Counterfeits: 2 Peter 2:1-16 (Sermon)
Welcome! I am pastor Rob. What is this?
You are right. It is a one hundred dollar bill. Is it real or counterfeit? Is it truly what it says it is? How do we know?
The Treasury Department reported several years ago that they lost 56 million dollars through counterfeit money, 56 million dollars in one year! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counterfeit_United_States_currency#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20United%20States,counterfeit%20per%204%2C000%20genuine%20notes.) Officially, the last one holding the bill suffers the loss. You might be carrying one of these bills in your pocket. What are we to do, if at any time we may be handling counterfeit money? How do we trust any of them? That is a great question, and it relates to another type of counterfeiting that is more disturbing. (http://www.chicagofed.org/digital_assets/publications/policy_discussion_papers/2010/PDP2010-2.pdf).
You see, the church has counterfeits too. What do I mean? There are leaders in the global church who are part of the body; they attend, teach, preach, write books, and, yet, they are counterfeits seeking to steal an audience. That is unnerving and downright scary. How do we identify false teachers? None of us are perfect. We make mistakes and don’t know things completely. How do we discern between differences of interpretation and heresy? How do we trust anyone? How do we move forward as a body of believers with such dangers looming large? Our text this morning deals with a church struggling with these issues and offers us some answers.
If you have your Bibles, open with me to 2 Peter chapter 2, starting at verse 1. I have asked B/L. G to read for us. He/she will be reading the first 16 verses. The words will be projected. Please, follow along. We have a tradition of standing in honor of God’s Word. If you can, would you please stand with me as we read 2 Peter chapter 2 starting at verse 1?
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.
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.
Bold and willful, 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.
But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 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. (2 Peter 2:1–16)
Thanks. Let’s pray. God, I need your help. Help us who hear you and embrace your truth to avoid the lies of the evil one. We love and need you. AMEN. You may be seated.
Last week, Pastor Jeff told us our confidence is in the Word of God. God spoke, speaks, and will speak through this book, the Bible. It is not a book written after the fact by a bunch of dead white guys to oppress the masses. No, God, the Holy Spirit, inspired people to write and preserve the Bible so that what we have in front of us is trustworthy, true, and reliable. That is what Peter argued in the previous verses about the prophetic nature of the Bible.
LAST WEEK 1
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. (2 Peter 1:20–21)
This confidence in the Bible is why Peter looked death in the face and kept the faith. He died for what he believed 2000 years ago. He wasn’t ministering for money, power, or fame. He was following the Lord. The apostle Paul faced the same tragic end. He got his head cut off for what he believed. He wrote this about the Bible,
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. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)
Peter and Paul agreed. God was the author of the Bible. Peter wrote to encourage a minority group of middle eastern Christians who faced counterfeit teachers challenging their faith and morality. I bet it was hard for them to go against the flow and be the one who says no, enough, or I am not going to go with you. The church was infiltrated, divided, and discouraged because of these counterfeit teachers. The church needed direction, hope, and help. Peter encouraged them in his letter this way,
[God’s] 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. (2 Peter 1:3–4)
Friends, Peter, told the church, “God’s promises empower godly living in a world of ungodliness and false teaching.” God gave the church all the necessary things to live and grow spiritually. He promised, through faith and repentance, fellowship with him. That is true for Peter’s church as well as ours. We need to remember what God has done to persevere when things look challenging. Nothing is new under the sun; therefore, let’s dig deeper into chapter 2 and these counterfeit threats.
OUTLINE OF THE VERSES AND MORNING
If you are taking notes, I have three points this morning:
Counterfeits in History
These are my three points.
Counterfeits in History
I will be bouncing around to show us this in the text.
Counterfeits in History
Read with me chapter 2, verse 1. “...But false prophets also arose among the people.” Stop there. Peter was continuing his topic from chapter one about prophecy. He contrasted false prophets with true prophecy, Scripture. Verse 4 goes on to share the history of heresy. It talks about the angels who rebelled against God. Likely, the ones from Genesis 6, the Nephelim, who, tradition taught, fell from heaven and participated in perversions with people. In verse 5, we hear about Noah’s righteousness contrasted with the ungodly around him. In verse 6, we hear about Sodom and Gomorrah. Peter ends this set of verses recalling the Moabite prophet Balaam son of Beor, who sought to curse Israel. He failed but ended up enticing Israel to abandon their faith through sexual immorality. Peter was teaching a crash course in the counterfeits beginning from Genesis. These were a few of the counterfeits in the history of God’s people.
That brings me to my second point, counterfeits defined. We have seen the counterfeits in history, now let's talk about counterfeits defined. Keep reading chapter 2, verse 1.
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies.
False teaching was not only in the past. It was a reality in the present. Leaders of the church were walking away from the truth and taking people with them. That was an unpleasant fact. Those left behind, those who held to the truth, how did they feel as they gathered to worship, pray, and listen? What was going on in their hearts and minds as their pastors and elders taught? What would you think? How would you feel if I started teaching something subtly errant and kept going down that road taking people with me to their and my demise? I imagine people were afraid, upset, confused, and struggling. How could they sort out truth from error? Peter helped his readers define three qualities of these counterfeits in the next few verses. Keep reading.
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. (2 Peter 2:1–3)
We see first,
They were bringing in destructive heresies. What does that mean? The only example here is they went so far as to deny the Master. Who was the “Master”? Jesus. Jesus was and is the King and Lord. He is the one who gave his life for our sins. He purchased us at the cross. His blood redeems us. He ransomed us to God the Father. He paid the penalty for our rebellion and sin. Our guilt was washed away by his blood sacrifice. He bought us. That was what the counterfeits denied.
Does this happen today? Do people teach heresy to the extent that they deny our Master, Jesus? Do people deny that Jesus bought us? If you have been around church long enough, you likely remember the faces or names of people who were part of us and are no longer. People who are not going to another church and have abandoned their faith and deny the God of the Bible and Jesus as Savior and Master entirely. This still happens.
Another characteristic of these counterfeits was they practiced and led a path of sexual immorality. Sex is powerful. It grips society in so many ways: economically, politically, biologically, and relationally. Things have not changed in the world or church, have they? As we speak, we have a mainline denomination with over thirteen million members torn apart. A portion of their denomination interprets Scriptures’ clear guidelines for sexuality as cultural guidelines, not authoritative. We have people at our local church because their local church is falling for this blasphemous interpretation of God’s Word. Pastors and leaders across the country are blurring Biblical lines and shutting down any intelligent disagreement with ad hominem attacks. Instead of dealing with text and reason, they compare their opponents to racists, bigots, and oppressors. God created sexuality. It is excellent in the right context. However, taken outside its bounds, it will destroy society, the church, and the family. Ultimately, such a stance, like the denial of Jesus, does violence to God’s Word, his authority, and creates an alternative ethic that is a moving societal norm and will only worsen.
Finally, this group of counterfeits was motivated by money. Is that true today? You bet it is. One counterfeit preacher, in the last decade, was in trouble for his ministry purchasing a Learjet. Fundraising for it, he said he needed it. Here is a quote asking his people to give, “We need your help to continue reaching a lost and dying world for the Lord Jesus Christ. Your love gift of any amount will be greatly appreciated.” Now, I love reaching the lost and dying world for Jesus. And I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with Leerjets or private property. However, I call in question a ministry needing a twenty million dollar jet to spread the gospel. I think that teacher is leading his people astray.
Denying Jesus as Lord and Savior, misappropriating sexuality, and stealing people’s money have been markers of counterfeits since Genesis. That is what was driving these counterfeits in Peter’s day and ours.
Peter continued to define these counterfeits and reiterate his definition in verses 12 and following. He said they were,
Animal-like in their appetites for sin
They revel in their sexual license and are full of adultery
They are full of deceptions and lies
They have hearts trained in greed
They forsake the right way and have gone astray.
We have seen these counterfeits in the past. This list defines real people Peter was talking about. He was specific enough for people to relate.
Paul encountered a different counterfeit type before this, a people proclaiming Christians needed to follow Jewish law. We see this group in Acts. Peter himself got caught up with them. Hearing this, Paul opposed Peter to his face. Paul wrote about that in his letter to the church of Galatia. Peter repented of his perspective by the time he wrote his two letters. He knew what it was to be teaching false things, but he repented and doubled down on the truth. There is hope for those who go astray. But if they don’t repent, there are consequences. We will get to that in a second.
HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?
Before that, how does counterfeit teaching start? For Peter and the church, I think it began with the truth. That is how false teachers can come in and secretly bring in heresy. I imagine they may not even know at first what they are doing.
I went to the grocery store Hardings the other day. They had a sign up saying they won’t take one hundred dollar bills. I asked the cashier, “Why?” She said that people were counterfeiting one hundred dollar bills in Berrien county, even in their small store in Three Oaks. Whomever it was bleached a lower denomination, like a five-dollar bill, and reprinted a higher one. By doing that, they kept the texture and weight of the paper. It was real currency, but it wasn’t what it said it was.
In the same way, a convincing lie contains a kernel of truth. The slide towards heresy was slight and gradual for the church in Peter’s day. It was a secret. I think that is why this counterfeit reality was so disturbing.
If truth is embedded in these counterfeits, how do we not go on a witch hunt at every misspoken word or confusing teaching or area of opinion? How do we trust one another at all? We are all sinners. None of us are perfect or know everything? Well, let’s go back to the dollar. How does the government train agents to spot a counterfeit?
They study. The agents study not fake bills, but the real ones. There are several features on the real U.S. currency to verify if it is real. Color shifting ink, watermarks, raised printing, font, security threads, ultraviolet glow, and serial numbers are all indicators of authenticity. To know a fake, we have to know the real thing. (https://www.challies.com/articles/counterfeit-detection-part-1/). Reading these sixteen verses, Peter spends most of the time focusing on the counterfeits; however, he clues us in on the real thing. Here are seven truths in the text this morning.
Jesus is the Master
He bought the church with his body and blood.
God designed sex as good in the context of marriage
Truth objectively exists
God is just
Right and wrong are real
God powerfully acts in history
These truths are embedded in the definition and history of the counterfeits. We need to embrace these truths, brothers, and sisters. We must seek to add to our faith knowledge. To know the true God. Knowing God was Peter’s prayer in this letter and mine. How do we know him? How do we know the truth? Study this, not the counterfeit. This is your instruction book and manual for life. This is your guide book, map book, and textbook. Memorize it, read it, know it, cherish it, and love it. Are you? Am I? What do you fill your mind with? This is where I need to grow. Even as a pastor, I need to keep fighting to put good things in my head and learn how to engage with those around me and help discern what is good, right, and true for our church. The apostle Paul, one of the most prolific writers and teachers in the Bible in Acts 17, went to a town called Berea. There, they didn’t believe everything he said, but they went back to their Bibles and asked where it was written. They searched the Scriptures diligently to see if what Paul said was true. If people call into question your teaching, because of the Bible, then thank them. Be encouraged. Let us go back to the Bible and search for what is true. We can throw off the teachings that aren’t and embrace the truth that is. God is good and wants us to know him, the real him.
Perhaps, you are stuck. You think people are not embracing truth fast enough. You see people straying, listening to false teaching, and walking away from biblical morality. You aren’t seeing people change, and you don’t have faith in the leadership. Maybe you struggle with trusting anyone. I think the church in Peter’s day felt that way. That is why he wrote verse 9. Look at that verse 9. It sums up my last point, Counterfeit Consequences. We have looked at Counterfeits in History, Counterfeits Defined now, let’s look at the Counterfeit Consequences. Look at verse 9. What does it say? “...the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.”
God is not sitting idly by. He has seen and acted in the past to deal with those who would destroy his people and work. God has promised to build the church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). He will bring justice and judgment to bear on those who would lead the little ones astray. God’s patience is a kindness, not laziness. It offers an opportunity for others to repent and come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. You don’t have to worry. Peter turned the church's gaze, not to their local community or their efforts but God and godly living.
Friends, do you see this book? What is it? It is the Bible, God’s Word. It is not a counterfeit, opinion, or myth. It is trustworthy, true, and all we need for life and godliness. Friends, God cares about you and will care for you moving forward by faith in him. Stay the course. Don't be swayed. Press in and press on and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, God and King, Jesus Christ. He alone is our hope and help through the Holy Spirit for Father’s glory, as recorded in these pages.