No Backwater Fishing Hole (2 Peter 1:1–2)

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“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” (2 Peter 1:1–2 ESV).

2 Peter is regarded by some as a backwater fishing hole, aptly, but inaccurately attributed to the uncouth fisherman from Galilee. “2 Peter has been termed the ‘ugly stepchild’ of the NT,” writes Peter Davids. “It is not just that the extended prophetic denunciation is unpalatable to some people and the apparent description of the destruction of the universe in ch. 3 is disturbing, but that many readers wonder whether the book is genuine and belongs in the canon at all.”

It might be surprising to learn that the first two seemingly innocuous words of this letter are likely it’s most controversial and among some of the most contested in the New Testament. There are multiple arguments against Petrine authorship, but I’ll just pick out only a couple since they’re all equally ridiculous.

Some say there are too many unique terms in this letter for it to have been written by Peter. Some 57 words are found here and nowhere else in the New Testament. We have two short letters bearing Peter’s name, each with a different focus, and from so small a sampling can we draw such a conclusion? When R.C. Sproul received his first assignment for doctoral studies in Holland it included 25 titles in Dutch, a language of which he knew nothing. He painstakingly began the task by consulting his Dutch-English dictionary and writing each Dutch word that he came to on one side of a card with a corresponding English word on the other. The first day he worked through just over a page. The first two books Dr. Sproul read in this way were by the same author on the same subject and when the final tally was in, there were over 5000 words in the second volume that were not in the first. Such objections make me think of Dr. Budziszewski’s remark that, “Though it always comes as a surprise to intellectuals, there are some forms of stupidity that one must be highly intelligent and educated to achieve.”

Akin to this, others say that the style of 2 Peter is too different from 1 Peter for him to have written it. Many critical scholars also argue that the Greek of 1 Peter is too refined for Peter to have written that letter. So we have the same pool of scholars telling us that Peter couldn’t have written 2 Peter because its style is too different from that other letter he didn’t write. Huh? Further, it is not as if the church has never known someone who could write children’s fantasy, adult science fiction, popular apologetic works, and critical academic pieces. No, C.S. Lewis could not have written the Narnia tales, the Perelandra series, Mere Christianity, and Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature.

Let’s turn from the opinions of modern scholarship to that of the church. The best Biblical scholarship has historically been done within the church. The Trinitarian orthodoxy of the early creeds cannot be improved on or matched and it was produced not by some isolated scholars operating in institutions of education, but by churchmen serving the church. Michael Allen and Scott Swain argue that “Christian theology flourishes in the school of Christ [meaning the church]… The Spirit of Christ teaches the church in sufficient and unmixed verity such that the church need not seek theological understanding from any other source or principle.” They liken the church to the Spirit-cultivated field God designed theology to grow in.

Though some in the church have wrestled with the authenticity of 2 Peter the overwhelming testimony has been that of affirmation. We should listen to this testimony not because the Bible is determined by majority vote, nor because the church stands over the Word as Rome argues. We should listen to the opinion of the church because it is to her that the self-authenticating Word bears witness. Sheep shouldn’t ask goats for their opinion concerning food. 

Scholars who deny the authenticity of 2 Peter are the scoffers Peter goes on to speak of.

“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:1–4 ESV).

Such scoffers speak with a snake’s lisp asking, “Did God really say?”

This is no backwater fishing hole. It is an ocean of grace upon grace (1:2). It is scoffer-scholars who would have us drink from the stagnant waters of human autonomy.

Why Beg for Crumbs when you Have the Bread of Life? (Colossians 1:24–29)

The mystery of the gospel isn’t very mysterious for the saints, therefore, beware of the mysterious. The mystery religions of Paul’s day had a hierarchy of knowers. One ascended the ladder by means of rites, experiences, and acts of piety. It seems that false teaching blending pagan mystery religion and Jewish mysticism was attempting to make inroads at Colossae (i.e. Colossians 2:18–19). Be certain, it’s made its way well into the church today. Beware of spiritual Christian caste systems.

You don’t need the mysterious when the mystery entrusted to the apostles has been revealed to you. Jesus is sufficient. This means the Scriptures are sufficient. You don’t need angels, saints, or oil to get a spiritual high. Talk of second blessing is laughable when the first one gave you everything. Prophecies are puny compared to the revelation of the mystery given to the church through Christ’s apostles. Anxiety for a fresh word is like the billionaire worrying if his social security will come through. Why beg for crumbs when the apostles hold forth the Bread of Life?

Sarah Young says she hears from Jesus. Like a modern apostle, she passes along her revelation in a book she titled Jesus Calling. It’s sold over ten million copies. Therein she says, “This practice of listening to God has increased my intimacy with Him more than any other spiritual discipline, so I want to share some of the messages I have received. In many parts of the world, Christians seem to be searching for a deeper experience of Jesus’ Presence and Peace. The messages that follow address that felt need.”

Jesus is the final word and His apostles are His final word on Himself as the final Word. No others are necessary.

In contrast consider John Piper’s testimony of hearing God speak to him. He begins, “Let me tell you about a most wonderful experience I had early Monday morning, March 19, 2007, a little after six o’clock. God actually spoke to me. There is no doubt that it was God.” After many paragraphs that could cause concern that Piper is siding with the likes of Young, he clarifies:

“And best of all, [these words] are available to all. If you would like to hear the very same words I heard on the couch in northern Minnesota, read Psalm 66:5–7. That is where I heard them. O, how precious is the Bible. It is the very word of God. In it God speaks in the twenty-first century. This is the very voice of God. By this voice, he speaks with absolute truth and personal force. By this voice, he reveals his all-surpassing beauty. By this voice, he reveals the deepest secrets of our hearts. No voice anywhere anytime can reach as deep or lift as high or carry as far as the voice of God that we hear in the Bible.”

You don’t need more than Jesus. You don’t need more than His word.

Fighting Like a Gentleman (1 Timothy 6:11–14)

But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. —1 Timothy 6:11–12 (ESV)

Timothy is told to flee and pursue. These two always go together, they must. If you don’t do both, you don’t do either. If you only flee sin, and don’t pursue Christ, then you’re only fleeing from one sin to another. If you only “pursue” Christ, but don’t leave your sin, you’ll find a judge instead of a Savior. These are inseparable twins. They often go by different names in Scripture. In Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3 they go by “put off” and “put on,” as well as “old man” and “new man.” Romans 6 speaks of us dying to sin and being raised in Christ. Jesus tells us to deny ourselves and follow him. Most familiar to us is the language of repentance and faith.

Timothy is to flee the things of the false teachers and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness; which basically means that Timothy is to flee sin and pursue Christ. The righteousness Timothy is to pursue is a righteousness before God and for God. Godliness, by definition, means devotion or piety towards God. The faith Timothy is to pursue, is faith in God. Love may mean love toward man (I don’t think that’s Paul’s intent), but if so, it must mean love toward man as an expression of love toward God. Steadfastness is faithfulness to God and His Word. And then there is gentleness. Gentleness seems like that odd cousin at the family reunion. Where did he come from? But he’s actually the one who brings everything back into contextual focus.

Gentleness is the cousin that relates the family of v. 11 to the family of v. 12. From gentleness we go into fighting. How does gentleness relate to fighting? Perfectly. Biblically. Gentleness is coupled with fighting so that the fighting is godly and righteous. Fighting is coupled with gentleness so that the gentleness isn’t compromising, and thus ungodly and unrighteous. There is a time to call wolves wolves, but there is also a time to plead with them. 1 Timothy 6:11–14 has a twin in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. The resemblance is enlightening.

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will [emphasis mine]. —2 Timothy 2:22–26 (ESV)

Wisely Spurgeon taught his Timothys,

Try to avoid debating with people. State your opinion and let them state theirs. If you see that a stick is crooked, and you want people to see how crooked it is, lay a straight rod down beside it; that will be quite enough. But if you are drawn into controversy, use very hard arguments and very soft words. Frequently you cannot convince a man by tugging at his reason, but you can persuade him by winning his affections.

Jesus called the Pharisees serpents, but at times he also pleaded with them both as a group and as individuals. Wisdom is called for. Here are two helpful principles. First, determine if the heart is hardening or softening. Lets your words match the heart. Second, love should always be the chief motive. If sheep are involved, love demands we yell, “Wolf!” Otherwise, be gentle, but firm; fighting for the faith. The faith that declares Jesus saves sinners.

Demon Duped about Demon Duping (1 Timothy 4:1–5)

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons…

Both the original audience (especially Jewish Christians), and we, can be numbskulls  concerning the threat of false teaching because we misunderstand the phrase “latter times,” but we are muttonheaded for different reasons. To see why, we must be clear as to when the “latter times” are. The Biblical answer may surprise you. Hebrews 1:1–2 says that God spoke in the past in various ways, but “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” If you think that “last days,” there is nothing more that a references to recently transpired events, you may find it harder to weasel your way out of 1 Corinthians 10:11 when Paul says that what was recorded concerning Israel was for our instruction “on whom the end of the ages has come.” Not to be outdone by Paul, John says it is the last hour (1 John 2:18).

The last days were inaugurated in the advent of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ incarnation is the presence of the future, the kingdom come. The language of the “last days,” in the epistles corresponds to the way the gospel writers speak of the kingdom. Sometimes the kingdom is future, sometimes it is present. The kingdom is here now but not yet. The kingdom is God’s redemptive rule and reign come in His Son. Redemption is here now, but not fully here yet. What would have shocked the Jewish Christian is that the kingdom and last days could be here and that there would be false teachers. They expected the kingdom to come all at once and mop everything up.

We have the opposite problem. We’re not bothered by the idea of false teachers at the end of the age. That is precisely when we expect them. We’re dull because we don’t think we’re in the last days. We are. What can we expect? Because Jesus is King, because He is risen, because He has ascended, because He is at the right hand of the Father, because He, with the Father, has sent His Spirit to empower and sanctify His church, because all enemies are being put under His feet, we can expect light to conquer darkness, but, because His redemption isn’t fully here yet, in these last days, we can expect darkness to be violently opposed to the light. Don’t be demon duped that this isn’t the time of demon duping.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. —1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)

 

Paul Ain’t Carol Coleman or What is an Apostle? (1 Timothy 1:1-2)

You don’t have to get far into 1 Timothy in order to be able to preach a sermon. The first word will do, “Paul.” And I don’t mean a sermon that merely biographical. “This is Paul. Wow! Paul! Be like Paul!” I don’t have in mind the sermon that is repeated with every “hero” of the Bible that amounts to little more than a “baptized” morality; one of those “baptisms” where you say the person only got wet. No, I don’t mean a biographical, but a theological sermon. You can preach an expository sermon, faithful to the text, and only preach this first word, insofar as you are understanding how that word relates to the rest of the letter.

If this letter began “Larry,” it might be a great letter, doctrinally sound, and helpful in many ways, but one thing it certainly would not be is in the Bible. It is because of who Paul is that this letter is where it is, namely, in the Bible.

While I was at “Together for the Gospel” a pastor friend of mine happened upon a card, of a local, certainly not an attendee of the conference, with a picture of a woman who had taken the title, “Apostle Carol Coleman, End Time Prophetess, General in God’s Army.” We wondered what one has to do to carry the title “General in God’s Army.” But we do not have to wonder what Biblical title she should rightfully be given—“False Teacher.”

Apostleship is hand delivered by the nail-scarred hands of the resurrected Christ. Paul says that Jesus appeared to him last of all (1 Corinthians 15:8–9). When Jesus appeared to Paul He told him, “I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you (Acts 26:16).” And apostle is a sent messenger. Jesus appears to Paul not only to send, but to give Paul a message. The authority and the message were received simultaneously, for Jesus was the source, and subject of Paul’s apostleship. Paul says one who aspires to the task of an overseer desires a noble task (1 Timothy 3:1). He says nothing like this concerning apostleship, not because it isn’t a noble task, but because one may not aspire to it. The number is closed. 

In nine of Paul’s thirteen letters he mentions his apostleship in the greeting. In three of Paul’s letters (1 Corinthians, Galatians, and 1 Timothy) his apostleship receives special emphasis in the opening chapters. In the very greeting of two of those three (Galatians and 1 Timothy) the mention of Paul’s apostleship comes with a punch. Normally Paul would say something like, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” but here we are told that Paul is an apostle “by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.” He is commanded by the One he commends. Paul received his apostleship from the One who is his message, “God our Savior, Christ Jesus our Hope.” There are no other apostles. All teaching is to be compared with that of the apostles, and no teaching  is to be esteemed above it. If you want the truth about Jesus, go to His apostles.

So when you see “Paul,” at the beginning of his letters, think that no small word. Paul’s name at the beginning of the letters we have in the New Testament means, “God’s Word.” Oh, that we would realize what we have in the 1 Timothy, and in all the Scriptures; words from the King to us through His authorized messengers.