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False Teachers Part 2



As we learned in Part 1, it is not a question of if but only a question of when: false teachers will arrive on the church scene and cause trouble among God’s people. Therefore we must be on our guard, staying awake and alert, and always growing in our walk with the Lord. Those who are growing in the Lord are much more likely to recognize threats to their growth when those threats rear their ugly heads.

Now as we move into Part 2, we need to consider the question of how to recognize false teachers. Obviously one way to recognize false teachers is by the erroneous content of their teaching, but I plan to address this facet in a future midweek reflection. What I want to do in today’s reflection is to consider the characteristics of the false teachers themselves. In his discussion of false teachers in 2 Peter 2, the apostle Peter puts the primary emphasis on their flawed character. Whenever you see an influencer among us who is in the grip of these character flaws, grave caution lights should be flashing in your mind.

Learning from 2 Peter 2

So let’s learn from Peter’s teaching about false teachers in 2 Peter 2. Early in the chapter Peter refers to “their sensuality” (v. 2) and “their greed” (v. 3).[1] They “indulge in the lust of defiling passion” (v. 10) and “have eyes full of adultery” (v. 14). Their hearts are “trained in greed” (v. 14) and, like Balaam, they “[love] gain from wrongdoing” (v. 15). Although false teachers gain a foothold within the Christian community because they actually teach some interesting religious ideas with ‘Christianese lingo’ as window dressing, what typically motivates these false teachers is illicit pleasure (sensuality, lust, adultery) and financial benefit (greed, gain).

It comes as no surprise, then, that false teachers are seriously lacking in humility. They might feign humility, of course, and talk a good game, but the reality is that they are dominated by pride. They “despise authority” (v. 10). They are “[bold] and willful” (v. 10). “[They] do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones” (v. 10). Instead of occupying the lowly station of a humble servant who always depends upon and defers to the authority of Jesus, false teachers are apt to play the part of demigods who presume to have authority over the universe and over the powers of darkness. The holy angels know better than to taunt the dark powers and principalities, but false teachers do not know better (2 Peter 2:11, Jude 8-10). Don’t be impressed by their self-willed attempts to manipulate the spiritual world with their domineering speech. Instead tremble that men’s hearts can get so self-inflated, and keep Paul’s example close to your own heart: “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:3-5) Friends, we need brokenhearted preachers, not brazen ones.

As we continue examining the character of false teachers, we should take note that their lust, greed, and pride often drive their speech. Lust drives their speech: “They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls… 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.” (2 Peter 2:14, 18) Greed motivates their speech: “And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” (2 Peter 2:3) And pride shows up in their speech: “they blaspheme the glorious ones” (2 Peter 2:10).

Although their lustful, greedy, and proud hearts direct their speech, this doesn’t mean that it will always be easy to recognize. The game that false teachers are playing requires a façade of holiness. False teachers are masters of deceit. They “come to you in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15) and “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:15). But if you listen carefully to what people say in light of how Scripture describes godly character, then at times you might start to recognize some troubling disharmony. And when you begin to recognize such troubling disharmony, don’t ignore it. Stay at your post, and keep paying attention. In God’s most kind providence, you might have a key role to play in detecting a clear and present danger, and protecting the flock from harm.

Speaking of harm, 2 Peter 2 also shows us that weaker, less mature brothers and sisters are most susceptible to the schemes of false teachers. It is safe to assume that false teachers, like ravenous predators, often deliberately prey on the weak. But whether deliberate or not, the weak are – in fact – the most vulnerable. Peter writes, “They [the false teachers] entice unsteady souls.” (2 Peter 2:14, italics added) Then a few verses later he adds, “[They] entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error.” (2 Peter 2:18, italics added) Although none of us should assume that anyone, including ourselves, is beyond the possibility of being enticed by false teachers, we should also understand that spiritual maturity is a real thing. Those who are spiritually mature and have a seasoned walk with God are less vulnerable to false teachers, whereas those who are less mature and less seasoned are more vulnerable. We should be very concerned when a needier sheep is coming under the influence of a questionable influencer. And even while we come to the aid of that needier sheep, the very fact that a questionable influencer has jockeyed for influence in that needier sheep’s life should, at the very least, raise a question mark in our minds. Keep your eyes open, and follow the evidence wherever it leads. We’re talking about loving our fellow sheep here! “[Help] the weak” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)! Don’t abandon them to the enticers.

Finally, we should realize that false teachers are fundamentally in bondage to sin. Peter writes, “Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray… They [the false teachers] promise them [the people they are enticing] freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” (2 Peter 2:15, 19) False teachers are nothing less than sin-enslaved people who are seeking to entice others into their slavery. And they pursue their agenda within the Christian community with all that ‘Christianese lingo’ window dressing to keep up appearances. But don’t be so easily fooled, because the apostle Peter has warned you beforehand: the fruit of the Spirit is not the forte of false teachers.

Two Applications

Let me draw out two applications from the above considerations.

Don't Ignore Character

First, and very simply, don’t ignore character. When Peter brings up the issue of false teachers, he doesn’t spend time reflecting on the content of their formal teachings. Instead, he reflects on the crookedness of their character and the inevitable corrupting influence that their crooked character has. Frankly, it is better to be under the influence of a teacher whose teaching ability is merely adequate but who has and demonstrates consistent Christian character, than to be under the influence of a teacher with great charisma but rotten character. We do well to remember that the primary qualification for serving as an elder or deacon in the church is that the man has and demonstrates consistent Christian character (1 Timothy 3:1-13). The man’s character will be his chief influence upon you and your children. Therefore, don’t ignore questions of character, including your own!

Be Cautious When an Influencer's Character is Unknown

Second, be cautious about accepting the influence of teachers whose character you don’t know. The implication of passages like John 13:12-17, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12, 1 Timothy 3:1-13, 1 Timothy 5:9-10, Titus 2:3-5, and Titus 2:7-8, is that God has designed us to receive and submit to the influence of teachers whose character and example we know. Paul and his teammates preached the gospel to the Thessalonians and exhorted them to live a godly life, but the character of Paul and his teammates was a key part of the equation: "You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers." (1 Thessalonians 2:10)

The reason I bring this up is because in our technological age, you have access to the influence of thousands upon thousands of teachers whose character and example you do not know. Through books, websites, blogs, podcasts, online sermons, social media, and conferences, innumerable teachers have potential access to you, and yet in most cases you do not know them. Therefore be cautious. To be clear, I didn’t say not to accept their influence under any circumstances. But you should exercise caution. When you are inviting people you don’t know to press their ideas upon you and your children, make sure that you actually have solid reasons to trust them. How easy it is for the worthless blogger or podcaster to appear sheep-like from halfway across the world and yet to “secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1) through your smartphone or tablet. Resist the trend. As best you can, know your teachers and influencers.

So, at least when it comes to the giving and receiving of sound teaching, we have a very good biblical reason to ‘love local’ and experience the blessing that God gives through teachers and influencers that we actually know. Make it a point to hold God’s design in high regard: “So I exhort the elders among you… shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight… not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:1-3, italics added)


[1] Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

NOTE: Header Image/Featured Image Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

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