Nobody wants to give unnecessary offence. We want to avoid hurting others. These are right and proper concerns. They can however lead us to refuse to disagree with opinions that we believe to be seriously wrong and harmful. One of the highly regarded virtues of our society is tolerance, but when it comes to issues of truth there have to be limits to tolerance. Those who teach error regarding the basics of the gospel cannot be ignored. We now consider 2 Peter 2:10b – 21 Beware false teachers.
1. A wicked life
Peter knows that false teaching and those who spread it can have a fatal attraction. It appears that something more exciting than the old orthodoxy is on offer. Hence Peter’s lengthy indictment. There seems to be a spiritual arrogance in these teachers – ‘Bold and arrogant…not afraid to slander celestial beings’ (v10b). The ‘celestial beings’ are fallen angels (v11) – the teachers seem to have a casual attitude to spiritual dangers. They fail to recognise their own smallness. ‘They ‘blaspheme in matters they do not understand’. There is a moral laxity (v14), with their whole life infected by this outlook. Even the company of Christians is not a restraint. Also ‘they are experts in greed’ (v14). False teachers seem to offer much but in fact deliver nothing – ‘springs without water’ (v17).
2. A destructive influence
False teachers can enjoy a measure of success, but are also one of the ways God chastens and awakens a sleepy church. They make an impressive sound that can have an effect on the spiritually immature. Even true believers can be led astray for a time. In particular danger are ‘those who are just escaping from those who live in error’ (v18). Old sins can exert a strong pull and knowledge of the truth can be limited, and so they are vulnerable. False teachers ‘promise them freedom’ – freedom from any restraint, even of God’s law. They are told they can live as they please. In fact such a life is bondage – false teachers are ‘slaves of depravity’ v19). The danger is real. Many follow false ways to their cost. True believers can be influenced by them if they are not on their guard. The greatest danger is to those not well-grounded in the truth. That is why the church must be so careful to instruct the Lord’s people well. Truth protects.
3. A lost opportunity
Sadly, these false teachers had a knowledge of the truth that could have led to a heart commitment to Christ (v20). They know the way of salvation and it has had some effect, but Peter is not saying they were ever truly saved. Some can go a long way in understanding the gospel yet never actually believe. To go back instead of forward spiritually is a very serious matter – ‘they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning’ (v20). Remember Jesus’ story of the man from whom a demon was exorcised, but nothing good was put in its place (Matthew 12:45). Peter offers two unflattering illustrations (v22). Some knowledge of the truth and some moral renovation are not enough – our only hope is in Christ, made ours by repentance and saving faith.