People pick churches for the most superficial reasons. The following are all reasons that I have heard, some for why people come to this church and some for why they go to another church: “Our kids like it there because it’s fun.” (The same thing could be said about the circus.) “Our friends go there and there is an atmosphere of acceptance.” (The same could be said of the local bar.) “The music rocks.” (The same could be said of a performance of a hot musical group.) “I get a good feeling when I go there.” (I could say the same thing about my favorite restaurant.)
Of course, children’s programs at church should have an element of fun to them. We shouldn’t bore kids with the truth. And, churches should be friendly. Fellowship is important. I’m not so sure that the music should “rock,” but it should be spiritually uplifting and musically pleasant. I don’t know what to say about the “good feelings” comments. I want you to feel good about church, but for the right reasons. Occasionally, but not often enough, I hear, “I go to that church because they preach the Word of God clearly and without compromise.” That should be the primary factor in deciding which church you will join.
But due to the pervasive postmodern thinking that there is no such thing as absolute truth, especially in the spiritual realm, sound doctrine has taken a back seat to many other things. Also, there is a strong cultural emphasis on inclusiveness and accepting everyone, no matter what the person thinks or believes. Our city even has a sign as you drive into town, “We’re building an inclusive community.” But doctrine often is divisive, not inclusive. Holding to sound doctrine seems opposed to love and acceptance. So even many popular pastors chant the mantra, “They will know we are Christians by our love, not by our doctrine.”
But the apostles were very concerned that the churches be steadfast in holding to sound doctrine. In his final three letters (1 & 2 Timothy & Titus), the apostle Paul repeatedly emphasizes the need for Timothy to hold to and preach sound doctrine. John, the apostle of love, emphasizes sound doctrine in his three epistles. Jude (v. 3) appeals to his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
And Peter will spend all of chapter 2 and a good part of chapter 3 warning about false teachers. He ends this short letter exhorting his readers (2 Pet. 3:17), “be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.” “Steadfastness” is related (in Greek) to the word in verse 12 of our text, “established in the truth.” Peter is emphasizing the need for believers to be firmly grounded in the essential truths of the gospel, so that we don’t fall prey to false teachers.
There are three basic purposes for verses 12-15 (I am indebted here to Peter Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude [Eerdmans], p. 191): (1) Peter underscores the importance of the opening verses (1-11), which are a summary of the gospel and the Christian life. (2) Our text sets up the whole letter as Peter’s final testament, thus emphasizing its authority and importance. A great man’s dying words should be listened to carefully. (3) These verses form a bridge into the rest of the letter. Peter acknowledges that he is not going to say anything new, which his readers don’t already know. This serves as an antidote to the false teachers, who draw in the unsuspecting with their novel ideas. Peter wants his readers to be satisfied with the essential truths of the gospel and to come back to these truths again and again, even after he is gone.
We can sum up Peter’s message:
No matter where you’re at in the Lord, you need sound teachers to remind you often of the basic truths of the faith so that you stay on course.
Peter models for us four characteristics of sound teachers. While these are not comprehensive, they should help if you’re looking for a solid church or giving advice to others who are.
In verse 12, Peter says, “I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them….” In verse 13, he says, “I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder.” In verse 15, he repeats, “And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.”
Peter reminds me of my college physics professor. Every class he would repeat his teaching method. He would say, “Class, I’m going to tell you what I am going to tell you. Then I’ll tell you. Then, I’ll tell you what I told you. Then, I’ll review.” He knew that repetition is a key to learning.
Have you ever noticed how often the Bible repeats the truth? Deuteronomy 5 repeats the giving of the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20. First and 2 Chronicles go over much of the same history that you find in 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Several Psalms (or portions of them) are repeated, plus many of the psalms go over the same themes. The Old Testament prophets preach similar messages of God’s judgment on sin, judgment on the wicked nations, and His faithful promises to His people in spite of their sins.
The New Testament begins with three gospels that are very similar in content. Jesus often repeated His messages and parables. He told us to partake of the Lord’s Supper repeatedly in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19). Romans and Galatians deal with similar themes, as do Ephesians and Colossians. Jude and 2 Peter have overlapping messages. Paul told the Philippians (3:1), “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” Then (in 4:4), he repeats, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” He reminded Timothy to stir up the gift which Timothy already knew about (2 Tim. 1:6). (See, also, Rom. 15:15; 1 Cor. 15:1; 2 Tim. 2:14; Titus 3:1; Jude 5.)
If you’re a parent, you’ve done the same thing with your children. You have said, “How many times do I need to tell you?” Answer: At least once more, because your child hasn’t got it yet! Years ago, I saw a Henry Brandt video on child rearing where he asked, “How long does it take to teach Johnnie to make his bed?” (Pause) “Twenty years!” He was humorously emphasizing the reality that a large part of parenting is to remind your child of what he already knows. The fact is, even as adults we often don’t get it at first, or if we do get it, we easily forget it. And so we need frequent reminders of basic spiritual truths that we already know, so that we don’t drift off course.
I’ve already been touching on this, but to remind you (!), although Peter was an apostle and could have focused on some esoteric aspects of the faith, he brings his readers back to the basics. He reminds them of essential truths that they already knew. The false teachers may have been luring people by talking about new, secret truths that sounded very interesting. But sound teachers stick to the basic truths. Peter knows that his readers (v. 12) “have been established in the truth which is present with you.” But that doesn’t keep him from saying it again.
Peter’s statement about being established in the truth shows that there is a body of definable, knowable spiritual truth that is foundational for the Christian life. Without knowing these things, your Christian life will be shaky, at best. Contrary to those in the “emerging church,” who say that doctrine is not important or that we can’t really know spiritual truth for certain, Peter says that there is a body of truth and that such truth is foundational or strengthening (the meaning of the Greek word). It is the same word that Jesus used when He told Peter that after his denials, when he was restored, he should “strengthen” his brothers (Luke 22:32).
“Therefore” and “these things” (v. 12) take us back to verses 1-11, where Peter lays out the essentials of the gospel and the entire Christian life. The gospel involves a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which we receive “by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (1:1). At the instant that we are born again, God gives us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the knowledge of Christ, who calls us by His own glory and excellence (1:3). God gives us His precious promises, which make us partakers of the divine nature, so that we escape the corruption that is in the world by lust (1:4).
Given these all-sufficient resources, we are responsible to add to our faith and grow in seven qualities, which Peter sets forth (1:5-7). Then (1:8-11), Peter motivates us by showing us the results or benefits of growing in these qualities, namely, that we will be useful and fruitful, assured of our salvation, and headed for a glorious eternity in heaven. All believers who have received a basic grounding in the faith know these things. But, we need reminders of them.
Thomas Schreiner (The New American Commentary, 1, 2 Peter, Jude [Broadman], p. 309) says, “Believers know the gospel, and yet they must, in a sense, relearn it every day.” Milton Vincent has a helpful little book, A Gospel Primer [self-published], in which he makes the point that we need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day. Jerry Bridges makes the same point (“Four Essentials for Finishing Well,” in Stand, ed. by John Piper and Justin Taylor [Crossway Books], pp. 22-28). Let your heart be warmed often by the gospel and by other essential truths, such as those that Peter rehearses for us here.
Peter writes (1:13-14), “I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.”
Some say that the Lord must have given Peter a special word that his death was near, and that is possible. But I think Peter probably is referring to the incident after Jesus’ resurrection when He told Peter (John 21:18), “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” John adds (21:19), “Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.”
Now that he was older, Peter knew that his time was short. Nero was intensifying his persecution of believers. Peter sensed that Jesus’ words were about to come true. Tradition (recorded by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3:1, 30) says that Peter was crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy to be crucified right side up, as Jesus was. Peter’s words here teach us three important lessons about life and death:
Twice, Peter uses the word for his body, translated “earthly dwelling.” It’s the Greek word for “tabernacle,” or “tent.” Tents are temporary dwellings, used by nomads or travelers. It points to the shortness of life and the fact that we are only pilgrims, traveling through to our heavenly home. Peter emphasized this theme in his first letter. He begins it (1 Pet. 1:1), “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout” a number of provinces in Asia Minor. He continues the theme (1:17), “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth.” He adds (2:11), “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” Our stay on earth is short. We’re pilgrims and aliens here.
A pilgrim views life differently than a permanent resident does. He is just passing through. If you’re staying in a hotel, you don’t get too attached. You don’t move in your own furniture and put your own pictures on the walls. You’re just there for a short time and you’re gone. For us as believers, heaven is our permanent home. All of us will shortly be laying aside our earthly tent. Paul makes the point (2 Cor. 4:16-18) that since our bodies are decaying, we should be focused, not on the things that are seen, but on the things which are not seen, which are eternal. (See my sermon, “The Pilgrim Life,” on 1 Pet. 2:11-12 [8/23/1992], on the church web site, for more on this theme.)
Peter’s words teach us several things about how we should view death. For about 30 years at this point, Peter had been living with the knowledge that he would die an unpleasant death as an old man. And yet, he is not worried or upset about it! He views it as laying aside his body, a temporary tent, as he would take off old clothes. He wasn’t complaining that as a faithful apostle, he deserved better treatment in how he would die. He was at peace with God’s sovereign plan for his life. He demonstrated this same peace when he was supposed to be executed by Herod the next morning. The delivering angel found him so sound asleep that he had to hit him on the side to wake him up (Acts 12:7)! Peter was subject to the Lord’s will about when and how he died, so he was not anxious about his death.
Also, we learn that death is not cessation of existence, but rather separation of the soul from the body. At death, we lay aside this tent. The real you is not your body, although you dwell in it here on earth. The real you is your soul. To be absent from the body is “to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). (Paul, by the way, uses the same analogy of our bodies being a tent in 2 Cor. 5:1.) When Christ returns, we will receive our new resurrection bodies that will not be subject to aging, disease, or death (1 Cor. 15:20-23, 35-57).
Also, death is a departure or exodus from the slavery of this body of sin to a glorious eternity with the Lord. Peter’s word (1:15), “departure,” is literally, exodus (Heb. 11:22). The only other time it is used of death is on the Mount of Transfiguration (which Peter refers to in verses 16-18), when Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus about His departure (Luke 9:31). We should view death as departing from this earth to be with the Lord in heaven.
Although Peter was probably in his sixties by this time, he wasn’t looking to retire and spend his final days on the golf course or taking videos of the national parks. These verses convey a sense of urgency and effort. He says (1:12), “I will always be ready….” “I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up…” (1:13). “I will also be diligent…” (1:15). “Diligent” is the same word that Peter used in verses 5 & 10. Peter’s awareness of the shortness of life spurred him on to work all the harder. He knew that eternal matters were at stake (1:11), so he was all the more diligent to fulfill his ministry.
His words remind me of the Puritan, Richard Baxter, who said, “I preached, as never sure to preach again, and as a dying Man to dying Men” (“Love Breathing Thanks and Praise,” in Christianity Today [1/13/92], p. 32). Like Peter, Baxter was in earnest because he knew that life is short.
I confess that as I get older, the stress created by the constant demands and deadlines of ministry gets to me at times. The thought of kicking back sounds good. On my study leave, I read Stand, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. The subtitle is, “A call for the endurance of the saints.” Piper writes a provocative chapter, “Getting Old to the Glory of God,” where he says (p. 37),
Getting old to the glory of God means getting old in a way that makes God look glorious. It means living and dying in a way that shows God to be the all-satisfying Treasure that he is. So it would include, for example, not living in ways that make this world look like your treasure. Which means that most of the suggestions that this world offers us for our retirement years are bad ideas. They call us to live in a way that would make this world look like our treasure. And when that happens, God is belittled.
If you are financially in a position where you no longer need to work, ask the Lord how He would like to use your remaining years for His purpose and glory.
We’ve seen that sound teachers are always ready to remind their students of what they already know. They emphasize the basic truths of the Christian life. They are in earnest because they know that life is short, so they use their time to serve the Lord. Finally,
In verse 13, Peter considers it right to stir up his readers by way of reminder. “Stir up” means to arouse or awaken from sleep. Peter himself had learned this the hard way. Jesus warned him in advance that he would deny Him. Then, in the garden, Jesus told Peter, James, and John to stay alert and pray so that they would not enter into temptation. But they all fell asleep and, just a short time later, Peter denied his Lord (Matt. 26:36-46).
Because of our fallen nature, we’re all prone to be spiritually sluggish and lazy. Because of this, we need sound teachers who are spiritually alert to prod us to wake up to the essential truths of God’s Word. To cite Richard Baxter again, who was writing to pastors, he said (The Reformed Pastor [Banner of Truth], p. 148),
What! Speak coldly for God, and for men’s salvation? Can we believe that our people must be converted or condemned, and yet speak in a drowsy tone? In the name of God, brethren, labor to awaken your own hearts, before you go to the pulpit, that you may be fit to awaken the hearts of sinners. … Oh, speak not one cold or careless word about so great a business as heaven or hell.
When Peter says that after his departure his readers will be able to call these things to mind, he was probably referring to this very letter, which he left to them as his legacy. While none of us can leave that kind of legacy behind, we can leave the legacy of the seed of the gospel sown in the hearts of our children and others with whom we have contact. We can leave the legacy of a godly example and good deeds, so that when others think of us, they will be drawn to our Savior and Lord.
So, no matter where you’re at in the Lord, Peter is saying that you need sound teachers to remind you often of the basic truths of the faith so that you stay on course. By way of applying his words, I would encourage you to do several things: (1) Read the Bible through over and over. The godly George Muller is said to have read it through over 200 times! (2) Memorize key portions of the Bible through frequent repetition. (3) Regularly sit under the faithful ministry of the Word. We have so many wonderful resources available online! (4) Read solid books that will help you grow to know Christ better. I know—none of these suggestions are original or new. I’m just reminding you of what you already know!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation