will be those who only appear to have saving faith but who eventually walk away when the going gets tough. There will be self-proclaimed teachers who replace the truth of God with pleasant-sounding platitudes that tickle peoples’ ears and attract fairweather followers.

For every Demas and Alexander, there would be a Crescens and Titus. But Paul was convinced that the preaching of the good news was going to attract bad apples. The crowds attracted by the gospel message would end up attracting people who saw an opportunity to personally prosper by replacing the truth with ear-tickling claims that promoted wickedness rather than godliness. So, even as he prepares to conclude his letter to Timothy, he keeps warning his young friend to stay alert and to remain faithful to his calling. Because “in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Timothy 3:1 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Another Gospel

Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. – 2 John 1:9-11 ESV

John, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, took his role seriously. He had high regard for the teachings of Jesus and a strong sense of responsibility when it came to the wellbeing of the body of Christ. Like Paul, his fellow apostle, John was always on the lookout for those who would do harm to the church of Jesus Christ. They were both very aware that the enemy was out to destroy what Jesus had created. And Jesus, on the very night He was betrayed into the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, had made a heartfelt request of His Heavenly Father:

“I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.” – John 17:14-19 NLT

Jesus knew His followers were going to face intense opposition. Satan was going to throw all his resources against those who aligned themselves with Jesus Christ. When his attempt to thwart the redemptive plan of God by murdering the Son of God proved an abysmal failure, Satan would ramp up his efforts to stifle the Gospel by diluting and distorting it with lies and half-truths. But notice what Jesus prayed that night. He asked that His Father would keep His followers holy or set apart by the truth of His Word.

The truth of the Gospel message was going to be the key to resisting the lies of the enemy. And John warns his readers that anyone who did not remain committed to the teachings of Jesus never really knew Him. If they ended up rejecting the claims of Jesus to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world, it would be because they never truly believed in Him, to begin with. And John bluntly states that the rejection of Jesus as the incarnation of God in the flesh was to reject God Himself.

Anyone who wanders away from this teaching has no relationship with God. – 2 John 1:9 NLT

It is interesting to note that John describes these deserters of the Gospel as “running ahead.” He used the Greek word, parabainō, which conveys the idea of passing over or stepping around something. It is often translated as “transgress.” Under the influence of the false teachers, these people would choose to walk around the truths regarding Jesus and pass on to something new and seemingly better. Convinced that they were hearing new and improved information regarding Jesus, they would leave the teachings of the apostles behind. But John warns that, in doing so, they would be turning their backs on God. And John was not making this up. He was simply repeating what He had heard Jesus say.

“If I were to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid. But someone else is also testifying about me, and I assure you that everything he says about me is true. In fact, you sent investigators to listen to John the Baptist, and his testimony about me was true. Of course, I have no need of human witnesses, but I say these things so you might be saved. John was like a burning and shining lamp, and you were excited for a while about his message. But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me. And the Father who sent me has testified about me himself. You have never heard his voice or seen him face to face, and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you.” – John 5:31-38 NLT

The testimony of God verified the claims of Jesus. And no additional truth or new revelations from the lips of men were going to replace what God had declared about Jesus. “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him” (Luke 9:35 NLT).

John had no doubt as to Jesus’ deity and His claims of divinity. He had heard Jesus boldly claim, “I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me” (John 8:18 ESV). And John had been an eye-witness to not only the crucifixion of Jesus but also His miraculous resurrection. Everything had happened just as Jesus had said it would. He had risen from the dead, and John had seen it with his own eyes. 

So, John flatly asserts that if anyone suddenly decided that the truth as testified by God was false, they were the ones who were in error. John could well remember the extremely harsh words Jesus had spoken to the religious leaders of the Jews.

“Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” – John 8:19 NLT

A false understanding of Jesus and His identity will lead to a false understanding of God. If Jesus was just a man, then God is a liar. If Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, then God has provided no means by which men can be restored to a right relationship with Him. The apostle Paul pointed out the futility of faith in a Jesus who did not rise from the grave.

…if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:17-18 NLT

But Paul goes on to provide the truth regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection.

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. – 1 Corinthians 15:19 NLT

And John fully supports Paul’s assertion when he states, “But anyone who remains in the teaching of Christ has a relationship with both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9 NLT). Those who remain committed to and dependent upon the promise of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone will not be disappointed. To know Jesus is to know the Father. That is why Jesus claimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” (John 14:6-7 NLT).

John wanted his audience to know that they were to have nothing to do with those who preached a different version of Jesus. If their teaching contradicted that of Jesus and the apostles, the church was to have nothing to do with them.

If anyone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite that person into your home or give any kind of encouragement. – 2 John 1:10 NLT

When it came to the Gospel, there was to be no place for toleration of alternate versions or new insights into who Jesus was and what He had come to do. The apostle Paul accused the church in Corinth of happily putting up with all kinds of false messages, including “a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed” (2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT). He issued a similar condemnation to the church in Galatia.

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News. – Galatians 1:6 NLT

This was a real problem in the early days of the church, and it remains so even today. And the warning John gave to the members of the church in Asia Minor is just as relevant for us as it was for them.

Anyone who encourages such people becomes a partner in their evil work… – 2 John 1:11 NLT

The Gospel is the Gospel. It is not to be added to, distorted in any way, clarified, or amplified. In fact, the apostle Paul warns that anyone who tampers with the Gospel message as testified by God, proclaimed by Jesus, and preached by the apostles was to be cursed.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. – Galatians 1:8-9 NLT

Serious and sober words because the message of the Gospel is the key to eternal life.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Not Up For Debate

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. – Titus 1:10-16 ESV

Verses 5-9 give Titus the what behind his job description. He is supposed to complete any unfinished business regarding the churches on Crete, and he was to select and appoint elders to help oversee each congregation. Now, in verses 10-16, Paul provides him with the why. The gospel was spreading on Crete, and the churches were increasing in number and size. The expansion of the ministry had brought in more people, but also a range of problems. Success has a way of attracting attention, and because the number of converts to Christianity was increasing, this new religion was gaining interest among those who had less-than-godly motives.

One of the reasons behind Paul’s instructions that Titus appoint qualified men to serve as elders over the churches was the presence of some bad influences within the local congregations. Paul gives the impression that this was not a case of a few bad apples, but a whole barrel-full. And his description of these people is far from flattering. He describes them as insubordinate, empty talkers, and deceivers. Their lives were characterized by a refusal to submit to authority. The Greek word Paul used is anypotaktos, and it can literally be translated as “not subject to.” These people answered to no one but themselves. So, Titus was going to need a group of elders who could assist him in stemming the negative influence of these individuals, because they were empty talkers. Here Paul uses a Greek word that is actually a contraction of two other words: mataiologos. The first half refers to vanity or something that lacks truth or purpose. Therefore, it has no beneficial value. The second half of the word refers to speech and, when you combine the two you get the idea of useless words that have no basis in truth and no lasting benefit. In fact, Paul describes their words as deceptive. He uses the Greek word phrenapatēs, which is a contraction of two other words and literally means “mind-misleader.” 

These people were what Paul would describe as false teachers. They were men and women who had brought their own agendas into the church and were propagating ideas that were not in line with the teaching of the apostles. Their “empty talk” was likely a toxic cocktail that attempted to blend pagan ideas and their own personal perspectives with the gospel message. And Paul specifically points out “those of the circumcision party” – the Jewish converts to Christianity who were demanding that all Gentile converts submit to the rite of circumcision and agree to keep the Mosaic Law in order to be considered truly saved. 

These people were guilty of the very same thing Jesus accused the Jewish religious leaders of in His day.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT

Paul had been forced to confront the same problem among the Colossian believers, and he warned them:

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. – Colossians 2:8 NLT

Paul had gone on to tell the believers in Colossae that these man-made rules and requirements had no lasting value. They were simply a listing of dos and don’ts that were based on mere whim and not the word of God.

…why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. – Colossians 2:20-22 NLT

And Paul tells Titus that these kinds of people need to be silenced. Their false ideas were not to be tolerated and, most certainly, were not to be amalgamated into the doctrine of the church. That is why Paul insisted that any elder candidate must “have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong” (Titus 1:9 NLT). It is difficult to confront falsehood if you don’t know the truth. You will find it hard to correct others if you have no clue as to what they are saying or doing wrong. 

But pointing out the error behind false teaching is one of the key roles of an elder. Which is why it essential that an elder be one who is steeped in the Word of God and “who correctly explains the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NLT). Otherwise, falsehood will spread throughout the church unrecognized and unabated. So, Paul warns Timothy: “They must be silenced, because they are turning whole families away from the truth by their false teaching” (Titus 1:11 NLT). False teaching has real consequences. It is dangerous and deadly because it leads people away from the truth of the gospel. In the case of the party of the circumcision, they were adding to the gospel, demanding that rule-keeping was a necessary part of salvation. In their minds, salvation was no longer a free gift from available through the grace of God. It was based on a set of rules determined by men. And Paul would have nothing to do with it.

And the worst part of the whole affair is that the individuals spreading these lies were not doing it for the good of the church, but for their own selfish gain. They were in it for what they could get out of it, and that most likely included power, prestige, influence, and, possibly, financial gain. These people saw themselves as on an equal plain with that of Paul and the other apostles. They deemed themselves to be spokesmen for God, but they had not been sent by God. And there were not teaching the truth of God.

Quoting a well-known Cretan poet, who described his own people as “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12 ESV), Paul seems to be saying that the people of Crete were prone to being deceived. They were buying what these false teachers were selling, which is why Paul tells Titus to “rebuke them sharply.” This was serious business, and there was no room for diplomacy or political correctness. And Titus was to concern himself with the strengthening of the faith of any who had been misled by the teaching of these individuals. He was to call them back to the truth of the gospel message as expressed by Jesus and His disciples. And by promoting the truth, Titus would help the believers in Crete to stop “devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 ESV).

One of the primary errors Paul and Titus were having to expose was asceticism. This was teaching that promoted the abstaining from certain foods or activities. It was a works-based mentality that equated spirituality with self-denial. But Paul wanted Titus to remember that to the pure all things are pure. In other words, a Christian’s righteousness is not based on his or her activities or abstentions from certain actions, but on the finished work of Jesus Christ. While our behavior is important, it is not what makes us right with God. As Isaiah so clearly stated, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV).

Paul was echoing the words of Jesus, who taught His disciples, “Don’t you understand yet? Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you” (Matthew 15:16-20 NLT).

This is what Titus was to reaffirm to the believers on Crete, because the false teachers were confusing the matter. They were teaching that was made impure from outside influences. Therefore, abstinence was the key to spirituality. But Paul wanted Titus to drive home the gospel message that true spirituality begins on the inside, in the heart, as the Spirit of God takes up residence in the believer and transforms him from the inside out.

And just in case Titus has missed his point in all of this, Paul makes it painfully clear, declaring that the false teachers on Crete “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:15 ESV). He leaves no doubt as to his opinion of these people. And he gives Titus no room for negotiation with them. They are unfit for any good work. And Titus, with the help of the elders he would eventually appoint, was expected to deal with these people quickly and effectively, for the sake of the body of Christ on Crete.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.s

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson