Handout / Small Group Questions:
These examples of knock-off products are pretty funny and easy to spot, but it’s not always so innocent.
High-end art and fashion are constantly having to fight against forgeries. I read this week that fake fashion, which range from illegal knock-offs sold in shady ways to big companies stealing each others’ designs, costs the industry billions of dollars.
Art forgery has a similar problem as artists try to replicate the style of famous artists like Picaso, Monet, and Renoir, and then sell their new paintings for a lot of money. John Myatt, before he was arrested, was able to do it 200 times, even forging the certificates of authenticity, and was so good at it that famous auction houses like Sothebys and Christie’s sold his work for thousands of dollars. The conspiracy ran so deep that the gallery he worked with actually went as far as altering the records of genuine masterpieces so they would more closely match the forgeries.
Experts should have seen the difference sooner. It’s been said a thousand times, but it remains true, that the only way to spot a forgery is to be an expert the real thing. There are innumerable ways to counterfeit art, money, or fashion these days, but there is no way to turn a new painting into a 16th century original.
Canada has one of the most difficult pieces of money to try to counterfeit, so I looked up some of the measures that they have used to make it harder for people to counterfeit. I saw right on the Bank of Canada website under “Counterfeit Prevention” how they keep our money secure. First, it encourages everyone to check the money often. At stores, banks, and in personal transactions, they say people should carefully examine the bills, large or small. But examine them for what? Their next point is to “Know Your Notes” which says, “Security features are helpful only if you use them. To fight counterfeiting, the Bank offers free training materials to help the public, businesses, and police agencies use the security features in genuine bank notes. If you know your notes, you’ll be able to detect a counterfeit at a glance and protect yourself from fraud.”[i]
For example, every bill has a shiny section on the edge that is hard to replicate. It also has fancy squares on the edges that tell machines what denomination it is. They actually have a piece of metal in them too, somewhere. One of the coolest ones is that And, if you shine a light through the little white section under the word Canada, you will see a face appear on the bill and the number completed.
It goes on to tell people that passing counterfeit money is illegal and then tells us what we should do when we are offered a counterfeit bill – and these are great:
First, “Assess the situation to ensure that you are not at risk.” Probably good advice because forgers are usually bad-guys who do bad things.
Next, “Politely refuse the note and explain that you suspect that it may be counterfeit. Ask for another note (and check it too).” That’s good too. I like how the Bank of Canada officially tells people to be polite. So Canadian. “No thank you, I don’t want fake money because not only is it not worth anything, but I could get in trouble for using it. Sorry, may I have the real thing, please?”
Next, “Advise the person to check the note with the local police.” Also good advice. “You should check with the authorities here. Something’s fishy and you’re being misled and misleading others. You’re actions or inactions are harming individuals, businesses, and the economy. Whoever gets caught holding this bill is either going to be in trouble, or will be out of pocket for the cash. Using this money hurts people so you should deal with it soon.”
Finally it says you should “Inform your local police of a possible attempt to pass suspected counterfeit money.” This is a big deal to the government and they want to know about this. Passing along fake money is a serious issue and they are going to use force to make sure it doesn’t happen!
Here’s my point: as big of a deal as fake art, fashion, money and toys are, material things aren’t the only thing this world tries to counterfeit. There are plenty of counterfeit things.
Christians believe that the Bible is the final authority on all matters of faith and life. We believe 2 Timothy 3:15-17 which says that the Bible is
“able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
We believe that God has, in His Word, revealed the best way to live in this world. Most people are aware that He has given us a moral law to guide our lives, like the 10 Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount, but it’s so much more. He has given us biographies and illustrations about how to live in a complicated world, principles on how to deal with money and possessions, guidance on how to pray and worship, proverbs that teach us how to live wisely and make good choices, psalms that help us deal with loss, hurt and fear, prophecies to give us hope, and instructions for how to arrange the social orders of marriages, families, friendships, churches, businesses, and governments. God has been gracious to give us all we need in order to live wise, godly, holy, productive, kind, lives that protect us from harm, honour Him, and take care of our neighbours.
The problem is that because of our love of sin we are prone to disagree with God’s plan and create counterfeits that seem like a good idea but are, in fact, dangerous deceptions.
Which Path Will You Take?
Most people inherently agree that there are imperially good choices and bad, that there are right paths and wrong ones, but at the same time, we also tend to fight against it, thinking that our feelings and intuitions will guide us. This concept is all over Jesus’ teachings. Turn to Matthew 7:12.
Jesus here gives us what we call “The Golden Rule”. It says, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” People often twist this to mean that we can do whatever we want as long as no one gets hurt, but that’s not what it means at all. Keep reading:
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
We see here that Jesus isn’t blowing away God’s standards in favour of the simple, “do whatever but don’t hurt anyone”, instead He’s clarifying that the path He demands people follow is actually much narrower than people think. We hear the Golden Rule and think it gives us the freedom to do anything we want, while Jesus makes it clear that living His Gospel and His Way is actually harder and a lot more demanding.
He actually piles up the illustrations to make sure that we don’t understand this. He gives three different pictures of choice. The first is the road. Will you choose the hard, narrow way that leads to life, or the wide and easy way that looks easier, but leads to destruction? One is a clever forgery, designed to look even better than the original, but is actually dangerous. Will you choose the real or the counterfeit?
Who Will You Listen To?
The next choice is found in verses 15-20, where He gives us a choice of who we can listen to:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
Jesus says there will be two kinds of teachers in this world – the ones that tell the truth and ones that don’t. The problem is that they both look like sheep. Their messages sound similar enough to the kind the Shepherd gives, but inwardly they are wolves that are trying to mislead the sheep and pull them away from the protection of the shepherd so they can be eaten.
The Bible is full of warnings and teachings about how to tell the difference between true and false teaching – which I won’t get into here – but notice that Jesus analogy switches from sheep and wolves to healthy and unhealthy trees. His teaching is that even though we can’t know for certain the spiritual state of any individual, one thing to look for when trying to find the differences is by looking to see which one bears good fruit.
What does that mean? Well, it’s too huge of a theme to cover here, but in essence, it means that the life and teaching of that individual helps people live lives that show they are touched by God’s blessing.
Galatians 5:19-23 lays down a good list of the kinds of things we are to look for:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Jesus is clear, more than once, that there will be a lot of teachers that are telling counterfeit truths that seem good, seem like something the sheep should be doing, but are in fact dangerous lies.
What Foundation Will You Build On?
Turning back to Matthew 7 we see Jesus’ giving people a third illustration as to the choices we will be given, and that’s the foundation upon which we build our lives. We see it in 7:24-27,
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
In context here, Jesus is differentiating Himself from the religious establishment that has grown up around them and been corrupted by the Pharisees, Sadducees, Sanhedrin, but it’s not only those. He’s also drawing a dividing line between Himself and any other foundation. Whether it’s another religion or atheism or agnosticism, the establishments of politics and law, or something in our culture like political correctness or liberalism or conservatism or economics, or beliefs like pantheism or deism, Jesus is saying that there are really only two foundations: the one that stands and the one that falls.
Forever people have been coming up with all kinds of other foundations to build their lives on that are merely dangerous counterfeits of what God has said and Jesus offers. They look and sound good, but they’re no better than a fake 20 dollar bill. Looks good, might get you by for a while, but will fail you in the end.
All of those give a taste of what Jesus offers, and can sound sort of like what Jesus says if you don’t read too closely, but are dangerous foundations created by false teachers to ensnare, control, and distract people from salvation through Jesus Christ. Buddhism, Confucianism, Neopaganism, Islam, Mormonism, and Scientology all have little slices of truth in them but are merely counterfeits.
Jesus is Exclusive
That’s the exclusive claim of Jesus Christ. He is the only gate, the only path, the only good shepherd, the only good gardener, the only solid rock, the only Saviour, the only one who has seen God, the only one who has been to heaven and come to tell people, the only one who conquered death, and the only way to God. He doesn’t give other options.
This is why Christians teachers have fought and died to keep the Bible available to all believers everywhere. Jesus said unequivocally, “If you abide [remain] in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). The Apostle John said, “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God.” (2 John 1:9)
This isn’t religion talking. This is a Jesus talking. Christians’ didn’t say this about Jesus, Jesus said it about Himself. We merely believe what He said! Jesus appointed prophets and apostles who were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write books of the Bible for us to read so we could know this.
It all comes from God, His Son Jesus, and His Book. We don’t get to make things up. We don’t get to draw other paths, choose other teachers, or make other foundations.
Pressure To Conform
Let me give you a quick example of how this is messed up today. There’s a group of Baptist churches in Texas who have come face to face with the LGBTQ community and have been forced to re-evaluate what they believe about the issue. They started to make motions towards officially accepting gay marriage, and in response, the other churches in the denomination stopped sending them money. It was the right thing to do, but the denominational leadership didn’t think so.
Let me read you a couple of quotes from their press release: “What happens when these churches begin to push for a return to affirm the inerrancy of Scripture?… Once we begin to listen to the voices who wield their power and financial strength in this way, we have begun a slippery slope to fundamentalism and irrelevancy.”[ii]
What does that mean? They were scared these other Baptist churches, who had withheld their money, were going to try to force them to return to believing that the Bible is the final authority for their life, faith, and denomination. How weird is that? A group of Baptist Churches in the Southern United States who is scared of a group that might force them to believe the Bible again. And why? Because then they would slip into “fundamentalism and irrelevancy” – translated: Then the culture won’t like us anymore.
One more quote. When talking about why they thought that it was ok to openly accept the teachings of the LGBTQ community, they said this: “The convention’s express theology of deciding who belongs in God’s kingdom is regressive and does not represent the forward-thinking theology of our Christ where walls are torn down to make room for all people marginalized and Pharisee alike.”
If you know your Bible’s even a little bit, and have been listening at all this morning, it should cause you to pause for a moment that a group of Baptist leaders said this. They were disappointed that a group of churches would not only follow and believe the Bible, but that they would ever draw a line about who is saved and who isn’t. “That kind of thinking”, they say, “is backward, old-school, undeveloped, and regressive. After all, Jesus was a forward thinking theologian who torn down walls, opened up the paths to be wide and easy, and allows people to build on whatever foundation they like! He gathered fruit from all kinds of trees, even took grapes from thorn bushes and figs from thistles. He made room for all people to join his kingdom– even the Pharisees.”
I’m really not sure what Bible they’re reading, but it’s not the same as mine. Jesus had more condemnation for the Pharisees than anyone else! And the Pharisees that did follow Jesus, like Saul, Joseph of Arimathea, and maybe Nicodemus, ended up radically altering their beliefs or completely leaving their positions as Pharisees in order to come in line with Jesus’ exclusive claims.
How does this tie into our study of 1 Corinthians 5? Because there may be no one place that modern society sees this playing out than the area of human sexuality. As you saw in the example of those Baptist churches in Texas, there is a huge temptation today to follow the ways of the world when it comes to human sexuality.
- A lot of Churches are falling in line with the understanding of sex and gender.
- The government has passed new laws and even changed the charter of rights and freedoms to accept the new way.
- Businesses that used to believe holding to conservative values would sell more products are embracing alternative sexual lifestyles and dumping any spokespeople that don’t agree.
- Movies and television have made sexual sins like pornography, adultery, and lust, normal and healthy, even going so far as to encourage people to physically harm and dominate each other.
- Educators are now including the new sexuality in their curriculums.
- Psychiatrists and psychologists have changed their definitions of mental illness to come more in line with popular culture’s views.
- Major sports organizations have said they won’t play in certain cities, or allow their teams to compete if they don’t accept LGBTQ values.
- Even pollsters, those who ask questions to thousands of people trying to understand what the nation thinks about certain topics, are having a hard time because people feel so pressured to give the “popular answer” instead of actually stating their own beliefs, that it messes up their data.
Why Are Christians Different?
There’s immense pressure to fall in line with the “new normal”, so why don’t Christians do it? Why do we insist on teachings that are so “backwards, old-school, undeveloped, and regressive”? Our reason is simply this: God has given a singular way for humanity to experience His full blessing when it comes to human sexuality, and everything else is a counterfeit. God has given humanity a singular path to follow, one garden to eat from, one foundation to build our sexuality on, and he’s very clear about it.
There are a lot of different, specific sins that the Bible condemns as outside God’s one way: Adultery, Lust, Crude Talk, Prostitution, Sensual Enticement, Bestiality, Homosexuality, but those words don’t come close to covering all the different ways that humans have conceived to sexually sin and so the word the New Testament most often uses to describe sexual sin is the Greek word PORNEIA, where we get our word “Porn”.
PORNEIA is a sort of junk drawer word that is used to describe anything that falls outside of God’s plan for human sexuality. Our hearts are so hard in this, our flesh so messed up, and there are so many ways that we have conceived to break God’s law, that there is no way for God to give us a full list of ways to go wrong, so He goes the other way – He shows us the right way and then says, “Anything outside of that is sin.”
I want to get into God’s plan for human sexuality next week, but for this week I wanted you to understand one, key point. God sets the standards, and we are to live in them. God has given us sex and gender as a gift, but as with all His gifts, we have corrupted it with sin. God gave us the right way enjoy sex, and we figured out a thousand ways to get it wrong.
What I want you to hear today is this message: Jesus didn’t come to make us free to do whatever we want as long as nobody gets hurt, but instead makes it absolutely clear that following Him and His Word requires an exclusive commitment.
That plays out in a lot of different ways in our lives, but our topic for the next while is human sexuality. God has prescribed one way to enjoy the blessing of sex and gender, and everything else is counterfeit, everything else is PORNEIA. Just because it feels good, feels right, is how we grew up, is agreeable to society, promoted by governments, encouraged by movies, media and experts – doesn’t mean it’s right, holy or good.
I’ll get into more specifics next week, but take time to meditate on this. Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour and His Word as authoritative in your life? Are you willing to walk the narrow path, only eat the good fruit, and build on the singular foundation of the words of Jesus Christ, regardless of how you feel or what everyone is saying about human sexuality?
Last week we said that there were two main sins that the false teachers were leading the churches that Jude was writing to towards.The first was them teaching wrong things about who Jesus is and what He did. Theologians call this: Christology — the study of Christ. The second problem was that the false teachers were “perverting the grace of God into sensuality.” (vs 4) — in other words, they were teaching that since God forgives sin then Christians can sin without restraint! They could sin — and even should sin more — because it makes God’s forgiving grace look even better.
So the two areas that are being attacked in the church was their theology and their morality. Or — what they believe and how they live. How they think and how they act. I’m not sure there are two more important issues that people, especially Christians, have to get right than their theology and their morality!
There are a lot of important issues that we can talk about in the church — things like worship style, local and global missions, what kind of ministries we have, whether we do small groups or not, what to do during Sunday School, how important membership is, technological advances, how to deal with church discipline, divorce, alcohol, smoking… and, I’m sure, a million others. Churches have split over these issues, so obviously they are important in some regard. But, really, the two most important things we need to get right in our church is to be biblical in our theology and our morality. What we believe about God and the impact those beliefs have on our life.
And Jude (among other places in scripture) have some pretty strong things to say about Christians and churches that don’t their their theology and morality seriously.
The State of Evangelicalism in Canada
This is important to us today since we definitely live in an age where theology and morality have been sidelined — in the general culture, and even in the church. I’ve already given examples of Atheist Pastors and Popular False Teachers, so I’m not going to rehash that, but I did want to give you a quick example of what I mean about people who don’t care about biblical theology or biblical morality.
Just this May, a market research group called the Angus Reid Institute released a study where they looked at the theological and moral beliefs of Canadians who call themselves evangelical Christians. I’m not sure how they defined that, but let’s go with it anyway. Here’s a few stats from their report:
- 46% of Canadian evangelicals “disapprove of and do not accept” same-sex marriage. That leaves 54% that do accept it. (By contrast, 84% of all Canadians approve of same-sex marriage.)
- 54% of Canadian evangelicals “disapprove of and do not accept” a woman being able to obtain a legal abortion for any reason. So that means 46%, almost half, of evangelical Christians think there are good reasons to kill babies. (Compare that with the 81% of all Canadians who support abortion.)
- 38% of Canadian evangelicals believe we need to worry about our own country most and let the rest of the world take care of itself. So almost 2 out of 5 people who call themselves Christians would do away with global missions.
- When it comes to “religious people” — whatever that means:
- 18% of “approve and accept” people under 18 years old having sex.
- 40% of people who embrace religion agree that right and wrong is a matter of personal opinion.
- And 10% of religious people think that the growth of atheism is a good thing.
Theology and Morality is being thrown out the windows of evangelical churches. Instead of standing up for truth (or as Jude says, “contending for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints”), or as Jesus said, being “salt” and “light” in this dark world, Christians are becoming more and more like the secular world around us.
I was given a stark reminder of how worldly our churches have become as I read about the Ashley Madison leaks this week. If you haven’t heard about this, there is a site online that’s whole purpose is to connect married people who want to commit adultery. Their slogan is “Life is short. Have an affair.”
A while back their computers were hacked and just recently the hackers released a huge list of names of the people that were registered. Right now Calgary and Ottawa are fighting for top spot for most people registered in their respective cities. At one point it was reported that 20%, or 1 in 5, people in Ottawa were registered with the adultery site. That’s incredible.
My first reaction to this news was pretty callous. I though, “Good, let the philandering adulterers get publicly shamed.” I confess that wasn’t a very loving attitude. Jesus didn’t look at adulterers with judgement and anger, but with compassion. Compassion because of how many people are hurt when sexual sin is involved.
One result of this website’s user data being released has been that a whole bunch of church leaders, 400 in fact, were outed as people who committed (or wanted to commit) adultery, and will likely be resigning from their positions this week. This is going to have a heartbreaking effect on a lot of people, and ripple out a long ways. Plus, it gives the people who hate Christians yet another reason to call us hypocrites. Worse than that is that I also read that not only are people getting disqualified from ministry and divorced, but some may have even committed suicide.
This is why our view of theology and morality matters so much. Yes, sin will always be with us, and fools and failures will always happen, but you can’t tell me that if these people had a right view of God’s justice and mercy, and were seeking to live by His moral standards, that this would have happened.
We need to get these things right in our personal lives and our church. We need to talk about this all the time. We need to make sure that we study and live out biblical theology and biblical morality. Not only because we don’t want to bring shame to the name of Jesus, but because it protects our souls from harm! It’s a matter of self preservation.
Look again at verse 3. Jude says we need to “contend for the faith”. Other translations say: “defend the faith”, “continue your vigorous defence of the faith”, “compete for the faith”, “fight for the christian faith”, “persevere in the faith”, “agonize for the faith”.
Which faith? He says “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” The biblical, ancient, right and true faith that was given to us by the apostles and prophets chosen by God to deliver His message to us.
Men and women of the faith have been fighting this battle for centuries… millennia… and Jude urges us to pick up their sword and mantle and continue the fight. Sadly, most Christians aren’t.
Why Should I?
“Why should I?”, some of us ask. “I’m no theologian, I’m no judge, why should I take up the sword and mantle? It’s not my fight. It’s a battle between egg-heads who like to fight over bible words and crazy people who picket and petition on street corners. I’m not either of those.”
Let’s take a look at a big reason that Jude gives for why we all need to be involved in “contending for the faith”.
God Will Judge People Who Spread Falsehood
Look at verses 5-7 and see the biggest reason why — and it’s not warm and fuzzy: God is going to judge, condemn and punish — quite severely — those who believe, teach and spread falsehood about Him. If we really love people, then we need to warn them about the coming wrath against people who get theology and morality wrong.
“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”
Jude reminds his readers that Jesus isn’t just a great teacher that we can listen to some things and forget others, but is in fact, the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, eternal in His divine nature, and active in the world since the very beginning. Jude reminds them that what we believe about Jesus and God — our Christology and Theology — isn’t something that we come up with, but has been given to us in scripture. We don’t get to come up with our own ideas about God and Jesus, but must study what God has revealed about Himself.
I know this annoys people today, but it’s the truth. Making up a god of your own creation does you no benefit in this life or the next. It is for us to discover our Creator, not for us to invent one.
Jude’s warning gets more serious when reminds them that the same people Jesus saved out of Egypt were destroyed before they ever got to the Promised Land. Why? Because they failed to trust God, take Him at His word, they lost their faith, they forgot their theology, they forgot their morality — Jude says they “did not believe”. Just because they were out of Egypt gave them no right to stop obeying and trusting God. Just as believing in Jesus and going to church doesn’t mean we don’t have keep contending for our faith.
Jude’s next reminder is about “the angels”. Jude reminds them that even though angels were a special creation of God, they too lost their faith and rebelled against God’s authority. They were sent out of His presence and condemned to hell.
Next Jude lays down an example of the kind of power God wields against people who refuse to listen to Him. Sodom and Gomorrah were great cities with huge morality problems — especially condoning sexual sin. Jude reminds the readers that God wiped these people off the map — leaving only a smoking crater where these cities once stood. I read this week that during the first century a person could still see smoke rising from the site of where Sodom and Gomorrah once stood.
So Jude’s question is simple: Do you really want to spread lies, misinformation, and falsehood about this God? He destroyed the same Israelites He saved from Egypt because of their unbelief. He cursed the angels because of their unbelief. He utterly destroyed whole cities because they refused to welcome Him or live by His word. Jude says these stories of destruction “serve as an example” to us. Do you really want to be on the wrong side of this God? Better to get our theology and our morality right than mess with Him.
The examples continue throughout. In verse 11 we read, “Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion.”
People who teach and believe false theology and morality are walking the same way as Cain, who wanted to worship God on his own grounds, not by God’s command, and when his offering was rejected, he turned to murdering his faithful brother.
They rush into “Balaam’s error”. Balaam was a prophet who was willing to say whatever the enemy King Balak wanted him to, so he could get paid. Balak wanted Balaam to curse Israel, and it didn’t matter to Balaam what he said, because he was all about the money. He tried over and over to try to curse Israel, but God kept preventing him. Yet he stubbornly kept moving forward against God’s will. In the same way, people who don’t care about good theology and morality are usually more concerned with their money and comfort than God, others, or their own soul. They just stubbornly keep moving closer to judgement.
“Korrah’s rebellion” was against Moses. Korrah gathered 250 popular leaders to try to overthrow Moses and Aaron and change Israel’s worship practices. They didn’t care what God had said. They didn’t care that Moses was God’s man, that Aaron was His chosen priest. They wanted to do things their way, believe what they wanted to believe, come to God on their own terms. God’s response was to open up the earth and swallow up the men, their households and all their goods. And then, for good measure, God sent fire from the sky to consume them. (Num 16)
No Big Deal
Has Jude made the point clear about how serious God is about our theology and morality? So I ask you, do you take what you believe seriously enough?
Sometimes we think that the God of the Old Testament was mean and spiteful, but the God of the New Testament is friendly and loving. They are the same God. Jesus is the one who delivered the Israelites from slavery to Egypt, Jesus is the one who died on the cross to save us from slavery to sin and Satan. The God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah is the same One who inspired David to write Psalm 23 and Paul to write 1 Corinthians 13.
God is very patient, and willing to let a lot go, but not forever. Judgement will come upon all, and I want to make sure I’m on the right side of Him when He comes. Therefore I study, pray and seek to live a moral life under Him. Could I do better? Certainly, but that’s the point — I want to do better and know more about Him. What about you? How seriously do you take your theology and morality?
This is no joke. God’s wrath is no joke.
Messed Up Numbers
In verse 17 we read Jude’s plea to the churches, and I want to read it in the International Children’s Bible so we all understand. It says:
“Dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ said before. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be people who laugh about God. They will do only what they want to do—things that are against God.’ These are the people who divide you. They do only what their sinful selves want. They do not have the Spirit. But dear friends, use your most holy faith to build yourselves up strong. Pray with the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love. Wait for the Lord Jesus Christ with his mercy to give you life forever. Show mercy to people who have doubts. Save them. Take them out of the fire. Show mercy mixed with fear to others. Hate even their clothes which are dirty from sin.”
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? I said at the beginning that there are a lot of things we can talk about at church, but there are two things that we have to get right: our theology and morality. That’s what he’s saying here too.
We shouldn’t be surprised that there are people who spread falsehood about God and Jesus and the Bible. Jesus warns us about that, as do the prophets and apostles. We shouldn’t be divided by them because we should be prepared enough to see them coming.
I’m passionate about this because of the reports I keep reading about how biblically illiterate North America is — and that’s incredibly dangerous. The Bible is how we learn about theology and morality — who God is, how we are saved by Jesus, and how we are to please Him. The Bible isn’t just God’s love-letter to us, it’s the message that tells us how we can avoid being judged as sinners and destroyed by fire. It’s the how-to so we can avoid Hell, so we better get it right! .
Just last year in the US people were asked how much they knew about the Bible. 81% said they felt pretty knowledgeable about the Bible — but:
- less than half could name the first 5 books
- half of them thought that John the Baptist was one of the twelve apostles.
- 22% said that Noah was married to Joan of Arc.
- 36% thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple.
In 2013 a Canadian study found that only 14% of Canadians read the bible at least once a month. The number was at 28% in 1998. Here’s the kicker: 67% of Canadians identify as Christians according to Stats Canada.
Those are some messed up numbers. How do you even know what a Christian is if you don’t read the Bible?
So Jude leaves us with some pretty clear things to do in order to combat false teaching and take our faith seriously. He says in verse 20 that [and I’m switching back to the ESV now]:
First: we need to “build ourselves up in our most holy faith”. The imagery of God building us up, and us building each other up, is all over scripture. We are seen as God’s temple, built on the foundation of Jesus Christ and His apostles, and are commanded to hold fast to the truth so that we are a good, strong place for God to reside. We need to stick to the strong foundation. This means we engage in personal bible study, corporate teaching, small groups, and exploration of what scripture says. Not just on Sundays, but everyday throughout the week.
Second: We need to “pray in the Holy Spirit”. I’m reading about prayer right now and know that I need to work on this too. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we speak in tongues or have some kind of charismatic prayer experience. What this means is that we are praying in harmony with what God the Holy Spirit wants us to pray about, rather than merely our own agenda. To get beyond the grocery list of topics on our mind, and discover what is on the mind of God. That’s where our faith will really grow.
Third: we need to “keep ourselves in God’s love”. In other words, this isn’t just about wanting to “flee the coming wrath” (Matt 3:7), but falling in love with the One who loves us. Romans 8:15, “…you received the Spirit of Sonship and by Him we cry ‘Abba, Father.’’. Beyond salvation is the knowledge of our adoption as the sons and daughters of God, and the love we have for our Father.
Jesus said in John 14, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments…. If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” Keeping God’s word is “keeping ourselves in God’s love”. And we must know God’s word to keep it! If we don’t know God’s word, then how can we be living in it and loving Him as He has asked to be loved? To not be in God’s word is sin.
Fourth: we need to “save others by snatching them out of the fire”. When we come across a doubter who has been messed up by false teaching, let’s have mercy on them by telling them the truth and realizing we all believed lies at one point. When we see someone doomed to hellfire, we should have mercy on them by sharing the gospel.
And when we meet the false teacher, we should have mercy on them too, but also remember to fear God and give appropriate attention to the danger of speaking to that person. The word picture Jude uses of “hating even the garment stained by flesh” describes — and I’m not kidding here — soiled, poopy, underwear. His message is that we should show love because they are a human being made in the image of God, but treat everything around them the way we would treat a dirty diaper — hold our breath, keep it at arms length and toss it out.
Notice the action words in verses 20-23. “Building”, “praying”, “keeping”, “waiting”, “saving”. We are meant to be people of action, contending, fighting, for good, biblical theology and morality. Jesus is the only way, the truth the life. It is only by His name that we are saved. He has the words of eternal life. Let us not grow weary of doing the hard work of building, praying, keeping, waiting, saving and contending for our faith in Jesus Christ.
What can you do today, and this week, to build your faith and contend for the faith?
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25)
Same Truth, Different Problems
Today, again, for the third week in a row, we are going to be talking about the need for Christians to study, understand and fight for the truth. When I decided to preach the shortest books in the New Testament back to back, I didn’t realize how pervasive this theme would be during this series — though I probably should have considering it‘s a mega theme in scripture. It’s been interesting to see how, even at the beginning of the church, within only 30-40 years after Jesus left the Apostles, that false teachers had made their way into the church.
One would think that while the Apostles were alive that it would have been impossible to mess with the Gospel of Jesus, the understanding of how people are saved, who Jesus really is… all those big, important questions, and yet throughout their ministries the leaders in the church had to spend a lot of time teaching, contending, fighting and explaining the truth of Jesus to people. It’s not just today that people have a hard time understanding what the Bible says about Jesus. It’s not just today that people are making up things about Him. It’s not just today that false teachers are traveling from place to place, misusing the name of Jesus and promoting a false gospel so they can manipulate people for profit. Paul, Peter, James, Jude and the rest of the church leadership had to deal with this too.
Another thing that has been interesting are the differences we‘ve seen in these letters. They have similar themes, but important differences too. 2nd John warned us to watch out for the false teachers who aren’t part of our local body, but travel place to place spreading their poisonous teachings to many different churches. Then 3rd John warned us to watch out for the false teachers who rise to leadership positions local churches, but disqualify themselves by their ungodly lifestyles. And now, as we study the book of Jude, we see another warning. In today’s letter, Jude is going to talk about false teachers who are not public figures, not local leaders, but part of the congregation. Agents of Satan, who purposefully sneak into churches unnoticed so they can spread their toxic teaching from the shadows. Each one of these false teachers is deadly, but they all work in different ways.
Sickness and False Teachers
These different kinds of attacks on the truth remind me of different kinds of illnesses that attack our human body.
I see the travelling false teachers are kind of like having a fractured bone. Their presence isn’t as noticeable as a broken bone, but quite obvious for those who know what they’re looking for. The person limps around in pain, but can still hobble along. So they go to the doctor who sticks their foot in an x-ray machine to look inside and it’s pretty easy to see what’s wrong. They have a fractured bone.
It’s the same with these travelling false teachers. If we look a little more deeply at what they are saying, examine them using good tools, and they stick out pretty easy. It’s just that most people don’t bother to look too deeply, which is why they get away with it.
Having a corrupt local teacher or elder is more like getting cancer. It’s slow. It takes a while to grow big enough to become noticeable. It starts as a headache, a stomach ache, weight loss or fatigue. You say things like, “I think I’m getting the flu, or maybe I’m just tired, or maybe it’s my diet.” because you’re not totally sure what’s going on… but you know something’s not right. Eventually you get sick enough to go to the doctor and they start to do their tests. At first they can’t really figure it out, but after more and more searching, they come to the conclusion that, yep, things are really wrong with your body: it’s cancer.
A local false teacher is like that. They seem ok for a while after they take their position, but then things start to get weird. People are fighting more, divisions are happening between people that normally got along, volunteers are quitting, there’s more gossip floating around, meetings become more difficult, the elders deal with more and more distractions, and people start to leave. It’s hard to put your finger on it, because the symptoms are subtle, but you know something’s wrong.
By God’s grace that person finally sticks out, or someone with discernment comes in and points them out, but the trouble is the damage they’ve done at that point. A healthy church will do biblical church discipline and deal with the cancer, but sometimes churches don’t and the damage continues.
Now, the people Jude talks about, corrupting influence from within the congregation, are even more sneaky. Finding them is more like diagnosing Dementia or Migraines or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. You don’t know it’s happening, how long it will last, how to deal with it, what to take, what to blame, and no one seems to know how to fix it. It’s just there and it sucks.
That’s what these people are to the church. They sneak in, make friends, volunteer, show up, and seem like generally nice folks. They are so subtle in their destructive work that it’s almost unnoticeable. They don’t rise to positions of authority because that would mean having to go through a process that exposes their agenda. They just sit in the background, making the body sicker and sicker. Their presence becomes normal. The church isn’t healthy, but no one can put a finger on why.
The analogy breaks down because there is something we can do about it. The Bible gives some very clear instructions about making sure that we keep our eyes open for these kinds of people, that our spirits are soft towards the Holy Spirit, because, unlike the causes of a Migraine, these people can be found out and dealt with. That’s what we’re talking about today.
Let’s read Jude together:
“Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.
It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.
But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude ESV)
Who Was Jude?
The author of this letter identifies himself as Jude, another form of the Hebrew name Judah. Jude was another son of Mary and Joseph, and the brother of Jesus. He calls himself a “brother of James”, but a “servant of Jesus”, recognizing that his oldest brother wasn’t a special teacher, but was, in fact, the Son of God. This was a big step for him considering that at one point during Jesus’ earthly ministry His family considered Jesus to be crazy. Jude went from thinking His brother was crazy, to worshipping Him as Lord and Saviour, Creator of the universe. That’s a big step. He’s the “brother of James”, but the “servant”, or “bondservant” or “slave of Jesus Christ.”
That probably explains some of the passion we find in this letter. Jude had to work through a lot of things in his mind to get to that point, but once He did, He was rock solid. He helped those who believed in Jesus Christ to understand the truth about it, suffered under persecution for it, traveled for miles to plant churches dedicated to worshipping, serving and teaching about Jesus.
But now he’s getting reports back from some of these churches that they are no longer teaching the truth about Jesus. Their faith and practice are being contaminated in many ways. It’s theorized that Peter had read this letter from Jude when he wrote 2nd Peter because He deals with the same issues as Jude does — corrupting influences who have snuck into the church — which tells me that these guys were working hard against this wide-spread problem.
So who is Jude sending this letter to? This letter doesn’t have a specific address, but was meant to be circulated among the churches. It was like an e-mail that gets Ccd to the whole company. He wanted everyone to read this, because he had some extremely important things to say about these corrupting influences to everyone, because this problem is so widespread.
I find it very interesting that Jude writes this letter with language specifically for a church full of people who have a really good grasp of theology and the Bible. He is writing to people who now their stuff — and yet haven’t had the wisdom to be able to discover the people that are destroying them from within. I find that very ironic.
This was a church that knew their stuff. He used biblical and extra-biblical examples (meaning outside the canon of scripture), not even pausing to explain some of them because it would have been obvious. The church would either know the stories and the warnings right away, or they would have knowledgeable teachers who could explain it to everyone.
Look at verses 3-5. He seems disappointed and exasperated. It’s like he was saying, “C’mon you guys! You know this! I wanted to write to you a nice happy note about our shared salvation and how great it is to be saved by Jesus — but now I‘m worried that we don‘t even have that in common anymore. Now I have to write a totally different note urging you to turn back to the true Gospel!”
He feels this way because the core of the Gospel was being corrupted and there were two main problems. The first problem we can see in verses 3, 4 and 5. In verse 3 we read “Although I was very eager to right to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith…” In verse 4 we see that the “ungodly people“ are denying “our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ“. And in verse 5 we read, “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people…”.
This church had forgotten something important about Jesus. Their Christology, their understanding of Jesus, who He was and how He saves us was getting messed up. That’s the first indictment against these guys, that they were messing with the story of salvation, telling people that there were either other ways to be saved, or that they needed to do more things than believe in Jesus to be saved.
But it wasn’t t not only that — as if that wasn’t bad enough — these sneaky snakes were causing another, big problem. This issue didn’t stop at beliefs, but affected people’s behaviour. What you believe about Jesus will invariably come out in your lifestyle. In verse 4 Jude says these people “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality.”
It’s going to take more than one week to address these two issues, so I just want to introduce them this week.
How to Corrupt a Church in Four Easy Steps
Once the story of salvation is messed up, it’s not that hard to convince people that they can lead whatever lifestyle they want. Once you can corrupt a person’s theology, you can corrupt their life. How? Look at verse 8. After laying down some serious warnings about what happens to people who deny Jesus as Saviour, Jude says,
“Yet, in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.”
There’s your recipe for how to corrupt a church from the inside, and it’s what Jude is going to talk about for the whole letter. So to close today, I’m going to give you a step by step how-to for corrupting a church from the inside. Remember, we’re not talking about what’s coming from the pulpit, from the Sunday School teachers, the elders or the deacons. I’m talking about influences from people that attend the church, the congregation.
Step One: Get people to “rely on their dreams”.
Put differently, get people to put down their Bibles and start following subjective experiences instead. Get them to rely on personal visions, gut feelings, and dream interpretations. Then when someone argues with you, even from scripture, all you have to do is say, “I’ve received a new revelation from God” or “My spirit is telling me differently.”
Dream interpretation is a highly difficult and speculative thing. It’s not that it’s impossible for God to speak in dreams and impressions upon our spirit — He’s done so in the past — so these people rely on that to be their trump card, which they play all the time to great effect on some people.
- Should I cheat on my spouse or get divorced? Well, my gut-feeling says I should, and I just had a dream where I cheated and was pretty happy.
- Should I go into missions, or tithe, or serve, or visit, or… a million other things? Well, my feelings are mixed about that, and I haven’t really heard directly from God about it. I’ll keep praying until my feelings tell me what to do.
- Should I confess my sin to my friend, spouse, pastor? Well, I’m pretty uncomfortable about it, so I’ll wait for a sign from God before I do that.
- Hey, I woke up at 7:37 this morning! That must be a sign that I’m supposed to go on a missions trip.
- I saw this person three times in a week, that must mean I need to talk to them.
- I just feel that there is no way that the God I know would ever send anyone to hell. I know that He’s good and He love everyone, and I love everyone, and everyone should love everyone — so that means there’s no hell. And anyone who says differently is wrong because I feel it so strongly that it must be God who is telling me.
- I went into the church and there was foul smell, and then I saw a bat fly around and out the door. That must mean that we have demons in our church. Time to light incense and walk in a circle twelve times one way and seven times the other way while reciting the “Footprints in the Sand” poem over and over. That’s what I feel we need to do at our church.
Following our feelings, and trying to live out our Christian faith by subjective experience is very, very dangerous. God has given us His revealed word for a reason, and it covers all the ground we need to cover when it comes to what we are supposed to be doing.
Step Two: Encourage people to “defile the flesh”.
Put another way: convince people that being a Christian is about what happens in our hearts. It’s about a private relationship with God. It doesn’t have anything to do with how we live our lives. Or even better, convince them that since they are saved they don’t have to worry about their sin anymore. They can do whatever they want because God will forgive them over and over and over. They’ve already got their ticket to heaven, and they can’t lose it, so that means that they can live however they want! The can have their cake and eat it too.
It sounds terrible when you say “defile the flesh”, but what if we say it, “live in Christian liberty”? What if we say, God doesn’t think that porn is a big deal as long as you’re working on it? Or, God doesn’t care about same-sex marriage as long as we’re making sure they know we love them. Or, God is more concerned about your spiritual life than what you eat and drink and smoke and who you sleep with? Or, God doesn’t care if you cheat on your spouse because He’ll always forgive you? God doesn’t care about what you do when you’re by yourself?
If you want to corrupt the church, then first, get them to stop reading the Bible and second, teach them that their feelings — especially their strong sexual urges — are God given and natural, and therefore need to be expressed. Call anyone who disagrees judgmental, and then tell them that you have a new interpretation of scripture after having a dream. After all, God was the One who gave you those urges, right? Then everything you do with them must be ok.
That’s dangerous thinking, but it pervades our culture right now, doesn’t it? Sexual sin (in all its forms) is the norm for most men, and more and more women. And more and more churches are acquiescing to their congregations desire to be told it’s ok. “If you don’t go along with us, then we’ll just get a new teacher, new pastor, new denomination, that tells us we can do that.” That leads us to the next step.
Step Three: Get them to “reject authority“.
Once you have them listening to feelings and dreams instead of the Bible, and trapped in sexual sin, some people in authority might come in to try to put things back in order. Don’t let that happen.
For a long time churches had denominational leaders, bishops, and presbyters that had the authority to come into local churches when things started to go sideways. Even Baptist churches, known for their independence and congregationalist mindset were wise enough to set up associations with wise, seasoned regional representatives that would support the pastors and churches, and could be called upon to come in during times of crisis.
Today, that system is falling apart. New churches are being planted by men and women who don’t believe in structural accountability. Congregations are leaving their longstanding denominations left and right. They reject anyone who wants to tell them differently than they think. They arrogantly disregard any form of governance that tries to point them back to scripture or hold them accountable to their creeds, confessions and historical beliefs.
Not only do they deny the Lordship of the Lord Jesus and the authority of scripture, but they won’t allow anyone to come in — no matter how wise, experienced, or loving that person is. They don’t want to hear it.
I’ve experience this first hand, and I know a lot of other pastors that have to. They watch corrupting influences steer the church away from scripture, away from the gospel, and towards destruction, but it’s not an elder or a deacon — though sometimes that happens — it’s someone in the congregation who has come from a different church and has started to spread their poison.
The pastor tries to preach, but it doesn’t work. The Elders try to talk to them, but they won’t even come to a meeting. The Leadership Team gets together to talk it over, but what can they do? This person isn’t even a member. So they try to appeal to a higher authority — the bishop, the regional minister — but when they come in, the congregation doesn’t want to listen. They won’t hear it. How dare an outsider try to tell them what’s best for their church. How dare someone come in and try to tell them how they are supposed to worship God and read the Bible.
And so they get rid of the authorities above them. First they kick out the pastor because clearly they don’t know how to handle this situation. Then they re-elect new elders and deacons because the other ones supported the pastor and the denomination. Then the new pastor and leadership team decides that they should leave their old denomination and associations and go on their own.
One of them stands up and gives a passionate plea about a dream they have, about the feelings that have been hurt, and how the leadership team all agrees that they don’t want to be in a denomination full of churches that hate people. We‘re all about love after all. And the church splits, many leave, and the congregation goes it alone.
I’ve seen and read about this over and over and over. And it’s generated first by people in the congregation, not by corrupt pastors or traveling teachers. Which leads us to step four.
Step Four: Get the church to “blaspheme the glorious ones”.
There are some different interpretations on this passage.
Some think it means that they blaspheme, or mock, the good messengers of God, everyone from good teachers to God’s angels, thinking that they are wiser and more knowledgeable than all of them. They don’t just kick out the deacons, elders, pastors and denominational leaders — they mock them. They sit back and laugh at all the fools who, for generations, believed one way — until they came along and figured out the best way. How foolish those simple, backward, old-school people were.They do what the Pharisees did and attribute the work of the Holy Spirit and the Gospel of Christ as the work of the Devil. They demonize and attack the good churches and Gospel teachers, and encourage and support the bad ones.
Some think it means that they laugh in the face of Satan, believing that they are untouchable by any evil influence. They’re so holy, so right, so totally on God’s team that no evil force can touch them. Like Romans 1 says, they are so deceived that they believe that their evil is good. They completely misunderstand and underestimate the power of demonic temptation and never consider for even a second that they might be wrong.
Others think that this means that they show a total disrespect for the angels that are said to come during the time of the judgment at the end of the world. They are only worried about what happens today, how they feel today, what today’s interpretation is, what their body wants right now, and they have no thought to their future judgment.
I don’t think we have to necessarily choose any of these three interpretations because they all point to the same end. The church becomes so backward, so full of false teaching, that black is white, up is down, good is evil, evil is good, and demons are angels.
Congratulations, You’ve Corrupted a Church
If you follow these steps, then congratulations, you’ve corrupted a church. And the best part is that they’ll thank you for it! They’ll tell you how much more loved they feel, how much more free they are, how great it is to finally be accepted, how open their arms are, how there are no more arguments, and how much better they are than all the other churches. You’ll be their hero!
That’s why Jude wrote this letter. He was watching a church go down this slide. They’d already forgotten about Jesus, had lost their way theologically, and were on the way towards full-fledged heresy and damnation. And that broke his heart.
For the rest of the letter he begs them to fight for the truth. He warns them about God’s wrath against false teachers and sinners. He pronounces woes. He calls them names. He calls them dirty. He preaches scripture. He shouts to the faithful that are left to stand up and not be silent. And He calls upon God to work a miracle in this church so they can be spared.
I ask you to ask yourself some hard questions today:
- How seriously do you take the spiritual health of your church?
- How seriously do you take your personal faith and theology?
- How seriously do you take those who tell you to compromise in your battle with sin?
- How seriously do you take the truth about the Gospel Jesus?
This isn’t about opinions and options and side-issues. This is about the core of our beliefs. It’s about eternal life and hell. We need to take this seriously.
2nd and 3rd John are like fraternal twins: similar, but different. They have similar language and concerns, but have their own uniqueness that makes them important for the church today.
Those who were here last week remember that 2nd John primarily focused on how we should be treating missionaries and Bible teachers – that we need to be careful to support those who teach and preach the truth, but condemn, remove and unfriend those who don’t preach the truth.
3rd John is a fascinating little book that follows up on that theme, but introduces some characters that provide a case study for how this works out practically in the church. It does what we all want a good teacher to do: give us examples so we can see what it looks like in real life. Let’s read it together and then we’ll talk about what’s going on:
“The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.
I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.
Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.
I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, each by name.” (3 John ESV)
Both of these little letters are concerned about the same theme. The “elder”, John, is writing to people who “love the truth”. These faithful ones who are keeping the faith causes him “great rejoicing” and he’s pleased about the reports he’s getting about them all the way over from where he’s writing in Ephesus. However, the occasion of these letters isn’t just for praise, but also for warning. The warnings from both are similar: watch out for people who are having a very bad influence on the church.
The difference between the two comes in that in 2nd John he warned about what the bad-guys were teaching, and in this one, he speaks more about how they are living.
If I had to pick a key-verse for today’s sermon, I would pick verse 11:
“Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.”
I would choose that verse because it epitomizes what John is talking about in this letter: the contrast of good and evil, and the importance of seeing the good or evil in a person’s actions. He says “whoever does good is from God… whoever does evil [is not]”.
False teachers and destructive leaders aren’t merely known by their teaching and theology, but more by how they live their life and practice their faith. We don’t just discover a bad teacher by their words (though words are important), but by their reputation. Some bad-guys, false teachers, destructive leaders, may sound great… but scripture warns us to pay attention to their lives as well.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Why? Because people are natural imitators. You’ve heard the phrase, “monkey See, monkey do”, right? We say that to describe people who imitate others without thinking – especially children. But it’s not just children who do this – everyone does. People are natural imitators, so we need to be very careful whom we choose to imitate.
This concept is all over scripture.
- “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)
- Peter tells the leaders of the church to be “examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3)
- To the Thessalonians who were struggling with laziness Paul said, “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you…” (2 Thessalonians 3:7)
- He writes to the Corinthians: “I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Corinthians 5:11)
- Why? He says later, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (1 Corinthians 15:33)
- “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)
- “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…” (Psalm 1:1)
All through scripture, from the Garden of Eden to The Book of Revelation we are told to be very careful who we associate with and who we call our friends, mentors, leaders and teachers… because consciously or unconsciously we will become like them. This especially applies to our lives today because we have more access to more influences than any other time in history.
- Be careful where you get your news from, because they will colour your view of the world.
- Be careful of the types of TV shows and movies you watch, because their values will become your values, their language will become your language, their normal will become your normal.
- Be careful of the people you follow on your Facebook feed, because their attitude will affect your attitude – if they are complaining, argumentative, selfish, prideful, consumer minded – then you risk becoming like them. If they are positive, helpful, informed, kind, peaceable, and faithful – then you risk becoming like them!
- Be careful what sports figures you admire and what players and coaches you allow on your team.
- Be careful what men and women you elect into office.
- Be careful of the church you choose to worship
- Be careful in how you choose your Pastor, Elders and Deacons.
So John writes to the church and says, “Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.” and gives an example of both sides.
On one side we have Gaius and on the other we have Diotrephes. Both of these men have risen to become leaders in the church, both are men of great influence and authority. Gaius is the one that the letter was sent and is commended as a good friend, a man of truth, hospitality and a good example for the church to follow. He’s kind, loving, generous and stands up for the Gospel. The other is Diotrepehes, whom John sees as such a threat that he needed to send a letter warning the church about him.
I want to say again that both of these men were leaders, elders and perhaps even teachers in the church. They had both risen to prominent positions, and at some point, were chosen – perhaps even John himself – to be key leaders in that local body. Notice in verse 10 that Diotrephes has the authority to excommunicate people from the church!
This isn’t the same as 2nd John which spoke of travelling teachers who wander into town and need to be examined and scrutinized before being supported, but about local leaders in the church. One of whom is a good guy to be imitated and followed, and the other is corrupt and should be removed.
The Fruit of Reputation
I want to read a scripture that I read last week, and then keep reading the next verses. Jesus says in Matthew 7:15-20:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
Do you remember reading that last week? We talked a lot about false teachers and prophets. The natural question is “Ok, how can we know the good ones from the bad ones?”
The answer last week was to get to know your Bible really well so that you can pick out the most obvious false teachers. But another answer, which comes this week, is to watch their life and their reputation.
“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
What is the “fruit” Jesus speaks of? Their actions, their deeds, their reputation, their influence on others. The life of a Christian is seen in their fruits. Watching a person’s life is the best way we’ve got in order to discern whether a person truly believes what they claim. Is their life consistent with their beliefs? Is their walk consistent with their talk? If you don’t know if they are a “thornbush” or a “fig-tree”, check the fruit.
The Reputation of an Elder
That’s one of the most important things that we can do when we are choosing the people we want to have relationships with, whether that’s a friend, a future spouse, a teacher or a pastor. We need to look past their words and examine their life. A great example of this is when a church chooses an elder.
The qualifications of an elder are very well spelled out in 1st Timothy 3:1-7 and it might surprise you that they have very little to do with bible-knowledge and speaking ability, but are overwhelmingly based on reputation and lifestyle. Turn with me there and let’s take a look at what the Bible says about how we are to pick the elders of the church, because it is a great example of the importance of having someone’s walk line up with their talk:
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer [or bishop, or pastor, or elder – it’s all the same position], he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach…”
“Above reproach” literally means “not open to attack”, “blameless”. It describes a person who has a good reputation. Some scholars say that the Greek word comes from wrestling or boxing, describing a fighter who leaves no part of his body exposed to attack by an adversary. So before we give this person influence in our lives and our church, we must ask, do they have a clean reputation, or do they have a bunch of skeletons in their closet that are going to come out and bite him and the church?
“…the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable…”
Nothing in there about their bible-knowledge, charisma in the pulpit, or business and marketing skills. It’s all about character and reputation. Is he a one-woman-man, or does he have the reputation of being a flirt or a philanderer? Is he a man who is blessing his wife and they are growing together, or has he left a wake of pain and heartache in his relationships?
“…sober minded and self-controlled…”
Is he addicted to food, drink, or other substances that cloud his judgement and make him unstable? Does he fly off the handle or can he keep it together when the going gets rough? What’s he like when the pressure is on?
How do we judge that? Not by a bible-knowledge test. That comes after years of watching them. It is literally talking about their outward presentation and behaviour: how they speak, walk, dress, and treat people. Are they worthy of other people’s respect – worthy of imitating? Or are they someone you have to make excuses for because they lack respectability?
Do they open their home, take care of others, meet people’s needs, show love with their belongings? Or are they rude, unsociable, ungenerous, unkind, unwelcoming? That tells a great deal about a person’s character, doesn’t it? See how all of this is based on reputation and not merely knowledge.
“…able to teach [there’s the only knowledge based qualification], not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
Elders, leaders, and teachers in the church are meant to be imitated in their beliefs and their lifestyle. We can’t say, “They teach well, but they’re kind of a jerk. They can really bring in a crowd, but they can’t keep their marriage together. They can really raise lots of money, but their children are a mess. They are amazing at business, but I’m not sure I like them or trust them.” We are warned in scripture to look beyond the surface. We must look at the whole package.
The Trouble With Diotrephes
The church John is writing to had made a mistake by keeping Diotrephes around because he didn’t qualify anymore. Maybe he did once, but he’d lost it. Turn back to 3rd John and look at what Diotrephes was up to, starting in verse 9:
“I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.”
There’s the first red flag. Diotrephes “likes to put himself first”. Other translations say, “Diotrephes, who loves to be the leader.” Or “who loveth to have the preemenence among them”. Or “who loves to be in charge.” That’s a problem. This guy isn’t humble, but proud. He is like the hypocritical Pharisees that Jesus describes in His Seven Woes:
“…they love the place of honour at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.” (Matthew 23:6-7)
They exalt themselves instead of God, use others to climb the ladder, exploit their position so they look good. And yes, that can and does happen in the church. Far too much.
Verse 9 also says that Diotrephes “does not acknowledge our authority”. He looks at John the Apostle, Author of five books of the Bible and says, “that guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” There’s another red flag. Don’t trust someone that thinks they know better than scripture. Don’t trust someone that thinks that their knowledge is above that of God’s revealed word. We get that a lot these days as people talk about “new interpretations” of the Bible. These are the people that that argue that the Bible is an old, irrelevant book that needs to be changed and updated to be relevant for today. That’s a red flag for any friend, business partner, church or leader – that they are so proud that they think they know better than anyone else, even what God says in scripture.
In verse 10 John says, “So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us.” There’s another red flag that disqualifies him from leadership in the church. He “talks wicked nonsense”, or uses “malicious gossip”, to hurt and malign the people he doesn’t agree with. He spreads lies, makes false accusations and unjustified charges. He throws strong language around and can’t substantiate his claims – but it sure does get people stirred up. He’s a divisive influence (Titus 3:10). He doesn’t unite people as a Godly peacemaker (as he’s supposed to) but creates factions and arguments among the brothers and sisters in the church. He is literally doing the work of Satan.
It doesn’t matter how great a person is at their job, how many resources they have, or how long they’ve been there. If they are malicious gossipers, talking wicked nonsense about others, they are going to ruin whatever environment they are in. They are toxic. Sometimes they are very sneaky about it, phrasing it as a warning or cozying up to you as a friend – but bear in mind if they are talking smack to you about someone else, they are talking smack about you behind your back. They are a cancer that needs to be removed or it will spread. Be careful when choosing your friends and teachers that they aren’t malicious, wicked gossipers.
Keep going in verse 10: “And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.” In other words, when good teachers come to town, he not only badmouths them, but refuses to let them come into the church. Then he uses his authority to get rid of anyone that doesn’t agree with him. This guy is a real snake. Beware those who, instead of working with people and trying to lovingly unite them, he forces out anyone with a different opinion than theirs and won’t listen to anyone in authority. If you date, marry, befriend, work with or nominate these people for any kind of position, you are setting yourself up for trouble.
How Does This Happen?
You may wonder how this person ever got to be in influence in the church at all. Well, often these kinds of people are often very charismatic, very persuasive, and very opinionated. They may come across like a breath of fresh air to people who are tired of wishy-washy politics – but they won’t unite people in love, they’ll divide and destroy in order to build their own empire. They often look great on the outside and attract a nice crowd of followers. They know how to grease all the right palms and get the influencers on their side.
Anyone who has ever dated or befriended someone like this knows that they can hold it together long enough to fool some, but even then it requires people to look the other way when they start to see warning signs.
“Maybe it’s a one off. Maybe they’re just stressed out. Maybe they’re having a bad day. They’re usually so nice. They do such good work, I guess we’ll have to put up with their personality.” Overlooking their character and refusing to listen to the warning in their Spirits about what this person is really like is what allows people like this to grow in their influence.
We must be very, very careful to listen to their words, and to watch their lifestyle or we risk allowing them to destroy us, our relationships, our community and our church.
Application and Illustration
So, let’s talk application: why is this important to us today? Because, as I said last week and already today, we must be very careful who we allow to influence us. We must be very careful in how we pick our friends. We need to be very careful which church we choose, what place we choose to work, what organizations we support, what people we listen to.
- This applies to the people you work with and work for. Do they have a good reputation, or are you working with scoundrels? That will affect you, your faith, your family, and the rest of your relationships.
- This applies to how you choose what to read and watch.
- It applies to who you marry.
- It applies to where you go on a Friday night.
- The voices we let into our life will affect us.
The only exception I can think of is when we are going somewhere to be a missionary of the Gospel. Sometimes we befriend people and join organizations specifically so we can be a godly influence there. But even then, scripture tells us to be very careful that we go full of the Holy Spirit, keeping watch over ourselves, lets we fall into the same temptations as those we’re trying to minister to and save (Galatians 6:1)
I saw a great illustration from a mother whose daughter was just starting out in the dating world – but it applies to all of us too. This mother said that when her daughter had a crush on a boy, she asked her to place his name in 1 Corinthians 13:4-6. That’s the verses that say,
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
This mother told the girl to put the boy’s name in there: “Sean is patient and kind; Sean does not envy or boast; Sean is not arrogant or rude…” and the young girl frowned and said, “Yeah, I saw him picking on another boy in the hallway. He wasn’t very kind.” The girl started to rethink her interest in him.
The mother showed great wisdom and essentially separated infatuation by talking about with reputation. What’s he really like? Look past his appearance, his coolness, the things you find attractive, and go deeper – what’s he really like.
Another illustration is the country song “Voices” by Chris Young. I really like this song because it speaks of the importance of the influence of the closest people in our life. I’m going to read the whole thing since it’s so good:
“You could say I’m a little bit crazy, You could call me insane, Walkin’ ’round with all these whispers, Runnin’ ’round here in my brain. I just can’t help but hear ’em, Man, I can’t avoid it, I hear voices, I hear voices like:
My dad sayin’,’”Work that job But don’t work your life away’, And mama tellin’ me to drop some cash in the offerin’ plate on Sunday. And granddad sayin’, ‘You can have a few
But don’t ever cross that line’, Yeah, I hear voices all the time
Turns out I’m pretty dang lucky for all that good advice. Those hard-to-find words of wisdom hold up here in my mind. And just when I’ve lost my way or I’ve got too many choices, I hear voices, I hear voices like
My dad sayin’, ‘Quit that team And you’d be a quitter for the rest of your life’. And mama tellin’ me to say a prayer every time I lay down at night. And grandma sayin’, ‘If you find the one You better treat her right’. Yeah, I hear voices all the time.
Sometimes I try to ignore ’em but I thank God for ’em Cause they made me who I am.”
There’s a lot of wisdom in that country song. The voices in our head really do make us who we are – which is why we need to be so careful as to what voices we allow in our heads.
The lesson of 2nd John was to that we need to make sure that these voices are telling us the truth, but the lesson of 3rd John is that it’s more than just what they say – it’s about how they live their lives. We need to pay close attention to their reputation and lifestyle to see if they are worth imitating – because “monkey see, monkey do”, consciously or unconsciously, we will become like them.
That’s why the most important, most consistent voice in our life needs to be the voice of God from His Word and His Spirit.
Our church’s mission statement says that we “share the love of Jesus” two ways: “….through Biblical Teaching and loving relationships.” The second part of that is easy to understand. We have a loving relationship with Jesus and that makes us prioritize having loving relationships with others.
Agents of Truth
But sometimes it doesn’t occur to us that another way to share the love of Jesus is through “biblical teaching”. I’ve already read this passage a couple weeks ago, but I wanted to point something out that we skipped over the first time.
“ And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Now, the first time we went through this, the emphasis was on how God calls us to work together even though we are different people who do different things – together but distinct. This time I want you to notice something else. I want you to notice – and I read a great post this week explaining this better to me – that these special offices are all agents given to share biblical truth. The apostles are the authoritative, foundational witnesses to the truth. The prophets are charismatic speakers of the truth that apply it with supernaturally guided pointedness. The evangelists share the truth of the gospel in regions where the apostles have plated the church. And the pastors and teachers take the truth and use it to feed and protect the flock of God.
All these people are agents of truth. And, as I said before, they have a special job to build up the church in that truth.
Loving With Your Gifts
But now, keep reading and see how these agents of truth are supposed to be doing this:
“ Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Here we see the means and the goal of these agents of truth. Yes, they have an important job to help people get more spiritually mature, correct error, teach doctrine, combat deceit – but they are supposed to be doing it “in love”. That’s a big deal. In fact, we can go so far as to say that the primary way that they are to show love for the people of God is to tell them the truth.
Let me say that again. These people are built to be truth agents. Yes, we are all supposed to tell the truth, but these people – the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, are the guardians of the truth. It’s their special gifting and is what gets them most excited.
If you’re a musician, there’s nothing that you like better than music. You are most happy when you’re listening or playing. If you’re an artist, you are most content and passionate while creating. If God built you to be a teacher, then there’s nothing like the feeling of helping someone gain knowledge they didn’t have before. If you’re built as a helper, then you don’t get excited about being in leadership, or meetings, or talking – you are most happy when you’re helping.
In the same way, if you’re a truth agent, specially gifted by God to combat error and tell the truth, then there is nothing you’d rather be doing. This is me, so I’m going to personalize this. I’m a truth agent – I fall in the prophet, teacher section of that list. Nothing gets me more excited than exercising my gifts of being a truth agent. And it is the primary way that I show love to the people in God’s church. It’s not the only way, but it’s the primary way.
If you have the gift of exhortation, then you will show love to people – and feel most loving and loved – when you are encouraging people. If you have the gift of administration, then you will feel most like you are loving the church, and loved by the church, when you are organizing people and things toward accomplishing what God wants us to do. If you have the gift of evangelism, you love people best by telling people about the gospel. You feel like you’re loving them, you feel loved by being allowed to do it, and they feel love because you’re doing something that you care deeply about.
And conversely, if you are not able or allowed to use your spiritual gifts, you won’t feel like you’re doing things right. You won’t feel like you’re loving others properly – because you’re not doing it the way God built you. You won’t feel like you’re being loved by others – because they aren’t allowing you to express the deepest part of you.
It’s the same for an agent of truth. Our Mission Statement is crafted by a group that realizes that “loving relationships” is not the only way to show the love of Jesus, because those loving relationships need to be guided by “biblical teaching”. Truth agents – and I’m not the only one here, there are others – are given to the church to help everyone in the body of Christ exist in loving, biblical relationships.
Loving, Biblical Relationships
And that’s what we want in the Christian church. Not relationships built only on love. Not relationships built solely on truth. But relationships built on “truth in love”. Now, what does that mean? 2 Peter 1-2 helps us dig into loving, biblical relationships.
The first section, from verse 2, is all about living the Christian Life. He says,
“ May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.  His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,  by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.  For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,  and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,  and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.  Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.  For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
You can hear the passion as he writes. The letters of 1st and 2nd Peter are written to a church that is under attack from outside and from within. In 1st Peter he addresses how to deal with the persecution from outside forces and in 2nd Peter the apostle talks about dealing with the false teachers and evildoers who have come into the church.
And so he starts the letter with a reminder of their special calling as Christians, their election by Jesus Christ to salvation, and the qualities that God calls them to. He says, if we want to be effective and fruitful in the knowledge of Jesus, we need to make sure we live by the conviction and in the power of Jesus Christ.
“ Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.  I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder,  since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me.  And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.”
Next, he says “I’m going to remind you of these qualities over and over because I want you to be ‘established in the truth’”. Remember, he’s an apostle, an agent of truth, and there is nothing more loving he can do than to remind them of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus, His love for them, and the standards God has called them to live by. He says, “I’m going to die – I’ll be ‘putting off of my body soon’ – so I’m not going to beat around the bush. You gotta get this right.”
An Agent, Not the Source
He starts his reminder he makes sure they understand that he’s not making this stuff up. He’s a truth agent – not the source of the truth. He’s like a police officer. Like they say, “Cops don’t make the law, they just enforce them.”
Vs 16, “ For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”  we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.  And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,  knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
See how he takes the weight of the truth off his own shoulders and places it on Jesus. “I’m not making this up, and these aren’t just things we heard. We actually saw it.” Peter was there on the mount of transfiguration when Jesus showed a portion of His glory, met with Moses and Elijah, and the voice of God came down from heaven. That was a memorable moment in Peter’s life – to say the least.
And vs 19 on builds the case even further saying that it’s not just Peter’s experience that the truth relies on, but the whole of the Old Testament scriptures that point to Jesus. He points to them and says, “God wrote it all down, gave lots of prophecies over hundreds of years, and a whole lot of them came true in the life of Jesus.” He’s saying, “Don’t just listen to me, or go by my experiences, look at the written word of God. It confirms what all of us apostles have been saying.”
Therein lies an important point about being a truth agent – for all of us. That when we are telling the truth, we had best be sure that it’s not just our truth, but God’s truth. It’s not merely our own thinking, not “cleverly devised” things from others, not merely based on our experience, but based on the perfect, unchangeable, powerful, word of God. I stay out of a lot of trouble by making sure that what I say isn’t my own ideas, but simply teaching and speaking while standing on the truth of the word of God – which is just what Peter’s doing here.
Telling You What You Want To Hear
Now turn to chapter 2 and see why this is such a big deal.
“ But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.  And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”
Herein lies the danger of false teachers – they will tell you what you want to hear, framed in the language of love, but full of half-truths and lies – and you will thank them for it. You may even feel loved by a false teacher because they present themselves as an agent of God who can remove your guilt and give you license to do what you want – all in the name of love.
Secret and Destructive
Look at what Peter says about their message. In verse 1 he says that they “secretly bring in destructive heresies”. These false teachers don’t stand up and announce themselves, but come in and act like Christians! They are sneaky and nefarious. In fact, these deceivers will be so convincing that many believers will be absolutely taken by them – and give them leadership and preaching positions. Some of them are such good liars that they’ve even convinced themselves that they’re telling the truth!
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)
The Apostle Paul had to write to the church in Galatia that there were people teaching salvation by works, not by grace, and said,
“This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” (Galatians 2:4)
In Jude 3-4 we read,
“I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Do you see the words used there? “Wolves in sheep’s clothing”, “infiltration”, “spies”, “crept in unnoticed”. These false teachers aren’t obvious, and neither are their lies. Peter writes to this church (as Paul and Jude do) and reminds them that there is a rock solid truth that all teachings should be held against – it’s called scripture. All of these false teachers can be identified because they preach against the clear teachings of scripture – but they are very crafty and very slick. It’s not going to be obvious! And, Peter says, you all need to make sure you know it back and forth because these false teachers are incredibly sneaky.
And their best trick, and the worst part, is that these false teachers do this under the guise of LOVING PEOPLE, which is why so many Christians accept what they say. These wolves will say things like:?\
- “It’s not loving to judge others, so we don’t talk about sin.”
- “It’s not loving to exclude others, so everyone should be allowed to do everything they want to do.”
- “It’s not loving to hate, therefore any condemnation of anything is unloving.”
- “It’s not loving to make people feel uncomfortable, so we must never say anything that comes close to correction.”
And well-meaning Christians lap-it-up.
Half the Gospel
Why do Christians lap-it-up? Look back at 2 Peter 2:2 “And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” Why do these false teachers gain so much popularity? Because they tell people what they want to hear, letting them follow their feelings, and then supporting their teaching by giving only half the gospel.
A false teacher will say: “God loves you, wants the best for you, and created you to be who you are, and wants you to be happy…” Which is all true… but there’s more.
Other false teachers will say, “God hates disobedience. God is righteous and perfect and cannot be in the presence of sinners, degenerates, liars and idolaters. God hates sin so stop sinning!” Which is true… but there’s more.
A truth agent stands up and says, “God is full of grace, amazingly patient, gloriously kind, and loves everyone. AND God has standards. God has commands. God has laws. God has given us directives on how to live. And we are expected to live within those boundaries. Judgment is coming on believers and non-believers alike. AND God hates sin, but He loves sinners. There’s no knot you can tie that Jesus can’t untie. But He requires you to repent from your sin and humbly come before Him before He’ll untie it for you. ”
People want the half-truths because they are easier, give us excuse to sin, and – here’s what’s weird – feel more loving. We want a God that loves us no matter what and doesn’t get involved in our business or wreck our plans. We want a God that allows us to define who He is and what He wants us to do, and then bless it and take us to heaven when we die. We want a God that will be impressed by all our good religious works, and condemn all the people who aren’t as good as we pretend to be. We want to be part of a group that never makes us feel bad, affirms everything we do, pats us on the back no matter what, and celebrates everyone equally. All of that sounds so great, and so much more loving to our disobedient, unbiblical, worldly ears.
They are Exploiters
Verse 3 tells us why they do it. “And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.”
Their motive is to fulfill their greed by taking advantage of gullible Christians. They know Christians want to believe, love, hope, help, and forgive. Most don’t want to fight or argue. They just want to get to know Jesus better, love and be loved. Which is awesome. But these people pray on ignorant Christians who don’t know the scriptures well enough to combat error. So these ignorant believers fall for these unbiblical, worldly-wise, lies, which have been fluffed up with biblical language and Christianese.
Believe it or not, there’s actually a movie coming out about this right now called “Believe Me.” Here’s the story line from the website:
“Sam (Alex Russell) stands on stage as thousands of fans go wild. Smart, charismatic, handsome, he moves them with his message, and when he calls for donations to his charity, the money pours in. Only thing is, Sam doesn’t believe a word he’s saying.
Just months earlier, Sam was a typical college senior focused on keg stands, hookups and graduation. But when a surprise tuition bill threatens his dream of law school and leaves him thousands of dollars in the hole, he’s forced to think outside the box. Convincing his three roommates they can make a killing exploiting the gullible church crowd, the guys start a sham charity and begin campaigning across the country, raising funds for a cause as fake as their message.”
Except – this isn’t just the plot of a movie. It’s real and happening all the time. False teachers, using false LOVE and unbiblical teaching to exploit Christians. They want fame, or power, or money, or something else – and gullible, foolish, deceived, Christians give them what they want.
Guardians of Truth
And so, we come back to where we start. Jesus sets up truth agents to ensure that the Bible is followed as people are trying to love one another. False teachers who sound loving lead people to hell. Agents of truth, even though their message sometimes isn’t that popular, are the ones who point people to Jesus and salvation.
And so what is our application today? For each of us, we need to remember a few things:
Let’s remember that we all have a responsibility to both truth and love. Loving someone with lies, misinformation, or simply omitting things they need to hear, isn’t loving. Love must be guided by truth, but we are all responsible to tell the truth. Certainly, there are some who are specialized in the area of studying, teaching and preaching biblical truth, but every Christian bears the responsibility of believing and speaking the whole counsel of scripture, the whole gospel, the whole truth – not just the parts we like, or the parts that make us most comfortable, in truth.
Second, let us be thankful for the truth agents that God has given to us. For the good Sunday School teachers, elders, preachers, evangelists, and prophets that God has brought into our lives over the years who take the truth seriously, and loved us enough to tell us the whole truth.
Let’s be thankful for the ones who took the challenge of 2 Timothy 4:1-5 which says, “ I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,  and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
Third, Let’s be careful that we don’t have itching ears ourselves, looking for false teaching that simply tells us what we want to hear and gives us license to sin — but be people who endure sound teaching with sober minds and love in our hearts.