Peter gives one of the most detailed descriptions of a group of false teachers that I am aware of in the New Testament:
- Their false teaching is destructive (2:1)
- Their teaching can even cause someone to renounce Jesus (2:1)
- They will be destroyed (2:1)
- They will be popular (2:2)
- Their practices are disgusting (2:2)
- They cause people to blaspheme the way of truth (2:2)
- They exploit people to satisfy their greed (2:3)
- They prophesy, but falsely (2:3)
- They follow their carnal lists (2:10)
- They despise authority and arrogantly assert their own will (2:10)
- They act more like irrational animals than the knowledgeable people they claim to be (2:12)
- They hurl curses at things they do not fully understand (2:12)
- Their lifestyle comes back to destroy them (2:12)
- They are unjust (2:13)
- They audaciously enjoy flaunting their decadence (2:13)
- They turn Christian fellowship into crass parties (2:13)
- They are especially inclined toward adultery (2:14)
- Their appetite for sin is insatiable (2:14)
- They especially target vulnerable people (2:14)
- They are driven by greed (2:14)
- They used to be orthodox but have since wandered after gain like Balaam (2:15)
- They promise what they cannot deliver (2:17)
- They teach their foolishness with charisma (2:18)
- They promise people freedom, but they themselves are slaves to their immorality (2:19)
- They are worse off than pagans because they have known Christ and have knowingly turned away (2:20)
I cannot even imagine this combination of characteristics. It is unfathomable that all of these could be true of one group of false teachers and they were still persuasive to Christians. The very fact that these false teachers seem to be as sexually immoral as they are described to be and still were considered credible is mind-boggling to me. But that is probably because I am a post-Puritan Christian living in a time and place shaped by the Moral Majority where sexual sin is especially taboo. Licentiousness was much more commonplace in the ancient Roman Empire.
The closest thing I can imagine to false teachers like these might be church leaders who wind up on the front page of the news because of their sex scandals and money-grabbing. Inevitably their egos, appetites, and greed are their own undoing. It is shameful, and as the honor of God is tarnished in the process there is no wonder justice so often comes. However, even people like this try to hide their sin, whereas the false teachers of 2 Peter flaunted it.
Maybe the most important passage in today’s reading is Peter’s reassurance that God will not allow this sort of false teaching to overwhelm his Church.
The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from testing, and how to keep the unrighteous ready for the day of judgment and punishment. (2:9)
Peter’s audience surely needed this affirmation.
What caught your eye today?
Categories: 2 Peter
Tags: 2 Peter, arrogant, Bible, deceitful, deceiving, false doctrine, false teachers, false teaching, God, greedy, heresy, immoral, punishment, reading, sinful
How should a church operate in a very sinful culture? What most needs to be said to a group of Christians living in a place where the natives even say of themselves, “Cretans are always liars, evil animals, idle guzzlers” (1:12)? As we read through the three short chapters of Titus this week, let’s concentrate on this question. You can go back to this post to read a little bit about Titus, Paul’s letter to him, and the island of Crete where Titus was stationed.
Paul’s first point in this chapter is that a church in such a decadent place must have strong leadership. This was Titus’ main charge:
This is why I left you in Crete: you are to set straight all the remaining matters, and appoint elders for every town, as I charged you to do. (1:5)
If a church is ever going to be true to Jesus in a world that woes away the Beloved with desire and wantonness, they must have strong leaders leading the way. These leaders must be trying to seeking after godliness not selfish gain or they will never stand against the easy slide towards cultural accommodation. They must be able to oversee a group and their ability for this is best seen in how they have led their own children. Above all they must be people of character.
Secondly, a church surrounded by sin will only stand if they have a strong aversion to that sin. By nature, sin is alluring. Weak Christians will quickly cave into the temptation of sin and the work of the gospel will be frustrated if a distaste for sin is not fostered. There is sin that tempts from within a church and without. Paul wants these churches to be guard against both cultural decadence in a drunken, sexual immoral, unchaste society; but they must also be alert to the threat of doctrinal unorthodoxy. For the Cretan churches Titus was ministering to, this meant be they had to be wary of the legalism of the “circumcision party” (1:10), likely a Judaizing version of Christianity. For us today it could mean any number of teachings that pull us away from a core belief in grace (we don’t please God by our own merit) and good works (we can’t get lazy and believe there is nothing to do in a fallen world).
Only strong churches stand in the face of sin. Strong leadership and a strong distaste for sin.
What did you notice about how a church can stay strong though surrounded by sin?
Tags: aversion, Bible, Crete, cultural accommodaton, decadence, false teaching, Judaizers, leaders, leadership, orthodoxy, Paul, reading, sin, sinful, temptation, Titus, unorthodoxy
It is really easy to turn the way of Christ into a series of rules about external behavior. That is not to say that the way of Christ is only internal — one does need to give attention to how one acts in this world — but there is something missing from a person’s Christianity if it entirely revolves around laws that dictate what a person does and does not do with their bodies.
We learn today that this was certainly happening in Ephesus:
They [the false teachers] will forbid marriage, and teach people to abstain from foods which God intended to be received with thanksgiving by people who believe and know the truth. (4:3)
Sometimes we do the same, especially when talking to younger Christians. We make it seem like the task of following Jesus is all about not getting drunk, not smoking weed, and not sleeping around. Then as people get older we talk about staying away from pornography, not speeding, and not missing church. Of course, I am not suggesting that any of these are wholesome or appropriate; I simply beg us to remember there is more to the way of Christ than external rules, and limiting Christianity to external rules is action akin to the false teachers of Ephesus.
Like Paul was calling the Ephesian church to (1:5-7), like he was calling Timothy to (4:12), the way of Christ is all about “faith, love, and holiness” — all of which have external manifestations but all of which start as attitudes and desires of the heart first and foremost. According to Paul today, to forget this is the beginning of false teaching.
What do you think?
Categories: 1 Timothy
Tags: 1 Timothy, attitudes, behaviors, Bible, Christianity, desires, Ephesus, error, external, faith, false teachers, false teaching, heart, holiness, internal, Law, love, reading, rules
Lurking in the background of most Pauline letters is some person, group, or philosophy that threatens the orthodox beliefs and practices of the Christianity that Paul was spreading. This is very much true in the letters to Timothy.
As we start our two weeks with these letters, let’s look at a profile of these “false teachers.”
- They teach “false doctrines” (1:3; 6:3)
- They want to be “teachers of the law” (1:7)
- They base their teachings on myths not facts and genealogies not stories (1:4; 4:7)
- They come off as conceited (1:7; 6:4)
- They are argumentative, produce controversy, and disrupt the peace in the church (1:4; 6:4; 2 Tim 2:23)
- They were full of meaningless and foolish talk, showing that they don’t really know what he are talking about (1:6-7; 6:4; 2 Tim 2:23)
- They encouraged asceticism (4:3)
- They used their authority for financial gain (6:5)
When you put this all together, this sketch does not produce a definitive identity. Clearly, like many of Paul’s opponents, they were tying the Jewish law to the way of Christ. The asceticism and emphasis on myth and genealogy could come from Judaism or from an early version of Gnosticism that was becoming popular in Asia Minor especially.
Maybe the most important point about these false teachers is what Paul says today:
That sort of thing breeds disputes rather than the instruction in faith that comes from God. The goal of such instruction is love — the love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. (1:4-5)
This was a false teaching that emphasized the obscure and ineffectual while neglecting the most important elements of the way of Christ: faith, love, and purity.
What does a Christian leader look like today who is similar to these false teachers?
Categories: 1 Timothy
Tags: 1 Timothy, asceticism, Bible, doctrine, faith love, false teachers, false teaching, Gnosticism, greed, Judaism, Law, money, Paul, purity, reading
When I was a child on sunny days I liked to play with my shadow. My friends and I would make shadow puppets, play shadow tag, and try to guess what animals the other was making with their hands.
It would be a rather silly thing to do the same thing as adults.
Yet that is what the false teachers in Colossae were suggesting:
So don’t let anyone pass judgment on you in a question of food or drink, or in the matter of festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These things are a shadow cast by the coming reality — and the body that casts the shadow belongs to the king. (2:16-17)
For Paul, the best kind of knowledge is the relational understanding of knowing Jesus, not just the esoteric knowledge of the false teachers for whom Jesus was more of a concept than a person (2:2-3).
Paul also emphasizes the relational side of baptism, something some of us today may have forgotten too. Baptism is first and foremost about being buried and raised with Jesus (2:12). Water baptism is always imitation of and a mysterious participation in the more important reality of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection; it is never the point itself.
Maybe that is a sign of all false teaching: it promotes a religion without a full and personal relationship with Jesus.
What do you think?
Tags: baptism, Bible, BIble reading, Colossians, conceptual, false teaching, games, jesus, Paul, relationship, shadows, theory
Jesus is cool. He just isn’t the be all, end all. He was a good man. He taught good things. But he is not sufficient enough to handle the weight of all of your cares, needs, and expectations.
Or is he?
In various ways we hear the same message the Colossian Christians would have been hearing. Jesus is great but you need more than just Jesus. You need Jesus plus religious rituals. Jesus plus the law. Jesus plus knowledge. Jesus plus rigorous asceticism that shows your spiritual strength. Or Jesus plus carnal indulgence without spiritual affect, showing your spiritual strength. Or today we might say, Jesus plus a 401k plan. Jesus plus some good counseling. Jesus plus a group of friends. Jesus plus church. Jesus plus good works. Jesus plus a good education. Jesus plus career success. Jesus plus a good marriage.
Not that there is anything wrong with taking advantage of the help and blessings that can come from most of these “pluses.”
Right from the start, Paul makes us face whether we think Jesus is enough to complete our lives. Do we think Jesus is the center of our life; or is Jesus the add-on, the value added element, the plus in a life that is being lived just like everyone else in the world? We can tell from the letter that the false teaching threatening the Colossian church didn’t think Jesus was sufficient. If we are introspective enough, we can look at our own lives and tell whether we think Jesus is sufficient for life.
In Colossians 1, Paul offers the following assertions about the deep meaning and value to be found in the person of Jesus:
- Paul starts with the most important and fundamental point of all: Jesus is the embodiment of God (1:15, 19). When you have Jesus you actually have God within you.
- Jesus reigns over our home because God “transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved son” (1:13). He is in charge of our reality.
- As he was the power that brought about creation (1:16), Jesus is the very reason we exist.
- Jesus is the reason we do not fear God’s wrath (1:20, 22). We now have reconciliation, peace, and are viewed by God without accusation.
- As the “firstborn from the realms of the dead” (1:18), Jesus is the reason we can be assured of our own resurrection.
- We will all submit to something, and Jesus is our best object of submission. In a wordplay in 1:15-18 on the variations of the word “head,” Paul makes it clear that Jesus holds this position in reality, thus life is better lived in line with that reality.
- In a truly difficult verse, Paul explains that it is now our job to “complete” the unfinished work of Jesus (1:24). The only thing that can be unfinished or “lacking” in the work of Jesus must be the part that depends on us: to be his hands and feet in this world today. Thus, Jesus becomes the purpose behind our mission in life.
- When the King is “living within you as the hope of glory” (1:27), Jesus is our reason for hope.
- Jesus is the core of our message, as “he is the one we are proclaiming” (1:28a).
- Jesus is also our way to maturity as we “grow up” and become “complete” in him (1:28b)
It sounds like Paul thinks Jesus is more than just an add-on to a life that is looking elsewhere for meaning, security, and hope.
What stood out to you in this chapter?
Tags: Bible, BIble reading, Colossians, complete, enough, false teaching, fear, God, hope, jesus, kingdom, maturity, meaning, mission, purpose, security, submission, sufficient