Restless and bored at my Grandma’s house, I picked up a magazine and began flipping through pages. I found weight loss tips and decorating ideas for the upcoming season, ads for cosmetics and inspirational stories about reunited families. There was nothing unusual or unexpected, until I set it down and saw the date. This magazine wasn’t current. In fact, it was several years old. And I hadn’t really noticed the whole time I was reading it.
It occured to me all of a sudden that these magazines basically followed the same formula month after month, year after year. And people (namely, my Grandma) kept buying them anyways and dog-earing the pages she intended to try. The fact that she liked getting the magazines over and over again, with their similar advice and product reviews, probably means that the advice they gave last month didn’t quite satisfy. It seems the key is to get people excited about the idea of following this advice, but to count on the fact that the advice won’t actually work all that well. If everyone lost 10 pounds last month, why would they need another article on the same subject next week?
We are often tempted to put our hope in advice and inspiration that makes us feel hopeful or inspired in the moment but ultimately does not satisfy our deepest longings. We dog-ear the pages, certain these ideas will solve our problems. Instead, we find these solutions ineffective (or we fail to even try them), and we’re back again next month dog-earing similar pages of suggestions.
It’s not a crime to repackage familiar but ineffective advice and sell it every month to the same customers, but in 2 Peter 2 we see that false teachers offer a similar kind of dissatisfaction and their actions are condemned. Peter compares false teachers to “waterless springs” (2 Peter 2:17). You go to a spring to get water, but if you show up and discover there is no water, you will walk away still thirsty. You can return over and over, but your thirst will never be satisfied there. Like “mists driven by a storm,” false teachers are like clouds that darken the sky but do not provide rain (2 Peter 2:17). Jude 12-13 picks up the same imagery, calling false teachers “shepherds feeding themselves, waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars.” These images evoke our senses as we imagine of the lack of water and fruitfulness and light that characterizes false teaching.
Perhaps this is one of the more subtle ways to discover false teachers. Does his or her teaching refresh me with living water that satisfies? Or does this teaching leave me thirsty? One of the signs that the teaching you’re receiving is more about a moment of inspiration than the gospel is that you keep coming back for more. If you keep coming back for more inspiration, maybe the teaching you’re recieving doesn’t satisfy your thirst. We should be wary of these “waterless springs” and “mists (or clouds) driven by a storm” because their teaching “darkens counsel by words without knowledge” (Job 38:2). Looking again at the similar verses in Jude 12-13, we see that false teachers are “wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.” Their words may have darkened the light of truth, but ultimately “the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved” for them (2 Peter 2:17). Why settle for unsatisfying teaching when we have access to living water (John 4:14) and light that keeps us from walking in darkness (John 8:12)?