PROPHETS FOR PROFIT
2 Peter 2:1-3
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 17, 2013
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
-- 2 Peter 2:1-3, ESV
Robert Young was not a doctor, but he played one in “Marcus Welby, M.D.” George Clooney is not a doctor, but he was Dr. Doug Ross in the original cast of “ER.” Ellen Pompeo is not a doctor, but she was the title character in the hit show “Grey’s Anatomy.” Why would these people pretend to be doctors? Is it because they slept at a Holiday Inn Express last night? No, it was to make large sums of money! They were talented actors, plying their trade, pretending to know things they didn’t know and be someone they were not, and they were paid handsomely for it. I have no problem professional actors doing their job.
What I do have a problem with is another kind of television actor and the job they do on vulnerable people. You see him or her on the TV screen in big conference halls and behind pulpits. They pretend to be godly pastors, but they are not. They pretend to be gifted Bible teachers, but they are not. They pretend to be prophets of God, but they are not. They are prophets for profit, false preachers bringing false messages of false hope. And most of them make small, and sometimes large, fortunes doing it.
Simon Peter was a true prophet of God, an Apostle in the early church, a pastor/elder, and a writer of Holy Scripture. He knew two thousand years ago that false prophets had come and would always have to be dealt with until the return of Jesus Christ. He writes a whole chapter about them in 2 Peter 2. The first three verses deal with facing the fact that false prophets exist, or prophets for profit, and the remaining verses tell of what will happen to them and the followers of such a non-prophet ministries.
The Meaning of False Prophets
Diamond experts can spot a fake because they are well-trained to identify the real thing. So to begin to identify the existence of false prophets, perhaps we should take a look at the characteristics of a real one. A prophet is a person who has been especially anointed and appointed to speak for God. Sometimes called seers, they see things the way God sees them. It has very little to do with telling the future and everything to do with telling it like it is. A prophet’s only aim is to please God by preaching a message that is consistent with the word and will of God, period. There were canonical prophets whose words were enshrined in Holy Scripture, like Moses, Jeremiah, and Malachi. There were non-canonical prophets like Elijah and Elisha, who were not commissioned to write books of the Bible but their words were iron, nonetheless. The Apostles, like Simon Peter, were prophets, too. Anyone called and gifted to preach the gospel and the word of God are exercising the gift of prophecy, as long as the message is consistent with the whole plan of salvation and the moral demands of our almighty, sovereign, and triune God.
Therefore, “false prophets” are those who prophesy, or preach, or teach “false words.” The term for “false words” is where we get our English word “plastic,” meaning a fake substitute for the real thing. Sometimes they use psychology instead of theology, and sometimes they use theological or biblical words but change or distort their true meaning. They come in “secretly,” literally like parasites, preying on people who are genuinely interested in God but gullible enough to fall for their “destructive heresies” and the promises of “sensuality,” physical and material pleasures that appeal to the flesh but have nothing to do with the Spirit of God. They preach wrong things about the wrong god and lead people in a decidedly wrong way. And, they always have been and always will be amongst God’s visible people.
When the prophet Moses led God’s people out of Egypt, false prophets tried to get the people to turn back. When Jeremiah preached that Israel must repent or face the wrath of God poured out through the Babylonians, false prophets preached peace when there was no peace, and the Babylonians came and wiped Israel off the map for seventy years. When the Apostles preached Jesus as the incarnate God crucified and resurrected for the salvation of God’s people, false prophets preached, and still preached, that He was a mere mortal at best and a figment of deranged imaginations at worst. False prophets and teachers were prevalent throughout the Old Covenant period and are with us in the New Covenant period and won’t be completely wiped out until Christ returns to earth.
The Motive of False Prophets
The text mentions their “greed” as motivation, hence the title of the sermon, prophets for profit. But greed can express more than a wonton lust for money. It is a term that can applied to anyone who is willing to take ungodly ways and untruthful means to gain a fortune, or a following, or some fame. Unfortunately, one of the easiest ways to do it is the name of Christianity.
Medical doctors have to undergo years of accredited education and training. You can’t just say you are a doctor and be one. School teachers are required to have proper degrees and certification. You can’t just say you are a teacher and be one. We could say the same thing about so many professions and occupations, from architect to zoologist. But any idiot can be a preacher or a teacher in a church, if he or she knows how to weasel their way in front of a flock. Even among pastors and teachers with degrees, including doctorates, you would be shocked to learn how many of them are mail order degrees or outright fraudulent papers. It is a rare thing to catch a doctor or lawyer practicing without proper education and licensing, but if we monitored vocational preachers the way we do other professions, jails would overflow. This is not to say that one cannot be a gifted teacher without formal education, it just points out that of all the professions charlatans are attracted to, preaching seems to be one of the most popular.
As we watch the rise of so many false prophets today, you would not be surprised now to learn that most of them, especially the most infamous, the ones with the most air time on TBN and other religions networks, have no history of any serious theological training at all. And, if greed is your thing, one of the quickest ways to gain a little fame, a little fortune, and a little following is to claim to speak for God. Do it seductively enough, and the fame and fortune and following will not be small.
The Message of False Prophets
There are really two types of false prophetic preaching that causes to “the way of truth” to be “blasphemed.” One type features the “heresies” that deny Jesus as “Master.” The other plays upon people’s “sensuality,” or sinful desire for health and wealth.
To deny Jesus as “Master” is to deny Jesus as Lord. Master means Lord, ruler, owner, boss, sovereign. The true gospel requires repentance and ensuing obedience. We are not saved by works, but real salvation really works, and causes one to persevere for God until God calls them home. It requires sacrifice and suffering, and sometimes poor health and poverty. There is a cost of true discipleship, and this rings true in authentic preaching and teaching. False prophets bring a different message, a message of easy believe-ism and cheap grace.
False prophets say it is okay to allow Jesus to be your Savior without making Him your Lord. By the way, no one makes Jesus Lord. He is Lord, whatever you make of Him or not. False prophets say salvation is a mere decision that guarantees you fire insurance from Hell, no matter how you live your ensuing life. False prophets have real appeal to false Christians, because their false version of Christianity is cheap and easy, just like so many other things in American life. Fame, fortune, and a following is almost guaranteed if you can preach smooth and flattering words to people and make them feel good about their sin.
The other way false prophets win followings and fortunes is by changing the emphasis from the word of God to the so-called word of faith. The word of God teaches the sovereignty of God and Lordship of Christ, and that God’s people exist to glorify God and do what He commands. The so-called word of faith movement puts people in the driver’s seat and seduces them to think they can use certain means of self-driven faith to speak to God in such a way that God becomes their genie-in-a-bottle, bound to acquiesce to their assertive claims. God serves us, not vice versa. The means usually include planting a seed of faith, or a good sum of money, in their ministry now so you can get yours later. The sad and shocking thing is that we Americans are so stupid (we think if it’s on TV or the Internet, it must be true), we fall for it by the thousands in terms of people and by the millions in terms of the dollars. And the prophets for profit prosper.
People, especially in our day and age, like a Christ-less Christianity, a guilt-free gospel, a way of worship that gives us what we want instead of giving to God what God requires. So, from small churches to large television studios, prophets for prophets thrive. Shame on them, and shame on the people who support them. For lost people — and often times lost people are better thinkers than professing Christian people — see the excesses of the lack of Lordship and greed for material prosperity in so many so-called Christians. Then they “blaspheme” the real gospel because of their impression of the false.
I thought about naming some names, but that would not be gentlemanly of me. Some of them are easy enough to spot, the ones that own religious television networks, the ones that get involved in sexual scandals, the ones that wear white suits and sport giant comb-overs, and the ones that look like skinny hay farmers in three-thousand dollar suits who can't say two words without blinking. Not all of them are that easy to identify, and not all of them are on television. But the word of God, and their words, speak for themselves.
The question is, why does God let them get away with it. Believe me, He does not. These prophets’ profit is just an aberration. “Swift destruction” and “condemnation” is coming their way, along with a whole lot of their followers, when Jesus Christ comes again. Simon Peter will use the rest of this chapter to talk about the destruction, and the following chapter to talk about the return of Christ.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org