Warning Signs of a False Teacher
Topic: Expository Passage: 2 Peter 2:10b–16
Before we read today’s text, I want you to imagine that you are sitting among Peter’s original audience the first time 2 Peter was read publicly. Your church is facing sharp division. The pastors have been urging the church to stay faithful to the apostolic message, but false teachers are pushing a different gospel.
And they aren’t nameless, faceless adversaries. You’ve been to their homes, and you’ve watched their kids. Maybe some of their family is in the service. So, imagine how the room feels, when the pastor begins reading 2 Peter 2 and it calls out “false teachers” proclaiming “destructive heresies.” It’s awkward, and it’s tense.
Keep that in mind as we read our text, vv. 10b–16. Peter’s pretty blunt, isn’t he? Again, if you knew these people, Peter’s words would have a heavy impact. Of course, we aren’t dealing with the same teachers, but God knew that we would need this warning, because false teachers are present in every age. So, my title is, “Warning Signs of a False Teacher.” We must learn to see the red flags in the character and conduct of those we must avoid. We must be ready to discern who is a godly influence and who is a shyster.
But beyond that, Peter’s warning is undergirded with some important assumptions about the nature of genuine Christianity to which the false teachers fell short. Therefore, we don’t just want to concern ourselves today with the bad guys “out there”; we also want to reflect on our own character and conduct.
Regarding the structure of the text, notice that v. 10a highlights two characteristics of the false teachers. They walk, “according to the flesh…” In our passage for today, Peter develops these two themes in reverse order. Therefore, notice in vv. 10b –13a…
I. The false teachers were known for brazen rebellion. Genuine godliness is known for humble submission (vv. 10b–13a).
Peter first describes the false teachers as “presumptuous, self-willed.” They were arrogant, and they didn’t hide their pride behind some false humility. No, they thought they knew everything, and they weren’t afraid to tell you so.
Peter follows with an example of this brash arrogance (vv. 10b–11). I’m sure that Peter’s original readers knew exactly what he was describing, but it’s not as clear for us. As a result, there are a few different ways that commentators have understood this example.
However, the “dignitaries” that Peter mentions in v. 10 are almost certainly fallen angels or demons. It really doesn’t fit the context to say that they are people, and they are distinguished from good angels in v. 11. So, v. 10 says that the false teachers were willing to “speak evil” of the fallen angels, “whereas (v. 11) angels (i.e., good angels)” who have far more “power and might” than the false teachers “do not bring a reviling accusation against them (i.e., the false teachers) before the Lord.”
I know you are even more confused now. What in the world is going on? It’s possible that the false teachers denied the existence demons based on their naturalistic worldview. But it’s more likely they should have been afraid that their ungodly lifestyles would leave them under the control of demons.
Afterall, the Bible warns that that rebellion makes us susceptible to Satan’s work. But instead of fearing the demons, they boldly “spoke evil” or denied the demons’ power.
There’s an important warning here for us. Our culture mostly doesn’t believe demonic powers are real. When we talk about them or dabble in witchcraft, we think it’s just a childish game. But demons are real and powerful. And, Peter assumes that if I live a life of sin, I particularly open myself up to their influence. Therefore, we should appropriately respect them. Don’t foolishly challenge demonic powers.
This is in stark contrast to the caution of the good angels. Peter points out that the good angels obviously possess greater “power and might” than the false teachers.
But even though they have a greater right to be bold, they don’t run their mouths like the false teachers and bring accusations to the Lord. Rather, they let God do the judging. Peter’s purpose is to point out the absurdity of the false teachers’ brash arrogance.
The primary application is that godly teachers are not known for brazen, naïve arrogance but for reverent, cautious humility. But sadly, many false teachers gain an audience by being brash and sensational. They have a twisted god-complex. They throw around harsh and hasty judgments and opinions. And sadly, their big talk appeals to people’s fears and frustrations. They tell people the narrative they want to believe.
Now, I want to be clear that godly teachers will be confident and have conviction. However, that confidence is rooted in the Word, not in their assumptions and sweeping judgments. Therefore, be careful about listening to any preacher or teacher who is brash and arrogant and who is not humbly rooted in the text of Scripture and in truth.
And then be careful to make sure that your life is marked by the same humble caution. As I said in my blog post a week ago, be charitable toward others and slow to make assumptions and judgments. When you speak, make sure that your boldness is rooted in Scripture, not in your opinions.
Folks, the world doesn’t need to know what you think; it needs to know what God has said. By God’s grace pursue humility, truth, and grace.
Verse 12 drives this home with an ominous comparison (vv. 12–13a). I should mention that you may be wondering why I am not following the punctuation and sentence structure in the NKJV. The answer is that the grammar of 2 Peter is terribly difficult. It’s not always clear where one thought ends and the next begins, so everyone is making their best guess.
That being said, v. 12 compares the false teachers to wild animals, probably to predators like lions and wolves. First, the false teachers are violent and irrational like these predators. Now, you may view lions and wolves as graceful and majestic, but if you are trying to keep your sheep alive, or if you come across one of them in the wilderness, in the days before guns, they’re not so glorious. That’s why the ancients wanted them captured and killed.
So, Peter says these animals are not rational, caring, or peaceful. No, they are brutal, violent killers, that lack man’s rational capabilities. Similarly, the false teachers were also brutal, violent, and irrational. It’s not a compliment. It’s a sharp criticism of their arrogant, nonsensical conduct.
And again, God is warning us not to follow this kind of leader. Godly pastors, preachers, and teachers are not rash and impulsive. They’re not edgy, and they don’t feast on controversy and harsh language. Instead, they are measured but bold, because they stand on Scripture out of sincere conviction and love.
And this leads to a second point of comparison, which is that the false teachers will be caught and destroyed just like violent animals. Peter is not calling his readers to violently attack them; rather, God will judge them, “They will utterly perish in their own corruption, and will receive the wages of unrighteousness.”
Again, it’s one thing to use that sort of language for a nameless, faceless adversary, but it’s another thing to use it for someone you know. Imagine how this would have hit Peter’s readers. Imagine what it would be like if we had to call out an apostate teacher who was a member of Life Point, and I called him a “brute beast made to be caught and destroyed.”
I hope we never have to do that, but I pray we’ll have the courage to do so, if it’s ever necessary. Biblical love does not sugarcoat evil; it protects the sheep by calling evil what it is.
Yes, it avoids the brazen arrogance that we saw in vv. 10–11. We don’t go around carelessly throwing around these sorts of judgments. But when we’ve followed a biblical process of discipline, and the Bible is clear, we must call the wolf a wolf.
In sum, vv. 10–13 confront the brazen rebellion of the false teachers. May God guard us against this sort of arrogance and denial of authority. Instead, let’s pursue honest realism about our own sin and the evil powers around us. And especially, let’s pursue humble submission to our Lord and dependence on his grace. So, having addressed how the false teachers “despised authority,” Peter then turns to how the false teachers “walk according to the flesh…” The main point of vv. 13b–16 is that…
II. The false teachers were known for shameless sensuality. Genuine godliness is known for holy modesty (vv. 13b–16).
These verses mostly consist of short descriptions of the perverse practices of the false teachers. I’d like to break these verses down into 4 sinful practices. The first is…
Shameless Carousing (v. 13b): Since Peter uses the word carouse twice in this verse, it’s pretty clear that these guys liked to party. And we’re not talking about a sanctified New Year’s celebration. No, we’re talking about parties built on sinful passions—gluttony, drunkenness, and immorality. We all know what this looks like.
But what is unusual is how shameless it all was. Peter says they “carouse in the daytime.” That’s not normal. There’s a reason why nightclubs are nightclubs and not day clubs.
People don’t generally behave the way they do at a nightclub during the day, because it’s shameful and wicked. But the false teachers had no such shame. They probably even boasted that their behavior reflected a superior knowledge or spirituality.
To make matters worse, Peter says they were “spots and blemishes” on the church, because they had no shame about behaving this way and then turning around and fellowshipping with the church as if nothing was wrong.
Specifically, Peter mentions the church’s “feasts,” which is almost certainly a reference to the common practice in the early church of sharing a meal before observing the Lord’s Supper. They were significant times of fellowship and spiritual care. However, the false teachers shamelessly waltzed in, as if they were perfectly right with God and with the church.
Now, I want to be clear that broken sinners who are genuinely seeking grace should always be welcomed into our fellowship. The church is a hospital for the sick, not a fortress for keeping out sinners. But the Bible is clear that we should have a very different response, when someone claims to be right with God while openly rebelling against his will. That’s why church discipline is reserved for someone who claims to be a Christian.
If a professing believer is walking in rebellion, we do not love him by acting as if nothing is wrong. They cannot participate in the Lord’s Supper, and they cannot be members of the church. We should continue to love them but always with an eye toward leading them to repentance.
So, unlike these false teachers let’s reject fleshly passions and pursue holiness. And when we fall, let’s be broken over our sin and come to the church as patients in need of medicine, not pretending as if nothing is wrong. The 2nd sinful practice is…
Immoral Pursuits (v. 14a): This clause is actually worse than it sounds. The literal meaning is, “They have eyes full of an adulteress.” The point seems to be that the false teachers look at every woman as a potential sex partner. They don’t look at them as sisters in Christ or as God’s equal image bearers. Instead, they look at every woman through the lens of lust.
It’s worth emphasizing in our highly sexualized culture that God abhors this sort of obsession with sex. Men in particular, but ladies also, we must discipline ourselves to see each other fundamentally as God’s image bearers, not as objects of pleasure.
We especially need to see fellow-believers as brothers and sisters in Christ. But we also must pursue holiness in how we view people that we see on T.V. or print media. Follow the example of Job, who said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman” (Job 31:1).
And if you are neck-deep in sexual sin, don’t be ashamed to get help. We want to help you and any shame or pain of facing your sin is worth the joy of being right with God.
Finally, I hope we are all in agreement that an immoral lifestyle automatically disqualifies someone from spiritual leadership. Sadly, there are a lot of places out there where this is not a given. And there are lots of men and women in our day who present themselves as pastors and Christian leaders, who either have committed sexual sin and never truly dealt with it or who continue to walk perversely.
I don’t care how compelling, charismatic, or even “spiritual” someone may seem to be, we cannot overlook blatant rebellion and sin. Pastors or anyone else who sets themselves up as a teacher of God’s Word, must live in submission to that Word or they have no credibility to lead. The 3rd sinful practice is…
Reckless Destruction (v. 14b): I don’t want us to skip over the brief description in the middle of v. 14, “(They) entice unstable souls.” Peter uses a verb that comes from the world of hunting. In the Midwest, deer hunters often start going out weeks before deer season to bait the deer. They train them to feel comfortable eating in a particular spot so that when deer season opens, they can entice the deer into a trap.
In a similar manner, Peter says that the false teachers prey on “unstable souls,” people who are spiritually weak or lack discernment. They take advantage of their weakness with confusing language or by appealing to their lusts and fears. They lure them to spiritual death.
Again, this is all too common in our day. Prosperity preachers promise miracles, good health, and happiness, and they lure people away from the truth. Various cults appeal to people’s pride and other passions. They offer a form of godliness that makes people feel safe, even when they are condemned to hell. It’s tragic, and God despises it.
So, be discerning. Compare everything you hear to Scripture. Welcome biblical confrontation and accountability. If someone offers something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t forget that the path to eternal life is difficult, narrow, and often lonely.
And finally, remember that genuine holiness is generally not marked by extravagance and show but by modesty, because it pursues the joy of heaven, not the pleasures and pzazz of this world. The 4th sinful practice is…
Greed (v. 14c–16): (read v. 14c) We get our word gymnasium from the verb translated trained. Athletes repeat certain drills over and over to build habit and muscle memory. Similarly, Peter says that the false teachers had trained themselves in greed. They had pursued their lusts for so long that they had worn ruts in their minds and had become masters in the craft of chasing lust.
Then vv. 15–16 add to this picture (read vv. 15–16). Remember that Balak, king of the Moabites, hired Balaam to curse Israel shortly before they crossed the Jordan to conquer Canaan, hoping that somehow it would stop Israel. However, cursing God’s people is no small thing. But for the right price, Balaam was willing to risk God’s wrath.
Well, God graciously warned Balaam not to curse Israel, so he initially rejected Balak’s offer. But when Balak came back with an even bigger offer, Balaam couldn’t resist. He really wanted that big paycheck. So, he got on his donkey and he headed out to meet Balak.
But God was not going to let Israel be cursed, so the Angel of the Lord stood in the road with his sword drawn, ready to kill Balaam. That’s a pretty clear warning from God that you are going the wrong way and you need to turn around. But Peter says that Balaam, “loved the wages of unrighteousness.” He was so overwhelmed by his greed that he was blind to the sight of the angel.
Verse 16 points out that the donkey had more insight than Balaam. He could see the angel, so he turned to go out in a field. Balaam still couldn’t see the angel, so he started beating the donkey. This happened a couple more times, but Balaam still couldn’t see the Angel of the Lord, and he continued to beat the donkey in anger.
Finally, God opened the donkey’s mouth and enabled him to speak. Peter states that the donkey “restrained the madness of the prophet.” Madness is a very appropriate word here, because it speaks to how Balaam’s greed made him irrational, even crazy.
Peter says that the false teachers’ greed had made them mad as well. They were clearly, foolishly walking into the judgment of God. But in their lust for pleasure, they hypnotically kept walking toward the trap.
It’s a sobering example of how our lusts can drive us into madness. If you stare at pleasure long enough, you will justify anything. And the more you train yourself in a particular sin, the more you will mindlessly pursue it.
Be careful! Don’t even start down that road. And make sure that you let godly counselors get close enough to your deepest secrets of your heart that they can help you see where blind madness is creeping in.
And of course, don’t follow any spiritual leader who is blinded by greed. There’s nothing wrong with having nice things, but showy extravagance or an obsession with worldly pleasure are serious problems. We should look for leaders who the holy modesty of Christ, not for those who reflect the glamor culture of our world.
In conclusion, this passage warns us that the world is filled with very real threats to the true gospel. There are many charlatans who use the name of Christ for their own profit and fame. Do not be fooled. Stay anchored to Scripture. And do not let your heart be drawn brazen rebellion or shameless sensuality. Instead, walk in humble submission to the Lord and holy modesty knowing that the Lord sees even if no one else does, and his reward is worth more than anything this world can offer.