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.

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

The Power to Stay Persistent

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

Micah now turns his attention to his nemesis, the false prophets, who were constantly contradicting his message and delivering their own version of the “truth.” These men were particularly irritating to Micah because they only made his already difficult job that much harder to do. Their messages filled with optimism were popular among the people but they were not speaking on behalf of God. The book of Lamentation contains a similar indictment against these purveyors of false hope.

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

And the prophet Jeremiah found himself facing a similar challenge, having to deal with his own set of self-proclaimed prophets decimating lies disguised as truth.

“From the least to the greatest,
    their lives are ruled by greed.
From prophets to priests,
    they are all frauds.
They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace.
Are they ashamed of their disgusting actions?
    Not at all—they don’t even know how to blush! – Jeremiah 6:13-15 NLT

Jeremiah compares the actions of these men to someone putting a bandaid on a life-threatening wound. Their treatment protocol for what ailed the nation of Judah was superficial at best, causing the people to have a false sense of hope and encouraging them to remain stubbornly unresponsive to God’s calls to repentance.

Micah accuses these pseudo-prophets of selling their services for personal gain. In exchange for food, these men would issue positive proclamations of “peace.” In other words, if you treated the prophet well, he told you what you wanted to hear. He used his words, supposedly spoken on behalf of God, as a bartering tool to get what he wanted. And if anyone refused to play along with these false prophets, they would find themselves on the receiving end of a curse. Their power to prophesy would be used as a weapon to issue threats and manipulate behavior.

But while the people were easily influenced by these charlatans, God was not going to tolerate their behavior. They were claiming to speak on His behalf, but the words coming out of their mouths were in direct contradiction to His divine will. So, Micah warns them that their 15-minutes of fame is about to come to an end.

Now the night will close around you,
    cutting off all your visions.
Darkness will cover you,
    putting an end to your predictions.
The sun will set for you prophets,
    and your day will come to an end. – Micah 3:6 NLT

Micah uses the image of a pitch-black night to convey the future state of these individuals. Darkness is the absence of light. Light is a symbol of God’s divine revelation. Having prophesied falsely, they were going to find themselves “in the dark” when it came to any future revelations from God. Their status as prophets of God would be irrevocably terminated.

This temptation to speak on behalf of God , using the authority of His name for self-aggrandizement, is real and ever-present. And every generation of God’s people has found itself the recipients of false messages from self-appointed spokesmen for God. And, just as in Micah’s day, these individuals stand condemned by God for their audacity to use His name for personal gain.

“Few men are as pitiable as those who claim to have a call from God yet tailor their sermons to please others. Their first rule is ‘Don’t rock the boat’; their second is ‘Give people what they want.’“ – Warren Wiersbe, “Micah.” In The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets

For Micah, there was a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing that his arch enemies were going to get their just desserts. Their days of deceiving the people were going to 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 3:7 NLT

Having claimed to have been God’s messengers, they were going to find that their communication lines to God were completely cut off. They would call out from their darkness and get no response from heaven. No visions. No prophecies. No answers.

But Micah boldly claimed that he was in the right. He had been a faithful messenger for God, delivering His warnings of coming judgment in the face of constant rejection, ridicule, and hostility.

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

He found comfort in the fact that he had been true to his calling. He had not shirked his God-given responsibility to proclaim the truth. Micah wasn’t in it for money. He didn’t tailor his message to tickle the ears of his audience. He hadn’t offered pleasant-sounding platitudes in exchange for personal perks. He had remained faithful to his God-ordained calling and knew that as long as He spoke God’s word he would have the power of God’s Spirit guiding and protecting him.

Those who have been called by God to serve as His messengers have always faced the very real temptation to alter their message to accommodate the whims of their audience. And there will always be those who sell out their calling in order to cash in on their God-ordained influence. But ministers of God must remain faithful to the One who sent them. Even in the face of ridicule and rejection, they must refuse to dilute their message or to diminish the integrity of their calling.

Their outlook regarding their divine assignment must be the same as that of the apostle Paul.

You know how badly we had been treated at Philippi just before we came to you and how much we suffered there. 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

God’s messengers must remain committed to God’s message. They speak for Him. And, one day, they will answer to Him. But as long as they remain faithful to His calling, they will experience the power of His Holy Spirit and enjoy the assurance that their words are filled with justice and strength.

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

Avoiding the Truth Won’t Void the Consequences

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
    “one should not preach of such things;
    disgrace will not overtake us.”
Should this be said, O house of Jacob?
    Has the Lord grown impatient?
    Are these his deeds?
Do not my words do good
    to him who walks uprightly?
But lately my people have risen up as an enemy;
you strip the rich robe from those who pass by trustingly
    with no thought of war.
The women of my people you drive out
    from their delightful houses;
from their young children you take away
    my splendor forever.
10 Arise and go,
    for this is no place to rest,
because of uncleanness that destroys
    with a grievous destruction.
11 If a man should go about and utter wind and lies,
    saying, “I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,”
    he would be the preacher for this people!
Micah 2:6-11 ESV

Micah, like the rest of God’s prophets, had a very unpopular message to deliver. His words concerning God’s pending judgment were not received well by the people. No one liked hearing that they were guilty of grievous sins against God and stood justly condemned to bear His divine punishment.

The people begged Micah and the other prophets to shut up. They thought that if they could silence the doom and gloom messages of these men, all their problems would go away. The people to whom Isaiah prophesied begged him to simply change the tone of his message.

They tell the seers,
    “Stop seeing visions!”
They tell the prophets,
    “Don’t tell us what is right.
Tell us nice things.
    Tell us lies.
Forget all this gloom.
    Get off your narrow path.
Stop telling us about your
    ‘Holy One of Israel.’” – Isaiah 30:10-11 NLT

They didn’t want to hear the truth, even if it came directly from the lips of God Almighty. Amos, another prophet of God, was told by his contemporaries, “Don’t prophesy against Israel. Stop preaching against my people” (Amos 7:16 NLT). Again, they thought they could change the outcome simply by changing the content of the message. This mindset led to the rise of a virtual cottage industry of false prophets, who gladly told the people what they wanted to hear. They told them nice things. They lied to them. These false prophets took it upon themselves to deliver contradictory yet much-more tolerable messages to the people.

And Micah refers to these naysayers who were demanding that he stop preaching his message of judgment.

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
    “one should not preach of such things;
    disgrace will not overtake us.” – Micah 2:6 ESV

They were prophesying that Micah should stop prophesying. They were claiming his message to be wrong and theirs to be right. And you can imagine how the people responded to these two competing visions of the truth. They sided with the false prophets. They gladly accepted the lie because it was exactly what they wanted to hear. And because these false prophets claimed to be speaking for God, the people soaked up their message eagerly and without discernment.

Generations later, the apostle Paul warned his young protege, Timothy, about this natural propensity on the part of God’s people to reject the truth for a lie.

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

That is exactly what Micah was facing. His audience would prefer to hear him lie than have him speak the truth of God. Micah’s competition was practicing an early form of positive motivational thinking. They were presenting nothing but good news, preferring to focus on what they believed to be their unique position as God’s chosen people. They were counting on the fact that they had a covenant relationship with God Almighty and He was not going to abandon them. It is likely that they turned to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, and cherry-picked passages that would support their more positive point of view.

“Today the Lord your God has commanded you to obey all these decrees and regulations. So be careful to obey them wholeheartedly. You have declared today that the Lord is your God. And you have promised to walk in his ways, and to obey his decrees, commands, and regulations, and to do everything he tells you. The Lord has declared today that you are his people, his own special treasure, just as he promised, and that you must obey all his commands. And if you do, he will set you high above all the other nations he has made. Then you will receive praise, honor, and renown. You will be a nation that is holy to the Lord your God, just as he promised.” – Deuteronomy 26:16-19 NLT

But they conveniently avoided any passage that might paint a more negative outcome.

“But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you…The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the Lord sends you.” – Deuteronomy 28:15, 36-37 NLT

Micah argued with the people, demanding that they not kill the messenger. He was simply telling them the truth and rearticulating the very message that God had conveyed to Moses hundreds of years earlier. This outcome had always been a distinct possibility. In fact, it had been guaranteed by God. If they obeyed His commands, they would enjoy His blessings. But if they chose to disobey, they would suffer His curses. Obedience was optional, but God’s judgment was not.

The people were counting on God’s continuing patience. After all, He had tolerated their sinful behavior for generations, so why not now? But Micah warned that there was a limit to God’s patience. And they had nothing to fear from Micah’s message – if they lived uprightly. But the sad reality was that no one was honoring God with their lives. As a nation, they had turned their backs on God and were guilty of practicing all kinds of egregious sins that were far worse than the pagan nations around them.

And once again, Micah is forced to point out their sins with painstaking clarity.

Yet to this very hour
    my people rise against me like an enemy!
You steal the shirts right off the backs
    of those who trusted you,
making them as ragged as men
    returning from battle. – Micah 2:8 NLT

They treated God’s prophet like an enemy. They mistreated their fellow Judahites, practicing every form of injustice and ignoring God’s calls for mercy, love, and compassion.

You have evicted women from their pleasant homes
    and forever stripped their children of all that God would give them. – Micah 2:9 NLT

Notice that Micah’s indictments have to do with their treatment with one another. He is not just listing their idolatry and their practice of religious pluralism. This wasn’t just about worshiping false gods. It was their rejection of the one true God that led to behavior that was out of step with His divine will. Again, the apostle Paul warned Timothy about a coming day when people would display these same ungodly characteristics.

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

When people reject the one true God, they end up displaying behavior that is contrary to His divine will. Idolatry is not just the worship of a false god, it is the embracing of a lifestyle of ungodliness and unholiness. And Paul described what happens when men reject the truth of God and embrace the lie.

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. – Romans 1:28-32 NLT

This was the atmosphere in Judah during the days of Micah. The people had fully embraced the lie and had rejected the truth of God’s Word. They knew better. And they surrounded themselves with prophets who would tell them what they wanted to hear. And Micah called them out for their unapologetic search for positive motivational prophets.

Suppose a prophet full of lies would say to you,
    “I’ll preach to you the joys of wine and alcohol!”
That’s just the kind of prophet you would like! – Micah 2:11 NLT

The truth had become relative. And a prophet was anyone who told you what you wanted to hear. But Micah had more bad news for these easily deceived and highly delusional people.

Up! Begone!
    This is no longer your land and home,
for you have filled it with sin
    and ruined it completely. – Micah 2:10 NLT

No amount of false prophets were going to change the truth concerning God’s judgment. Rejection of God’s divine will was possible, but escape from His wrath was not. They could continue to live under the delusion that all would be well, but reality would eventually set in and their fate would turn out just as God had warned. They could choose to ignore the truth, but they could never avoid the consequences.

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

Denial Won’t Stop the Inevitable

1 How the gold has grown dim,
    how the pure gold is changed!
The holy stones lie scattered
    at the head of every street.

The precious sons of Zion,
    worth their weight in fine gold,
how they are regarded as earthen pots,
    the work of a potter’s hands!

Even jackals offer the breast;
    they nurse their young;
but the daughter of my people has become cruel,
    like the ostriches in the wilderness.

The tongue of the nursing infant sticks
    to the roof of its mouth for thirst;
the children beg for food,
    but no one gives to them.

Those who once feasted on delicacies
    perish in the streets;
those who were brought up in purple
    embrace ash heaps.

For the chastisement of the daughter of my people has been greater
    than the punishment of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment,
    and no hands were wrung for her.

Her princes were purer than snow,
    whiter than milk;
their bodies were more ruddy than coral,
    the beauty of their form was like sapphire.

Now their face is blacker than soot;
    they are not recognized in the streets;
their skin has shriveled on their bones;
    it has become as dry as wood.

Happier were the victims of the sword
    than the victims of hunger,
who wasted away, pierced
    by lack of the fruits of the field.

10 The hands of compassionate women
    have boiled their own children;
they became their food
    during the destruction of the daughter of my people.

11 The Lord gave full vent to his wrath;
    he poured out his hot anger,
and he kindled a fire in Zion
    that consumed its foundations.

12 The kings of the earth did not believe,
    nor any of the inhabitants of the world,
that foe or enemy could enter
    the gates of Jerusalem.

13 This was for the sins of her prophets
    and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed in the midst of her
    the blood of the righteous.

14 They wandered, blind, through the streets;
    they were so defiled with blood
that no one was able to touch
    their garments.

15 “Away! Unclean!” people cried at them.
    “Away! Away! Do not touch!”
So they became fugitives and wanderers;
    people said among the nations,
    “They shall stay with us no longer.”

16 The Lord himself has scattered them;
    he will regard them no more;
no honor was shown to the priests,
    no favor to the elders. Lamentations 4:1-16 ESV

Chapter four begins another dirge or poem in which Jeremiah recounts the devastating nature of the destruction brought upon the city of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. He begins by describing the gold that used to adorn the temple of God now lying in the streets. What used to be of great value is now worthless. Precious metals and expensive gems have become as common as rocks. The economy of the city is completely shot, making it impossible to purchase food and leaving countless people suffering from starvation.

The parched tongues of their little ones
    stick to the roofs of their mouths in thirst.
The children cry for bread,
    but no one has any to give them. – Lamentations 4:4 NLT

The entire atmosphere of the city has been turned upside down, leaving those who used to be considered princes and worthy of great honor, living as if their lives are worth nothing. They “are now treated like pots of clay made by a common potter” (Lamentations 4:3 NLT). The social hierarchy of Jerusalem has been completely eliminated, with everyone sharing the same abysmal fate. The rich have lost their social standing. The once-powerful suffer alongside the poor and destitute. Everyone is on equal terms, experiencing the same unpleasant outcome for their rebellion against God.

During the siege, food had become so scarce that mothers were refusing to feed their own children, choosing instead to feed themselves while their infants died. And it got so bad that some resorted to cannibalism, eating the bodies of their own children.

Tenderhearted women
    have cooked their own children.
They have eaten them
    to survive the siege. – Lamentations 4:10 NLT

The callousness displayed by these actions is difficult for us to comprehend. But the people had lost all hope. Their despair had become so great that it had become every man for himself. All sense of community was gone. It was now a matter of the survival of the fittest.

And again, Jeremiah paints a stark picture of just how grim things had become. Those who used to enjoy rich foods prepared for them by servants were now relegated to begging in the streets. Their fine clothes had been replaced by rags scavenged from the local dump. There was no longer anyone in Jerusalem who suffered from pride or had any reason to think of themselves as better than anyone else. This event had been the great equalizer, reducing the entire population of the city to a state of abject poverty and brokenness.

And Jeremiah compares the fall of Jerusalem to that of Sodom, the city that had been destroyed by God for its rampant wickedness. But Sodom had been a pagan city with no relationship to God Almighty. Their gross immorality had become a stench in the nostrils of God, forcing Him to bring down judgment upon them. But sadly, Jeremiah makes the wickedness of Jerusalem even more egregious than Sodom. It was the capital of Judah and the home of the temple that Solomon had built for God. And yet, Jeremiah declares that “The guilt of my people is greater than that of Sodom” (Lamentations 4:6 NLT). The chosen people of God stood condemned before Him and their guilt was greater than that of one of the most wicked cities that ever existed.

Like the citizens of Sodom, the people of Jerusalem had received the justice they deserved for their sins against God. And Jeremiah juxtaposes the former state of the people of Judah with their current conditions. At one time they had been rich, fat, and happy. They were used to having whatever their hearts desired. Food had been in abundance. Their clothes had been rich and sumptuous. Their houses had been filled with the latest pleasures, and their every need had been met by a host of servants. But now they were poor, disheveled, needy, and hungry.

And it had all been the result of God’s discipline and judgment.

But now the anger of the Lord is satisfied.
    His fierce anger has been poured out.
He started a fire in Jerusalem
    that burned the city to its foundations. – Lamentations 4:11 NLT

God had warned them repeatedly and had given them ample opportunity to repent and return to Him. But they had refused. Their pride had gotten the best of them. They never dreamed that this could happen to them. After all, they were the chosen people of God, the descendants of Abraham and heirs to the promises God had made to him. Jerusalem could never fall. The temple of God could never be destroyed. Their fate was secure – or so they thought.

Not a king in all the earth—
    no one in all the world—
would have believed that an enemy
    could march through the gates of Jerusalem.

Yet it happened because of the sins of her prophets
    and the sins of her priests,
who defiled the city
    by shedding innocent blood. – Lamentations 4:12-13 NLT

The inconceivable had happened. And it was all because the spiritual leaders of Judah had failed to live up to their God-ordained responsibilities. The priests had proved to be wicked and immoral. Prophets claimed to be speaking for God, but their words were nothing but lies intended to tell the people what they wanted to hear. And these men gave ungodly advice to Judah’s governmental leaders, resulting in kings who failed to shepherd the people of Judah as God had commanded them to do. Idolatry and immorality became commonplace. Unfaithfulness was widespread, from the top to the bottom of the society. And God had had enough.

Many of these priests and prophets were killed by the Babylonians or deported. They were removed from positions of power and their disobedience was dealt with severely and permanently.

The Lord himself has scattered them,
    and he no longer helps them.
People show no respect for the priests
    and no longer honor the leaders. – Lamentations 4:16 NLT

These men had forfeited their right to act as God’s spokesmen. They had failed to honor Him with their lives, choosing instead to enrich themselves by taking advantage of their position for personal gain. They had made a habit of telling the people what they wanted to hear, denying the prophecies of Jeremiah and ridiculing any thought that God was going to bring about the fall of Jerusalem. But they had proven to be painfully wrong. Their messages of good news had failed to bring about good outcomes. The city lay in ruins, the population was mired in poverty, and these men had all been killed or deported. The will of God had been accomplished.

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

As Good As Your Word

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. – Matthew 5:33-37 ESV

God puts a high value on truthfulness. He keeps His word and He expects those who belong to Him to do the same. In Jesus’ day, oaths were commonplace and used as proof or validation that what one had said was true. If you made a statement, you would back it up with an oath, saying something like, “By the temple, I swear that what I am saying is true.” If you were promising to do something, you might add an oath, like “I swear by Yahweh.” Basically, you were adding credence to your words by using something of greater significance and value as proof of your sincerity.

But there were several problems with this practice. First of all, God had long ago warned the people of Israel to value and protect His name. God’s name was directly tied to His character. To profane or misuse His name was to treat God with dishonor. So, God had said, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7 ESV). What comes to our minds when we read that passage is the use of foul or inappropriate language that invokes the name of God.  And while that most certainly is a way of using His name in vain, the original context had to do with using God’s name in any way that brought contempt or dishonor to His character.

Over in the book of Leviticus, we read: “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:12 ESV). Don’t miss the word “falsely.” If you made a statement and used God’s name as a form of guarantee, and then it became clear that what you had said was untrue, you were guilty of profaning His name. You would have lied in the name of God, and this was clearly forbidden. And yet, in Jesus’ day, it had become a commonplace occurrence.

The religious leaders had come up with an elaborate system of curses that provided loopholes and escape clauses so that your oath didn’t have to be binding. In essence, they developed a hierarchy of oaths, where some were more binding than others. If you swore by God’s name, it was considered binding. If you swore by heaven and earth, it was not. Swearing toward Jerusalem was binding, but swearing by Jerusalem was not. And the problem in all of this was the underlying lack of truthfulness. That is what Jesus is trying to expose. Listen to the harsh accusations He would later level at the religious leaders.

“Blind guides! What sorrow awaits you! For you say that it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’ Blind fools! Which is more important—the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? And you say that to swear ‘by the altar’ is not binding, but to swear ‘by the gifts on the altar’ is binding. How blind! For which is more important—the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred? When you swear ‘by the altar,’ you are swearing by it and by everything on it. And when you swear ‘by the Temple,’ you are swearing by it and by God, who lives in it. And when you swear ‘by heaven,’ you are swearing by the throne of God and by God, who sits on the throne.” – Matthew 23:16-22 NLT

You see, the Jews believed that it was their obligation to back up their promises with oaths. That was their distorted perception of the Old Testament teaching concerning oaths. In their mind, making an oath kept you honest, at least in the eyes of others. One of the problems we face in reading these verses is that we don’t quite understand what it means to make an oath. You may have heard someone say something like, “I swear on a stack of Bibles,” but you wouldn’t put a lot of stock in a statement like that. If someone were to say to you, “I swear on my life,” it wouldn’t necessarily provide you with any more confidence that what they were saying was true. Even if we hear someone say, “I swear to God,” we don’t automatically give that person’s words more credence or credibility. In fact, we might doubt their word even more. Someone who has to back up his word with some form of oath is probably lacking in integrity and questionable as to their reliability.

Jesus is exposing the underlying issue of dishonesty – a lack of truthfulness. He tells His audience to back up their promises with action. Do what they say they are going to do. Speak truth. And the truth is, if you’re honest, an oath won’t be necessary. Be a man of your word. Be a woman who is known for integrity of speech. No exaggeration. No half-truths. No broken promises or false commitments. Jesus puts it in easy-to-understand terms: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” (Matthew 5:37 ESV).

You’re probably familiar with the term: “My word is my bond.” It simply means that my word should be the guarantee, and no written contract outlining obligations or penalties is necessary. What I say, I will do. What I promise, I will fulfill. My word is truth. That takes integrity. And in Jesus’ day, that was a quickly disappearing character trait. But He came to establish a new way of living. He came to provide a new kind of righteousness that mirrored the very character of God.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

God is truthful and trustworthy. He doesn’t lie. He never breaks His covenants. He keeps His word. And He expects the people of God to live the same way. We are to be a people of our word, not just people of the Word.

One day, while Jesus was speaking with a crowd of followers, He made the statement, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 NLT). Confused by what Jesus had said, they responded, “But we are descendants of Abraham. We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?” (John 8:33 NLT). They couldn’t comprehend what Jesus was saying. And so they fell back on their status as descendants of Abraham. They claimed special rank because God was their father. But Jesus told them something quite the opposite.

“For 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

Satan is the father of lies, and he is your father. Now, that’s the way to win friends and influence enemies. But Jesus was not out to win a popularity contest. He had come to reveal the truth. He would even go on to claim, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). Truth and lies cannot coexist together. A people who make a habit out of lying and justify their actions with elaborate oath systems are not trustworthy or truthful. They don’t reflect the nature and character of God. And Jesus was letting His listeners know that their actions were out of step with God’s will for their lives.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, who would later become a leader in the church in Jerusalem, took the teachings of Jesus and applied them to those under his care.

“But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.” – James 5:12 NLT

People whose hearts and lives have been changed by God through faith in the death of His Son don’t need to lie. They will speak the truth. Jesus would later say, “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” (Matthew 15:18-19 NLT). In bringing up the issue of oaths, Jesus was revealing an underlying problem with dishonesty. But He had come to change all that. But it would only happen if those who lie, recognize their problem, and turn from the father of lies to God the Father through Christ, His Son. By placing our faith in Christ, we are given the capacity to live as He did, reflecting the very nature of God in both word and deed.

The apostle John provides us with the reminder that right actions stem from a right relationship with God. Our lives will be characterized by truth when we have come to know Christ as our Savior.

If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. – 1 John 2:5-6 NLT

Living as Jesus did: honestly, truthfully, and with integrity. The truth has set us free. And so we are free to speak truth. We are free to live in truth. The apostle John goes on to remind us that knowing the truth must show up in the practice of the truth. In other words, our beliefs should influence our behavior.

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. – 1 John 1:5-6 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