Everyday mothers like Charity Arko have a terrible decision to make between two bad options. One, no water — in other words, let their kids dehydrate, and they’ll die within a week — or give them unclean water, contaminated water from a local pond or a stream that is teeming with cow feces, worms, often cholera, typhoid, and other waterborne diseases. Every year six to eight million people will die from preventable waterborne diseases. And by the way, this is one of the reasons why your sacrificial giving over the past few years is so important. As of last year, we were able to partner with Set Free Alliance as they have drilled in Prakasam, India, so far, 529 wells, over 3 million people served with clean water. Almost a thousand villages now have Christian churches, and over 300 of those are known as Christ villages, which means over 80% of the people have trusted Jesus.
So, I want you to imagine for a moment as a mom that feeling of do I give my kids water that is contaminated and keep them alive, but I know it’s going to make them sick, maybe even kill them? Or do I not give them any water, and they become dehydrated and die within a week? Or someone comes, digs a well, and for the first time, you can offer your children clean water? Can you imagine that feeling for a mom or a dad? And if you can capture that feeling for a moment, you will get just a little glimpse as to why Peter, the apostle Peter, is so passionate about false teaching because for Peter, false teaching is like giving people contaminated water that, yes, may appear to keep them alive for a short time, but will make them sick, might eventually kill them spiritually. Peter is writing with all the passion of a mother who’s concerned for her kids. He knows he’s going to be a martyred. His time on earth is short. So, he’s wrestling with what he’s leaving these churches in Asia Minor. Is it truth, pure water? Or is it false teaching?
So, chapter 1 you could summarize as describing the clean water, how to help us grow, keep growing in thriving in the knowledge of Jesus. Let’s go back and read that key passage in 2 Peter 1:3,
“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.”
Do you see that contrast between what is giving life and what is corrupting?
“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 these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So, chapter 1 — Keep growing in the knowledge of Jesus through the precious and very great promises.
2 Peter chapter 2 — he moves from growing to discerning. People are drinking from a variety of sources. False teaching is like contaminated water, and it’s not just an individual crisis. I’m believing the lie that Jesus wouldn’t forgive me, or that I can live any way I want, or whatever lie I happened to be consuming. That is significant. But what 2 Peter is addressing is not just an individual temptation to believe lies, but lies that permeate the community, where we don’t even know where to turn for what is true and what is false. So, in 2 Peter 2:1-3, as we saw last week, false teachers are coming, they’re convincing, they’re condemning.
They’re coming, verse 1, they’re “among you.” Convincing, “many will follow.” They’re condemning, “their condemnation from long ago is not idle.” They are condemning themselves, but then, by extension, as people believe their teaching, they will condemn others. That launches him into that gigantic sentence we looked at last week, verses 4-10. The “if, if, if then,” and he gives three examples of judgment, two examples of salvation. And then he concludes with the “then” in verse 9,
“Then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and how to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.”
At this point, if you’re like me, you’re craving specifics. Okay, Peter, false teachers are coming. They’re convincing. They’re condemning. They’re bad. We don’t want to allow them to contaminate the community. But what are you talking about? What kind of false teaching? And how do we identify this? Over the next week or two, I will hit directly the debate as to the identity of these false teachers, but for now, I want us to focus primarily on the two lifestyle descriptions Peter gives us. They’re the two main descriptions of these false teachers. You’ll see them in verse 10, second half,
“and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.”
Two primary lifestyle characteristics of these false teachers — number 1, we could call indulgence,
“those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion.”
And he’s referring primarily here to sexual lust, pursuing fleshly. He uses the word “defiling,” which is the same word “to contaminate or pollute,” like cow-feces-in-the-water kind of pollution, a sexual kind that twists love into something that is not love. There is sexual lust, but then there’s also financial lust we call greed, which he touched on back in verse 3 and will again in verse 14. But here he’s primarily focusing on sexual indulgence.
And then second primary characteristic is defiance, defiance. End of verse 10, “despise authority,” a disregard of or scorn for authority. They resented and resisted any authority. “Nobody’s going to tell me what to do! You’re not going to control me!” They were the first Americans. Sorry! So, these are the two main contaminants in the water. (That was kind of a muffled laugh — Heh, heh, heh.) Peter seems to be examining these two main descriptions over the next seven verses. He starts with the second one, defiance, 10b. Let’s look at defiance from three different angles. First, audacity, irrationality, and then destiny.
Audacity. Audacity is an arrogant disregard for normal restraints, and you’ll see it in verse 10, second half. Describing their defiance, they are “bold and willful,” that is boldly narcissistic.
“They do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord.”
Now, what in the world is that referring to? The key to understanding is to figure out who are the glorious ones who are being spoken against. Four options — civil authorities, church leaders, good angels, bad angels. And we could spend several hours describing the debate. And to be clear, good Christians fall on all four of these. So, this is not a primary issue. There are good arguments for each of these. I tend to lean toward the, I know this sounds weird, but the evil angels for two reasons. One is the parallel in Jude, very similar reference in Jude. And second, the historical background of the uninspired book of 1 Enoch has some interesting insights into what Peter might have been thinking.
However, wherever you land on these four, Peter’s point is still clear. Here it is — whether these false teachers don’t respect human powers, angelic powers, or demonic powers, the good angels do. Verse 11, the “angels who are greater in might and power,” yet they trust God’s power, not their own, and they don’t make blasphemous accusations. They leave judgment to God, not presuming to wield authority that is not theirs to exert. So, these false teachers were in some way trumpeting when they should have been trembling. Have you noticed when people see angels in the Bible, they typically do what? Yeah, they tremble. So, if you have a view of the angels … Aren’t there shows on angels and stuff? We’re massacring angels today. But in the Bible, when you see an angel in all of that angelic splendor, you hit the ground and you tremble because angels make superheroes look silly in their tights. These are awesome creatures, and the point that Peter is making is not to lift up evil angels or even to lift up good angels. The point is to get at the attitude of these false teachers. They presume a power and authority that is not theirs to presume, and angels who are greater in might in power don’t do what they do. They’re foolish in their audacity.
Secondly, their irrationality you see in verse 12. “But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant…” So, these false teachers claim to see what others can’t see, but in actuality, they’re like hunted animals, reacting instinctively, not intellectually. Like an animal caught in a cage or a dog in a corner comes out biting, they speak against what they do not understand, reacting haphazardly and hormonally, not rationally. They’re irrational.
Third, their destiny. Second half of verse 12,
“they will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing.”
Big play on words here, highlighting that you-reap-what-you-sow principle. The ones who wronged will receive wrong. This is the destiny of the defiant.
Second primary characteristic, indulgence, and we’ll look at it from the same three angles. Audacity, second half of verse 13,
“They count it pleasure
[‘Hedone’ — we get our word hedonism from this]
to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you.”
So, the daytime highlights the fact that they are no longer trying to limit or hide their sin. They are pursuing sin as a full-time job day and night, and they wear it on their sleeves — “blots and blemishes.” Peter exhorts his readers to the opposite in chapter 3, verse 14 to be “without spot and blemish.” They are, verse 13, “reveling in their deceptions,” that is loving lies rather than feeling shame. They use the love feast as an opportunity to flaunt their freedom.
Now, what is that talking about, “they feast with you”? The early church had what were known as agape feasts, love feasts. It’s the equivalent to the Baptist potluck dinner. And they would gather and eat big meals and enjoy one another. But typically, it was not just a moment of celebration. It was also very sacred. They would have the Lord’s Supper in these love feasts. And what Peter is getting at is these false teachers would take a very sacred gathering, like celebrating the Lord’s Supper at a love feast, and they would turn it into a time to seduce and seek sensual pleasure. And it reveals their audacity.
Second, their irrationality. Peter rattles off here four vivid descriptions that seem to describe an irrational addiction cycle. You’ll see them in verse 14, “They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed.” So, first — “eyes full of adultery” — they objectify people. When they come to gather, their eyes are not on Jesus. They’re checking out women, viewing people, men and women, as objects of lust, rather than brothers and sisters to be loved. They objectify people.
[Thirdly], they cannot get enough — “insatiable for sin” — because sin always lies. “You know, if I look at porn just one more time, it will satisfy me, and I’ll be good if I sleep with her one more time … If I can just one more.” And that’s the way addiction is — “One more! I can stop any time!” And yet, the more you satisfy, the more unsatisfied you become, can’t get enough. And then you begin to recruit others or abuse others. “They entice unsteady souls.” This kind of individual has a radar that can pick up on the insecure or the vulnerable, who they can take advantage of to either try to recruit to their own kind of way of living (because misery loves company) or to take advantage of in spiritual, physical, or emotional abuse.
They recruit others, and they train for more. “They have hearts, trained in greed.” That word “trained” is the Greek word gumnazo. We get our word “gym, gymnasium” from that word. So, they’re going to the gym, not to train their bodies physically, but to train their hearts to want more greed, and that causes them to objectify people. They can’t get enough, recruit others, train for more, this irrational cycle of addiction. And leads to the destiny. Peter summarizes their destiny with horrific two words, “a cursed children.” In other words, they have become the offspring of condemnation, as Paul said in Ephesians 2:3,
“by nature children of wrath.”
And Peter closes this section with a humbling illustration from the Old Testament — 2 Peter 2:15-16,
“Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.”
What is that talking about? Balaam (book of Numbers in the Old Testament) was a God-fearing prophet who was enticed by Balak, the king of Moab, with huge amounts of money to curse Israel because Balak, king of Moab, was afraid that Israel would overrun Moab. And in many ways, if you read this story in Numbers, Balaam did the right thing. He kept saying, “No, no, no. I can’t say anything that God doesn’t tell me to say.” But early on, you see this battle in Balaam, and there’s commentary all throughout the Bible as to what that was, where he was tempted to keep this conversation going with Balak, even though God initially said, “Don’t go with him.” But the money was so enticing. So, it’s like, “God, maybe I could prophesy something that he would be happy with, enough to make a few bucks.”
Well, in the end, he’s on his way, on his donkey to meet with Balak, and he encounters an angel of the Lord with sword drawn. He can’t see it. His donkey does. His donkey goes into evasive-maneuver mode and goes off into a field, off the road, and then eventually they go down the road, and they come to a place where there are vineyards on both sides. They can’t go right or left, and the donkey just crashes in the wall, crushes Balaam’s legs. So, Balaam is ticked. He’s yelling at his donkey. He’s beating his donkey. His donkey finally lies down. Done! And at this point, they have a conversation. This is where it really gets weird. And Balaam is so upset he’s actually conversing with his donkey. And you think, what in the world is this story in here for, and why is Peter mentioning it?
Well, go way back to the beginning of the Bible. God created man to exercise dominion over all creatures, including the beasts of the field, including donkeys. And here you have a donkey who has more spiritual perception than a prophet of God. Yeah. “Your dumb ass can see what you can’t see” is what Peter is saying in the Greek. And the point is how far have we fallen when animals have more spiritual perception, when we have become so blinded by the hunger for money or fame or whatever, sexual satisfaction, that we are blinded to what God is doing and who he really is. And so, Peter refers to this story of Balaam to illustrate the false teachers — how far they have fallen. Defiance and indulgence.
Now, next week, I know you’re going to be excited about this, Peter’s going to drill down even deeper into the indulgence, a really, really important passage in light of what’s happening in our culture. So, we’re going to look at specific examples of that next week. For today, I think it might be helpful for us to drill down deeper into this idea of defiance.
Why is defiance so dangerous? Why does Peter, like a mother who’s concerned about her kids drinking bad water? Why is he so frantic in his final days on earth to mention defiance, those who despise authority? So, what is defiance? It is a disposition to resist, a disposition to resist or fight. And I think one of the things that makes this point so difficult to talk about is people who have been in spiritual or physical or emotionally abusive relationships tend to think we have two options — I can have a disposition to resist or a disposition to comply. And they both sound terrible, don’t they? The disposition to resist is done to protect myself, but in the end, I can quickly become angry, retaliatory, and bitter, resentful. But then the other option, the disposition to comply, can make me vulnerable to being taken advantage of time and time and time again. Is that what Peter wants? Is that what the gospel is promoting?
Let’s press into that. Defiance is an inability or unwillingness to humble one’s thoughts and respond with love and patience. Peter addresses this, these seeds of defiance in his first letter. It’s like he could see where this false teaching was starting to come into the community, and he addressed it early. 1 Peter 2:13 we looked at last year.
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake.”
Let that sink in. We hammered that last year. This is Christian mindfulness, which is very different from mindless compliance.
“for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or the governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
Christian mindfulness enables us to submit without being mindless or coerced or resentful. Look at 1 Peter 3:8.
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”
One quick clarification. I feel like I’ve said this so many times that I don’t need to say it, but I do need to say that when the Bible says “love” here, someone who has been abused hears “Shut up and forget about it. Don’t say anything.” That’s not what love does. Sometimes the best way to love is to call the police. Are we clear about that? When crimes of abuse are being committed, it is loving to call the police and protect the vulnerable. That’s why God instituted government. Quick clarification — we’re not talking about that.
But, why doesn’t defiance respond in the way Peter just described — unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, tender heart, humble mind, not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling? The reason is because defiance can’t respond with love and patience because it is preoccupied by and fueled by resentment. The energy, the fuel of defiance, is typically resentment. Resentment — and this is why it’s so relevant to our study on Please Don’t Forget — is a cancer of memory. It is malignant memory. It is a kind of emotional cancer that often begins with the desire to protect, but over time metastasizes into a desire to retaliate and revenge.
Shockingly, a writer who sees this connection is the nihilist atheist Friedrich Nietzsche. In his book On the Genealogy of Morality, written in 1887, he talks about “ressentiment,” which is the French version of the English word “resentment.” He writes this. So, this is 1887,
“This plant [resentment] now blooms most beautifully among anarchists.”
Anarchists — “an” – without; “archist” – chief; without chiefs, without rulers, people who, in Peter’s terms, despise authority.
“among anarchists and anti-Semites — in secret, incidentally, as it has always bloomed, like the violet, albeit with a different scent. And as like must necessarily always proceed from like, so it will not surprise us to see proceeding again from just such circles attempts like those often made before … to hallow revenge under the name of justice — as if justice were basically only a further development of the feeling of being wounded — and retroactively to raise to honor along with revenge the reactive effects in general.”
Did you get all that? Basically, he’s saying this — Resentment sanctifies revenge under the name of justice, but ends in anarchy, that is tearing everything down. This is a vivid description of today. We would call it deconstructing. Let’s just, because of this wrong, let’s just rip it all down. Now, Nietzsche was an atheist, and he sees the toxicity of resentment like contaminants in the water.
But his solutions are deficient. He basically assumes this, and I’m oversimplifying his position not just from the book I mentioned, but from all his writings, he assumes that since injustice is ubiquitous (it’s everywhere), and it’s so prevalent and irresistible, you just need to deal with it. And his way of dealing with it is absorb as much injustice as possible and then forget about the rest. That’s Nietzsche’s [solution] because there’s no God in his view. There’s no ultimate justice. There’s no real authority. Justice is impossible. So, forgiveness is unnecessary. Absorb what you can and forget the rest.
Miroslav Volf, in his classic book, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World, summarizes Nietzsche’s position.
“Under the condition of impossible justice, no other rightness is recognized but the rightness of one’s own action. Nietzsche’s reflections on forgetting aim at a heaven of sorts — not a heaven that one can inhabit, but a heaven in which one can feel oneself as being; not a heaven in which love between people reigns, but one in which the individual is untouched by suffering and offenses endured and is unconcerned about the consequences of his or her actions.”
And this is a dominant mindset today. We don’t need the gospel anymore. Justice/injustice is everywhere. So, absorb what you can. Forget about the rest.
So, how well did that go for Nietzsche? Fast forward. He had a remarkably sensitive heart toward injustice, for someone who was trying to absorb and forget. One example that illustrates the tragedy of his methodology — He was in the street walking down the road. He noticed a cab driver beating on a horse. He ran up to the horse, hugged the horse’s mane, and lost his mind. That was the moment he had a mental breakdown, irretrievably. He never recovered, never began writing again, died young. It’s such a tragic example of someone who is trying to resolve the injustice question through his own brain alone.
The way of Jesus is a radically different way. It’s more personal and more productive. Peter touched on it in his first letter. 1 Peter 2:21,
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you.”
Think about that. Pause there. Christ, the anointed one, the victor, suffered as a victim. The victor suffered as a victim for you, for you! leaving you an example,
“so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten [and he’s not merely capitulating] but he continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
Now look what he does. He’s not just giving us an example. He’s actually empowering a completely different way of thinking and living.
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. You were straying like sheep, but now return to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
See, Jesus is the only one who deals with our entire problem. And you will never be free until you get this. But when you get this, you are free. Our problem isn’t just our woundedness, the hurt people have done to us, which is real. And it’s not just our wickedness, the hurt we have done to others, and it’s real. Jesus is the only one who deals with both. He died to pay for our wickedness, all the hurt we have done to others, and he died to heal our woundedness, all the hurt that has been done to us.
And where you get freedom from defiance, this tendency to resist, is when you begin to see that your woundedness is not greater than your wickedness. Matthew 18, the parable, when you realize, “God, you have forgiven me of far more hurt that I have done you than has been done to me by others.” Does that sound crazy to you? You guys don’t look like you’re buying this. Do you remember the story of the debtor? You’re not truly going to be free if you believe that people have done more to you than you have done to God. But when you realize “God, I have by my sin and selfishness, greed, lust, I’ve hurt you far more than any hurt that could ever be done to me, and yet you sent your Son to wash me clean and set me free so that you look at me through nothing but freedom and love, no condemnation, fully embracing me. And that kind of love empowers me to begin to receive. And I’m not saying it’s all automatic or immediate but begin to receive the healing for the wounds that have been done to us. He deals with both, which is absolutely liberating.
David Powlison summarizes it well,
“Redemption rewires both creation and fall, remaking us as agents of redemptive justice and mercy. Christ brings His good up against our evils. His atoning mercy embodies the reunion of love and just anger, bringing us forgiveness for real wrongs. He works to redeem fallen creatures, convicting of sin, bringing forgiveness, and working the willingness to forgive others, remaking us into peacemakers. He progressively teaches us to deal more constructively with what is wrong [rather than becoming defiant]. God will finish that which he has begun in us, on the Day of Christ.”
Let’s pray. Father, this is a lot to take in. So, Spirit of God, we pray that you would apply very personally the Word you have for each of us today. Some of us are drinking from the pond of resentment, which promises to satisfy our thirst but ends up aggravating it and leading to pollution and corruption. We’re angry. We’re hurt. And we feel justified in longing to get even. We are afraid of forgiveness because it feels like we’re abandoning justice and empowering perpetrators to continue to hurt. Lord, show us what real love looks like in that situation, that we would first bathe in your love, and you could heal us. And then we would learn what does love look like as we take action.
Lord, in this moment of humility, we can see the way of resentment, how it contaminates our hearts with defiance, a disposition to resist, and an inability to revel in your love and to love others freely. So please, Spirit of God, pour your love into our hearts. I pray, Lord, you would be pouring out your love this morning in the hearts that have been captivated by this tendency to resist, that Lord, they would open up their hearts. Lord, we don’t want to become entombed in our own self-righteousness and defensiveness and insecurity. We ask for your love to be poured in. Forgive us. Heal us. Help us. Because a community that is feasting on drinking in this kind of love is far less vulnerable to false teachers who would promote a different kind. Continue your work in us. We pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.