Wells without Water

“These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” (2 Peter 2:17–19, ESV)

Few biblical phenomena pique my curiosity as much as the prevalence of false teachers in the early church. My sensibilities say, how could God allow such a thing, especially at the formative time in the church, the time in its development where we learn so much by their example? Fortunately, God runs the universe and not I. Still, I can see how, in our day, after the linear possibilities of corruption have been given more time to play out, that we would have our current batch of false teachers. But why back then? Hadn’t Jesus just been there — in the flesh? Hadn’t he healed, taught, and testified? Why was there corruption in the early church?

By the time Peter penned this epistle, Jesus had been “gone” for many years. Still, Peter was one who walked and talked with the Lord of Glory — why, he had seen the transfiguration! Healings! The dead raised to life! Yet in Peter’s very church, there sat false teachers. Their presence worked to some advantage, however. Scripture paints a clear picture of them, and we can learn from their bad example.

Peter’s first sentence in our key verses uses some great word pictures: wells without water, clouds, tempest, and mist. These are all taken from common experience and observation, and their meaning was acuter near Jerusalem than in my verdant New England. I have plenty of water, plenty of rain, and I purchase my groceries at a store. Two millennia ago and half a world away, water was a big deal, and these images carry more potency when you join them to the time and the place.

The two main images, wells without water, and clouds that are carried off have a unifying theme: disappointment. In an arid land, coming upon a well raises the expectation of drawing water and being refreshed. If one finds that the well is dry, the heart sinks. In a way, one might be better off where there are no wells. At least then the expectancy would not be for refreshment. In similar fashion, men looked to clouds for rain. They wanted rain. They needed rain. And clouds set up their expectancy. But when they were driven off by the wind, not having refreshed the earth, there was a disappointment. Again, they might have been better off had the clouds not appeared at all. False teachers are like that. They set up expectations — but deliver only disappointment.

Why is it that they cannot deliver? Like the well, they simply do not have the goods. These people are not regenerated. They do not have the indwelling Holy Spirit. They do not have a grasp on faith in Christ and the life that he promises. How could they possibly teach anything but empty lies and corruption? Why then did the people give them an ear, and even chase after them? Same reason as now. The triumph of marketing over truth.

“Hey, brother, come with me. I’ll show you what God really wants for you…”

Peter sounded the alarm. He described the enemy, and he showed the results. Destruction! Christians, therefore, must perform their due diligence. We must pray, study, serve and find ourselves a place in a local fellowship. But even after that, we should keep on the alert for spiritual fraud.

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