2 Peter 2:14-16
(14) [A]n heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children:
(15) Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;
(16) But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet.
Peter calls out false teachers for three things. The first two are their reviling against authority and their reveling in their sin. The third thing Peter calls out false teachers for is their outright rebellion.
The Donner Party was a group of American pioneers intent on traveling to California from the Midwest in 1846 before the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad. Hoping to save time on their overland journey, the group elected to abandon established paths and to take an alternate route called the “Hastings Cutoff.” Even the name sounded like a shortcut. That less-traveled route took them across difficult terrain, cost them much more time and eventually trapped them in the mountains in an early snowfall. Of the 87 members of the party, only 48 survived. Because supplies ran out, some of the survivors resorted to cannibalism to keep themselves alive. Had they followed the established path rather than what appeared to be a shortcut, their story would have ended much differently.
False teachers make their living by offering alternative paths and shortcuts. In their wake are the souls of those they have misled for their own gain. It’s not that false teachers are ignorant of the right way. They know what God’s way is. They deliberately choose their own way and happily lead others down that wrong path with them. Peter says “they have forsaken the right way.” This attitude is rooted in their unbelief and their greed.
“An heart they have exercised with covetous practices” can be translated as “they are experts in greed.” What these false teachers do is no accident. They know how to manipulate an audience to their will and they know how to profile a potential easy mark. Peter compares them to Balaam the Old Testament prophet that was hired by King Balak of the Moabites to curse the children of Israel as they came into the Promised Land. Prevented by God to pronounce a curse of the children of Israel, he taught king Balak how he could get the Israelites to compromise with them by being good neighbors and encouraging them to come to the Moabites’ pagan feasts. This brought God’s wrath down on the Israelites and forced the Lord to discipline them. The sad thing about Balaam is that he truly did have the gift of prophecy and he could have used that gift in a way that honored God, but money and fame were more important to him and held more value to him than God. The same is true of many modern-day false teachers. Some are truly gifted and that’s what makes them so convincing and confusing. How can someone with such God-given talents use those gifts to lead so many astray? It comes down to the heart. God gives us gifts, but He also gives us a free will to use those gifts as we please. It is a huge risk on God’s part, but He is pleased to let us choose because His will is that we worship Him and serve Him willingly. It is the highest form of praise any creature can give to the Creator and we are the only creatures He has blessed with such a free will.
Such freedom also burdens us with huge responsibility. Leaders even more so. We can choose to go God’s way and honor Him, but we can just as freely choose to go the wrong way on purpose.