April 26, 2018
2 Peter 2:1-3
1 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. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. 3 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.
Starting with chapter two, Peter makes a big pivot. After laying out the case for taking on the nature of Christ, growing in godly virtues, and listening to the prophets, he takes a hard turn to show us the opposite. Chapter two is like the upside down… the reversed film negative to chapter one.
“The prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God,” Peter says at the end of the first chapter. And then he opens the second with, “But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you.” I picture this letter being read out-loud to a church, and at this moment all the “amens” “c’mons” suddenly stop, and in stunned silence as each person thinks: Who are the false teachers among us? How can we tell them apart? Is it someone I know? Is it me?
These are important warnings and questions for the church then and now. So first let’s take a look at the false prophets who were in Israel and see how they inform the false teachers among us.
Jeremiah 14:13-14 gives us a glimpse: “Then I said, “O Sovereign Lord, their prophets are telling them, ‘All is well—no war or famine will come. The Lord will surely send you peace.’” Then the Lord said, “These prophets are telling lies in my name. I did not send them or tell them to speak. I did not give them any messages. They prophesy of visions and revelations they have never seen or heard. They speak foolishness made up in their own lying hearts.”
And Jeremiah 23 mentions those prophesying in the name of Baal. He was a little “g” god the Old Testament prophets went up against a lot, because God’s people kept falling for worshiping him. He was the pagan god of weather, and one of his companions was the goddess of fertility.
So if you’re an ancient Middle Eastern culture whose entire personal and corporate economy and national security is based on agriculture and livestock, you need some multiplying crops and cattle, and some water to keep them alive. And so these false prophets promised what we all want: prosperity and security.
In other words, “In God we trust, but just in case . . .”
It’s easy for us to look back then and say, “It should have been obvious these were pagan idols.” But if we’re honest, how many times have we believed that the right leader, possession, power, or even weapon will give us all the prosperity and security we long for? Then before we know it, the politicians and means of power we have fallen for have become pagan idols. All in the name of God, and we’re not even aware of it.
And the worst is when the preacher leads the way. That is what Peter is moving to in this chapter, and so it might get uncomfortable for some of us over the next few days. Your “amens” may slow down and the emails may pick up.
So hang on and hang with us, and keep trusting.
Heavenly Father, today I need to echo Thomas Merton’s prayer: “[T]he fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.” In Jesus name. Amen.
What is your first reaction to the idea that you or I could be following a false teaching or making something an idol in Jesus’ name and not even know it? Do you see where it might be happening in your life? In your church? In our country? What is the Holy Spirit possibility here?