Sunday, September 29, 2013

Final Warning

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.    2 Peter 2:1-2  NKJV
We talked last week about the final words the apostle Peter chose to share with the believers scattered around the country when he became aware that his life was about to end.  One of the subjects he chose to discuss was the importance of living the godly life as a witness to an unbelieving world which we discussed last week.  This week I want to talk a little about what we could call Peter’s final warning to believers, and one which I believe is the most relevant to the Church today.

After spending most of his life serving God by spreading the Gospel of Christ and His atonement for our sin, Peter saw a troubling future for the Church because of the influence of false teachers who would abandon the message of Christ and begin to teach other beliefs which were contrary to what Jesus had taught.  Peter called these “destructive heresies”, which in the day was probably the strongest condemnation he could use to describe them.
I will apologize in advance if today seems more like a lesson in Greek than usual, but I think it will help us to better understand exactly how important this message was to Peter, and why it should be to us as well.  The phrase “destructive heresies” comes from the two Greek words apōleia, which translates as "the destruction which consists of eternal misery in hell”, and hairesis, which means “dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims”.   Clearly what Peter was warning the Church about was the influence of those who would teach not the saving Gospel of Christ, but rather a theology which would not only cause divisions, but ultimately lead those who chose to believe them straight to hell.

When I read this, my first thought was that it seems clear Peter was warning us to be suspicious of what we hear from those who teach, and not blindly accept what is taught as being correct according to scripture.  Now if that seems like it might be a strange attitude to have, one only needs to look back to the Bereans in Acts to see this in action.
Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.                          Acts 17:10-11  NKJV

The word for “searched” in the Greek is anakrinō, which means toexamine or judge, to investigate, examine, enquire into, scrutinize, sift, question, specifically in a forensic sense of a judge to hold an investigation, to interrogate, examine the accused or witnesses, to judge of, estimate, determine (the excellence or defects of any person or thing)”.  Now for me at least, this gives a whole new meaning to the idea of studying scripture, and exactly how important it is to take what we hear and compare it with what we find in scripture to see if it agrees with what has already been revealed.  One of the first verses I can remember memorizing as a child is found in the book of Timothy, and I’m sure many of you are familiar with it as well.
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.                                     2 Timothy 2:15-16  KJV

Study is the Greek word spoudazo, which means to "exert one's self, endeavour, give diligence"; workman is ergatēs, which means a "workman, a labourer"; and shun is periïstēmi, "to turn one's self about for the purpose of avoiding something".  Obviously the idea is clear that we are not to just sit idly by in our comfortable seats and blindly accept whatever we hear, but rather to take the time and effort to study, compare, and examine what is taught in order to differentiate between what is right, and what is false. 
If we do find someone trying to teach what Peter calls a destructive heresy, we are told to shun, or actually turn our back on that teaching and the one who is trying to teach it.  That in itself might seem not only harsh, but to many a somewhat cruel thing to do, but I believe we need to understand that Peter tells us clearly that this type of false doctrine leads people to hell.  It is not the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we as true believers need to stand up and fight against it.

Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.                   1 Timothy 6:12  NKJV
The word translated fight is agōnizomai, which means “to contend with adversaries, fight, to contend, struggle, with difficulties and dangers, to endeavour with strenuous zeal, strive: to obtain something”.  Obviously this is telling us that it won’t be easy, and we are in for a long and dangerous fight, but it also seems perfectly clear that this is our responsibility as believers.

O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge—by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. Grace be with you. Amen.    1 Timothy 6:20-21  NKJV
The warning from Peter has never been more relevant for the Church than it is today.  There are many false teachers infiltrating the Church and preaching ideas that are totally inconsistent with what is revealed in scripture.  Our responsibility as true believers is to watch, examine, fight against, and turn our backs on any teaching that is contrary to the saving Gospel of Christ.  It won’t be easy, and it will be a fight, but this is our calling as true believers and followers of Jesus Christ.

Keep watching.