"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep." (2 Peter 2:1-3)Truth has always been under assault by those who desire to destroy it. We can read the recorded history of God's interaction with mankind and see how, over and over, false prophets and false teachers rose up to pervert the truth. Therefore we should not be surprised when we see false prophets and false teachers arising today. Sometimes we comfort ourselves by saying, "those things only happened back then" but Peter is warning us to be watchful knowing that, if it happened back then, it can and will happen today. There are several things worth noting in Peter's warning.
First, he warns us that false prophets and false teachers will arise from our own midst; from within the church itself. There will be those who grew up upon the truth but later stray away, wandering into error and unbelief. One of the Greek words that is translated as "deceived" is the same root word from which we get our word for "planets" and it means to wander. All the stars move in predictable patters except for the planets. To the early astronomers these celestial luminaries wandered from their true path, the true path the other stars took. They were wanders, erratic, and in error. Some people start in truth but end up wandering into error. We must be on the lookout for those who wish to lead us astray, away from the path of truth.
Secondly, their motives will not be immediately apparent for they will bring in their false teaching secretly or privately by stealth. What makes it even harder to discern their motives is that often the motive is not the outright destruction of the truth as it is the establishment of heresy. Heresy is a Greek word that simply means dissension or a sect. Its motives is to capture people through its teachings and to lead them away to be separate from the rest of the truth. The goal of heresy is to create a sect of followers that stand separate from and in opposition to the true body of believers. Irenaeus warns against all attempts to divide and split the Body of Christ, saying, "For no reformation of so great importance can be effected by them, as will compensate for the mischief arising from their schism." (Irenaeus, Against Heresy, Book 5, 33:7)
Thirdly, we must be wary about those who would seek to redefine for us who Jesus is; diminishing His deity or altering His relationship with the Father and the Spirit. Some speak of Jesus, but they have so reduced Him to the point where He is no longer Lord and Master. They like to talk about Him, but no longer feel the need to submit and obey Him. They are as those whom Jesus rebuked saying, "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46) Some, moreover, while still asserting the lordship of Jesus, set themselves up as the head, demanding loyalty, fielty, and obedience from their followers. They speak of Jesus as Lord yet hold themselves as lord over their flock. They point to Jesus but expect people to follow them. The have denied Jesus as both their lord and the lord over the flock.
Fourthly, for some, their heresy is all about self indulgence. Their heresy is meant to make them feel good about themselves, to defend the sinful behavior, and to grant them permission to live in sensuality and licentiousness. Such heresy actually praises the passions that rage against our souls and places our own base desires above the desires of God. Jesus came that we might, "escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust." (2 Peter 1:4) and His grace comes to teach us to "deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age." (Titus 2:12) Jesus came to free us from our old sinful nature, from our sins and lusts, that we might live in newness of life, while such heresy seeks to enslave us once again to the baser nature of our soul. Such heresy may promise life, but it delivers bondage.
Finally, greed can breed heresy. It can be greed for money or for such things as power, position, recognition, and respect. What ever the object of greed, if we let it infect our teaching it can lead to heresy. Paul told us that, "the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." (1 Timothy 6:10) Much harm has been done to the body of Christ by those who have used their gifts of teaching and prophesy for their own selfish interests. The Greek word used here for "exploit" means a traveling peddler, a merchandiser, and one who buys and sells things. They are like those whom Jesus drove out of the temple saying, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it a robber's den." (Mark 11:17) or like those whom Paul says, "suppose that godliness is a means of gain." and are "men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth" (1 Timothy 6:5) Such men stand as spiritual ministers but are really businessmen, buying and selling what ever will make them a profit.
What ever the means, mode, or nature of the heresy, Peter is quite clear: its destruction awaits. While we should be on the alert for heresy, we need not fear it, for it cannot and will not stand. Heresy has come and gone over the centuries and, if Jesus tarries, will so come and go for the centuries to come, but the truth will remain!