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II Peter 2:1-3; 3:17-18
Living Stones: “Teachers – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
When I think back over my childhood school experiences, I mostly have very positive memories. From Kindergarten thru High School, that’s a total of nearly 60 different teachers (I moved a lot between 7th and 9th grade), I can really only count 2 or 3 that I thought weren’t very good. (And those 2 or 3 may have been excellent teachers, just ones that I didn’t personally connect with.)
I’ll bet most of you had similar experiences in your schools. 95% that were really very good at their jobs, and maybe 5% that didn’t connect with you.
As we read in the Apostle Peter’s letters to those 1st Century churches in Asia Minor, to those Christian believers who risked death every day simply for their faith, we discover that it was of first importance that believers learn to demonstrate God’s love to others; but an immediate second in importance was his warning about false teachers and their polluted perversion of the Gospel’s Good News.
This is different from a warning about a teacher who wasn’t very good at his job, but about a teacher who taught false understandings as if they were philosophical and biblical truths.
The main heresy of Peter’s day was Gnosticism, a religion that splits the physical world from the spiritual world – thus teaching that there are two gods, a good god of all things spiritual and a bad god of all things physical. One way that this philosophy lived itself out was that Gnosticism taught that it does not matter what we do with our bodies (our bodies are physical and inherently evil, so enjoy whatever carousing and devilry you want, it has no bearing on the spiritual); but it also taught that since bodies are physical/evil, Jesus could not possibly be the Son of God in a way that incarnates (becomes a baby born in Bethlehem, or dies on a cross in Jerusalem) the spiritual deity of God!
Our heresies may be different from that, but the principle truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the same truth that must be “protected”. The six Great Ends of the Church are:
- The proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of humankind
- The shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God
- The maintenance of divine worship
- The preservation of the Truth
- The promotion of social righteousness, and
- The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world
All of those deal with being Teachers that are neither Bad nor Ugly.
Listen to these words from the Apostle Peter. Listen to how he says we find faith-filled integrity when we discover the cracks in our faith where sins have been making their homes. II Peter 2:1-3….—-
1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. …
13 They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. 14 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! 15 They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. 16 But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—an animal without speech—who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
17 These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”
And on the next page:
1 Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. 2 I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.
3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water.6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. …
17 Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
This morning, our Sunday School class was the first of a few that is comparing world religions, and a few local religions, from a relatively conservative Christian perspective. We are trying to be careful to ask what these religions say about themselves (as opposed to what conservative Christians say about them), but it is really hard to be objective.
Peter warns his readers to read between the lines carefully. One of the traits of false teachers is that they hide their heresies, sometimes deliberately and sometimes very unwittingly, with half-TRUTHS and DECEPTION.
Peter reminds his readers that false teachers reject the truth found in SCRIPTURE. From a Christian point of view, this is all it takes. Reject Scripture, the authority of the Old and New Testaments as God’s Word for humanity, and one automatically becomes a “false teacher”.
And Peter says that false teachers act out of their own GREED and self-interest. I would suggest that we need to be careful with this description – sometimes people teach falsehood out of ignorance or even willful disobedience, but greed and self-advancement may not be players in their game.
But one thing that history has truly taught us is that when sin is not named as sin, its life-destroying power gains ground.
Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book Speaking of Sin: The Lost Language of Salvation, claims that honestly recognizing sin in our lives for what it is (i.e. “deadly alienation from God”) is not the bad news of condemnation we so easily assume. Rather, by recognizing our sin, we give space for God’s Good News to restore hope into our tumbled-down lives. (This is what we talked about last week, so I will not spend much time here today, but please note how closely sin in our lives and believing what false teachers tell us are to one another.)
This is an old illustration, but it aptly fits this topic. Do you know how U.S. Treasury Agents learn to detect counterfeit money? It is not by studying what counterfeit $20-bills look like. They learn to detect false money by studying true money.
How might we learn to detect counterfeit faith systems? Try studying God’s Word thoroughly, a little every day. We discover God’s character by reading the Bible. We unearth God’s expectations by listening to Jesus speak. We realize God’s will, at least in general terms, by knowing who God is in the Scriptures.
Can you name someone who influenced your faith? Who taught you about God? I think of John Winterling, an entrepreneur businessman who taught Jr. High Sunday School; Bud Cook, a 55-year old engineer who led High School Youth Group; Chuck Wakamoto, a church member who volunteered to direct a youth choir; Roy Ketring, a railroad man whom God called into mission work with a Mexican orphanage. These men all taught me from Scripture how to hear God’s truth in life. And I thank God for them every time I remember their impact on my soul.
Today is Communion Sunday, so in just a few minutes we will experience, through the Lord’s Table, in the breaking of the bread and the pouring from the cup, the truth of God’s grace and mercy for you and me. But before I shut up, let me ask you one task. Is there any part of this message that blessed you today? Can you name it, specifically? Is there anything in this message that challenged your faith, or your intellect, or your idea of compassion and right and wrong? Name that. And before you leave this building today, share your answer(s) with someone – or over lunch, or at your next meeting.
This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, this Pentecost Season, let’s know the truth well enough to recognize the false teachings when they come!
If you heard God calling your name today, if you sense that Christ’s death and resurrection was meant for you today, if you want your life to withstand life’s storms today – drop a note in the Offering Plate, and I’ll get with you later this week. Let’s dedicate, rededicate, our rocky past into service as living stones today!
Rock of ages, cleft for me – let me hide myself in Thee – let the water and the blood – from Thy wounded side which flowed – be of sin the double cure – cleanse me from its guilt and power.
Happy Pentecost Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!
Bettridge, Becce; Living Stones: The Making of an Eternal Fellowship; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2012; Pp. 57-64.
Taylor, Barbara Brown; Speaking of Sin: The Lost Language of Salvation; Cowley Pub.; Cambridge, MA; 2000.
The Constitution of the PC(USA), Part II, The Book of Order, F-1.0304.