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Righteous Preachers of Righteousness

“Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?”

2 Peter 3:3-4

Scoffers who deny the coming of the Lord Jesus in glory as judge.

That is what the apostle Peter prophesied would come “in the last days”. It is clear as we read 2 Peter that he was not simply speaking about the very final days before Jesus’ return, but the whole period from the birth of the Church until that day. In chapter 2 of this short letter, he describes these people in some detail and it is clear he is not merely saying they will come, but that they have already appeared in some of the churches.

As far as I am aware, there are not many evangelicals in our time who actively deny the return of Christ in glory as judge. It is in our doctrinal bases. We believe it. But I cannot help thinking that it sits on our theological shelves and is seldom dusted down. We are not rejecting it, but we are neglecting it. And I fear neglect is often a step towards denial.

The denial of this doctrine by the false teachers Peter warns of had drastic consequences, so I need to ask if our neglect has already set us on a similar path. No return of Christ in glory means no decisive final judgement. No decisive final judgement means no giving account for our lives and teaching. No prospect of giving account means we will do as 2 Peter 2:10 says: “Follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority”.

Anti-authority indulgers of fleshly desires. That almost sounds like a precis of contemporary Britain and Ireland. But this passage is not about the culture surrounding Christians. This is not Romans 1 or the middle of Ephesians 4. Peter is describing people within the Christian community. 2 Peter 2:20-22 make it clear that they had (at least) seemed by all appearances to be genuine believers. More sobering, they had presumably been recognised as true teachers.

Now it may not surprise you that teachers of the truth can become false teachers. I suppose we have seen enough examples to realise it is not as rare as we wish. But 2 Peter 2 raises a ‘chicken and egg’ question here. Which came first – their immoral lives or their false doctrine? I cannot be sure, since Peter does not say, but my experience suggests that theological innovation is most often an attempt to justify desires to live a certain way or to relate to others in an affirmative way.

Authority is rejected because it gets in the way of our desires. Once we dismiss authority, we soon ditch the less palatable aspects of biblical truth.

Whichever came first, there is no doubt that these false teachers were idolators at heart. Their true gods are exposed in 2 Peter 2:14, which says three things about them:

  • first, they have “eyes full of adultery”;

  • second, they “seduce the unstable”; and,

  • third, they are “experts in greed”.

They are sexually immoral, they abuse others and they love money. They have problems with money, sex and power – the three classic areas of temptation the monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience sought to counter. John Piper calls these three things, “God-given means of showing what you value”. If we are to handle them, and the temptation to idolise them, well, God’s glory must be greater to us than they are.

So, please join me in reflecting on what Peter says about each of the three in this chapter. We need to examine our hearts for signs of idolatry in these areas.

Firstly, money.

They were experts in greed. 2 Peter 2:3 says it is a major motivator for their false teaching. They have, 2 Peter 2:15 says, followed the way of Balaam, “who loved the wages of wickedness”. So, what about us? Are we greedy? Do we handle money honestly with transparency and accountability? Do we guard against the love of money that breeds dissatisfaction? You may not be an expert in greed, yet, but don’t let it get a grip.

Secondly, sex.

Their eyes were full of adultery. They saw everyone as a sexual object and, 2 Peter 2:13 suggests they were sexually licentious and proud of it. They followed desires for whomever to do whatever. So, what about us? Are we lustful? Do we relate to people to whom we may be sexually attracted with purity and accountability? Do we guard against pornography, sexualised joking and sexualised media, all of which dishonour those portrayed in them and feed lust? Your eyes may not yet be full of adultery, but don’t let them linger on sexual temptation.

Thirdly, power.

They seduced the unstable. 2 Peter 2:18-19 says they, “mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error”. I find this perhaps the most tragic aspect of the chapter. Not only do these false teachers practise sin; they also lead others into sin, especially new believers. Instead of helping them make a break with the sin they have been immersed in, they encourage them to think it’s acceptable. That is abuse of power. So, what about us? Are we abusive? Do we manipulate unstable or immature believers into doing what we want them to instead of helping them grow to maturity in relationship with their Lord? Even if the goal we have in mind is good, domineering leadership is never godly. Do we guard against controlling others? You may not be a seducer of unstable people yet but stay well away from any hint of forcing people to act as you think they should.

Now, hope I am right in suggesting this passage does not describe people likely to be reading this. But it is quite possible that someone reading this has fallen into serious sin in these areas. If that is you, I urge you to repent. Confess to your spouse if you are married. Tell those who have oversight of your ministry. If helpful, you can trust our Living Leadership ministry staff and Associates to listen to you and to support you in doing the right thing. Be aware that we cannot, and will not, keep confidence about illegal behaviour and we will always encourage you to bring what is hidden into the light. But we will walk with you through the process of confession and restoration.

But even if no one reading this is ensnared in major sin in these areas, I know some may face temptation in one or more of them and some have sinned. I know that because I am here, and I know my own heart. And because the Scriptures lead me to expect that every one of us will face temptation in these ways. So, let’s help each other to remain faithful. If you want one-to-one help with that, let us know so we can link you to an Associate or ministry staff member. And in your groups, if you have built up trust with others, share something of your struggles. Saying that, let me remind all the groups to treat such sharing confidentially.

In a culture that rejects authority and indulges the corrupt desires of the flesh, we must be distinctively different. We are people under authority. We have a Lord. He has given us his word through his apostles. We know his power to restrain our fleshly desires. In short, if we want to be faithful teachers, we need to be leaders of integrity. 2 Peter 2:4-9 recounts three Old Testament examples of God’s judgement. The first case – fallen angels – has no note of hope, but the other two included people God protected and rescued – Noah with seven others from the Flood and Lot from Sodom. Why were they saved?

Noah, 2 Peter 2:5 says, was a “preacher of righteousness”. He proclaimed God’s justice and truth. We must do so too. With clarity and conviction, with gentleness and love, we must explain why we see things differently – because we have a Lord – and we must call those we teach to holiness. Being preachers of righteousness after the cross also means preaching the righteousness from God that is by faith, justification through faith in Jesus as a gift of God’s grace. So, we need to explain lovingly both that God’s wrath is coming on sinners when Christ returns in glory as Judge and that the same Christ is Saviour for those who believe.

There is no record of Lot preaching of righteousness, but 2 Peter 2:7-8 calls him a “righteous man” with a “righteous soul”. Because of that, the lawless things he saw and heard tormented him. Here is another test of our hearts’ condition. Does the sin around us and in our own lives trouble us? Are we tormented by what we see? If not, we are in danger! We be filled by the Spirit of God if we do not feel his grief at sin. We must not merely be preachers of righteousness. We must also be righteous preachers of righteousness.

Amidst his warnings, Peter gives us hope that we can stand firm as righteous preachers of righteousness until the end. 2 Peter 2:9 says, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgement”. Our Lord knows what he is doing. He is able to make you stand and to keep you from falling. He will vindicate his holy people on that day even as he brings judgement on the ungodly. That is our glorious hope. He will return and we will see the one who not seeing now we love. And in seeing him we will be made perfectly like him.

Does that not thrill your heart? Does that not make you want to be like him now? Does it not motivate you to put to death the desires of the flesh for money, sex and power and to offer what you have of each of these and what you long for through them to him for his glory and service. In the meantime, he can keep us and empower us to serve him as righteous preachers of righteousness. Let us commit ourselves to him again for that purpose and let us help one another to persevere.


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