The apostle Peter had a great concern about the influence of false teachers (2 Pet 2). Consequently, he described the characteristics of false teachers so that God’s people could recognize one when they saw one. They are the characteristics of false teachers for every generation.
They Bring in their Doctrine Privately
“There shall be false teachers among you, who privily bring in damnable heresies” (2:1). False teachers do not operate above board. Rather, they work in secret, from house to house. What they preach from the pulpit is ambiguous and tenuous. These men work secretly among the members, spreading their damnable heresy. When enough members have been “converted” to their false doctrines’ the false teacher will take over the church.
They Bring in Damnable Heresies
“There shall be false teachers among you, who privily bring in damnable heresies” (2:1). The false teacher does not merely bring in poor judgment; he brings teaching which, when obeyed ‘ brings a person into damnation because it causes a man to sin or leads to a rejection of biblical doctrine. “These heresies destroy the soul; they bring ruin both to those who are led astray and to the false teachers themselves.” These are doctrines which destroy the soul, leading to eternal damnation.
Their Doctrines Appeal to the Flesh
“And many shall follow their pernicious (sensual) ways” (2:2). They “walk after the flesh” (2:10), have “eyes full of adultery” (2:14), and “allure through the lusts of the flesh” (2:18). Peter reminds us that false doctrine has an appeal to the flesh.
False teachers preach a doctrine which allows mixed swimming, social drinking, gambling, divorce and remarriage for any reason, church sponsored recreation, etc. They “tickle the ears” of the worldly church members, preaching a message which they want to hear (2 Tim 3:3,4).
They are Covetous
“And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you” (2:3). “An heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: which have forsaken the right Way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam. the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.” (2:14-15). The false teachers accommodate their message to the audience – preaching what the audience wants to hear rather than what they need to hear. Because of their love for wealth, they preach a non-offensive message.
False teachers are attracted to the larger churches where the salaries are greater. False teachers usually do not hunt for small churches of 20-30 members to live on menial wages. They are in search of greater gain, being greedy and not contented with their wages (1 Tim 6:3-10). Therefore, the larger the congregation, the greater the danger for churches to have false teachers among them.
False Teachers Despise Authority
Peter said that false teachers “despise government.” The word “government” (all forms of authority). They manifest a disrespect for authority and those in positions of authority (such as elders).
We see this in the political world this election year. There is a political movement from Breibart dot com (Steve Brannon), who hates government, who has been hired as the CEO of the Trump campaign. His plan is to destroy all forms of government, all political parties, kill its opposition, deport or destroy all the non-white population, and begin what he described as a dictatorship (e.g. Russia’s Vladimir Lenin) <Source: Glen Beck>
False teachers also seek out to destroy the eldership in a congregation. They prefer a congregation lead by a group of unqualified men. This way, they can slowly take over the congregation from men who are most often biblical illiterates or weak in the faith.
False Teachers are Arrogant
“Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed speak evil of the things that they understand not” (2:10-12). False teachers manifest an arrogant spirit. They know more about how to preach than any who have gone before them, even when they have had less than five years of experience. They show no respect for the men who have served the Lord’s cause before them, not hesitating to speak disparagingly of them.
They constantly challenge the “traditional” manner of doing things. Such challenging of tradition is born of arrogance, a disposition that says, “I know better how to do things than all of the wise men who have gone before me, believe me.” The false teachers who kick against the boundaries of authorized traditional practices usually go beyond tradition to kick against the boundaries of inspired law.
False Teachers are Self-Willed
A man cannot serve as an elder if he is self-willed (Tit. 1:7). A self-willed man is a man bent on having his own way. False teachers will destroy a church in pursuit of their own way. I have known men who disrupted churches, running off brethren, over matters which they themselves label as “judgment” (such as whether or not the name “church of Christ” should be placed on a sign in the front of the church building).
False Teachers Use Rash and Flattering Speech
They “speak evil of things they understand not” (2:10) and use “great swelling words of vanity” (2:18). They flatter brethren for a purpose – to promote themselves. “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom 16:17-18).
They Promise Liberty
“While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage” (2:19). False teachers have always operated under the banner of freedom and liberty. Abortion leaders call themselves “pro-choice”; homosexuals promote “gay liberation”; “Adulterers claim they are “Free to marry”; Fornicators seduce by saying they are “Free spirits” . Those who redefined the role of women described their movement as the “women’s liberation movement”. Those who are greedy desire a “Free market” system. Racists and hatemongers will cry out their “Freedom of speech”. Others will insult others and condone such by saying they are not “Politically correct”. We live in troubled times!
What is true with these more conspicuous examples of “promising liberty” is also true of the more subtle forms of false teaching. They want to “free” God’s people from “Church of Christ tradition” and brotherhood watchdogs who are “guardians of the party.” While promising their followers liberty, these false teachers lead brethren into damnable heresy, into subjection to the devil.
The Condition of These False Teachers
Peter described these false teachers in these terms: (a) they deny the Lord that bought them (2:1); (b) they are under judgment of God (2:3); (c) they shall perish (2:12); (d) they are cursed children (2:14); (e) the mist of darkness is reserved for them (2:17); (f) they are in worse condition than the alien sinner (2:20-22). Hence, these false teachers are lost, doomed to everlasting hell.
The Threat to Souls
The danger which these false teachers posed was not confined to themselves. They also posed a danger to others. Peter was concerned that “many follow after” (2:2) their damnable heresies. He knew that false teachers “beguile unstable souls” (2:14) and “allure through the lusts of the flesh” (2:18). He was concerned, not only for the souls of the false teachers, but also for those who might be influenced by them.
The reason an epistle such as 2 Peter had to be written was the danger these false teachers posed to other Christians. Good, honest and sincere Christians can be deceived and led into damnation.
Conclusion: Those who think that all of the false teachers died in the first century are mistaken. Those who think that false teachers are no danger to their local congregation are naive. We need to be aware that false teachers are still busy spreading their damnable heresies which lead men into eternal damnation. May we never forget the danger they pose to the church and our very soul.