When I talk with many of our senior saints one of the concerns or fears I hear expressed the most is basophobia. You didn’t know that did you. It is also call FOF, fear of falling. When we get older it is a legitimate concern. If you have fallen before it is an especially big concern. For some of us this fear is on our mind a lot, we worry about it, we take precautions, we use extra means to keep it from happening, like canes and walkers and removing obstacles. That’s wisdom. There is a parallel between our fear of physically falling and spiritually falling. We should treat them both in similar ways and be just as diligent with guarding against both. In fact, we should be more diligent in guarding against spiritual falling. What is more important, our bodies or our souls? Didn’t Jesus say,
As we come to this final passage of II Peter I want to approach it a bit differently and focus on four phrases that stand out to me in the text. Next week I will wrap up the whole letter with a focus on the last two verses.
In II Peter 3 Peter is helping the Christians in his church know how to deal with people who say Jesus isn’t coming back and the world is not going to end in some sort of fiery ordeal and trial and great judgment. If it hasn’t happened in the past two thousand years, no sense thinking it will now. Live for the here and now. Live for today. Don’t worry, eat, drink and be merry, it’s all good. God is good and God is love and we have nothing to fear. They said this to justify their sexual freedom and indulgence and their love of money and love of earthly and worldly pleasures. And people who try to justify themselves always try to convince others of their same view, the more the merrier, the more confident they are in themselves. See we aren’t alone in this.
Peter spent chapter two warning his Christian readers about false teachers and about how their bad thinking/theology has led them into bad behaving/acting. This is why Paul says to watch both your doctrine and your life, the two go together. When we abandon the authority of the Word of God we soon find ourselves in all kinds of immorality, sexual immorality, abortion, divorce, and justification of all kinds of practices God has clearly warned us to steer clear of (see Ten Commandments). Now in chapter three Peter speaks more directly to his Christian readers. This is a pastor writing from a pastor’s heart, like a loving parent to his children. This is evident from the term of endearment he starts with.
One of the most famous movies ever is Wizard of Oz. Since 1939 probably every kid in America has seen it. Last month, Jerry Maren, the last surviving munchkin from "The Wizard of Oz," died at 98. I remember the first time I saw it probably about 5 years old being scarred out of my mind and running from the room. But all of us now know the deception, how the great and mighty Wizard was a fraud. Toto pulled back the curtain and exposed the wizard to be just an ordinary man. Appearances can be deceiving. The internet has taken deception and scams to a whole new level. We are constantly being warned that everything is not as it appears to be. I keep getting those e-mails from Nigeria offering millions of dollars, those phone calls from the IRS or Microsoft Computer Department. Did I mention I got a call last month from my grandson in jail in NYC? Here is Peter again, not pulling any punches, speaking frankly, and warning us about Christian teachers who are spiritual frauds. Surgery is love, warning about a cliff ahead is love, saying don’t go there or do that is love. Whatever saves our souls is love. Peter’s letter is love. In chapter one Peter focused on the positive.
I admit to succumbing to the temptation to being relevant and up to date, using a sermon title taken from the political controversy of the past few weeks when President Trump referred to the wicked actions of some evil people as animal like, he called them animals. I couldn’t help but notice Peter’s use of similar strong language for false teachers is verse 12. “But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant.” Peter uses very strong language and makes a bunch of very serious accusations. In fact, it almost seems like Peter goes on a rant, using inflammatory words. Why did Peter write this to his church and why did God write it for us? What is Peter’s intention and what is God’s intention? Remember the context. Go back to chapter one. Peter is promoting pursuing godliness. In the first chapter he gave those eight qualities that build faith and godliness. The false teachers are saying godliness doesn’t matter, it is way over rated. They are denying Jesus and his coming again, and people who go off the rails on doctrine soon go off the rails on behavior. Peter is standing up to a terrible tide of ungodliness. His inflammatory speech is necessary to serve as a warning. Just as Jesus called out the religious leaders, the senior pastors and elders, calling them vipers and wolves in sheep’s clothing. He paints a very ugly picture of false teachers. He makes them ugly because what they teach and do is ugly. This is necessary because false teachers don’t usually look bad, they don’t look like Darth Vader or the Joker. Peter has already summed up the character of false teachers as arrogant, despising authority; sensual, engaging in defiling passions; and greedy. False teachers have false mouths, false eyes and false hearts. After his summary he now gets more specific, he goes into great detail, all for the sake of warning because there is great danger to our souls here. This is an expression of love and pastoral care.
As adults we all know that there are certain painful things in life that are good for us. There are surgeries that are painful but necessary for our good. We have all tasted medicine that is awful, but we endure it because it is good for us. These words like many others in Scripture are strong medicine and it doesn’t taste very good. This is not a happy passage, not one fun to read or preach for that matter. These are strong words, hard words, difficult things to say. We are not used to people speaking in hard ways. We live in a time that has experienced the feminization of discourse, a time that is afraid to offend, afraid to come off harsh or insensitive or intolerant. But as I have said before, Peter, is a good pastor who cares about the sheep in his church so he writes to warn believers of the dangers of false teachers who deny Jesus both in their doctrine and in their actions, lifestyles that are filled with immorality and following after the passions of the flesh. The first three verses of chapter 2 which we looked at two weeks ago give the main idea behind the rest of chapters 2 and 3. There are false teachers who have crept into the church, as there always have been and always will be. They are promoting two things, sensuality and defiling lusts of passion, and destructive heresies that deny the truth and despise authority, especially the authority of God’s Word. Peter ends that summary by saying, “their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” The reason he says that is because one of the most common traits of false teachers and those who have given themselves over to sin and evil is that they live as if there is no judgment, no time of accounting, no consequences to their way of life. This is our world. It doesn’t believe God judges sin or holds us accountable. There is no final, fearful punishment. God is only a loving God, not a God of wrath or judgment and He would never send anyone to hell. This reminds me of the famous definition of liberalism: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross." (H. Richard Niebuhr's description of Protestant liberalism). But the godly can fall into a similar trap or begin to despair over God’s lack of justice or care or concern. Psalm 73 is a very clear example of this error of thinking. So Peter reminds them of how false such thinking is. To do that he gives three examples from the OT of how God did visit judgment and punishment on the wicked and two examples of how God saved the righteous, rescued the godly. Peter backs up his statement in verse 3 with proof. These are portraits or snapshots from the OT picture album of those who failed to finish well and those who did. Let’s start with the three negative examples. I have a saying that isn’t very nice but actually applies well to this text. Nobody is useless, they can always serve as a bad example.
The goal of chapter one was to encourage us and build up our faith that we would be diligent to make our calling and election sure. Peter began by exhorting us to continue to cultivate a living, active, growing faith through virtue, knowledge, self-control, godliness and love. And he exhorts us to pay close attention to God’s Word as the lamp for our way in life. The goal of chapter two is to warn us of the dangers if we don’t do that, and if in fact we wander away from our faith. Not everyone follows the way of Jesus. Some follow cleverly devised myths (1:16), some blaspheme the way of truth and introduce destructive heresies (2:1-2), some are seduced by what their itching ears want to hear to suit their own passions (II Timothy 4:3). If chapter one is the carrot, chapter two is the stick. And if you think you are not in danger, you don’t have a good sense of how seductive and pleasing the easy path is. It’s led by man-pleasers, people to appeal to our wants and needs and desires.
Dave Barry is a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist who wrote a nationally syndicated humor column for about 25 years. Phama and I laughed out loud at a lot of his humor. We learned whenever he wrote, “Seriously, I am not making this up” that was a sure sign he was in fact definitely making it up. Peter is arguing he is definitely not making up what he is saying about Jesus, and the proof of that is found in two things, we were eye witness, and better yet, we have the prophetic Word. Peter’s authority was being challenged, so he grounds it in two reasons.
Have you ever been in one of those awkward situations where someone is repeating themselves and you aren’t quite sure how to act? Do you just act like it’s the first time, do you say “You said that already?” You know, like when I repeated that announcement just now. And you all just though I was losing my mind, right? Peter repeats himself three times in this short passage but he’s not losing his mind either, there is good reason for what he is doing.