2 Peter 016 – God’s Limitless Grace

2 Peter 016 – God’s Limitless Grace
2 Peter 3:15b-16a • Dr. Andy Woods • May 6, 2020 • 2 Peter


2 Peter #16
God’s Limitless Grace
2 Peter 3:15b-16a
May 6, 2020
Dr. Andy Woods

Opening Prayer

“Father, we’re grateful for Your Word, grateful for Your truth, grateful for the fact that You preserved Your Word for us—really for 2000 years. So many people today are looking for a word from the Lord. And yet, all we have to do is open Your truth, read it, and apply it. And obviously that can’t be done without the Holy Spirit’s enabling and illumination; so, we do ask for that wonderful ministry of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised in the Upper Room. That the Spirit would come and guidance us into all truth.

And we’re really living in a time period when we need truth. So, I ask, even in these final verses of 2 Peter, that You would take these words that we study tonight and be with our technology and everybody listening that there might be food for the soul as we teach tonight. And we’ll give You full glory for that work. We ask this in Jesus’ name.” And God’s people said? “Amen.”

Welcome to Wednesday evening live stream here at Sugar Land Bible Church. When we started our spring quarter back in January, we decided to go all the way through the Book of 2 Peter. I am thinking that we can actually finish the Book of 2 Peter this evening. This is our 16th lesson on the Book of 2 Peter. We’re at the very end of the book.

Notice, if you will, 2 Peter 3:15. I decided to entitle this particular message, “God’s Limitless Grace,” as we’re going to see this evening that there are no limits on the grace of God. Many people feel that they are unreachable or that they’ve somehow gone too far for the grace of God to touch them or to use them. We’re going to see that is not the case through a man named Saul of Tarsus to whom Peter calls our attention, as he tells us at the very end of his book to “consider of the grace of God.”

Just a reminder of where we’ve been and what we’ve studied. We’ve seen, going back to the very beginning of these lessons, that the Book of 2 Peter was written by the Apostle Peter at the very end of his life. And he writes a book from Babylon to a Hebrew Christian audience in the Asia Minor north-central Turkey area, warning them about coming false teaching.

The false teaching had not hit yet when Peter wrote these words, but he’s warning them that it’s on the horizon. Here is our outline that we’ve been using as we’ve tried to work our way through this three chapter book. Each chapter is its own part in the outline.

Chapter 1 is basically a call to maturity. In other words, it’s that chapter that tells us to grow up. It tells us: here are our resources for growth; here is what spiritual growth looks like. And the reason this is included in a book warning about false teaching is a maturing Christian (a growing Christian) is difficult to deceive. A baby Christian (or an infant Christian who lacks discernment) can be picked off very easily by false teachers—but not the growing Christian.

Then we moved into chapter 2, which is a tremendous generic description of false teachers. As I’m thinking through the Bible, there probably isn’t a better chapter found anywhere in the Bible on the subject of false teachers: what they’re like, what their motives are, how they operate, what’s going to happen to them, why not to be dismayed about their rise, etc. You’ll find it all there in chapter 2, which we went through very carefully. You can take Peter’s description of false teachers, and you can apply it, really, to false teachers in any generation.

Then, from there, we moved to chapter 3, where Peter focused on the doctrine of the false teachers. Moving away from what false teachers are like generically to: here’s what they’re going to teach. And we found there an eerie description of what is called uniformitarianism, the idea that these false teachers will teach, “You can evaluate the past and the future by what you can see in the present.”

In the process, what these false teachers are going to do is they are going to say, “Jesus is not coming back.” In fact, they are going to put under mockery or derision anybody who holds to a belief in the bodily return of Jesus. Of course, they are going to do that because they’re living in their own lusts and they don’t want to think about the Second Coming because the Second Coming communicates accountability.

They’re going to come up with this doctrine that’s crazy when you think about it, because it goes outside of your five senses. But you’re going to try to come up with an explanation of how things came into existence and how things will end. And if you won’t trust God’s Word in those areas, then the only thing you’re stuck with is what you can see in the present. So you just pretend a slow, gradual process that you can see in the present has always been and will always be.

“There was no miraculous beginning to this world,” the false teachers will say, “and there’s going to be no miraculous ending to it either.” And that becomes the basis by which they’re going to criticize the doctrine of the Second Advent.

Peter, in verses 5-10, has given us a rebuttal to that philosophy that’s coming. He’s reasoned from history (verses 5-7), Scripture (verse 8), God’s character (verse 9), divine promise (verse 10). What you see there is a tremendous rebuttal or refutation of this doctrine of uniformitarianism.

We’ve pointed out that that’s a very significant section of Scripture for us to study because uniformitarianism is the key belief in evolutionary thought. In other words, evolution can’t exist without uniformitarianism. At some point in our lives, all of us get hit with this philosophy, living in the 20th and the 21st-century. And if you’ve already not succumbed to it, I can guarantee you this much: your children are being hit with it, or your grandchildren are being hit with it. So we need very much the apostle’s response there in verses 5-10.

Then Peter, like a good preacher, moves from there into application which begins in verse 11 and goes all the way through verse 15. In other words, not dismissing the doctrine of the Second Coming, but holding to it. What does that produce in the life of the child of God? Holiness (verse 11 and 14), evangelism (verse 12), hope (verse 13).

And how we need hope today! Because today, with self-quarantine and social distancing and self-isolation, the emotional well-being of people has basically deteriorated. And if you think that what’s happening now has always been and will always be, you lose hope. So Peter focuses on hope, verse 13.

Then he reminds us about being patient (verse 15). What you have now, as you get to the second part of verse 15 through the end of the chapter, are basically three concluding exhortations. And that’s how Peter ends the book. Of course, when you’re at the end of the book it’s so tempting to just rush over what’s said. “It’s not important,” we think, “because it’s just a conclusion.” But we have to understand that our view of divine inspiration is that God put every word there for our benefit.

Jesus said, in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Including concluding comments at the end of the book! So let’s see if we can study these and pay attention to what the Apostle Peter says.

We’ve got three exhortations: one in verse 15; the second one in verses 16 and 17; and the third one in verse 18. And his first concluding exhortation to us, found there in verse 15, is to regard (or remember) the grace of God. Take a look at what he says there in verse 15, “… and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you…”

What he says is, “Remember the patience of God; remember the forbearance of God; remember the long-suffering of God.” And I think he’s dialing back to that concept that he developed a little earlier in that chapter, back in verse nine. Remember what he said there, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

One of the reasons that we don’t see the judgment of God today, and the reason why the uniformitarians are wrong in assuming that what is happening today will always be, is that they don’t understand that there is an intentional delay in the judgment of God. And that delay, of course, is given so as many people as possible can trust in Christ for salvation. It brings to God no delight to see the wicked perish.

You know, it’s interesting that when somebody wicked dies, as you look on social media at all of the Christian comments, they are almost happy or jubilant that such a wicked person died—maybe some public figure who spent their whole life maligning Christianity. And the fact of the matter is, God is far more patient than most Christians are. Christians might rejoice in that, but God takes no pleasure in it. You can see that—actually twice—in Ezekiel 18, and this is what Peter is speaking of here.

So Peter just makes this point at the end of his book. He says, “regard (or remember) the patience of God.” Now, you might say to yourself, “This is interesting. Do we have any examples?” Well, he’s given us an example right there in the midst of verse 15 because he starts talking about, “…just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you…”

Now, who is this guy, Paul? And why would Peter bring up Paul at the very end of his letter? Well, the fact of the matter is, the audience that Peter is addressing here knew exactly who Paul was. They didn’t know him as Paul, but they certainly knew him as Saul. Saul is the one who drove the Hebrew Christians out of Jerusalem into the surrounding areas. And some made it up as far north as north-central Turkey.

So Paul, who once was Saul, is used as exhibit A as an example of God’s forbearance and long-suffering. And it’s hard to put this together unless you have the Book of Acts helping you. But you’ll member that at the very beginning of this study we said where that audience was located. When you look at the geographical names that are used in the Book of 1 Peter (Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, and Bithynia), it’s an area there in north-central Turkey. We said that the audience is Hebrew Christian.

So the question is, “How did they get up into that region?” The most likely theory is that they were scattered up there through the persecution that was launched against the church. Remember, the church is all Jewish at this point. You don’t even have a Gentile convert in the church until Cornelius and his household is converted; Acts 10 and 11 describe that.

But before that conversion, they are all Jewish. Saul was there when he heard the testimony of a man named Stephen, one of the first deacons in the early church in Jerusalem. People say, “Yeah! Your sermon really knocked it out of the park today.” Well, I think any sermon we give today is small potatoes compared to the sermon Stephen gave in Acts 7. Tremendous sermon!

Stephen shows, historically, right up to the present, that the nation of Israel is guilty. They are guilty of everything. They are guilty of rejecting the prophets, rejecting Moses, rejecting Joseph, right down a marvelous historical list. This particular speech that Stephen gave spans over 50 verses, and he didn’t give it to a friendly audience! You know, he had no “amen corner” when he gave that speech. He gave it in the presence of unbelieving Jews—the very leadership that had rejected Jesus Christ a short time earlier.

One of the men who heard that speech was a man named Saul, and it enraged Saul. First of all, you know what happened to Stephen. He was martyred right there on the spot; he was stoned to death. Acts 8:1, “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”

So this is what this man Paul was like before he was converted on the Damascus Road (Acts 9). This is how the audience remembered Paul, whose name was once Saul. Acts 8:3-4 says, “But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”

Then, when you go to Acts 11:19, we have more of a description of that scattering process. “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch [that’s a little further north], speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.”

And from what we can tell—what we can piece together—they kept moving north until eventually this persecuted, scattered audience made it all the way up into north-central Turkey. And this is the audience that Peter is addressing from Babylon. So, when he says, “regard the patience of God,” he’s bringing to their memory one of their worst enemies that they’ve ever had, a man responsible for murdering one of their own—at least—and most likely many others along the way, a man named Stephen.

And it’s interesting that God did not just take Saul and cast him into hell! I mean, you would think God would do that, given how Saul mistreated God’s people. Do you remember what the Lord said to Saul on the Damascus Road? “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’” In other words, “When you attack My people, you’re attacking My body—you’re attacking Me.”

And through limitless grace Saul was shown the gospel, he believed the gospel, and he got saved. So, when Peter says, “regard the grace of God,” he doesn’t just give him a sermon point. What he says is, “I want you to remember your worst enemy that you’ve ever had. And I want you to remember how God showed grace even to him!” And that’s why when I was looking for a title to this, the only I could think of is “The Limitless Grace of God.”

Saul, when he got converted and became Paul, never forgot God’s grace. He references it multiple times in his letters. He says, for example, in 1 Corinthians 15:9, “For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” In Ephesians 3:8 he says, “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ…”

In Philippians 3:6 he says, “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church…” which is a description of what he once was. In 1 Timothy 1:12-15, Paul writes to young Timothy and says, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.”

I think what really blew Paul’s mind after his conversion and name change is not just that he got saved. I mean, that would be enough! But then God, as Paul says here, “put him into service.” Can you imagine that? Can you imagine going from being the greatest persecutor of Christianity at that time to being shown so much grace that you not only get saved, but you become its greatest promoter? And Peter’s audience knew about Saul. They also knew about Paul, because Paul was blessing them in the Church Age through his various letters, as we’ll talk about in just a minute.

You listen to people talk, or you get an email from them, and they just act like, “God can never use me. Look at what I’ve done in the past! Look at all the mistakes I’ve made! Yada, yada, yada…” And my reaction is, “My goodness—have we never read the Bible?!” I mean, if God can save and use Saul, He can save and use any of us.

I don’t think people go so far in their sin that they disqualify themselves from being used by God. Certainly not from being saved! They don’t disqualify themselves from that! And once God saves them, He actually wants to use them. And it’s very important to understand this. Maybe from the human viewpoint it’s different. But we’re not dealing with the human viewpoint here; were dealing with the divine viewpoint. From the divine viewpoint, there is absolutely nobody that is beyond—or outside the reach of—the grace of God.

Grace, which Paul spoke of probably more than any other apostle, is speaking of unmerited favor. It’s so easy to just write people off and say, “Well, you know such and such a person? Look at how they act. They’ll never get saved!” You may have a coworker or someone in your family who is agitating you all of the time about your faith, and you just write them off. You say, “They’ll never get saved!” Let me let you in on a little secret. The fact that they keep agitating you means that they are already under the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

Saul, when he heard Stephen, was agitated to the point where he was complicit in the murder, execution, and martyrdom—the assassination—of Stephen! And yet, it was just a chapter or so later that he would get saved. So people getting mad at you and losing their temper is actually a pretty good sign that they could be—and most likely are—under the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

I’m reminded of what Jesus said to the thief on the cross. Remember that Jesus was executed between the two criminals. By the way, you didn’t get nailed to a cross in the Greco-Roman time period unless you had done something really bad. We’re not told what those thieves had done. We just know that one of them was going to his grave mocking Jesus, and the other thief (the penitent thief) said, “‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’” (Luke 23:42)

So here’s a guy who had obviously committed some kind of a capital crime, and he wasn’t following the pattern of the other thief who was mocking Christ. He just reached out for the grace of God at the end of his life. And what did Jesus say to him? “Well, I don’t know! We’ll see how it goes for you in the end. We’re going to put your good works and bad works on a scale to see if the good outweighs the bad. And maybe you’ll make it…” The grace of God knows of no such doctrine.

Jesus simply said to him, “‘Truly I say to you, today…’” Not next month, next year, a thousand years later… “‘…today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’” The limitless grace of God! It’s absolutely limitless!

And Peter, as he’s making this point concerning Paul, who is exhibit A in the lives of these scattered Hebrew Christians concerning God’s grace, goes a step further and says, not only did God save Saul and he became Paul, but He actually used Paul to author divine Scripture (verse 15).

How would you handle that? I mean, you’re the most undeserving person to get saved. Not only does God save you, not only does God make you an apostle, but then He says, “Oh, by the way, I want you to write roughly a third of the New Testament epistles—even though you’ve got blood on your hands from the martyrdom that you caused earlier. Because the blood that’s on your hands from the execution of Stephen has been washed by the blood of Jesus Christ.”

People read this and they say, “You mean a guy can do all that and gain God’s favor?” Yes, he can—if you understand grace. Grace, by definition, is favor unmerited. Now, if it’s merited favor, then it’s not grace. And Saul doesn’t qualify. The thief on the cross does not qualify. I don’t qualify. You don’t qualify. But when we understand that we are under grace—unmerited favor—we can see how all of these things become possible.

He says there in verse 15, “and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you…” So, Peter is saying that Paul wrote under divine inspiration. Actually, verse 15 becomes a very important lesson for us because it tells us how certain books were included in the New Testament.

There were an awful lot of spurious and false writings throughout the ages where the author has wanted their book considered divine Scripture, and yet the church took a position on what is called canonicity. Canonicity is, “How do we determine what books of the Bible go into the Bible and which ones should be left out of the Bible?”

And the church applied a basic test. The test was this: the book had to have been written by one of the original 12 apostles OR by someone who had some kind of connection or relationship to one of the 12 original apostles who walked with the Lord. There are four times in the New Testament where all 12 apostles are mentioned by name. You can find those lists in Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, and Acts 1:13-14. If you study all four areas, you’ll see the names of the 12 apostles are all listed in each of those sections.

So, if your book was not written by one of those guys—or someone who knew one of those guys—then your book was not included. You say, “What about Mark? Mark wasn’t one of the original 12.” That’s true, but Mark knew Peter; in 1 Peter 5:13 you’ll see Mark’s name.

You say, “Wait a minute. What about Paul? How did Paul get his writings in there? Paul was not one of the original 12.” And that’s true; he wasn’t. He was the least and the last of the apostles. He calls himself “an apostle untimely born.” But Peter, one of the 12, right here in verse 15, authenticates Paul’s writings because he says, “Paul wrote to you under divine inspiration.”

You say, “What about Luke? Luke wasn’t one of the original 12.” And that’s true. But according to 2 Timothy 4:11, Luke knew Paul. So, Peter knew Paul. Paul knew Luke. So Luke’s writings (he wrote Luke and Acts) come into the biblical canon.

Then you say, “What about James and John? They were not of the original 12.” And that’s true; they weren’t. But they were what we call the half-brothers of Jesus (Matthew 13:55). They shared the same mother (Mary), not the same biological father, obviously. Joseph was their father. Jesus had no biological father because of the miracle of the virgin conception and the miracle of the virgin birth. But they were what we call the half-brothers of Jesus Christ: James and Jude (Matthew 13:55). So the church accepted their writings as part of the canon.

Go to your New Testament list, and every other writer that I haven’t mentioned in the last couple of moments was one of the original 12. So this becomes a very important test for determining what books are included in the biblical canon of the New Testament and which ones are excluded. And the test was very simple: you had to be one of the original 12. And if you weren’t one of the original 12, you had to have been in some kind of connection or relationship with one of the original 12 so one of the original 12 could authenticate your work as being divinely inspired and wrought in God.

I say, “the original 12.” The exception, of course, would be Judas, who committed suicide. He was replaced later on by a man named Matthias in Acts chapter 1. So, if you weren’t one of the original 11 plus Matthias, then there’s no way you could write a book and claim that it’s part of the divine canon. And if you were not one of the original 12, you had to have your work authenticated by those 12 men.

That becomes a very important lesson for us, because there are a lot of people today who feel very inspired in the things they say. In fact, a lot of people think that they’re receiving direct revelations from God Himself. They get caught up into heaven, they see dreams, and they come back down and write books about it. And they basically act as if their personal revelation from God should somehow be accepted into the Bible. “Because that’s as much a revelation from God as is the 27 New Testament books that we have, right?” Wrong! Because there was a test.

The test I’m describing here is a test called apostolicity; it had been written by one of the original 12, or by someone who knew one of the original 12, so the original 12 could authenticate your work. So, since the apostles have been dead for 2000 years, we don’t have, over the course of the Church Age, new books constantly being added to the biblical canon on the basis of some private revelation that someone allegedly had.

I also find verse 15 extremely interesting because it is difficult to find New Testament books authenticating other New Testament books. That’s hard to find. Now, it’s easy to find New Testament books authenticating Old Testament books. The canon of Scripture for the Old Testament had been closed for at least four centuries, so it’s easy to find the New Testament saying, “David in the Psalms wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, etc.”

It’s more difficult to find New Testament books corroborating the New Testament itself which was then coming into existence. And this chapter is very interesting because you have two such examples. You might remember that we made a reference to this back in chapter 3 verse 2.

Notice what the Apostle Peter says in 2 Peter 3:2, “that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.” An obvious reference to the 27 New Testament books created by the apostles—or someone who knew the apostles.

So Peter, in 2 Peter 3:2, puts the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles on the same level. Both sections—Old Testament and New Testament—he is saying, were created under divine inspiration.

When you look at the verse we are studying this evening, you find the same phenomenon happening where Peter is now authenticating the writings of Paul. Paul wrote 13 New Testament books including Galatians, the two Thessalonian books, the two Corinthian books, Romans, the four prison epistles (Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, Philippians), the two books that he wrote in between imprisonments (1 Timothy and Titus), and then his final book in his second Roman imprisonment—his last will and testament—a book called 2 Timothy.

Peter says, “Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you…” When Peter, one of the original 12, said that, he is authenticating everything Paul said in those 13 letters. So you have, in chapter 3, two examples where the New Testament is authenticating not the Old Testament but the New Testament itself that is coming into existence.

And the only other place I know of in the entire New Testament that does this—where the New Testament authenticates the New Testament itself—is in 1 Timothy 5:18, one of the last letters Paul wrote. Paul says this to Timothy, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’”

Now, this may sound biased on my part, but this is your biblical exhortation for “pay the preacher.” You know, if you really want to have a church where people are growing in the faith, you really need to have somebody there who is devoted full time to studying and proclaiming the Word of God! And it’s very difficult to do that when you’re trying to make a living somewhere else.

And if you are trying to make a living somewhere else, praise the Lord. There are a lot of pastors out there who are doing that very thing, and I look at them as really the true heroes of Christianity. Others of us are fortunate. We’re provided for and, consequently, we can devote ourselves to what God has called us to do—which is to study and to teach. And if you don’t have someone in a church doing that—and their interests are divided—then the quality of teaching that you receive is not as high as it could be.

The quality of teaching that you’re receiving is not as high as it could be because the person is divided between their career and their family, and there’s really no time—except maybe to read someone else’s study notes on the drive to the church. (I know a lot of pastors who are in that position, and I don’t put them down at all! I did that myself for years and years and years.) But you’re getting, really, a quality of teaching that is not quite what you need to reach full stature in Christ.

So Paul, when he writes to Timothy in a pastoral letter, is making that point. As he makes that point, he quotes two verses of Scripture. One of them is 1 Timothy 5:18, “‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.’” That’s Deuteronomy 25:4, going all the way back to the time of Moses.

Then Paul, as he is making this point to Timothy—in teaching Timothy how to establish a church, set up a church, and order a church, as he does in the 1 Timothy letter—quotes a second verse. He says, “‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’” He’s not quoting the Old Testament anymore. He’s quoting the Gospel of Luke, a New Testament book which had just come into existence not long earlier, and he is quoting Luke 10:7.

Notice what Paul does in 1 Timothy 5:18. He takes the writings of Moses, he takes the writings of Luke, and he puts them on the same level; he says, “For the Scripture says…” In other words, the writings of Moses are divine Scripture—everybody knew that. The Old Testament canon had been closed for four centuries. Then he says, “The Gospel of Luke is Scripture as well.” And in so doing, Paul just put the writings of Luke on the same level in terms of divine inspiration as the writings of Moses.

Other than that example in 1 Timothy 5:18, I don’t know of anywhere else in the New Testament that does this except right here in 2 Peter—where it does it not once, but twice. It does it in verse 2, and Peter does the exact same thing in verse 15 when he talks about the writings of Paul (13 letters total). He says, “Paul wrote those letters with the divine wisdom given to him.”

You know, it’s so tempting to look at verse 15 and just rush over it at the end of a book. But if you do that, you miss out on the whole message of grace. Peter is actually using an example that they would know about the patience of God and the grace of God. Their former persecutor is now a believer…and an apostle…and writing 13 New Testament books.

You also miss out on the test that the church used for canonicity. And you miss out on one of the three examples in the entire New Testament where a New Testament writer says the New Testament books—as far as divine inspiration is concerned—are on the same level as Old Testament books. So, it’s an amazing truth that is being taught here, and you see the whole thing in verse 15, where Peter simply says at the end of this book, “regard the grace of God.”

Then he says something else there in verses 16 and 17. This would be his second exhortation. He says, “Beware of the false teachers.” Notice, if you will, 2 Peter 3:16, “as also in all his letters [continuing on with the letters that Paul had written], speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand [in other words, he’s speaking to them of false teachers before they showed up], be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.”

Peter’s first exhortation is, “Consider the grace of God.” His second exhortation is, “Beware of false teachers.” As Peter is giving his second exhortation, he makes this point here that Paul’s writings (which he just finished authenticating in the prior verse) have given an opportunity for false teachers. Why is that? Because there are some things that Paul says that are difficult to comprehend.

And what happens is—the false teachers are going to come, they’re going to take those harder things in the Bible to understand, and they will exploit them and use them as a launching pad for teaching all sorts of false and perverse things. And this is exactly what the kingdom of the cults does. They find something that is sort of a gray area, something that’s debated, something that really isn’t clear, and they develop a whole doctrine out of it.

And you need to be very careful about developing doctrines out of a single verse of the Bible. Many people do that. Particularly if you’re developing that doctrine out of a verse of the Bible that perhaps is harder to understand than other parts of the Bible. If you’re going to develop a doctrine, you need to see that doctrine through the lens of multiple Scriptures. One verse, quite frankly, is not going to get it done.

You know the doctrine of the Trinity. You can’t defend that from one verse! There are multiple verses that come into play. The doctrine of the virgin birth. The deity of Christ. You know, all of those things that we believe come from a plethora of verses. In other words, it’s not just taught here; it’s taught here, it’s taught there, it’s taught there, etc.

But the kingdom of the cults will not recognize that principle. There are intentionally looking for ambiguous parts of the Bible through which to teach perversity and sweep people into confusion. We already know that because of what Peter said back in chapter 2. Remember what he said back in chapter 2, verse 14, as he is describing false teachers? “…having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls…”

That’s whom false teachers prey on. They prey on the unstable. And an immature, unstable Christian really doesn’t know what to do with some of these parts of the Bible that are not quite as clear as others, so they become a sitting duck for a false teacher who wants to worm their way in and use some obscure part of the Bible to teach a false doctrine. So, that’s the whole point of this exhortation.

Yes, Paul wrote under divine inspiration. But Peter says, “There are some things that are hard to understand.” That doesn’t make them less inspired; they are still in the Bible. But just be careful about those harder things because they become a launching pad for false teachers.

Part of me is glad that Peter says this about Paul’s writings because, to be frank with you, I’ve been at this for a long time. I read some of the things that Paul says, and I think, “Say what?” Particularly things like, “You’re going to judge the angels one day.” Well, when are we going to judge the angels? And why would an angel need to be judged? And there are an awful lot of things that Paul says that are difficult for me to understand exactly—the “when, where, why, how” that he’s talking about.

Now, when he maps out salvation and grace? No problem with that! That’s very easy to understand. I think God designed that to be easy to understand; it’s so simple a child can understand it because God wants people to be in heaven with Him.

But there are other things that Paul says that really put a question mark in my mind, and I’m planning on having some conversations with Paul one day in heaven. “Hey, Paul! What did you mean by this over here? Or that?” Maybe by then the effects of sin will be removed; my intellect will be liberated to the way God intended it, and maybe I won’t have to have the conversation at all. I don’t know!

But Peter says, “There are some things that Paul says that are hard to understand.” Now why would Peter say that about Paul? Have you ever asked yourself that? I think the answer is in the Galatians 2:7-8, where we learn that Peter is the apostle to the Jews and Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles. Peter understood the Jewish things. He had a difficult time understanding the revelation of Gentile inclusion into the plan and program of God.

And that’s why we have Paul’s 13 writings concerning the church (which does consist of many Jews, but primarily Gentiles as well). And Paul talked about the mystery of the church—this new man of Jew and Gentile together into one new spiritual man called the church (where Jew and Gentile are given co-heirship as fellow believers in Jesus Christ in this one new man). That’s Paul’s assignment. In Ephesians 3:3-6 Paul talks about it. It’s something new; it’s called a mystery.

Paul calls it a mystery there in Ephesians 3:3-6. Paul calls it a mystery there in Ephesians 3:9. And Peter, who was accustomed to Jewish thought, was looking at all of these things and saying, “Say what?” In fact, remember when Peter was to go to Cornelius and proclaim the gospel in Acts 10? Remember that the Lord showed Peter that sheet? And he saw, in Acts 10 and 11 as it is described, animals in the sheet. And then he hears these words, “‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat!’”

And Peter says in Acts 10:14, “‘Not so, Lord!’” which is an oxymoron when you think about it. If He is your Lord, you don’t tell Him, “No,” right? Those are two ideas that contradict each other like white blacktop, jumbo shrimp, Microsoft Works, government intelligence, Postal Service, etc. Of course, I’m being a little facetious.

“And a voice came to him, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘Not so, Lord!’” Because that was like a Gentile thing—and Peter had a difficult time with that. So here’s Paul in his 13 letters developing all of these concepts related to Gentile inclusion in the church, how Jews and Gentiles have equal standing within the church. They are both co-heirs in the church; the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile has been eradicated.

Here’s Peter (Galatians 2:7-8, the apostle to the Jews) trying to understand what Paul says. And I think he just throws up his hands and says, “Yes, Paul is an accepted apostle. His writings are accepted. But there are some things in those writings that are very difficult to understand—particularly to me as a Jew understanding all of these Gentile concepts.”

Peter is not rejecting them—as he seems to be doing in Acts 11—but he’s just struggling with the whole idea. So, that may be why Peter, as he is alluding to Paul’s inspired writings, says that some of the things that Paul says are difficult to understand.

Given my time constraints, I think this will be the last major point I can make. I thought we were going to finish 2 Peter tonight; I guess the Lord had other plans. Maybe we won’t even finish it next week, the way things are going. But we will continue 2 Peter next week. There will at least be a 17th lesson on this.

We have today a movement called “postmodernism.” If you have children or grandchildren, even if you have them at evangelical schools, I can guarantee you they are being hit with the doctrine of post modernism. Postmodernism is the idea of uncertainty. You have to be open to everything—and certain of nothing! And the moment you become certain about something, they throw a very nasty word at you: they call you “arrogant” or “prideful.”

Even in evangelical schools. Certainly, it reigns amongst unbelievers, but even in evangelical schools today, postmodernism is essentially ruling the day. Postmodernism itself is a contradiction because what they’re saying is, “You have to be agnostic (doubtful, in other words).

By the way, you know what “agnostic” means, right? It’s the prefix “a” (negation) + “gnostic” (gnosis—knowledge) = “without knowledge.” It’s where we get the word “ignoramus.” So when you have some twentysomethings saying, “I’m agnostic,” say, “Oh. Well, you’re an ignoramus then, because that’s what the word means.” (You probably don’t want to say that to them.)

But the truth of the matter is (in postmodernism) you are supposed to be uncertain about everything except what? Your own uncertainty. Your own uncertainty is certain! So, if you’re certain about your own uncertainty, then what you’ve done is you’ve just exchanged one system of values for another.

So, postmoderns are some of the most inflexible people you’ll ever meet in that sense. They are agnostic about everything except their own agnosticism. They are uncertain about everything except their own uncertainty. It’s like when you’re dealing with someone who says, “There are no absolutes. And I know that absolutely.” Right? “You know that absolutely, right? That there are no absolutes?”

They believe in absolutes just like you do. They’ve just exchanged one form of absolutism for another. All of this masquerades as humility. It really is not even humility—it’s unbelief masquerading as uncertainty.

So anything that you run into in the Bible? In the old days, the liberals would say, “I don’t believe that. Virgin birth? I don’t believe that.” Well, today you can’t do that, or you would be called a liberal. What post moderns say is, “Well, I just don’t think the Bible is clear on that.” Or, “I’m uncertain of your interpretation of that.” Or, “I’m uncertain of my interpretation of that.” So, what’s happening is unbelief is masquerading as uncertainty.

Now here is a quote from Kristen Bell. Kristen Bell is the wife of Rob Bell, who a few years ago just went completely over the edge. A former evangelical preacher and pastor, he wrote a book called Love Wins. What he says in the book is that there is no such thing as hell because love triumphs over judgment. It’s sort of a doctrine of universalism: everybody, whether they are Christians or not, are going to get to heaven and be saved in the end—love wins. It’s sort of recycled universalism.

The last time I saw Rob Bell, he had completely left the evangelical church and was touring with Oprah Winfrey. And if you know anything about Oprah Winfrey, she’s a New Ager—basically endorses New Age books. And going back years and years and years ago, you can see her on YouTube; she denies the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. She got upset because when she was younger in her church in Chicago, the pastor made a statement about the jealousy of God. She just couldn’t handle the fact that God gets jealous, and that was her excuse for rejecting traditional Christianity.

Oprah moved into this mindset where, “All roads lead to God.” You can see her on YouTube rebuking one of her audience members who is boldly standing up and arguing for the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. So, when somebody starts hanging around with Oprah Winfrey in some kind of common spiritual enterprise, you’re obviously dealing with someone who is no longer what you can consider a postmodern evangelical (which is what Rob Bell was). You’re now in the realm of unorthodoxy—no Christianity, in other words.

But this is how Rob Bell started off. He got involved in postmodernity. And this is a quote from his wife, Kristen Bell, back in 2004. And I just share this with you because it illustrates the mindset of post moderns.

See, when you look at a pastor, you can’t just look at the pastor. You’ve got to look at their spouse, because their wife can affect them in a lot of different ways—good or bad. And if you don’t believe me, just study the story of Ahab and Jezebel sometime in the Old Testament in the Book of Kings, and you’ll see it very clearly. And that’s why, when you seek deacons for a church, in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 there’s a standard not just for the deacon but for the deacon’s wife.

This is quoting Christianity today. Kristen Bell says, “I grew up thinking that we’ve figured out the Bible…that we know what it means. Now I have no idea what most of it means.” So that’s postmodernity which eventually led to universalism, Love Wins, and building spiritual alliances with Oprah Winfrey.

The reason I’m bringing up all of this is postmoderns love verse 16! What John 3:16 is to you, 2 Peter 3:16 is to them! Because they think this gives them ground for being open to everything and certain of nothing. In fact, any postmodern that you run into who claims to be an evangelical at some point will weave that verse into the conversation. And all of their books are filled with this verse—and they all quote it over and over again. Verse 16 again says, “as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand…” And they say, “Ah, ha! Peter couldn’t even understand Paul! So if Peter couldn’t understand Paul, how are we supposed to understand Paul?” And that gives them license for their doctrine of uncertainty.

But I want to close by simply reminding us—what does the verse say? As Peter is looking at the writings of Paul, and the nature of the church, and the nature of the Gentiles in the church, does he say, “Everything Paul says is hard to understand”? He does not say that! He says, “some things.” Postmoderns never point out the word “some”; they make it sound like everything Paul said Peter couldn’t understand. That’s not what Peter is saying!

Also, does it say that some of those things are impossible to understand? Is that what it says? It says, “Some things are hard to understand.” In other words, some things Paul says require more effort than others. But Peter never says, “You can never get to truth. You can never get to the bottom line.” He doesn’t use the word “impossible”; he uses the word “difficult” or “hard.”

It’s like studying geometry or algebra when you we’re in high school or college. I mean, I don’t know anybody (unless they have some kind of gifting) where those subjects came naturally. All those subjects take effort and work—they did for me. But as I worked at them, I found that I could, through some perspiration, understand the subject matter. That’s all Peter is saying here relative to Paul. “Some of the things—not everything. Some of the things Paul says are hard to understand—not impossible to understand.”

The next time we’re together, we’re going to pick it up right here in verses 16 and 17, looking at Peter’s second concluding exhortation. Then we’ll move to the third one next time. Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

“Father, we’re grateful for 2 Peter chapter 3, even these closing verses and the things that they teach us. Make us good stewards of these truths as we walk with You this week.

We’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name.” And God’s people said? “Amen.”

God bless you.