The question of people in developed societies today is not “Is there anything after death?” but “Is there anything before death?” What the theology of salvation must address if it is going to speak to an age (or at least to a context) that is as it were condemned to life is whether life is purposeful. … it is the great responsibility of the church in every age to try to discern the overarching predicament, the question behind the questions, that is the situational background of all human striving. (Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context, p.129)
If people escape the moral filth of this world through the knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, then get tangled up in it again and are overcome by it, they are worse off than they were before. It would be better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, having come to know it, to turn back from the holy commandment entrusted to them. They demonstrate the truth of the proverb: “A dog returns to its own vomit, and a washed sow wallows in the mud.” (2 Peter 2:20-22)
I’m late posting today’s Fresh Bread devotional for a reason, and to be completely transparent, it’s an emotional one.
You see, several days ago I decided I would post a devotional thought today from this candid, haunting passage that forms the conclusion of 2 Peter 2. That’s what I had in my head, but my heart has been in the way. As I read this text, I keep seeing people; “dead people,” as it were. I keep seeing the faces of people I’ve known across the years who once made a good start with Christ, but who have long since left him, choosing instead to go back and try to live their life without him.
Some of their stories I know; some I don’t and probably never will. I’ve buried some of them while others still live. Some still living I’ve kept up with while others I can only wonder where they are. Of those I know still, some I know seem to be getting along just fine, while others only act as if all is well. And there are others still, I know from their own words, who live in utter despair.
But this they all have in common: my heart bleeds for them. They are my brothers and sisters in the Lord, but they’ve left home and kin, Father and siblings. Some left with a will while others simply drifted away, but the end result for most of them is the same: they become even more entangled with the world and its ways than they ever were before. It’s a dirty, sickening sight to see and my throat grows tight and my eyes a bit misty even as I try to write now. The words haunt me: “It would be better for them never to have known …”
I need to pray.
Heavenly Father, bring whatever is necessary into my life and the lives of my brothers and sisters to humble us and keep our hearts warm toward you. Remind me often of my pledge to you and do the same for all in your family. For I want to never leave you and I yearn for all who have to return. Be patient, I pray, and have mercy on us all. We are weak and live only by your salvation. Take our lives from us before we would ever forsake you. Save us so in the name of Jesus I pray.Amen.
“… false teachers will come among you.” (2 Peter 2:1)
Peter chose his words carefully. That’s what men who know they’re about to die are want to do (2 Peter 1:14). He surely lingered not only over his choice of subject and expression, but deliberately spoke so as to maximize the chance of what he had to say becoming memorable (2 Peter 1:15).
This is how Peter penned his last letter, at least the last of which we have record; 2 Peter. Nearly 40% of that letter he spent warning believers of “false teachers” coming their way. Five times he called them such (2:1,2,12,17,19) and he described their ways in detail.
Now we would be naive to think “false teachers” are only a thing of the past. But if we are believers and the words and example of Scripture matter to us still, then we should be exceedingly careful as to who we would ever brand as “false.” We would do well to ask Peter here and now: “What ways would make a teacher so fallen as for us to rightly tag them as ‘false?'”
While nothing in this letter would cause us to think Peter was comprehensive in his answer, we ought to notice its scope for the teachers Peter labeled as “false” were obviously, and exceedingly, ungodly in all their words and ways.
Their tongue was untamed. They introduced destructive opinions (2:1), lied with premeditation (2:3), and were unafraid to use insult (2:10b). They used “slander” as they addressed what they didn’t even understand (2:12b). They were teachers whose speech betrayed their true allegiance.
Christ’s Lordship is something they had left far behind. As Peter put it: “… they deny the master who bought them …” (2:1) What they had to say about Jesus, whether with words or ways, was anything but fitting of his place or power as ruler of all.
Immorality was their ID. Their unprincipled living wasn’t just a reality, but was “unrestrained” (2:2,18a). They followed after “the corrupt cravings of the sinful nature” (2:10a). “Unruly parties” were their trademark and “seductive pleasures” (2:13b) are what they sought. They appeared to “always [be] looking for someone with whom to commit adultery” (2:14). Clearly their cravings enslaved them (2:19b).
Money was their master. They were given over to “greed” (2:3a), their “hearts [being] trained in greed” (2:14). So obvious it was that money was their god Peter could only say it reminded him of one who “loved the payment of doing wrong.” (2:15)
People were their prey. Though their ways could be subtle like a snare (2:18), they lived to “take advantage” of people (2:3), targeting those weak of faith (2:14), those just coming to faith, and those who had wandered from faith (2:18). People were only their means to their selfish end.
And they had a propensity for pride. “They openly defied “the Lord’s authority” and were “reckless” and “brash” (2:10b). Their harsh words or mockery were even known to be openly directed against beings greater than themselves (2:10b). You would think the universe revolved around them.
Now what makes a false teacher false? Surely from this short study we can say that at least in this instance, the issues involved not merely the teachers’ words, but their ways; their motives and character as much as the content and style of their teaching.
The thoughtful reflection on which should lead us to pray.
Heavenly Father, give us the discernment and courage to always stand for what is truly of you. But Father, we confess our history is strewn with the wreckage and results of the careless use of the phrase “false teacher.” The slightest variance in the understanding of your word and will has all too often given rise to the labeling of falseness and fostered the needless division of your people. Father, forgive us of this sin; have mercy on our souls. This we pray in the name of him who is nothing but True. Amen.
The cross of Jesus Christ represents simultaneously a high estimate of the human creature, a grave realism concerning human alienation, and the compassionate determination of God to bring humankind to the realization of it potentiality for authenticity. (Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context, p.91)
Do you have a boss or co-worker who doesn’t know the Lord who tries to make your life miserable because they know you believe? Is your home divided on matters of faith and so you pay the price for your faith daily? Do the pagans pick on you at school because you’re a Christian?
What can you do when you suffer because you believe? What can you do when you suffer evil for doing good?
Though it’s natural to feel helpless, you’re anything but defenseless. Peter, an apostle of God and no stranger to suffering for faith himself, tells us it’s an inside job.
1. You can deliberately project beauty, not ugliness, in response to whatever you receive. “… make yourselves beautiful on the inside, in your hearts, with the enduring quality of a gentle, peaceful spirit.” (3:4)
2. You can decide ahead of time not to return in kind, but to be kind in return. “Don’t pay back evil for evil or insult for insult. Instead, give blessing in return. You were called to do this so that you might inherit a blessing.” (3:9)
3. You can refuse to let your fears get the upper hand on you. ” Don’t be terrified or upset by them.” (3:14)
4. You can diligently determine deep down that Jesus rules. “… regard Christ as holy in your hearts.” (3:15)
5. You can do the smart work of preparedness so that when you open your mouth, the best of things come out. “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. Yet do this with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience.” (3:15-16a)
6. You can be consistent in your witness and responses each day so that you can keep a clear conscience about what you’re doing in the Lord’s name and toward others. “… [respond] with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience. … so that those who malign your good lifestyle in Christ may be ashamed when they slander you.” (3:16)
7. You can construct real conviction about not compromising your convictions to try and avoid pain. “… since Christ suffered as a human, you should also arm yourselves with his way of thinking. For whoever suffers is finished with sin.” (4:1)
8. You can dig in your heels and not retreat into living in ways that contradict your faith in Christ, no matter how seriously you are tempted and even if it holds promise of deflecting some of your suffering because of their slander. “You have wasted enough time doing what unbelievers desire … They think it’s strange that you don’t join in these activities with the same flood of unrestrained wickedness. So they slander you.” (4:3-4)
9. You can “… be self-controlled and clearheaded so you can pray.”(4:7b)
10. You can remind yourself again and again not to be surprised that this has come to be your lot in life for you are following the way of Christ, your Lord who suffered for you. “… don’t be surprised about the fiery trials that have come among you to test you. These are not strange happenings. Instead, rejoice as you share Christ’s suffering. (4:12-13a)
My Father in heaven, this is my prayer: that you would strengthen me to give only good witness of you each day, come what may. In the name of Him who suffered in my place, I pray. Amen.