When I was a child, I used to watch the show Bewitched. One of the characters on there was Darren’s boss, Larry Tate. Sometimes Darren would come in with an advertisement for a client and after the presentation Larry would say “That is the worst idea I’ve ever heard.” The client, however, would say he really liked it and immediately Larry would change his tune to something like “That’s just what I was thinking, sir”. For Larry, his only concern was getting the client to sign an advertising contract and he would say whatever was necessary to get it. Now, Larry was a harmless comedic character but in church you can and sadly do see people who will sell their integrity to say what some people want to hear. They will compromise on what God’s word teaches or what is right and prudent in order to tickle peoples ears to keep the dollars flowing in. In much the same way, Peter warns the believers to whom he wrote about false teachers and the natural outcome of their greed.
First of all, observe that their greed has caused them to abandon sound, biblical doctrine. At some point, they made a decision in the past to hold to beliefs and practices that contradicted the clear teaching of God’s word. This choice they made now has lasting effects on their lives because they have “forsaken the right (straight, morally correct) way”. There is true doctrine and false doctrine. These men chose to reject true doctrine for reasons that we will see soon. The effect of this choice is for them to have abandoned the way of salvation and righteousness and turned to the way of damnation with eternal consequences for their soul.
Secondly, notice that their greed has corrupted their ability to discern. Peter writes that they have “gone astray”. The verb is in the passive voice in the Greek which means, essentially, that these men were led astray—by their lusts, their greed, and ultimately by Satan. The lure of worldly acclaim and wealth are powerfully attractive. Given the choice between service to the one true God and the abuse and persecution that goes along with that, these men chose the easy way. They decided to say things that people wanted to hear to attract a fawning and well paying crowd. Instead of a life of integrity standing for the truth, they chose the life of a sell out. They chose to follow the money and, in their mind, they may not even realize their error.
God, however, knows their error and, as Peter points out, it’s not one that He hasn’t seen before. Peter compares these men to Ballam who “received a rebuke [from] a mute donkey, speaking with the voice of a man”. We read this story in Number 20 where Ballam was approached by enemies of the children of Israel who wanted him to curse them. Some have questioned what exactly this way of Ballam that the false teachers have followed was. I believe, because Peter mentions the episode with the donkey, we should think carefully through that episode.
Ballam agreed to go, but only speak the words that God gave him concerning Israel as he was instructed by God. However, on the way the next day, his donkey began to behave strangely and injured Ballam. When Ballam began to beat the donkey, the donkey spoke (notice Peter affirms this not as metaphorical but actual speech) and tells Ballam there was an angel of the Lord blocking the way that would have killed him. Since Ballam had been told to go, the angel of the Lord must have been sent because Ballam had purposed in his heart overnight to say what the enemies of Israel wanted him to say rather than what God wanted him to say. He repented and of course we read of the blessing he pronounced on Israel later in Numbers. I believer the point Peter makes here is that these false teachers are motivated in what they say by what the people want to hear.
We see that all the time in churches today. The largest church in America is “pastored” by a man who tells the tens of thousands of people there every Sunday that the Christian life is about living with a positive attitude and that God will only do good things for His children. Christians need only to “name it and claim it” to have health, wealth, and success. Persecution is not part of the equation and repentance is not needed. Other pastors may boldly claim from their pulpits “This church stands on the teaching of the Bible. We will never have a woman in a leadership position over a man” and then turn around and have a woman lead music because they don’t have anyone else handy. They may say with pride how folks used to be in the building but skipping out on teaching ministries in the church by hanging out elsewhere on campus but they put a stop to it. However they may turn a blind eye to it when people with influence do the same thing so as not to upset folks who might in turn leave the church and take their money with them
The fact is, when a pastor is more concerned about money that he is integrity, he can and often times will bend rules and ignore biblical doctrine. This can lead as Peter addresses here someone who commits wholesale treason and abandons the faith, thereby demonstrating they were never truly redeemed in the first place. Just as in Peter’s day, it is imperative that we as true believers hold to solid biblical doctrine and demand that those who teach and preach do the same. While faithfulness to the word of God will bring persecution, it will lead people to a saving knowledge of Christ. The salvation of souls and the glory of God is worth a little persecution in this life, wouldn’t you agree?