Common Traits of False Teachers
Text: 2 Peter 2:10b-16
Main Idea: False doctrine and immoral living go hand in hand.
Main Question: What are the common traits of false teachers?
I. They are Arrogant Self-Appointed Authorities (2 Peter 2:10b–13a)
II. They are Lustful Sin-Enticing Manipulators (2 Peter 2:13b–14b)
III. They are Greedy Self-Serving Deceivers (2 Peter 14c–16)
Good morning. As we turn to our passage in 2 Peter today we are reminded once again that the Bible is jam packed with promises and warnings. The former call us to pursue a life of costly, faith-filled, gospel-powered godliness. And the later call us to abandon our sinful rebellion so that we can find forgiveness and be restored to a right relationship with God.
And in terms of our study, Peter’s overall warning in chapter 2 is this: false teachers and those enticed by them are in danger of wrath and judgment when Jesus returns in glory. And his goal in this warning is that it will accomplish in a negative way what chapter 1 aims to do in a positive way— to compel Christians to make every effort to confirm their calling and election through a dedicated pursuit of godly living (sanctification). In fact, we can break Peter’s overall warning in this chapter into three sections.
- The certain judgment of false teachers.
- The common traits of false teachers.
- The true spiritual condition of false teachers.
And Peter’s Main Idea in our passage is this: False doctrine and immoral living go hand in hand.
But, let me be clear, Peter is not saying that everyone who sins or struggles with sin is a false teacher or captivated by the teaching of false teachers. No. He wants us to see the mark-ed contrast between the spirit-empowered godliness that the gospel empowers and produces (chap 1) AND the base, godless immorality that false doctrine inevitably produces (ch 2). Or to use the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:18–2l; just as a tree is known by its fruit, so the lifestyle and behavior of false teachers will inevitably expose their true nature.
And while Peter could have listed any number of sins and immoral acts in these verses, he emphasizes three traits that not only defined the false teachers in Asia Minor, but three traits that have typically defined false teachers of every age… which leads us to our main question this morning.
Main Question: What are the common traits of false teachers?
- They are Arrogant Self-Appointed Authorities (2 Peter 2:10b–13a)
- They are Lustful Sin-Enticing Manipulators (2 Peter 2:13b–14b)
- They are Greedy Self-Serving Deceivers (2 Peter 14c–16)
And if this isn’t bad enough, these teachers are not trying to lure Christians away from the church, they are actively corrupting Christians within the church… verses 10–13
They are Arrogant Self-Appointed Authorities (2 Peter 2:10b–13a)
They are Bold and Willful
You know, as we consider this first trait I think it’s important to point out that it may very well be the trait that initially draws people to false teachers in the first place. Let’s we honest. We don’t want weak, wishy washy leaders. We want people who have convictions. We want people who can win an argument. We want people who are ready to stand up to anything or anyone who might threaten us. And as we see, the false teachers in Peter’s day were taking their stand against the highest powers under God himself, in that they were “boldly blaspheming” (slandering, reviling, or speaking flippantly about) demonic powers.
Just think about it, in an ancient culture where people lived in constant fear of angering evil spirits and did everything they could do to appease them; these false teachers were like warrior-hero rock stars. And in many cases their boisterous, arrogant bravado made their teaching more appealing than that of the faithful, godly elders who were leading the church… elders who refused to get caught up in an unbiblical expression of “spiritual warfare.”
- Yes, demons are real and have an impact on the world in which we live.
- And yes, in Christ, Christians have authority over demons.
But, Peter wants us to see that their so-called “boldness and strength” is completely disconnected from reality itself. It has no grounding or warrant in God’s word.
First, the very terms bold and willful are not positive traits in the context of this passage! The word “bold” (τολμητής) denotes an audacious and presumptuous recklessness. And the word, “willful” or “arrogant in the NIV” (αὐθάδης) conveys the idea of an obstinate person who stubbornly contends for their own agenda and follows their own impulses instead of submitting to God’s will.
In other words, these teachers don’t care about the gospel nor do they care about God’s commands. They are simply driven by their pride and personal agenda.
Secondly, to drive this truth home, Peter goes out of his way to illustrate their unwarranted confidence with an utterly devastating contrast AND comparison.
One the one hand, (in verse 11) he wants us to see how incredibly puffed up the false teachers really are. They are utterly blind to the fact that they do not have the authority to revile, rebuke, and pass judgment over fallen angels! And he drives this home with the fact that, God’s holy angels, who are far “greater in might and power” than these false teachers could ever have; don’t speak a word judgment or spite against demons but yield to God’s judgment on the final day. Notice, what are these teachers really doing? In their hubris they are usurping the authority and judgment of God himself! They are completely out of line!
And on the other hand, (in verses 12–13) he wants us to see that, for all of their wisdom, knowledge, and self-confident bravado, theses teachers are not men of deep understanding, insight, or knowledge as they claim to be. They’re not! They are like wild animals, completely “ignorant” to the truths in God’s Word! And this is nothing new:
1 Timothy 1:3–7 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
Notice, it’s right and proper to censor teachers in the church who are more devoted to their endless speculations about the things which are not clear in God’s Word, than they are devoted to the countless things he has clearly revealed. (too many people want to peer between the lines instead of studying and submitting themselves to what is clearly written).
But, returning to Peter’s comparison in verses 12–13, Peter wants us to see something more about false teachers. Yes, they are like ignorant animals lashing out at things they do not understand. But, there is something about their likeness to wild animals that is even worse: they are wholly ruled by their carnal instincts and desires instead of God’s wisdom and reason. And it is this very animalistic, unregenerate instinct that fuels their never-ending pursuit of sexual pleasure in verses 13–14 AND their ravenous greed in verses 14–16.
They are Lustful Sin-Enticing Manipulators (2 Peter 2:13b–14b)
Their Depth of their Depravity
Notice, when Peter tells us that “They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime,” he is telling us that these people were so consumed by their self-indulgent lust that they could not even wait until night (the time when most people use the cover of darkness to sin) to pursue the object of their base, sinful desires. In fact, history tells us that this kind of behavior was not just disgusting to Christians, it was utterly rejected by the pagan world of the first century. They are living worse that the worst of pagans!
Don’t miss this. What do these false teachers really desire, what do they “love?” They do not love God. Nor do they love the people of God. The love to spend their days (not just their nights) living it up from party to party so that they can slake their carnal animalistic instincts— like a dog in heat or a buck during the rut… No control, no virtue, no godliness, nothing that accords with the gospel of Jesus Christ that grants us everything we need to live a godly life. Their lifestyle is at odds with the gospel itself.
Titus 2:11–14 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
For everything we see in this verse, these churches in Asia Minor should be confronting these false teachers with their blatant sin and cutting them off from the Lord’s Table and treating them like an unbeliever if they refuse to repent (Matt 18:15–20; 1 Cor 5:1–5). But, the sad truth is that many of these churches were turning a blind eye to their obvious, open depravity AND putting their entire congregation at risk of these teacher’s deceitful lust.
The Magnitude of their Deceit (2 Peter 2:13d–14b)
The feasting that Peter has in mind here was typically an all-church meal that culminated in a celebration of the Lord’s Supper (communion). A symbolic, holy meal that commemorates the very means by God wrought our salvation in the bloody, wrath-bearing death of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
Yet, in the midst of this holy ordinance that is at the very center of the Christian faith; these false teachers were not only rejecting the Christ to whom the bread and wine point, they were secretly trying to entice (or lure) the ones for whom he died into sin.
Notice, they are oblivious to the gospel. And they are unmoved by the bloody sacrifice of Christ because they cannot see past their animalistic lust. In fact, when Peter tells us that their “eyes are full of adultery, insatiable for sin;” he is telling us that these false teachers are so addicted to sex and consumed by their lust that they cannot help but look at every woman as a potential partner in their depravity, an adulteress that is ready and willing to quench their perpetual, constant, and unceasing pursuit of sexual pleasure.
Don’t miss this, these false teachers were feigning fealty to Christ so that they could seduce the blood-bought bride of Jesus Christ in the very midst of Christian worship (they are wolves in sheep’s clothing). And in this we see the true danger of their influence and teaching in the church: they lure people who are not grounded in the knowledge of Christ (“unsteady souls”) into their sensual depravity by assuring them that it is wholly acceptable in the sight of God. Whether that be, enticing true born-again Christians into blatant sin OR leading not-yet Christians (people who are moved by the gospel but have not yet believed the gospel) into destruction, while thinking that they are on the path of eternal life.
But, as we transition to the third and final trait of false teachers, we quickly discover that their sordid, animalistic drive for sexual pleasure is matched only by their insatiable, ravenous greed.
They are Greedy Self-Serving Deceivers (2 Peter 14c–16)
They Have Hearts Trained for Greed
The first thing I want you to see in these verses is that Peter is adding the picture of athletic competition to their animalistic instinct, in that, the Greek verb “trained” is closely linked to our English word “gymnasium.” And in this he is saying, these false teachers don’t leave things to chance! No. They have devoted as much time, though, and development into their pursuit of greed as professional athletes put into an athletic competition. They are willing to do whatever it takes to line their pockets with more and more and more money.
The second thing I want you to see is that path or “the way” they have embraced to satisfy their greed. Verse 15, they have forsaken “the right way” and followed “the way of Balaam,” the son of Beor, who loved gain (who satisfied his greed) from wrongdoing.
Don’t miss this, they have forsaken the right way, they have turned their back on the gospel of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness, the cleansing, the restoration, and eternal joy that it offers to everyone who will repent of their sin and believe. They have rejected the narrow road that leads to everlasting life in favor of the broad road that leads to everlasting judgment. And for what? The pursuit of more money! Now, Peter doesn’t tell us how these false teachers were making money, but his reference to Balaam gives a clue.
Numbers 22 tells us that when the Israelites were approaching the land of Moab on their way to The Promised Land. Balak, the king of Moab, was so afraid of them that he sent for a prophet named Balaam and offered him money to pronounce a curse over the Israelites.
And this is exactly what Peter focuses in on in verse 15: Balaam loved gain from wrongdoing, specifically from someone willing to pay for his prophetic services. And by the end of the story, he not only lined his pockets with the kings gold. But according to Numbers 31:8, he formulated the to plan to seduce the people of Israel into sexual sin and idolatry in Numbers 25.
Therefore it seems most likely that these false teachers were not just luring unsteady Christians away into sexual license, but were most likely charging them for their heretical teaching that granted such license.
Yet, it is not until we turn to verse 16 that we discover the most significant correlation between Balaam and these false teachers. And it’s the part that virtually everyone remembers from the story of Balaam.
They Are Ignorant of Their True Condition (2 Peter 2:16)
The question is this, “Why did in the world did a donkey rebuke Balaam” Well, let’s turn to Numbers 22:
- Numbers 22:22–23 But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 And the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road… after this she crushed his foot against a wall to avoid the angel, and finally she laid down on the path and refused to go any further. Even though Balaam beat her every time.
- Numbers 22:28–31 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” 30 And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.” 31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face.
The donkey’s rebuke restrained Balaam because it perceived God’s holy wrath against its master, while Balaam was completely ignorant of his true condition. As one commentator puts it, “A dumb ass possessed sounder prophetic vision than a religious official whose moral sense had been perverted by financial gain.”
In fact, this is the heart of Peter’s argument in these verses. Yes, these false teachers are arrogant, lustful, and greedy. But, what characteristic defines them as a whole?… their utter ignorance! In verse 12 they are uterly ignorant of the things they are blaspheming. And in verse 16, like Balaam they are utterly ignorant of the fact that they are under God’s judgment!
So How Are We Supposed to Apply this Passage?
Principle: Any Teaching that Sanctions Moral Depravity is False Teaching.
Just think about it, if Jesus has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him (1:3).
And if Jesus calls us to confirm our calling and election by making every effort to supplement our 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 (1:5–7).
And if these qualities not only keep us from being ineffective and unfruitful in our faith but are the external evidence that we will spend eternity with Jesus (1:8–11).
How in the world can anyone pervert the gospel into an excuse to turn back to and revel in the very sins from which we were saved through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ? The gospel frees us from our slavery to sin, it does not free us to freely indulge in a life of sin. And if anyone teaches anything else they are teaching error.
- 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do notbe deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
- Galatians 5:19–21 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 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. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Any Teaching that Sanctions Moral Depravity is False Teaching.
But, this leads us to the question: “How do we protect our church and our families from the depravity endorsing teaching that is all around us?”
Implication: We Protect our Church and our Family the Best when we Cultivate a Genuine Love for God.
I’ll give you a hint. It’s not by demanding that our church members and family members do a better job cleaning up their lives. It’s not by nagging them into the pursuit of greater godliness. And it’s not by threatening them with wrath and judgment if they fail. We protect our church and our family the best when we cultivate a genuine love for and happiness in God himself.
- Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
- Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
See, if God is not your greatest and most glorious treasure in the universe, you and your children will be enticed by a million other things that cannot satisfy and cannot hold a candle to the blinding radiance of his all-satisfying glory. But, you will love them none the less.
And when this happens you will be tempted find a way in which you can satisfy your sin without “really” abandoning Jesus… and this leaves you wholly susceptible to anyone who can provide a reasonable solution to your dilemma. Just think about it, why do people fall for false teaching in the first place? It’s because false teaching sanctions or offers something they already desire.
So how do we cultivate this love? We do everything we can to help our people see who God really is in his Word AND by helping them truly grasp the glorious privilege of their identity in Jesus Christ. Because the truth of the matter is, you cannot truly love someone who do not know or understand.
 Walter Bauer et al., A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (University of Chicago Press, 2000), 178.
 “These puzzling words are explained by the parallel passage in Jude 8–9, which makes it clear that the celestial beings are evil angels (demons);” (Dieudonne Tamfu, 2 Peter and Jude, ed. Samuel Ngewa, Africa Bible Commentary [HippoBooks, 2018], 57).
 Michael P. Green, 2 Peter and Jude: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 18 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 127.
 Matthew S. Harmon, “2 Peter,” in Hebrews–Revelation, ESV Expository Commentary, ed. Iain M Duguid, James M Hamilton, and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 392.
 Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 350.
 Green, 2 Peter and Jude, 133.
 Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 354–55.
 Green, 2 Peter and Jude, 136.