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  • Writer's pictureRick LoPresti

The touchstone

There have always been false teachers, and there will always be. The most dangerous ones are not those who teach an obvious lie, but those who mingle truth with false doctrine. There is always some element of truth, even in the most egregious false doctrine. The Bible warns in the strongest possible terms about those who pervert the gospel (Gal 1:6-9). To pervert is not to do away with. It is to alter somewhat from the original. It is to “alter (something) from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended”. 2Peter 2 is an important passage about the judgment of God against false teachers. The book of Jude is a parallel passage. Peter reminds us of previous major judgments of God to show us that precedent has already been set. He refers to the flood (Gen 6-9) and Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19). Then he mentions how God delivered Lot out of Sodom in verses 7-9. We should first note that it says that Lot was just and righteous. Lot was certainly not perfect. He chose to move to the plains of Sodom despite that city’s extreme wickedness (Gen 13:1-11), and then moved into the city itself. He apparently became a leader there, and maybe even its mayor. He sat in the gate which was a place where leaders sat and conducted important business like a city hall (Gen 19:1, Ex 32:26, Deut 22:15, Deut 25:7, Josh 20:4, Ruth 4:11, 2Sam 19:8, 1Ki 22:10, 2Ki 7:1, Est 2:19, Jer 17:19, Jer 26:10, Jer 38:7, Dan 2:49, Amos 5:15). Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against the church (Mt 16:18). Lot was a judge in Sodom (Gen 19:9). That word means “to act as law-giver or judge or governor (of God, man); to rule, govern, judge; to decide controversy (of God, man); to execute judgment”.

The problem was not that Lot personally partook of the sins of Sodom, and it was not that he was in leadership generally speaking. It was that he chose to surround himself with the behavior of extreme wickedness. He “vexed” his soul every day with “the filthy conversation of the wicked” and “their unlawful deeds”. The word vexed appears in 2Peter 2:7 and 8, but in the original Greek language it is two different words. In verse 7 it means to exhaust or afflict. In verse 8 it means to torment, or to test with a touchstone. A touchstone is a dark stone that will have a chemical reaction with precious metals such as gold. It is used to test the purity of the gold. The gold is scraped on the touchstone and the line that it leaves or does not leave will indicate the purity of the gold. 24 carat gold will not leave a mark. The lower the gold content, the more pronounced the mark will be. There is a distinct difference at the 14 carat range. The visibility of the mark can be measured against known samples. Thus, the word touchstone has come to mean a standard, criteria, or measure of validity or merit.

So how was Lot figuratively scraping his soul against those he surrounded himself with in Sodom? In Genesis 12:4, we see that when Abraham left his home to follow the calling of God to Canaan, his nephew Lot went with him. By the time we reach chapter 13, Abraham and Lot had cattle that were crowding each other and there were issues developing because of it. Abraham said they needed to create some space between them and offered Lot the first choice of where to go. Lot chose the well-watered plains near the Jordan River, and Abraham stayed in Canaan where God had called him. His initial choice was not the problem, but he pitched his tent toward Sodom which was full of wickedness. That was his direction. Sometimes a choice we make within itself is not the problem, but rather the direction it points us toward.

In Genesis 14, there was battle between five kings and four kings. Two of the kings on the losing side were the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. By this time Lot apparently went from being pitched toward Sodom to living in it, because when the victors took their spoils, Lot and his family were taken captive. When Abraham heard that Lot had been taken captive, he armed his men, went after the army, rescued Lot and his family, and brought them back. You would hope Lot learned his lesson, but he went back to Sodom and became a leader there (Gen 19). He thus chose more than once to surround himself with wicked sinners and their behavior. There is a difference between doing the necessary things of this life and interacting with the world as we should and must, and poorly choosing to place ourselves in unnecessary danger both spiritually and otherwise. Sodom and Gomorrah were under the judgment of God, and when God revealed this to Abraham, he interceded for the souls of those places, no doubt thinking of his nephew and his family there (Gen 18:17-33). Two angels went to Sodom to deliver Lot and his family (Gen 19). He was reluctant to leave, even after the angels told him they were there to destroy the city. Angels usually appeared as young men, and when the men of Sodom saw them go into Lot’s house, they wanted to rape them. Lot instead offered them his two virgin daughters. The men were so sexually perverted they refused them and attempted to break down Lot’s door to attack the angels. The angels stopped the attack and told Lot to go tell his daughters that had married and his sons-in-law to get out of there, but they mocked him. He had lost his credibility with them. Finally, the angels literally grabbed Lot, his wife, and his two virgin daughters and walked them out of there. His wife ignored the instructions of the angels, looked back, and became a pillar of salt. Jesus said, “Remember Lot’s wife (Lk 17:32)”. It appears she not only looked back but started to go back and was caught up in the overthrow. The angels told Lot to go up to the nearby mountain to be safe, but he insisted on the nearby city of Zoar instead. Then he became afraid to stay in Zoar, so he went to the mountain after all. There his daughters got him drunk, committed incest with him, and gave birth to the Ammonites and the Moabites who were perpetual enemies of Israel later.

There are two meanings to the word temptation in the Bible. There is testing which we must all go through. God even orchestrates out tests sometimes for our growth. There is also tempting which is the luring into sin by our own lusts and the work of the enemy. James chapter 1 illustrates these two meanings. He uses two different words which can be synonymous but can be understood by their context. He says “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” in verse 2. This is the word peirasmos. We should not rejoice about our lusts, but we can rejoice when we are tested, because testing produces patience (verse 3). The word trying there is dokimion. Then in verse 12 it says “Blessed is the man that endureth peirasmos, for when he is dokimos (accepted, approved) ginomai (fulfilled), he shall receive the crown of life…”. When the testing is over and he passes, like a good student he will get the good grade. James then continues and says that nobody should say when they are peirazō that he is peirazō by God, because God cannot be tempted with evil and does not peirazō anyone. We are peirazō by our own lusts (verse 13-14). Then lust when it is conceived brings forth sin, and sin when it is finished brings forth death (vs 15). David literally lived out verse 15. He saw a woman who was married to one of his mighty men bathing, lusted after her, and laid with her (2Sam 11-12). When he found out she was pregnant, he arranged for the death of her husband and married her, thinking he had covered it up. Yet God knew, and when the prophet Nathan confronted him, he repented; but the child that was born still died as a judgment. David was tested in many other situations, but in this one he was tempted, he yielded, and suffered the consequences for the rest of his life, although he was spared the judgment of death prescribed in the law of Moses.

“Neither give place to the devil (Eph 4:27).” The word place here is the word topos, which means room, quarter, license, opportunity, or occasion. Jesus said that when the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he goes through dry places seeking rest, and when he finds none returns to the man he left and finds him empty (Mt 12:43-45). He then re-occupies him with seven other worse spirits. We cannot leave space for the devil to occupy, or he will. “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof (Rom 13:14).” Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does the spiritual world. In the parable of the great supper, the man would not rest until there was no more room at the feast (Lk 14:16-24). The Lord went away from this earth to prepare a place for us (Jn 14:1-3). He wants us to fill it. The touchstone is thus the following:

1. What are we surrounding ourselves with and allowing to influence us?

2. What direction are we pointing ourselves - toward or away from God?

3. Are we being tested or tempted, and how are we responding? Are we resisting God or the devil (Jam 4:1-7)?

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