15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you,
16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.
17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness,
18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
2 Peter 3:15–18 (emphases mine) (All scripture from NAS)
A big danger in the church today, as it has always has been, hence the warning from Peter, are unstable, untaught men (and women in some cases) who lead and teach us. If you read the bios of those who have recently strayed, one cause may be they lacked the rigidity of steel forged in red-hot fire with repeated blows on God’s anvil.
First, the general principle is this. Paul instructs the church not to elevate a new believer to the post of elder.
6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 1 Timothy 3:6
This has nothing to do with the genuineness of the person’s salvation or sincerity or potential. It’s just that a person bound for leadership or for a role teaching God’s word needs intense preparation and testing to produce the stability and reliability required to withstand the slings and arrows of the enemy.
17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. Galatians 1:17
The Apostle Paul spent private time in Arabia to be taught by the Holy Spirit and retool from his pharisaic past. Moses was off the grid for 40 years. Joseph spent some time in prison. The disciples had three years hearing the Words of God and seeing his amazing works. Even Jesus waited 30 years to commence his ministry. Because of the “subject matter” to be covered in order to be “stable” and “taught,” the process takes some concentrated time and tutoring.
For example, no physician can practice medicine without years in the classroom, internship and residency. If a budding surgeon, additional “fellowship” years are tacked on to hone the skills required to heal someone with a scalpel. So too, a preacher or teacher needs seasoning and observation to be deemed trustworthy (stable, well taught, principled).
What I see today oft times in the church are preachers who have not completed an in-person seminary experience. The apprenticing on the local level appears to largely include getting tossed in at the deep end with some on-line courses thrown in. What’s missing are the rigors of intense Bible study with a focus on the original languages.
Those given the responsibility of proclaiming truth need to have spent ample time immersed in the Word and its words, and at the feet of men who can dispense sound doctrine and inculcate the disciplines necessary to avoid future errors. The word for “error” here (v. 17) means to wander. Here’s what a reliable Bible dictionary has to say about the Greek word:
plane (πλάνη, 4106), lit., “a wandering,” whereby those who are led astray roam hither and thither, is always used in the NT, of mental straying, wrong opinion, error in morals or religion. Vines
We hear today of far too many men (one’s enough) who have wandered away from the faith. All too often they’ve lacked a firm foundation, been elevated too fast, are fueled by ambition and adulation, and are not prepared for hand-to-hand combat with Satan. When the going gets tough they “get going.”
Not everyone bound for the ministry can set aside the time or has the funds necessary to sequester for hours upon hours of instruction in hallowed halls somewhere, but is it not vitally necessary to force some kind of Arabian experience in before the launch?
A garage-band bassist (like me) desiring to hone his (or her) skills at Juilliard will lose his electric bass for four years. He’ll be handed an acoustic bass and be expected to practice it for four years for 10 hours a day. He won’t be performing, but learning basic music theory and how to read music. At the end, he’ll finally give a recital and be ready to commence his career. Why the pragmatism? Because from graduation day forward he’ll not look back, but be immersed doing the work of the “ministry.” Why should it be any different for a man of the cloth?
I had no such opportunity to spend the prep time in the practice hall, but learned on the job, using poorly developed technique, putting enormous pressure on my poor ears, not able to read a lick of music, lacking any knowledge of chord structure or the many scales. Looking back, I’d give my eye teeth for just a few years of good solid practice time and sound instruction. Yet, I’ve been playing at a high level for nearly 50 years, but wandering all over the fretboard!
What saves us all are our principles. If you’re unprincipled, there’s not much hope for anyone anywhere. But the principled know their limitations. They pray more. They study more. They work harder. They’re more careful (they measure twice before they cut). They’re more humble. They know that, “But by the grace of God go I.”
(We all need to strive for that stable place where we have a working knowledge of scripture and follow sound practices to determine the meaning of the Word before exclaiming it, or putting into practice. We should live as principled sober people wanting not to take a wrong turn, or to take others with us.)