2 Peter 2: avoiding falling for false teaching

Yesterday, I wrote a post on 2 Peter 2 about how false teachers were condemned and how Peter is very emphatic about how much he detests them.

It left me with a lot of questions, which I posted up on Facebook. (Forgive the poor grammar on the post below, it was for an informal context.)

I got a few responses, some of which were surprising. Mostly, I was surprised about how many people have encountered false teaching of some kind. This made me sad and somewhat concerned. However, I’ve had a brief chance to reflect on this and also to distill the answers I got.

Fear of the Lord

Whenever we are discussing what is the right and what is wrong interpretation of the Bible, I think the starting point is always this:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,

    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10

If we want the wisdom to avoid false teaching, we need to start off with a fear of the Lord. Is this that we are meant to be shaking in our boots when we think about our faith? No, I don’t think that’s what it means. However, what it does mean is that we are not to be confident in our own intellectual capabilities when trying to discern the Lord’s ways. Here are a few verses to back this thought up:

  • He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. (Job 9:10)
  • “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?” (Job 11:7)
  • Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. (Psalm 145:3)
  • Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! (Romans 11:33)

This does not mean we accept all teaching blindly, or shrug our shoulders and decide we’re going to stop thinking about things. God gave us brains and the ability to reason; these are to be used not wasted. But even those abilities are God given and, as we are created in the image of God, it is God who is the ultimate source of all truth and knowledge. Therefore, our first step is to humbly submit ourselves, our intellect, or assumptions, to the Lord.

I know that I am often guilty of doing the exact opposite: I doggedly and stubbornly argue a point because I have decided that my intellect is far superior than everyone else’s. However, I have tried to get into a habit (perhaps an annoying one) of always asking questions first. The other day, I was in a Bible study and we were reading Matthew 3. It talks about the Kingdom of God. I could probably articulate a response in what the Kingdom of God is, but I put myself in the position of not knowing and I asked what it meant.

So, prayerfully humble yourself and acknowledge you need the Holy Spirit’s help and the help of the wider church, the wisdom of those around you, to be able to grasp God’s ways and purposes.

Know your master’s voice

The Pharisees got pretty angry for what Jesus said and even wanted to stone him. (If Jesus can be declared a false teacher, that’s a warning for all of us.) In John 10:25-30, he tells the Pharisees this:

Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

If we are to be disciples of Jesus, sheep to the great Shepherd, we need to be listening to his voice so that we may follow him. The shepherd in Jesus’ day was more than just a kid that sat in fields, playing the pan-pipes, cuddling lambs. The sheep were in danger from wild animals and could easily be killed. The sheep listened to the shepherd’s voice because he kept them safe, he provided them with food by leading them to areas with grass and water. We are to be pursuit of Jesus’ voice through scripture and prayer in order to receive protection and nourishment. Jesus taught us to pray that we would be delivered from the evil one. In the passage above, it clearly shows that it is Jesus and God the Father who keep us safe, and this is safe from erroneous teaching, too.

The more we will know the Bible, the more we can spot false teaching. The more we understand the nature and the character of God, the more we can discern his ways. But God takes an active role in this as well, as Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” We need to let the scripture transform our mind as we read it.

It’s all about Jesus

If the message you are hearing glorifies something other than Jesus, it is wrong. If a teacher puts their thoughts, theories, ministries, miracles, fame and fortune on a pedestal above Jesus, they are wrong. If it puts anything other than Jesus at the centre of your life and your world it is wrong. If the teaching puts your wealth, your job, your health, your family, your sexual desires, your hobbies, your comfort, your security, your sense of control, your reputation, your to-do list, your pride, your friendships, your home, your sense of self-worth, your intellect, your feelings, your deepest wishes at the centre of your life instead of Jesus… it is wrong. All of those are to be put into submission to Jesus. There is no desire in your heart that should be left out of this. It all has to be chucked in the bin in pursuit of Jesus. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is complete nonsense. The Christian hierarchy of needs is just a triangle with Jesus in the middle.

The apostle Paul puts it like this:

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

Philippians 3:7-9 (The Message Version)

This is not because Jesus is horrible and wants us to be miserable; it is in fact the opposite. Jesus is God; he is from heaven. Anything he can offer is far better than anything we can get here. Jesus is so, so generous; so generous in fact that he gave his life for us. He owes us nothing more than this, and yet he still shows us new mercies each morning. We just need to make sure that Jesus is the priority in our life.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:33

This isn’t some cosmic manipulation: Jesus saying that if you give me good ratings I’ll give you good things. It’s just that Jesus knows what’s good for us. We were made to live with God in the Garden of Eden. But we get distracted by shiny things here. Nor is it some divine vending machine: put a few prayers and worship songs in, stick a few coins or notes in the offering basket, and we get what we want. In fact, the more we look to Jesus, the less important our dreams and desires become to us. We start realising that we have our fullness and identity in the work of Christ.

If you want to check whether your views of Christ align with the biblical truths of Christ, I would take some time in Colossians. (I’ve linked Biblegateway.com showing to two versions side-by-side, the NIV and The Message.) In fact, read the whole New Testament, and then the Old Testament. But in the mean time, I’ll just put one of my favourite passages about Jesus here.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Colossians 3:15-23

Colossians 2

This one will have to be short as my internet is being too slow to write a longer post.

Colossians 2 is much along the same vein of the previous chapter, which is discussing the character of Christ. This is what it tells us:

  • He is the mystery of God;
  • All of God’s treasures are hidden in Christ;
  • The fullness of Deity lives in bodily form in him;
  • He is head over every power and authority;
  • God makes us alive through Christ;
  • All reality is found in Christ.

It also tells us, once again, how we’ve been saved through Christ. Because of Christ’s death, the debt of sin was paid and the powers and authorities over us were disarmed. We died in baptism with Christ.

So, what should we do in response to this amazing news of Christ? Well, Colossians 2 tells us this as well.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
‭‭Colossians‬ ‭2:6-7‬

Also, because of Christ we can be free from human religious tradition. We should test what appears to have spiritual wisdom, to see whether or not it is truly of God. If it serves to build our lives in Christ, then it is helpful. If however, like circumcision, it detracts or puts undue power in works of the flesh, then it is not helpful.

Colossians 1:1-12

I love that many of Paul’s letters start with prayers of thanksgiving for the people it’s addressed to. It’s much nice than our usual, “How was your holiday to Majorca? Colossians is no exception in this.

Colossians talks about the gospel and I really love these verses:

… In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world — just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.

Verse 6

I love that Paul is talking about the gospel having a power to be fruitful and to grow and spread. I pray that this continues today so that every tongue and tribe may know the gospel of Jesus.

And then again comes a really awesome prayer for the Colossians church.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

Verses 9-12

That is one long sentence. However, those verses deserve breaking down a little bit. So these are things I’ve noticed:

  • Paul’s commitment to praying for believers. Not only does he write these prayers in his letters, but I believe him when he says he hasn’t stopped praying for them.
  • That God gives wisdom and understanding, not Wikipedia or CNN or clever books. We need the Holy Spirit in us for this.
  • This wisdom and understanding serves to glorify and please God. Anything that claims to be wisdom and understanding but doesn’t do that is just fake.
  • God causes our good works to bear fruit – not us.
  • God gives us knowledge of himself.
  • God strengthens us. And not just a little, he strengthens us with all power according to his glorious might. His might is indeed glorious – it made the whole world after all.
  • This power results in patience and endurance.
  • We should give thanks joyfully.
  • God qualifies us; we don’t qualify ourselves through our own efforts.
  • We share in the inheritance of holy people.
  • We belong to the kingdom of the light.

Wow, all that in three verses.

I’ll stop there for now, because the next section of Colossians 1 is great and equally packed. So, to avoid this becoming an essay, I’ll leave it there.