The story goes that in 1979 a large passenger jet with 257 people on board left New Zealand for a sightseeing flight to Antarctica and back. Unknown to the pilots, however, someone had modified the flight coordinates by a mere two degrees. This error placed the aircraft 28 miles (45 km) to the east of where the pilots assumed they were. As they approached Antarctica, the pilots descended to a lower altitude to give the passengers a better look at the landscape. Although both were experienced pilots, neither had made this particular flight before, and they had no way of knowing that the incorrect coordinates had placed them directly in the path of an active volcano that rises from the frozen landscape to a height of more than 12,000 feet (3,700 m).
As the pilots flew onward, the white of the snow and ice covering the volcano blended with the white of the clouds above, making it appear as though they were flying over flat ground. By the time the instruments sounded the warning that the ground was rising fast toward them, it was too late. The airplane crashed into the side of the volcano, killing everyone on board. All because they were just two degrees off.
Throughout the book of 2 Peter the apostle Peter has been stressing the importance of maintaining a true faith. Like in the navigation of a plane, being off just a little bit can lead you into dangerous territory.
The church (or churches) that received Peter’s letter faced false teachers and skeptics. Peter has written with a directness and urgency that shows how important this issue of truth really is. He spent chapter one reaffirming the truth; in chapter two he described the nature and result of false teaching; in chapter three he addressed one of the false teachings regarding the second coming of Christ.
In these last verses Peter sums it all up.
15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation,
We have so much information coming at us today that we often do not have time to process what is being said. We tend to be moved by the presentation or appearance of a viewpoint or the one presenting rather than the actual merits of the argument. Peter is telling us that we cannot afford to approach spiritual truth in that manner!
Peter reminds us to think carefully about the urgency of the gospel. Peter reminds us that even though the skeptics may sound compelling when they say, “Since Jesus hasn’t come in all these years, surely the teaching is not true.” Peter has reminded us that to think in this way is to miss the point. God’s patience is an opportunity for people (including you and me) to be made right with God. It is our chance to change direction before it is too late.
When things are going well we have a tendency to put off eternal matters. It is as if we say to ourselves, “Why mess with things when they are going well.” Peter challenges our premise that things are “going well”. If we are having a good time and things seem to be running smoothly but we are headed for a confrontation with God that we are going to lose . . . how well are things going really?
Think about this assumption in other areas of life
- Are you really prosperous if you have lots of great stuff but you have nothing set aside for emergencies or are saving nothing for the future? Are you really prosperous if you are swimming in debt?
- Are you really a “good driver” simply because you have never had an accident? Are you a good driver if you are constantly talking on the phone or texting while you drive?
- Are you really a good parent simply because you are trying to give your children lots of pleasurable experiences? Is it possible that you are raising kids who don’t know how to set reasonable limits on their lives?
The point is: just because you are not in a crisis does not mean that things are good in your life or your soul. Peter writes with an urgency that says: be reconciled to God now! When you are right with God; when you are walking with Him; the other things will all fall into place. When you are not right with God all the stuff is only masking a problem.
We also must think carefully about Scripture. Peter wrote,
just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction
Peter appealed to the Apostle Paul to show that what he is saying is true. He says Paul writes the same way in all his letters. In other words, Peter is saying, Paul affirms the same truths that I am passing on to you.
This tells us that some of Paul’s letters had been read by these people. We don’t know which letters they read or even how many had been written. We do know that these letters were getting around to the churches. Peter is says three things about Paul’s letters.
First, Paul’s words are sometimes hard to understand. If you have read Paul’s letters you know that he writes about deep truth. Think about some of the things Paul said,
- Eph. 6 he tells “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
- In Romans 6 he says, “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”
- Romans 8-9 Paul tells us about Predestination. He says God chooses to save some not because of what they do but because that is what He has chosen to do. He said before Jacob and Esau were even born God said, “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated”
- 1 Corinthians 7 he tells us that it is better not to be married because marriage is a distraction.
- 1 Corinthians 11 and 2 Timothy Paul talks about the role of Women in the church; statements that have led some to say he was a woman-hater.
- Romans 5 tells us about original sin “As in Adam all sinned, so in Christ will all be made alive”.
- Romans 3 We are told that “no one seeks God” and lays the foundation for what is known as the doctrine of Total Depravity.
These are all passages that are difficult to understand. They are not impossible to understand but they are difficult. They are not less valuable or important because they are hard to understand. They are worth the effort it takes to understand. If you find Paul a challenge to read, you are in good company.
Second, People distort Paul’s teachings. This is what often happens with deep truth. People don’t understand so they distort what is being said. Instead of listening and hearing, some react. As a result Paul has been called a woman-hater, a fatalist, and a person who sees people through an overly negative lens. Even in Paul’s own day they distorted his teachings.
Some have used Paul’s teaching about justification by faith alone apart from any works on our part as license to sin. They conclude that Paul is saying we can do whatever we want because we are “free from the Law”.
We must always examine the context of a passage in order to accurately understand it. Some passages takes more thought that others. If we do not examine them carefully we can make Scripture say what it does not intend to say.
This leads to the third thing: Peter recognized Paul as the inspired author of “Scripture”. The word for “Scripture” here is the same word that was used in New Testament exclusively in reference to the Old Testament Scripture (which was fairly well established by this time). Peter is making a very strong claim here about the writings of Paul.
Some scholars conclude that this “proves” Peter did not actually write 2 Peter. They argue that Paul’s letters could not already be considered as Scripture and there was certainly not enough time for people to distort the letters of Paul.
However, even though the “canon” or the full complement of Scripture may not have been formerly established for a couple hundred years yet, that does not mean that these letters were not immediately recognized as authoritative. Peter and the church fathers (those who taught in the first century) recognized Paul as authoritative.
So what does all this mean to us?
- It means the authority of the Apostles (and Paul) was recognized by the church from the beginning. It was not bestowed upon them by Constantine many years later as books like the DaVinci code claim (and many people repeat as fact).
- It shows that the Bible is internally consistent. The whole Bible proclaims the same message. Peter, Paul, John and the other disciples do not contradict each other. Whenever it seems that one part of the Bible contradicts another, there is a problem with our understanding of those passages. The Bible is consistent because God is consistent.
- If we neglect or distort these teachings we do so to our own destruction. When we read the Bible we must listen. Our job is not to read our theology into the text . . . it is to draw our theology from the text. All of the Bible is the Word of God. It is the Word of GOD! Therefore we would be wise to listen intently to everything that is said.
- God may not speak to us audibly as He did to Moses. They heard from God occasionally and powerfully. Through the Bible we can hear powerfully and clearly from God anytime we are willing to listen!
Peter now gives us His conclusion. He has two exhortations for us. First, we are to stand guard.
17 Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.
Peter was well aware of how easy it was to fall from your “secure position”. Salvation is sure and secure for those who trust and follow Christ. I would suggest that Peter is not teaching that we can lose our salvation . . . he is teaching that false teaching can make us weak, vulnerable, and insecure. It can make us unsteady and miserable.
Let me try to illustrate what I mean. The reason for not talking on your cellphone, or for refraining from texting while you are behind the wheel, or even for wearing your seatbelt is not because these things will cause you to crash. It is because talking on your phone, texting and not wearing your seatbelt makes you more vulnerable, less attentive, and a greater danger to yourself and others. Just as we take precautions when we drive, so we must take precautions in our faith.
We must not let down our guard! We are surrounded on every side by false teaching.
- There are those who appeal to the lustful desires of men (they urge us to have our “Best Life Now”). They want us to visualize what we want and single-mindedly pursue it. The thing is, if we have our best life NOW . . . what will we have in the future? Do you remember the temptation of Jesus? He urged Jesus to get His best life NOW. He told Him to turn the stone to bread, to jump off the top of the temple, and to bow down to Satan. In each case Jesus rebuked the Devil! Jesus understood that our job is to seek the glory of God which will lead to our best life in eternity.
- There are those who water down the truth to appeal to the masses. They like to say all religions are basically the same (except that they contradict each other); that Jesus is primarily concerned about your happiness (He is primarily concerned about your salvation and holiness); and that He loves you eternally (this is true only if you have trusted in Christ).
- Every other religion (whether formal or informal) tells you that you must work to “save yourself”. They have a list of rules to follow, or dues to pay, or deeds to perform. We are told we need to be a “good person” (defined by someone other than God who says there is “no one who does good”). The Bible on the other hand tells us that we must cry out to God to save us because we cannot save ourselves. That is the whole purpose of Christ . . . to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. If we could save ourselves then Jesus was unnecessary.
- There are those who say that truth is “whatever we believe it to be”. They define truth by their experience and their desires. The Bible says God is Truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me.” The standard of truth is found in the Bible. The Word of God measures the validity of our experience, not the other way around!
We must be on guard. Error is like deadly virus . . . once it gets in our system it has a tendency to spread quickly. It is like that string dangling from your clothes . . . if you pull it more will unravel. Error erodes our spiritual health.
Suppose you believe that God does not know the future. Because of that you must say that the prophetic portions of the Bible cannot be true because they predict a future that God doesn’t know. You are left to wonder if the Bible was deceptive in this area how can you trust it in other areas? You would also have to conclude that since God does not know the future, we can’t know what lies ahead. As you stand at a grave you have no real reason for hope. As you face a trial you cannot believe there is a greater purpose to what you are going through because no one knows. This is all because you did not believe that God knows the future!
Continue to Grow
The second (and final) thing Peter says is this,
18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
Part of our job is to stand firm . . . but we are also to move forward. The best way to guard ourselves from error is to keep growing in the Lord. The stagnant believer is the believer who is in trouble.
I need to continually remind myself that just because I am reading books, or watching seminars, or listening to teachers doesn’t mean I am growing in my relationship with Christ.
Think about a marriage. You can learn about taking care of your home, managing finances, how to raise a child, and how to make good investments. You can assemble a house full of furniture, have a boatload of children, and be active in your community. But you can do all those things and never grow at all in your relationship with your spouse. In fact, some people are so busy that they don’t even notice that they are drifting apart in their relationship.
Growth comes through talking, listening, paying attention, and showing consideration for the needs of your mate; sometimes in very little things.
This is also true in our relationship with Christ. We must spend time with HIM. So let me make some suggestions:
- Read the Bible before you read other books. Read not to gain information, read to get to know and understand Him.
- Make time to talk with God and to listen to God. It is not enough to simply shoot off some prayers. We also need to be quiet and pay attention. (How do you like it if your spouse only talks to you when they have something they want you to do? How do you feel if they never pay any attention to anything that you have to say?”) Do you think God feels the way about us?
- Make time for worship each week. Just as you need “date nights” with your spouse, so you need to have times of corporate worship with God. The idea is to connect with God (or your spouse), not merely have a good experience. Worship is about adoring, loving, and appreciating God and celebrating Him with others.
- Intentionally seek God’s wisdom in the everyday decisions of life. Rather than assuming you know what He wants . . . check and ask!
- Study God. Study His character traits. Listen carefully when the Bible talks about who God is.
Let me shift the image. Would you rather be a star in a movie that no one watched or liked and that ended up in a vault someplace; or would you rather have a small walk on part in a movie that became a classic? I think I would prefer the later. I would like to be part of something that lasts.
This is our choice in life: we can continue to believe that the story of life revolves around us; we can continue to insist that we define truth, and that we know better than God does what is best for our lives, that we are the star. We can do this, Peter says, but our life will end up on the cutting room floor. Or to use the illustration at the beginning of the message: we will crash into the unseen mountain.
The other option is to rejoice in the Lord. It is to let Him take center stage. It is to let Him mold the story. It is to put Him first and trust His direction. If we will do this, we will be part of something more wonderful than we can now imagine; something that will last forever. Instead of crashing into the mountain, Isaiah says: We will soar on wings like eagles, we will run and not be weary, and we will walk and never grow tired. (Isa. 40:31). I choose to honor the Lord. What about you?