CDPCKL · Rot at the Core Always Spreads Outward (2 Peter 2:10-16)

Rot at the Core Always Spreads Outward (2 Peter 2:10-16)

In his first letter to the Christians of Roman Asia, Peter made a deep dive into history, going all the way back to the Book of Genesis to remind his friends of conditions during the time of Noah.

If you remember, that story really begins with two sons of Adam: Cain and Seth. Cain was a murderer who ran away from God and started a civilization centered around himself. Seth remained faithful to God, and started a civilization centered around the name of the LORD.

And for many generations, Seth’s civilization continued in faithfulness. But Cain’s civilization grew into an empire whose kings were hopelessly obsessed with power and prosperity and pleasure. Their ambition was to conquer the world…and they were actually succeeding. And the thing about success is this: it is very attractive, especially to those who do not feel very successful themselves. And so, the bible tells us, some of Seth’s descendants began to join themselves to Cain’s civilization: just a few at first — but then the trickle turned into a flood, until in the end there was only one righteous son of God left on earth: a man named Noah, hopelessly out-numbered and persecuted by the citizens of Cain’s empire, many of whom used to be his friends and relatives.

And that is the point where God said, “Enough already! I am starting the countdown to Judgement Day.”

But Peter, as he reflected on Noah’s story, made sure to highlight another aspect of that situation that is not always immediately obvious to the casual reader: underneath this ancient human history lies a spiritual history. That war on earth between cultures and civilizations was mirrored by a war between angels in the heavenly places — a war that God’s angels won. The fallen angels that had driven Cain’s civilization to destroy or assimilate Seth’s people — God’s people — those fallen angels were themselves struck down and imprisoned so they could not harm Noah while he built the ark and prepared his family for Judgement Day.

And the reason Peter brought all this up in his first letter was to show his Christian friends that they are just as safe now as Noah was then. Yes, the Roman empire appears massive and successful. Yes, the empire would crush Christianity if it could. But it cannot, because when Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to take his throne in the heavenly places, that is when he crushed Satan’s head and cast him down, out of the heavenly places. Satan no longer has access to God’s throne-room or God’s people because Jesus Christ rules from heaven now with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. And so, just as God kept Noah safe while he built the ark and preached the truth about Judgement Day, so also the Christians of Roman Asia are safe while they build the Church and preach the truth about Judgement Day.

But last week, here in his second letter to the Christians of Roman Asia, Peter brought all this up again: this ancient history of angels chained in darkness, and God’s tiny remnant of out-numbered people delivered from death on the Day of Judgement. And his point was still to encourage his friends, to remind them that they are safe in Jesus’ Church even when it looks like they are completely out-numbered and surrounded.

And that is Good News! But that is not Peter’s only point here, in his second letter. He has spent a lot of time highlighting the safety that lies in Christ; now he wants to highlight the extreme danger that lies outside of Christ. He has spent a lot of time highlighting the fact that the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials…but he ended last week by saying that the Lord also knows how to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgement.

So now Peter goes on to describe what it looks like when the Lord holds the unrighteous for punishment: [10] This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority.

In other words, when Peter says that the Lord knows how to hold the unrighteous for punishment, he has a special kind of unrighteousness in mind. And in Peter’s mind this special kind of unrighteousness is what lies at the heart of these 2nd-gen false teachers that he is warning his friends about.

And what is this special kind of righteousness that motivates these 2nd-gen false teachers? Is it murder? Is it sexual perversion, or the abuse of power? Is it an obsession with prosperity?

…nope. None of the above. It is, quite simply, this: they despise authority.

And that is disappointing, right? Because when we think about really bad sins we always think about the scandalous ones. When we think about false teachers, we think about all those celebrity pastors who get caught in adultery, or arrested for abusing children, or sent to prison for stealing millions. And those are terrible scandalous sins!

But none of those celebrity pastors began with those sins. They began by despising authority.

But before we go on, we had better ask this question: what exactly does Peter mean by “those who despise authority”? Is he talking about teachers who insist on being independent, who refuse to submit to elders or to a church government?

Well…yes. But not directly. Peter is saying that, before false teachers arrive at the truly scandalous sins — the obviously destructive sins — they start by despising authority. And it is pretty obvious that those who do such things must despise their own human authorities in the church. But Peter is not really here to point out the obvious, he wants to take his readers one level deeper.

So Peter uses a strange kind of word here when he says “those who despise authority”: a literal translation would say “those who despise glories”, or “those who despise the glorious ones”.

Really, Peter is saying that even before these false teachers began to despise human authorities, they started by despising spiritual authorities.

And so now we have to ask: what does Peter mean by “spiritual authorities”? Are these false teachers despising God? — because that seems pretty obvious also, and Peter is not really that interested in pointing out the obvious, right?

So what are these glories that Peter is talking about, who are these glorious ones? Here is Peter’s answer:

Bold and arrogant, these false teachers are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings.

Ah. That helps: apparently these glorious ones are celestial beings, they are heavenly beings: they are angels.

And I think we can all understand why it might be dangerous to despise angels!

But hang on, Peter is not done yet: [11] yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not heap abuse on such beings when bringing judgment on them from the Lord.

Mm. Okay. That changes things a bit: these celestial beings are not just angels, they are fallen angels, rebellious angels that are being judged and imprisoned by God’s faithful angels.

So apparently Peter is still reflecting back on the time of Noah, to that ancient war in the heavenly places. And apparently, when God’s angels won that war, they did not treat Satan’s defeated angels with contempt. The angels knew that they are stronger and more powerful than their defeated enemies, but even so they were careful not to become bold and arrogant as they bound their prisoners, because even a defeated prisoner can be dangerous, even a serpent with a crushed head can kill you.

When I was a boy in Indonesia, and we would kill a viper in our back garden by chopping off its head, the uncles who taught us how to do this always warned us to leave the severed head alone, because it could still snap at you by reflex and poison you. They told us to always remain on our guard, even though technically the viper was dead.

Peter is saying that even angels understand that arrogance leads to carelessness. And carelessness can get you killed on a battlefield, even after your enemy has been defeated.

[12] But these people — these 2nd-gen false teachers — blaspheme in matters they do not understand.

Okay. So Peter has been telling his friends in Roman Asia that they are safe inside the ark of Jesus’ Church. But he is also saying that conditions are extremely dangerous outside the ark of Jesus Church. And he is saying that the first terrible mistake these false teachers make is despising spiritual authorities.

But by this point we have a few questions, don’t we?

First, if Peter is talking about fallen angels here, why does he call them “authorities” — glorious ones?

Second, why is it so dangerous to insult these authorities, if they have already been defeated and bound by Christ? They cannot reach into the Church and drag people out, so what’s the worst they can do: get angry?

And third, what does this look like, practically speaking? What exactly are the false teachers doing that has Peter so concerned?

So: why does Peter call these fallen angels “authorities”?

Because they are authorities. They rule over the nations like princes, kings of the spirit world. As Peter has already pointed out, fallen angels ruled over Cain’s civilization, driving Cain’s empire to the heights of violence and conquest and perversion. Other places in the Old Testament also talk about this concept: how human cultures and power structures are actually earthly reflections of spiritual cultures and power structures. And even though these Satanic authorities have now been restricted from harming Jesus’ people, they are still in authority over their own peoples, cultures, and empires.

Basically, even in defeat, these fallen angelic beings are still ”glorious ones”: they are still immensely powerful, they still have authority over those people who live outside the protection of Jesus’ Church, and so it is still extremely dangerous to wander into their territory.

And this leads us to our second question: why is it so dangerous for these false teachers to despise them and insult them, if they are essentially out of reach?

This is why: how we treat our enemies is one of the defining features of Christianity. Jesus told us to love our enemies even when they are in power over us, and that was one of Peter’s major points in his first letter: when we are powerless in the hands of God’s enemies, we refuse to repay insult for insult, we simply entrust ourselves to him who judges justly.

But what about when we find ourselves in power over God’s defeated enemies? Is that when should repay insult for insult? Is that when we should take revenge for the harm they did when they were in power? No: that is when we simply entrust our defeated enemies to him to judges justly.

Now, Jesus was saying we should love our human enemies. He was not saying we should love our demonic enemies. But Peter is showing us that the basic principle is the same: even though Jesus has defeated Satan, and even though Jesus has put demons under our power, we are not supposed to use our power to take revenge on them or force them to serve us or anything like that: we are supposed to use our power to keep them out of Jesus’ Church and then hand them over to him who judges justly.

So when these false teachers despise these defeated spiritual authorities, when they heap abuse on these defeated celestial beings, they are in fact abusing the power that Jesus has given the Church. They are setting aside the Christian values of humility and faith and instead adopting Satan’s values of boldness and arrogance, ambition and conquest, vengeance and glorying in their own strength.

Basically, by adopting Satan’s values, these false teacher are wandering back into Satan’s territory. In their arrogance, they are deliberately placing themselves within reach of the serpent’s fangs, and then they are taunting him. Which is extremely dangerous behaviour!

And this leads us to our third question: what exactly are these false teachers doing? How are these Satanic values of boldness and arrogance showing up in their teaching and in their lives? What does their blasphemy sound like?

Well there are two main ways this used to happen in those days: on one hand there were people who developed an unhealthy obsession with angels and spiritual powers; on the other hand there were people who simply denied that such beings exist — or, if they exist, that they have any real power.

On the obsession side, there was a kind of religious teacher who specialized in controlling the spirit world by categorizing it. They thought that by discovering all the different ranks of angelic beings, and then discovering the names of the angels and demons that occupied those different ranks, they could gain control over them by using their names and their ranks in various magic rituals. And it is easy to see how this kind of arrogant approach to the spirit world could be considered dangerous: kind of like trying to tame a tiger by grabbing its tail.

This kind of thing was very popular among the Jews, but there were other pagan religions that practiced this mystical art — and it is clear from New Testament books like Colossians and Jude that this kind of false teaching had also infected some churches. And the result of this obsession is never good, because it leads Christians to put their faith in the power of certain magical teachers and magical rituals instead of in Christ.

But in this letter, Peter seems to be addressing the denial side of this issue.

It appears that these particular 2nd-gen false teachers “despise authorityby refusing to believe that there could be active spiritual powers at work behind the world of human powers. They refuse to believe that their native Roman culture is actually dominated and driven by an ancient spiritual evil. They refuse to believe that by holding on to the values of their home cultures they are in danger of falling under the power of Satan — and in danger of sharing Satan’s condemnation.

And we have to ask: why? What is motivating these false teachers so that they want to despise authority?

Well, Peter goes on to say in verse 12, because they are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish.

What motivates creatures of instinct? Instinct. Unreasoning animals are motivated by nothing more than the physical necessities of life: the need to eat, the need to mate, the need to gain power so they can eat more and mate more. Animals have no sense of the deeper spiritual realities that underlie God’s physical creation, they have no sense of the future, they have no sense of danger beyond what is immediately in front of them: they live senselessly, and then they die the same way.

That is what these false teachers are like. They are motivated by ambition and the desire for conquest, they are only interested in power and prosperity and pleasure. Basically, they want to eat more and more, and they want to mate more and more, and they will follow any path that promises to give them what they want.

And to people like that, the Roman empire is very attractive. Just like Cain’s ancient civilization, Rome has become the center of power and prosperity and pleasure. Rome’s ambition is to conquer the world…and it is actually succeeding. And so, these 2nd-gen false teachers are saying, “Hey, instead of resisting Roman civilization, Christianity should join with it!” They see Roman culture as essentially neutral; they do not see the deeper spiritual realities that drive its values. They see Roman culture as a placid lake where they can jump in and swim when they want to, and then just as easily jump out; they do not see the serpent lurking beneath the surface.

But, here’s a question we could ask: if Roman culture already gives them everything their instincts desire, why don’t these false teachers just go and be Roman? Why do they still want to call themselves Christians?

Well, because — like all of us — they really like the idea that their sins can be completely forgiven, paid for by God himself. Christianity is the only religion in the world that offers that promise of salvation. And these false teachers want to hang on to that!

What they do not like is the idea that they are supposed to respond to God’s love with loyalty to Jesus and to Jesus’ people. What they do not like is the idea that, in order to be truly Christian, they will have to give up their selfish ambitions, their obsessions with power and prosperity and pleasure.

In short, these 2nd-gen false teachers want to take the forgiveness idea from Christianity, and combine it with the power, prosperity, and pleasure ideas that come from Rome.

The apostles — like Peter and Paul and the rest — are saying, “Don’t do that! Submission to Roman culture, Roman values, is the same thing as submission to Satan’s power, and once you get sucked in there it is very hard to escape!”

And this is what motivates these false teachers so that they want to despise authority: because in order to undo the apostles’ teachings and justify their own, they need to convince people that Roman culture is not dominated and driven by evil spiritual powers. They need to convince people that an obsession with prosperity and pleasure is actually a good thing, a godly thing, not a Satanic thing.

But, as Peter continues to point out, this is a very bad idea: [13] They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done.

Now, this phrase is actually a play on words, and — like most jokes — very difficult to translate into another language. That is why, if we compare different English translations of this verse, we find quite a bit of variation. But essentially, the idea is this: these false teachers are motivated by profit, they invest in the Christian community because they expect a return on their investment. But the joke here is that, on Judgement Day, when they turn up for their wages, they will receive a return on their investment, at a compounded interest rate!…just not in the form they expected.

But Peter is not just talking about the miserable wages these false teachers are going to receive on Judgement Day — he is also talking about the misery they are going to experience in this life.

And that is what he goes on to talk about next: 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!

Now, this description of the false teachers does not seem very miserable: it is full of words like “pleasure” and “carouse” and “reveling” and “adultery” and “seduce”. It sounds like these false teachers are sinning openly and totally getting away with it, having a good time!

But, hold on: let’s go back up to where we started today:

If you recall, Peter ended last week by saying that the Lord knows how to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgement. At a casual reading, that verse seems to say that punishment is reserved for the future. But that word “hold” is a bit like our word for “arrest”, or “put under watch”; and in the Greek that word ”punishment” is a verb in the present tense: punishment for certain people has already begun on this earth.

And if you also recall, Peter started today by saying: [10] This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority. Peter then went on to make the point that those who heap abuse on celestial beings are actually wandering back into Satan’s territory. And those who wander back into Satan’s territory like unreasoning animals are going to be caught and destroyed by Satan.

In other words, the point Peter has been making today is this: the Lord knows how to hold the unrighteous for punishment…and he allows Satan to do the holding.

And how, do you think, does Satan hold his captives: gently? Kindly? No: just like any serpent, he makes sure they die miserably, venom burning through their nervous system, paralyzing their lungs but leaving them fully conscious. Just like any lion or large cat, he plays with them: letting them go, getting their hopes up, dragging them back.

Peter’s description here of these false teachers is not a description of people who are having a good time. This is the description of people who have been handed over to Satan. This is a description of people who are now thoroughly enslaved by the corrupt desires of their own flesh, helpless in the grip of their addictions to power and pleasure and prosperity: they will do any degrading thing Satan asks them to just for a taste of what they crave.

I mean, just look at the details of these descriptions:

Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight?! This means they are so far gone in their sins that they are actually proud of them!

They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. This means they come to church, they worship, they eat and drink, they even participate in the Lord’s Supper, they have the opportunity to experience true Christian community — but all they can think about is themselves, what they are going to get out of these relationships.

And Peter develops this idea further: With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning. In other words, they do not even know how to have a healthy relationship with anyone anymore.

They seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed: to them, everyone they meet is a mark, someone to be manipulated and used. They are unable to experience the free give and take that happens between true friends, the only thing they know how to do is take and destroy.

As Peter says here, they are an accursed brood. They are people who have been cursed to experience eternal hunger: no matter how much they consume, no matter how much money they make, no matter how many affairs they have, it will never be enough…

Brothers and sisters, when we put all this together, it becomes clear that Peter is actually describing the most miserable people on earth. Peter is describing people who despised the sleeping tiger and decided to grab it by the tail, and now they cannot let go.

Now, false teachers who are holding a tiger’s tail are able to run very fast! — for a while. Their ministries are going to look very bold, very strong, very successful! — for a while. But in the course of that terrible journey, they are going to leave behind every relationship that makes life worth living. And as they near the end, as their strength begins to run out, they are going to experience a greater and greater sense of their impending doom. They are going to understand more and more clearly that the moment they lose their grip, the moment they stumble or falter, that tiger of their ambition is going to turn and devour them. And they know, in their heart of hearts, what is waiting for them on the other side.

Friends, Peter is describing people who live consumed by fear. And they are going to deny it, of course! because they instinctively know that they must maintain that illusion of control. In many cases, when they are young and strong, that illusion is so complete that they deceive even themselves — it is only when they are older, and weaker, worn out by the race to realize their own desires, that the mask begins to slip and they lose control. This is when we see the scandalous sins begin to surface; this is when we see the old kings and queens cast out of their own ministry empires by younger and stronger false teachers. It is a terrible, competitive existence: without rest, without true companionship, without hope.

[15] These are people who 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.

Now, for those of you who do not know, Balaam son of Beor was a man who lived during the time of Moses. He was a pagan magician, a bomoh, who actually heard from God: he had the opportunity to become a true prophet of God. And he listened to God’s voice at first. But then, when he realized how much money he could make through his prophetic ministry, he stopped listening to God’s voice. So God sent an angel to pass judgement upon him.

And the joke contained in the whole story is that this bomoh, who was supposedly so spiritually gifted, could not see the angel coming to get him — but his donkey could. And as Peter points out here: the donkey spoke up with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. Balaam’s ambition and greed had turned him into a senseless animal, and his condition had fallen so low that it took a senseless animal to bring him back to his senses.

And the joke contained in Peter’s retelling of this story is that Balaam, the son of Bezer — which is a pun that means “son of the Flesh” — Balaam, the son of the Flesh, was willing to hear the voice of God speak through the mouth of a senseless animal, but these 2nd-gen false teachers — these new “sons of the Flesh” — refuse to hear God speaking through the mouths of human beings: the apostles and prophets.

Peter’s closing point here is this: these 2nd-gen false teachers are even more senseless than Balaam, who was one of the worst of all the false prophets in the Old Testament.

Okay. That was Peter’s message for the Christians of ancient Roman Asia. How does this apply to us, Christians of Modern Asia?

Well, last week Peter basically told us that, no matter how careful we are, false teachers are going to grow up in the midst of God’s people, and that there will be times when true Christians will be outnumbered by false Christians. Which was really quite distressing to hear. So we asked Peter what we can do to fix this, and he basically said, “Don’t worry lah! Jesus will sort all this out on Judgement Day. You just keep your head down and focus on teaching your own families and churches how to fight off infection. It is okay — it is good! — to be distressed by the damage being done by false teachers. Just, in your distress, remember to let Jesus worry about the big picture.”

And that was Good News. That is Good News.

But still, it is hard — it is distressing — to stand by watching while these false teachers lead so many millions astray into a false Christianity, a kind of Christianity that is actually nothing more than pagan religion with Christian labels attached. It does not seem right for them to only pay the penalty for their sins at the end, after they have already destroyed so many souls and done so much damage to the name of Jesus.

And that is why, today, Peter went on to say, “Don’t worry lah! They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done — and that payment begins now.”

And then he went on to tell us what signs to look for in our own families and communities, signs that someone is beginning to leave the straight way and wander off into Satan’s territory, into a life of hopeless misery.

This section that we have looked at today is the detailed, practical center of Peter’s second letter. Here we have discovered that a false teacher does not spring full-grown out of nowhere, they become false teachers over time: they start with small, socially acceptable sins, and it is only when those sins go unchecked that they move on to the obvious, scandalous sins. And if we are paying close attention, we can identify these smaller sins in one another — and in ourselves — and we can call one another to repentance before we go too far.

The foundational sin we are looking for is boldness and arrogance, a tendency to heap abuse on celestial beings. This shows up in our day as a tendency to want to adapt the Gospel to fit human cultures — all for the sake of evangelism…or so we claim.

It is very popular today, in certain kinds of Christianity, to view human culture as something neutral, something rational, something that can be explained through anthropology and research, something that is neither good nor evil: an empty container that can be filled up with the Gospel and redeemed. But the bible disagrees. From Cain’s civilization at the beginning of Genesis to the great world-devouring civilization at the end of the Book of Revelation, the bible tells us that every tribe and nation of humanity is ruled by spiritual authorities, and that Jesus’ nation alone is ruled by God’s Holy Spirit. And as Peter has pointed out today, it is very dangerous to flirt with the values of human culture, because by doing so we are flirting with the fallen angels that have authority over those cultures.

But we do flirt with the values of human culture, because human culture does have things that we all want. Even before we develop a lust for power and prosperity and pleasure, we do long for a place where we can fit in. None of us like to be rejected by people who used to be our people. We all have a tendency to want to compromise our faith with the cultures around us — which is why this kind of false teacher is so dangerous for us: we have a weakness for any teaching that says we can fit in with the world without getting hurt.

But Peter is telling us clearly that this kind of teaching, this tendency to compromise, is actually a kind of boldness and arrogance, a senseless disregard for the danger.

Now, I want to pause and be clear about something: Peter is not talking about compromise with superficial cultural things like clothing and music or food. He is talking about something far more subtle: the arrogant belief that we can compromise our values, the foundational ethic that actually defines us as Christians. Listening to rock and roll music or reading a non-Christian book does not automatically mean that a Christian has compromised with non-Christian culture. But cultivating an independent spirit so that we can better indulge our personal ambitions? — this is a soul-devouring kind of compromise with the values of the world.

And that is what happens next. The sin of despising spiritual and cultural authorities grows into the sin of despising God-ordained human authorities: the authority found in the apostles and prophets of scripture, and the authority found in the elders and teachers of a church government.

And again, we need to pay close attention to the signs, because this kind of rebellion always begins within us in small, socially-acceptable ways. Am I easily angered or irritated when I do not get my way? That is a danger sign. Do I insist that people under my care treat me with a certain dignity, so that they never forget their proper place? That is a danger sign. Am I envious of others’ success, and long to duplicate it? That is a danger sign. Do I have a tendency to talk about people behind their backs, especially those who are in authority? Am I manipulative? Am I controlling? Am I greedy? Am I fearful and defensive? These are all danger signs. These are all the little socially-acceptable weeds that we overlook in ourselves and in one another — weeds that will grow into a dense relationship-devouring jungle of scandalous sins if they are not dealt with when they are small.

Friends, this is why Peter wants us to keep on preaching righteousness like Noah did, this is why he wants us to keep on being distressed by sin, like Lot was: because if we can train one another to greater and greater sensitivity, then we will be more easily able to recognize the sins in our midst and root them up before we are all dragged away together by our evil desires. We will never be perfectly sinless in this life, but we are able to repent and keep on repenting right up until the end — and by this we will be saved.

But if we become numb to these small sins, if we learn to make excuses for them, to justify them, if we learn to say to ourselves, “This is just the way I am, there is no point in resisting anymore…” — well, friends, that is the big black line we do not want to cross. When we start thinking such things, when we start following teachers who tell us that our greed is okay, our anger is okay, our lust is okay, then we are truly selling ourselves back into slavery to Satan. And if we start telling other people these things — well, then we have become the false teachers that Peter is talking about.

It is at this point that whole churches go bad, and wander off to follow their false teachers. Or, if a church refuses to submit to those false teachers, this is the point at which they leave that faithful church community, run away from God and start a new independent community centered around themselves, just like Cain did: a place where they can be in control, where they can finally do what they want. Once that happens, they are out of the true Church’s reach. As long as they were part of our church family we were responsible for their souls; but once they deliberately remove themselves from Jesus’ flock…we hand them over to him who judges justly.

After that, the descent into self-inflicted misery often happens quite fast. Because the problem with always getting to do what you want is that, very soon, you get addicted to it. And that is what happens to false teachers who start their own ministries: having set up a system independent of any outside control…they soon lose control of themselves. Having set up a system where no one can tell them “no” anymore, they gradually lose the ability to tell themselves “no”. They start to assume that every idea they have must be coming to them directly from the Lord! — they can no longer distinguish between God’s voice and the serpent’s.

And the signs of this terrible transition are even more obvious. Does your teacher have no real peer-to-peer friendships, only transactional relationships of authority and submission? If so, your teacher is most likely a false teacher. Does your teacher refuse to condemn greed in themselves or others? If so, your teacher is most likely a false teacher. Does your teacher refuse to condemn certain kinds of sexual sins that are clearly condemned in scripture? If so, your teacher is most likely a false teacher. Does your teacher insist on controlling everyone else, but cannot control himself or herself? If so, your teacher is most likely a false teacher. And, friend, if you are in a church with teachers like that, you can be sure that those obvious sins are just the tip of an iceberg of deeply scandalous sins.

But at this point I am talking to the wind, aren’t I? Because if a congregation has already been ignoring these very obvious sins in their leaders and in themselves, then they are no longer able to hear the voice of God, and we are wasting our breath. Such churches have already wandered so far off the straight way that even when their leaders are finally caught in public, scandalous sins, those congregations continue in their faithfulness to those leaders and their teachings. There are many independent churches around the world today — some of them very close to us! — whose founding pastors have spent time in prison for their very obvious greed…and now that they are out of prison those congregations have accepted them back even though they have not changed their message or their lifestyle. Like unreasoning animals, these people are unable to put two and two together: they are unable to see that their leaders’ obvious, socially-acceptable sins are just the surface crust that conceals a deep pool of absolute soul-destroying shit.

And Peter says that their eternal punishment has already begun. He says this for our comfort — and he says this so that we will continue to be distressed by the lawless deeds we see and hear, especially amongst those who claim to be Christians. Because if we are distressed, then we will continue to preach.

Friends, I am confident that we have not been handed over to Satan. And I am confident that we are not going to be, as long as we continue to make every effort to remain sensitive to sin as scripture describes it, as long as we continue to make every effort to spur one another on toward love and good deeds as they are described in scripture.

This has been a heavy and distressing subject. So please allow me to close now with the words of Jesus himself: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

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