Destructive heresies. Greed. Made up stories. Bold arrogant people. Slander. Spots. Blemishes. Delighting in their deceptions. Eyes full of adultery, never stopping to look for sin. Gone astray by abandoning the straight path. Loving the wages of wickedness. Springs without water. Mists driven by a storm.
The list of descriptions of these false teachers continues through 2 Peter 2. If these descriptions are true, why would any child of God follow such evil people? Peter partially answers the question in 2 Peter 2:14b, “They seduce unstable people.” (CSB) Paul adds, “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear.” 2 Timothy 4:3 (CSB)
Because they’re deceptive, they’re difficult to see. It’s like the devil. He isn’t a guy in a red suit with a pointed tail like you see in cartoons. False teachers may look slick. They may sound slick. But like wolves in sheepskin, don’t judge by outward appearances.
So how do you guard against false teachers? The Apostles give us the answers we need: Don’t be unstable. Learn sound doctrine. Read widely in your Bible, not just your favorite passages and your favorite books of the Bible. Log time in the Word. Surround yourself with consistently-strong Bible teachers. And be careful what you read and who you watch/listen to. Some of the “big names” in Bible teachers may be the worst offenders!
One of the best things you can do is plug into a solid Bible-teaching, Spirit-led church. (And I’m not just talking about going to church; I’m talking about plugging into a local church.) There you’ll find help in discerning the good and the bad, the true and the false.
Today’s Bible reading begins and ends looking at the religious leaders. Dr. Luke says they question the source of Jesus’ authority. When He responds, asking them about John the Baptizer’s authority, they choke. They realized the gravity of His question and feared that “the people” would stone them if they learned the leaders believed that John’s authority was not divine. They refused to answer Jesus’ very pointed question.
At the end of Luke 20, Jesus issues a warning against the religious leaders’ hypocrisy. He basically says the same thing in His warning as He does in (Matthew 6:5) that they are receiving the only honor they will ever receive. They want the praise of men and they are getting that. But they will receive no praise from God at the judgment. Actually here, Jesus intensifies His warning. Not only will the leaders not be praised by God, but they will receive “harsher judgment”.
Being a pastor or teacher is an incredible honor. I know that I have been entrusted with declaring the glory of God as revealed in His Word. But with that honor comes tremendous responsibility to be faithful to that task. (James 3:1) I think that’s one reason that I prefer to use a manuscript for my sermons. I want to ensure that I say what I feel that God has given me in the way He has given it. Occasionally I will go off script as I feel God gives me a little more to say.
Those who sit under the teaching of someone else are also responsible: to study the Scriptures daily. (Acts 17:11) While the responsibility of the preacher/teacher is to speak the very words of God (1 Peter 4:11), the hearers must weigh what they hear against the Word. (1 Corinthians 14:29) I am not infallible. If I’m ever wrong in what I say, I need to be humble enough to receive correction from God’s Word, given by a friend. (2Timothy 3:16, Proverbs 27:6, Proverbs 27:17).
Who do you read? Who do you watch or listen to? Who do you follow on Social Media? You have to be careful! Yes, you can hear God’s voice from a broken, mistaken vessel. But sometimes preachers and teachers can be so wrong that it’s harmful
Please be discerning. Please! If something you hear doesn’t line up with God’s Word, gently and humbly pull the preacher/teacher aside and offer Word-based and Word-saturated correction in love. (Ephesians 4:15) If they don’t listen, take someone else and approach them again. If they still won’t listen, turn away from them and don’t look back. Treat their teaching as you would the teaching of an unbeliever who claims to speak from God. (Matthew 18:15–20)
The key for both the preacher/teacher and for the listener is humility. It’s a trait the religious leaders in Jesus’ day lacked.
In today’s Bible reading we fast forward a few years and Jesus and His cousin John (the Baptizer) are about thirty years old. John steps into the Jordan River and preaches that people should repent of their sins and be baptized.
By today’s standards, John was a very politically-incorrect preacher. Nowhere do we hear him talk about self-esteem. Nowhere do we hear him say that God loves everyone and has a wonderful plan for them. Nowhere do we hear him talk about God’s grace and mercy. Nowhere do we hear him talk about how God wants you to have health and wealth if you would only have enough faith. Nowhere does he apologize for offending his hearers. .
No, John simply preaches the Law. He preaches the bad news that people are sinners and in need of forgiveness. Sinners? Surely not! Where is the gospel, the good news?
Recent conversations with Facebook friends have revealed to me the massive divide between what I believe the Bible teaches and what they believe. For these friends, our deepest need is to be saved from not being good stewards of our planet. To be Christlike is to be more loving and accepting, and less judgmental of others. There is no mention of the word or even the concept of sin as described in the Bible. There was no admission of guilt for any sin on their part. Sin is a problem other, less tolerant people must deal with. These were people who were raised in the church. And today, they are leaders in mainline churches.
Until people hear and understand their helpless, fallen condition (the bad news), they won’t have a desire for deliverance from that condition (the good news). Look back at our earlier readings from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. He begins with the bad news.
Look at the response of John’s audience in Luke 3:10, 12, 14. The exclaim, “What shall we do?” The Philippian Jailer asked the same question in Acts 16:30.
It isn’t until Romans Chapter 8 that Paul says that there is no condemnation for believers. (Romans 8:1) From that statement, Paul strongly implies that non-believers are still very much under God’s judgment.
Have you come to a point in your life where you realized that in light of God’s holiness, you have absolutely no claim to spending eternity with Him, much less walking with Him on this side of eternity? You may be better than many (or most) other people, but how do you compare with Jesus, the perfect man who was tempted just like we are, yet was without sin? (Hebrews 4:15)
I’m not just asking if you have sinned. Everyone (except Jesus) sins. I’m asking if you have ever come to God and confessed that you have offended your Creator and that you have an issue with a sin condition that separates you from His holiness?
In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 11, we read that John the baptizer is in jail. Like Jesus’ disciples, John has become a little disillusioned. He sends word to his cousin asking if He is the one they have waited for to bring the Kingdom of God. Or should they look for someone else? (Matthew 11:3)
As He often does,
Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Isaiah 35:5 (CSB)
The Spirit of the Lord God is on
me,because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners. Isaiah 61:1 (CSB)
Isaiah 61:1 is the passage Jesus read when the synagogue scroll was handed to Him in Luke 4. He says that He is fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy.
Jesus is exactly Who Isaiah prophesied would come. But Jesus wasn’t exactly who everyone was expecting. They expected a victorious King who would ride in on a white horse, overthrow the Roman government and set free the nation of Israel.
But it wasn’t quite working out that way, was it?
So where did John and Jesus’ disciples go wrong? Wasn’t the Messiah going to do those things? Isn’t that what their Bible told them? Yes, their Bible said that the Messiah would be the Victorious King, but it also said he would be a suffering servant. (Isaiah 53) In order for both of these to be true (remember, the Bible never contradicts itself), the Messiah had come as the suffering servant before coming back as the Victorious King.
We have more in common with the disciples and John than we think. We look back at them and scratch out heads thinking, “Why didn’t they get it?” Instead, perhaps we should ask, “What am I not getting?”
Too often we turn to our Bible and read it the way we want to. We read it the way we have heard Bible teachers and preachers have presented it to us. And too often, we don’t go back and read it for ourselves. We simply take the Bible at their word.
Whenever you see things not working out the way you think the Bible has said, don’t go back to what you have heard or read from a Bible teacher or preacher. Go back to the Source. Ask yourself if you heard it correctly. Maybe what you’re expecting isn’t what the Bible actually says. Or maybe there’s more to the story.
Bible teachers and preachers will be held accountable for what they teach. They will be rewarded for being faithful to what God has revealed. But they will also be rebuked for leading people astray.
But hearers are also accountable. We must be discerning who and what we read. We have to be careful who we listen to. Some will give you solid meat. Others will peddle cotton candy.
A few years ago, God challenged me to spend the next thirty days reading only the Bible. I was to not read any commentaries. No “Christian Living” books. I wasn’t to read from my favorite godly, solid bible-teaching authors. Nothing but the Bible. It was more difficult than I would like to admit.
Why? Because in my Bible teaching, I had been merely regurgitating what others had already chewed up for me without gaining any nourishment for myself. At the end of thirty days, I came away feeling refreshed. I came away hearing God’s voice more clearly again.
God wants you to read the Bible for yourself. You need to read and study the Bible for your own nourishment. Yes, God gives us godly teachers — which we desperately need!
But sometimes our Bible teachers get it wrong so we need to dig in and mine the treasures from God’s Word for ourselves.
Try it. You’ll find it very rewarding!
We learn in today’s Bible reading in Acts 20 that Paul was not just a little bit longwinded.
I’m sure that Paul wanted to convey everything he needed to before heading out from Troas to Miletus. This might be the last time that he will be able to address these people. So he preached from around dinnertime until midnight. (Acts 20:7).
Around midnight, a young man named Eutychus fell asleep and fell out of the third story window he was sitting in. He was picked up dead. However, Paul went downstairs, embraced him and said that Eutychus was not dead.
Paul goes back upstairs and preaches for another several hours until dawn. All-in-all, I’m guessing that Paul preached for about twelve hours! That’s a long time! I don’t know that I have ever heard a sermon, much less anything else, last anywhere near that long!
My sermons used to be a little shorter than they are now. Perhaps I’m a little more comfortable with preaching. Occasionally I’ll preach until a little after Noon (It’s not always my fault; I don’t start preaching at the same time every week). I am very grateful to our church for never complaining! And no one has ever tapped their watch to nonverbally tell me to wrap it up. But maybe, I need to bring up Acts 20 if anyone ever complains that my sermon went a little long!
I admit, I have yawned a few times during some sermons (maybe even my own!). And I have seen a few yawns while I’m preaching. But no one has ever fallen out of a window while I was preaching. I haven’t lost one (yet!).
All joking aside, as a preacher, it’s comforting to know that even Paul didn’t keep all of his audience all of the time. And I can appreciate Paul’s desire to say everything God had given him to say.
Recently on a Facebook group for pastors, a newbie asked, “How long should a sermon be?” I responded, “How long should a person’s legs be? A sermon should be as long as it needs to be to accomplish all that God wants it to accomplish.” I never time my sermons until I’m editing the message’s audio file for posting to the Internet. I’m often surprised to see how many minutes are removed when the software cuts all of the pauses down to 1 1/2 seconds!
Admittedly, some of us preach too long and could stand to take out an illustration or two. Some of us could stand to add a few. But we should all be given the freedom to preach all of the message that God has given to us. I believe we can do this and be good stewards of people’s time. I often remind myself that the people I’m speaking to could be at any number of other places and every week, I try to express my gratitude for the freedom to say everything God has given to me.
Do you have problems staying awake during a sermon? Maybe you need to look at your sleep patterns. Maybe you need to hit the sack a little earlier on Saturday Night. Maybe you need to change up your breakfast. I’m not throwing stones! Like I said, I have yawned during more than a few sermons. And I have even dozed off a few times, too. But God’s Word is important. It is our life. And it’s worth doing everything we can to stay awake and alert to hear it proclaimed so that we can apply it to our lives.