The apostle Peter started thus his second epistle: “Simon Peter, to those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ”. It is therefore to these that he addresses the warning above.
The word “believer” has a deprecating meaning today, due to its derivation towards involving the credulous and naive. Those who reached the precious faith mentioned by Peter, “believers” in the Biblical sense of the word (Acts 5:14, 10:45, Romans 13:11, etc.), are admonished not to be taken in by the talk of false teachers who, moved by greed, will exploit them: this would be credulity and naivety.
Having finished the first chapter declaring that “prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit”, Peter continues “but there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you…” Just as God delivered His Word to the people by means of His prophets, and His Son through His apostles, the devil has sent on his part his own messengers to seduce and to be deceptive, be they false prophets, false christs, false apostles and false teachers.
Peter says the following regarding the false teachers:
1. The false teachers teach destructive errors, even destructive heresies that lead to eternal perdition. We find a multiplicity of them in the various sects that divide the Christianity.
2. These heresies are introduced secretly, under a cloak of truth. Today they say that it is “gospel”, and the false teachers are inside institutions and groups that take the name of “church” and shamelessly call themselves “Christians”, even “evangelicals”, to cover their heresies hidden from first sight.
3. The false teachers in reality reject and refuse to hear the great Teacher sent by God, He being the way of Truth, the only Saviour and Redeemer of men, for he paid the price of redemption of every one that believes.
4. Having introduced destructive heresies, they will bring on themselves swift destruction.
In his second letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul describes many of the characteristics and the cunning of the false teachers, and we find in its third chapter, verses 1 to 5, some facets of their character:
1. Loving their own selves: narcissists, egotistical, their passion for themselves stifle love for God and for their brother. They want to be praised, so they speak what the people like to hear, using flattering words. In our days they avoid preaching on sin, on conviction and on repentance, but they exalt their audiences, stressing the love of God for all.
2. Greedy: they have in mind exclusively profit, even at the cost of honesty, loyalty, and Christian ethics. They exploit the greed of the people, saying, without any base in the apostolic teaching, that God has earthly rewards to give, as health and prosperity for those who accept their doctrines and contribute financially for their ministry (2 Timothy 4:3). Paul, in contrast, exclaims: “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10).
3. Presumptuous: they show off as if they were superior, more intelligent, capable, saintly, etc., than the others. They brag of remarkable, sensational or supernatural deeds, to build their fame upon them, and so attract the credibility of the credulous and naïve.
Paul continues by making a long list of the depths to which the world will have fallen after hearing (and refusing) the message of the Gospel, even though keeping “a form of godliness” (v. 5), which is found in some sects of “Christianity” and other religions. All the characteristics given in this passage are common nowadays; the faithful believer must “turn away” from such people and not have them as companions and friends (v. 5), much less as teachers of the doctrines of the Gospel.
In contrast with the false teachers, Paul declares that: “neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.” (1 Thessalonians 2:5-7).
When Paul wrote, there were some teachers who crept subtly into households to deceive “gullible women loaded down with sins… always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:6-7 - NKJ). This is given as an example, and what subtler way can there be than the use of radio, television and Internet of which we dispose today? As those women, how many misinformed men and women and careless believers allow themselves to be deceived by programmes which pretend to be Christian, even Evangelical, and allow themselves to be enraptured by vehement speeches and noisy music destined to conquer them for some movement or sect, but never to the knowledge of the truth! They are victims of the “merchants of believers”, eager for their financial contribution.
Paul gives us an even more sinister example: when going to free the people of Israel from the slavery of Pharaoh, Moses provided signs through the power of God before Pharaoh. But two spiritist magicians, Jannes and Jambres had resisted, deceitfully imitating what he did (Exodus 7:22). The deceptive sorcerers of the time of Paul were of the same type: Simon Magus, Elymas and the children of Sceva (Acts 8:9 - 20; 13:6-11; 19:13 - 16).
Now in our days, multitudes are attracted by miracle-workers: be they “saints” and their wooden, masonry or metal statues, or men who say they are themselves endowed with miraculous powers, seeking to mimic the apostolic signs so as to exploit the “believers”. Impassioned speeches are made in the name of Christ, and expulsion of demons and miracles are witnessed daily on the platforms of temples, stages of theatres and on television. The Lord Jesus warned: “Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' (Matthew 7:22,23).
The false teachers use “deceptive words” (“plastois logois” in the Greek) to make commerce of the believers. As a plastic substance can be manipulated to take diverse forms, their words are moulded for their hearers: they say a thing here, another one there, flattering words that Paul did not use. The motivation clearly is denounced by Peter: moved “by covetousness” confirmed by Paul “lovers of money”. Superstition is very lucrative, as we see in the revenue of the biggest religious institutions, of the greatest “evangelists” in the present time, of the miracle movements. Those of the so-called “prosperity gospel” have come to print their own bible, following the example of the Russellites who call themselves “Jehovah’s witnesses”.
In the midst of so much deceit and perversity on the part of the false teachers pledged to exploit the believers, thus causing the “way of the truth to be blasphemed“, we should not be surprised at the reluctance on the part of the sceptics to hear the message of the Gospel - after all, this could be another trick aimed at their wallet. Peter assures us that “for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.” (2 Peter 2:3 c).
We would like their destruction to come already, as we see them as an obstacle in the way of the truth. Perhaps we would even be inclined to raise ourselves against them. But this would be to take the place of God, who says to us, in His Word: “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19). When looking for revenge, we would leave the way of faith. In this world, we will always find chaff in the midst of wheat until the coming of the Lord to reign on earth.
We must, more than ever, watch and pray not to enter into temptation, one of which could be the desire of enrichment here on earth (Luke 12:22-34). Let us always remember the commandment of God: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1). Here “spirits” mean doctrines. Let us be always firm in the Word of God, thus to test the teachers and avoid being exploited by the “merchants of believers”.