Last week fierce storms lashed the South Coast of NSW. Winds up to 130 km/h whipped up huge seas, blew down power poles, and uprooted trees.
A tall tree, with huge branches and lots of leaves, might look impressive ABOVE GROUND. But in the face of A STORM, if its ROOTS are shallow it’s as weak as a seedling.
The trees that survived the full force of the winds were those whose roots grew down deep into the ground. Deeper and wider BELOW ground than the branches ABOVE ground.
The deeper the roots, the stronger the tree, and the greater the storms it can withstand.
1. v17 Don’t be carried away
And Peter knows that’s true, not just for TREES and storms, but for CHRISTIANS and storms. The sorts of storms that can destabilise them, unsettle them, even undermine them or carry them away. Storms like false teaching, or suffering. Like financial ruin, or marriage breakdown. Storms like temptations, or unrepentant sin. Storms like worry, or doubt, or pride, or envy.
I’m almost CERTAIN you all know people just like that. People living the Christian life. Seem to be doing well. Who get knocked over by a storm. And they just don’t get back up. They’re WASHED UP. Their faith WRECKED, RUINED. It’s a tragedy! There’s nothing WORSE that can happen to someone!
And for Peter, the storm he’s been PARTICULARLY concerned about as he writes his second letter is FALSE TEACHING. And so he says, in Ch 3 v17, summing up the whole letter.
Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.
Can you picture the image? A tree that’s rooted in a strong, secure position. Solid. But then the huge winds come along. Bend it back, The rain soaks the ground and softens the soil. The wind continues to blow, the flood waters roar. The storm’s relentless. And then the tree’s gone. Uprooted, carried away. Destroyed.
For the Christian, it’s the danger Peter’s colourfully described in Chapter 2 of this letter. This error of lawless men. In ch 2 he calls them FALSE TEACHERS, with destructive heresies, and shameful ways. They’re greedy, telling made-up stories. That’s all by verse 3. But he’s only warming up. Jump down to v10. They’re bold and arrogant. Or v12. Like brute beasts. Carousing in broad daylight. Eyes full of adultery, experts in greed.
Then he starts on how POISONOUS they are. V18. They mouth empty boastful words, appealing to the lustful desires of human re, enticing people who are just escaping. Not content with heading to destruction themselves Dragging people WITH them.
A rotten message AND a rotten lifestyle. ly.
It’s hard to imagine people like that fooling ANYONE that they’re Christians. That they’re TEACHERS of the TRUTH. Enticing ANYONE to follow them. Perhaps they were good at DISGUISING what they were really like. Perhaps their true re wasn’t OBVIOUS.
But PETER can see it. And that’s why he warns his readers to BE ON THEIR GUARD. Be CAREFUL.
And things haven’t CHANGED. False teachers are JUST as dangerous. And JUST as deceptive. And Satan LOVES to use them to drag unsuspecting people to ruin.
Let me point out some MODERN versions to you.
Like RELIGION. Satan LOVES religion. That is, a humanly-constructed set of behaviours. He loves it because people put their trust in IT, rather than in Jesus. He loves the opinion that calling someone “FULL-ON” or a FANATIC is an insult. The opinion that a LITTLE religion is a good thing. But you don’t want to go overboard. Don’t want to become ZEALOUS about your faith. He LOVES that sort of religion.
And he LOVES the politically-correct, morally-relativistic quicksand of the media or the university that says anyone making ABSOLUTE TRUTH CLAIMS is bigoted and intolerant.
And he loves the side of MULTICULTURALISM that sees religion as a smorgasbord, where no one is wrong. Where you can fill your plate with a little of this, and a little of that. Try things out. Add things and take them away. Because it’s all about what works for YOU. Since YOU are the centre of the Universe.
And that’s just false teaching about God OUTSIDE the church! What about INSIDE the church?
Satan rubs his hands with glee whenever we take our eyes off Jesus and fix them on ANYTHING ELSE. He applauds when he hears people teaching that you’re saved by good works, or by respectability, or by social relevance, social action. Or by recycling and environmental action.
He loves it when we stop trusting Jesus for our ACCESS to God, and start trusting OTHER WAYS INSTEAD. Like praying through Mary or the saints. Or approaching God through an emotional worship experience. Or only in a certain PLACE.
And Satan loves it when we move beyond FAITH because we think we’ve outgrown it. He loves academic rationalism and scepticism; critical scholarship, and intellectual pride. He loves a faith in technology, or buildings, or heritage, or programs, or budgets.
It’s all false teaching that takes our eyes off Jesus. That wants to ADD to him. Or TAKE AWAY from him. That undermines our dependent trust. And jeopardises our secure position.
And Peter says, BE ON YOUR GUARD (v17) against those sorts of ideas. Be CAREFUL you don’t fall from your secure position.
That’s always the job of FAITHFUL teachers of God’s truth. To STABILISE, rather than DE-stabilise. To strengthen, rather than WEAKEN.
And that word for SECURE POSITION. That place Peter wants ALL Christians to be. It’s a particularly SPECIAL one for Peter. You see, he’d nearly been carried away HIMSELF. Nearly fallen from HIS secure position. Jesus had PRAYED for him PERSONALLY. Even WARNED him. Luke 22:31. Jesus says
“Peter, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, STRENGTHEN your brothers.”
It’s a form of the same word Peter’s using here. SECURE your brothers, says Jesus. Make sure they’re SOLID. You’re going to stumble, but make sure you get up. And when you DO, make your brothers SECURE.
But Peter’s not ON HIS GUARD. He’s too PROUD to see the danger. “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to . Everyone else might desert you, but NOT ME.” To which Jesus answers “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you WILL deny me three times.”
And it HAPPENS. Peter nearly throws it all away in a moment of weakness and fear. But Jesus has PRAYED for him that his faith wouldn’t fail. And it DOESN’T. Peter repents. Jesus forgives. And Peter becomes the ROCK on which the Christian church was built.
And that commissioning from Jesus sticks with him. “When you’ve turned back, STRENGTHEN the brothers. SECURE them. Make sure they’re STRAPPED IN TIGHT, so they don’t slip like YOU did.”
And so that warning is burned into his soul. BE ON YOUR GUARD so you’re not carried away by lawless men, and fall from your secure position.
What’s “SECURE” look like? What’s the state that Peter’s thinking about? The one that’s strong and safe? It means that when storms come, you don’t get moved.
Let’s pick just ONE STORM by way of example. Storms like SUFFERING. Perhaps sickness, or persecution, trials, or relationship breakdown. They can carry you away unless you’re SECURE.
And above all, I reckon, secure means remembering that GOD IS KING. He’s SOVEREIGN over ALL OF LIFE. Everything happens according to God’s plan. That he works all things for good. That God disciplines those he loves. That God wants us to fix our eyes on HIM, and not on our surroundings. To be CONTENT. To be CALM in the midst of a storm. To have a peace that the world can’t understand. That’s SECURE.
2. v18 But Grow
But how can you GET that assurance? How can you MAKE yourself secure? Because it’s not simply enough to be AWARE of the danger, you’ve got to TAKE PRECAUTIONS to protect yourself. To be STRENGTHENED.
Peter gives us the answer in the final verse of his letter. Really, just summing up the whole letter. The SOLUTION to being carried away. The CONTRAST. HOW TO be on your guard, and avoid falling.
Don’t be carried away and fall (v17). INSTEAD (v18) But GROW.
18 But GROW in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The WAY to remain in a secure position. To AVOID being carried away or falling. It’s NOT to STAY EXACTLY AS YOU ARE. Which seems a bit counter-intuitive. But, like many things, STANDING STILL in the Christian life, is actually going backwards. Stagnant water is water. Lifeless. It’s dangerous.
A tree that’s not GROWING is . No good having strong roots if there’s no LIFE in them. roots are quickly uprooted.
It’s no good having anti-virus software installed on your computer, unless you UPDATE IT. Without regularly renewing the database of virus sig res, you’ll be unprotected. Exposed to attacks from all sorts of malicious viruses and Trojans.
And, in the Christian life, you’re exposed to all sorts of threats and storms, and the dangers of falling. If you rest in the knowledge you BEGAN with. If you STAY WHERE YOU STARTED. If you’re content to remain a baby, digesting pureed apple, and gumming away at rusks. Then you’re cruising for a bruising. Running the risk of a crash. You’ve got to continually update your database.
Michael Green puts it like this in his commentary.
“Now matter how long we’ve been Christians, we cannot rest on years of Sunday School lessons, sermons and quiet times. Every day represents a fresh challenge, when we will be tempted to forget everything we’ve learned over the years, and trade it in for a novelty item.”
You see, the Christian life is LIKE RIDING A BIKE. There’s got to be forward progress, or you fall over. That’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way when it comes to cycling. In the last few years I’ve discovered cycling shoes, with cleats that clip you into the pedals. Great for giving your extra power and control while you’re riding. But a bit tricky when you STOP. You’ve got to think about it beforehand. As you’re slowing down. You can’t just take your feet off the pedals, you’ve got to unclip them with a tricky sort of ankle twist.
Or else you can embarrass yourself at traffic lights. I KNOW! Been there, done that. It’s a wobbly sort of slow motion fall. You can see it’s coming, but there’s nothing you can do. Hurts your KNEES, as well as your PRIDE.
The trick is to keep MOVING. Doesn’t matter how slowly. But there’s got to be PROGRESS. And it’s the same with the Christian life.
And, in particular, says Peter, Growth IN THE GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST. If v17 has been a summary of chapter TWO of his letter, then THIS verse is a summary of the message of chapter ONE.
Right back in v2 of ch 1 Peter expressed this hope for them.
2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
Peter wants his readers to have the grace and peace that God gives IN ABUNDANCE. In other words, he wants them GROWING in the good things God gives.
And then he says where that COMES FROM. Through the KNOWLEDGE of God, and of Jesus our Lord. Knowing God, through his Son Jesus, is the way to live the ABUNDANT life he WANTS for you.
Then in the next verse. Ch 1 v3. He expands on what that life looks like.
3 His divine power has given us EVERYTHING WE NEED FOR LIFE AND GODLINESS through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
God wants to give us all the resources for the godly life he’s designed. And it comes through KNOWING about him. Peter gets specific. It’s about knowing HIS PROMISES (v4). Claiming the promises of God – trusting them and then practically leaning on them daily. That’s the way to build the sort of character and qualities that will make you useful for serving Jesus.
And so, Peter challenges us in v10.
10 Therefore, my brothers, BE ALL THE MORE EAGER TO MAKE YOUR CALLING AND ELECTION SURE.
Make sure you’re GROWING. Make sure there’s PROGRESS. Work hard.
For if you do these things, YOU WILL NEVER FALL,
That’s what Peter wants to avoid. The storms that carry people away. That make them FALL from their secure position. Be all the more eager to make your calling and election SURE.
And back over at the end of the letter, in conclusion, Peter’s saying to grow IN THE GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE of Jesus.
One school of thought sees them AS PERSONAL QUALITIES. Growing in graciousness, in your behaviour and character. As well as growing in knowledge (in your theological learning). Hands and head. And Peter’s certainly interested in that. Back in ch 1 v5 he talks about making every effort to add goodness and knowledge and self-control and perseverance to faith. All personal qualities that will make a Christian effective.
But there’s another school of thought that sees this growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus as the GIFTS OF GOD. Grow in your experience of God’s GRACE. And Peter certainly wants THAT for his readers TOO. That’s the emphasis of ch 1 v3 “Grace and peace BE YOURS IN ABUNDANCE through the knowledge of God.”
John Piper says
“Peter’s great desire for these people and for us is that we might experience LOTS AND LOTS OF GOD’S GRACE; that we might SUCK IT UP THROUGH OUR ROOTS and grow by it; that we might SOAK IT IN LIKE SUNSHINE through our leaves and grow by it.” Grace is the greatest unused resource in all the world. It is the wealth of God’s kindness; the riches of his mercy; the soothing ointment of his forgiveness; the free and undeserved, but lavishly offered hope of eternal life. Grace is what we crave when we are guilt-laden. Grace is what we must have when we come to die. Grace is our only ray of hope when the future darkens over with storm clouds of fear.
That’s what Peter says we’re to GROW in.
But it’s not a case of either/or. God’s grace or our gracious character? There’s a connection, of course. 1 Peter 4:10 says;
10 Each one should USE whatever GIFT he has received to serve others, FAITHFULLY ADMINISTERING GOD’S GRACE IN ITS VARIOUS FORMS.
God hands out GIFTS. By his grace. And we’re to USE those gifts. ing them out. Maximising their effectiveness and goodness.
And Peter says grow in grace and KNOWLEDGE of our Lord Jesus Christ. UNDERSTAND the lavish riches God’s showering on you in Jesus. Know it more and more. AND THEN WORK THAT OUT IN YOUR OWN LIFE. And in those around you, as you REFLECT God’s grace by using his gifts to strengthen others.
That’s the key to not being carried away. To not falling from your secure position. But that’s no passive, easy thing. There’s no magic pills. No downhill sections after you make it to the top of the mountain.
Make every effort, says Peter. And that will be FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Praying and reading the Bible doesn’t get any EASIER. Nor does being patient, or watching my tongue. Or putting others first. I’m only THIRTY YEARS into being a Christian. Some of you are much longer.
But we need to KEEP WORKING AT IT.
Keep meeting together. Keep reading and listening and singing and praying. Keep being fed from God’s Word. Keep putting of the old re, and putting on the new one. Keep saying no to false teaching, and no to sin. Keep loving the brothers, reaching out to the world.
Are YOU growing? How are you different from 12 months ago? Think about this time last year. What PROGRESS have you made? Where do you NEED to make progress in the coming 12 months?
(pause) Keep growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Glory to Jesus Christ now and into the day of eternity (Ch 3)
And Peter gives us one final incentive. To Jesus be GLORY both now and forever. It’s actually a bit clunky in the original language. It says something like “To him, GLORY, both now and INTO THE DAY OF ETERNITY.”
The day of eternity. It’s a phrase we don’t find anywhere else in the Bible. Peter’s probably thinking about JUDGMENT day. When eternity BEGINS. The day when Jesus’ glory will be revealed. His glory as SAVIOUR for those who’ve remained in their secure position. As well as his glory as JUDGE against the lawless men who drag others down. As well as JUDGE against those who haven’t BEEN on their GUARD. Who HAVEN’T been GROWING in grace and knowledge. Who haven’t made every effort to make their calling and election sure.
It will be a GLORIOUS day. MAKE SURE you’re experience it from a SECURE POSITION.
17 Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.