HARD TIMES IN THE LAST DAYS
2 Timothy 3 (ESV)
3 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.
Although Paul wanted Timothy to approach the ungodly in a Christ-like manner, he warned him that people in the last days would be difficult and would make the times difficult. He hoped the ungodly would repent, but knew they would cause trouble.
What are the last days? Many think the term only applies to a short period before the return of Christ. I think, however, that it applies more broadly to the church age, the time between the resurrection of Christ and his return. In Acts 2:14-21, Peter applied the term to his time, saying the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost began the last days and fulfilled the prophesy of Joel 2:28. The writer of Hebrews makes the same application in Hebrews 1:1-2. He said God has spoken to us in the last days by his Son. In 9:26, he said Christ appeared once for all at the end of the ages. 1 John 2:18 said they were in the last hour.
You might note that the Greek word for “last” is “eschatos” (ἔσχατος). That is the source of our word “eschatology”, meaning the study of last things.
Paul meant that, despite Timothy’s Christ like defense of the faith, there would be difficult times and difficult people who would oppose the church and obstruct the gospel. He described the types of people Timothy would encounter. We are still in the last days and will encounter them also. He gave a long list. He said the people will be:
lovers of self,
lovers of money,
disobedient to their parents,
not loving good,
swollen with conceit,
lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.
Lovers of Self
In our time, people not only love themselves but exalt the idea. Whitney Houston, a popular singer, recently died. People started quoting songs she sang. One is a tribute to self love called “The Greatest Love of All”. Here are a few of the lyrics:
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all
Whitney Houston professed to be a Christian. Yet, the Bible teaches that the greatest love is the love of God for sinners expressed in the sacrifice of his son for their salvation. Jesus said, referring to his love: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Second to that is our love for God with our heart, soul and mind as Jesus said in Matthew 22:36. Third is the self sacrificing love of one for his or her neighbor. Jesus called the last two the greatest commandments. The Bible never exalts self love. Yet, Ms. Houston exalted self love by singing this song.
Lovers of money
Paul says the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. We live in a time where people love money, sacrifice family and faith to get it, commit crimes to obtain it and revere those who have a lot of it. Remember the show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”? Presently there is a Wealth Channel on cable television.
Note that both of these are examples of misplaced love. Their love is not for Christ, not for his church and not for people. It is for themselves.
Proud & Arrogant
Humility is not highly valued in our culture. Pride is a desired trait, at least up to a point. There are certainly many arrogant people around, also. You probably ran into at least one this week. To be arrogant is to feel and act superior. It is common among attorneys. I have them come into my office and tell me how good they are all the time. But God values humility. James 4:6 says “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Abuse of women and children was common in Paul’s time. Women were the property of their husbands or fathers in many cultures. No one intervened if a man abused his wife or children.
Abuse is rampant is our society. Husbands abuse their wives verbally and physically. Most police departments and prosecutors offices have special units for child abuse and family violence. Human trafficking is a big problem in America. Girls and boys are forced into prosecution. Women from other countries are held captive to be maids or prostitutes.
Disobedient to their parents
One of the 10 Commandments tells us to honor our parents. (Exodus 20:12) God set up lines of authority to govern human life. The family is the unit that governs most of life. The role of children is to obey and respect parents. The penalty for disobedient and abusive children was severe in the Old Testament times. Ephesians 6:1 quotes the commandment and instructs children to obey parents. Elders and deacons were to have children who submitted to their authority. Paul points to the rebelliousness of children as a sign of a society breaking down as it refuses to obey God’s law. Yet, many teach that parents should not discipline their children or control their behavior.
The Bible tells us to be grateful to God for our blessings. The ungrateful are considered reprobate.
Holiness was not valued in Roman culture and is not valued in our culture. Hypocritically, we condemn political candidates who have moral lapses, but enjoy actors and celebrities who are sexually immoral or indecent. We make it fun to be a little naughty. Las Vegas even advertises that you can come there and be unholy and no one will know back home. Yet, again, that value of our culture is contra to the standard of God. He told us to be holy because he is holy.
There is not much sympathy or empathy out there. Already in Paul’s time, the Romans made their enemies fight to the death. They burned Christians alive and fed them to lions while people watched and cheered. Unwanted children were thrown into fields. Today there is just a lot of meanness going on. Violence is common. We have all been the victim of someone’s “road rage” in traffic. People stand by and watch while a man is beaten or a woman is raped. Some take videos and post them on You Tube.
Appease means to bring to a place of calm or to make someone stop being angry. It reminds me of the accidental burning of a few Korans in Afghanistan which has led to Muslim mobs attacking people, killing some even and destroying property. Apologies were made for the mistake, but they will not be appeased.
Slander means to attribute false actions or motives to another. This happens all the time. Political candidates regularly lie about the actions of others or the effect of those actions. Christians are prone to it, ascribing bad motives to people when they do not know the persons actual motives. Some of that went on recently in our own church over the worship style and the number of services.
In the debates in our denomination over theology, proponents of one view regularly misstate the views of the other side while arguing against them. In debate, that is called a straw man.
Certainly first century Rome was known for many excesses. Sexual immorality was rampant. Violence was common. They are both common in our culture.
The Romans were certainly brutal to their enemies. The Jews were brutal toward Christians. Mexico today suffers from great brutality in the drug gang wars that are going on. In many cities and towns there, police are gunned down or beheaded.
Not loving good
Christian morals were not respected in Timothy’s day. They are less respected now in our time than in the past, especially in our country.
Always ready to betray, these people gain by their betrayal of others. I used to have to attend a Monday morning meeting of the top people in a corporation. The leader would always find a person and pick on him, and often others would “throw someone under the bus”. It was a terrible way to start the week.
Swollen with conceit
Conceit is an excessive appreciation of your own value or ability. It goes along with pride and arrogance.
Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God
Man is always tempted to do what feels good to him rather than live up to God’s standards of holiness. This is loving pleasure rather than God. It is a lot of what drives the abortion movement. Women want sex without consequences and men are happy for them to have it because it helps them avoid consequences. Aborting an imperfect child means you are not tied down to meet special needs and can spend the time on your own pleasures.
So, the last days are characterized by the clash of values between humanity and God, even though intervened to send his Son to teach his values and bring people into his kingdom.
Having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power
Paul pointed out to Timothy that these men wore a cloak of religious piety but were not godly. They like the trappings but do not really believe and serve an all powerful God. They do not believe God works effectively in the lives of believers.
This certainly describes a lot of self designated Christians in our time. They will say they are Christians and even claim membership in a particular church. However, they deny God by their lifestyle or by their theology. This is why I resist all attempts to reduce the power and sovereignty of God in theology. Those who continually exalt mankind and believe man limits God will ultimately deny the power of Godliness or lead others to do so.
In verse 6, Paul specifically says they mislead women and take advantage of their guilt over sin. Evidently they would teach that every thing is acceptable or the other extreme, that they needed to live in denial of all good things. Women in Paul’s age were often confined to the home and uneducated. They were very susceptible to false teaching. In Luke 17:2, Jesus said it would be better to drown with a millstone around your neck than to lead someone into sin.
Paul told Timothy to avoid these kinds of people. He already told him to be kind to them when discussing their differences. But he was not to be part of their group. It would dilute Timothy’s spiritual authority. It might corrupt his own theology and faith.
As an example of these kinds of people, in verse 7, Paul referred to Jannes and Jambres who opposed Moses. These names do not appear in the Biblical account of Moses or anywhere else in the Bible but here, so Paul had to refer to some other history. Exodus 7:10-12 speaks of Egyptian magicians who performed the same miracles as Moses and Aaron, until Aaron’s rod ate their rods. They are not named. But the Jews had many embellished stories of Moses, since he was the giver of the law.
Paul's may have obtained the names of the two magicians from the Book of Jasher. The Jews regarded it as a trustworthy historical document. It is quoted in 2 Samuel 1:18 (i.e. Jasher 56:9) and Joshua 10:11-15 (Jasher 88:61-65). Paul may have studied it while getting his theological training as a young Pharisee. Since he wrote this to Timothy, he clearly assumed Timothy knew the story also.
Jasher 79:27 says “ And when they had gone Pharaoh sent for Balaam the magician and to Jannes and Jambres his sons, and to all the magicians and conjurors and counsellors which belonged to the king, and they all came and sat before the king.”
Origen wrote that there was a book called The Book of Jannes and Jambres, containing details of their exploits. He wrote that Paul quoted from that book. However, that book has not been discovered.
Almost every decade has a person who appears on the religious scene with corrupted theology and practice. It is the job of the church to show their error and to seek their repentance. It is also the job of the church to avoid hanging out with them.
In contrast to these corrupted theologians, Paul commended Timothy’s theology and faith in verses 1--17.
10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and sat Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God2 may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Timothy stayed true to Paul’s teaching and example. (10) He stayed true even through Paul’s persecutions. (11) After all of his warnings to Timothy, he wanted him to understand that Paul knew he was still sound.
In verse 12, Paul gave a good reminder to Timothy and to us all. “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ will suffer persecution”. Ungodly people resent godly people. They will persecute them at some level. It may be severe, as Christians are beaten and killed in parts of the world. It may be social shunning. It may be ridicule in person or in the press. One of the Catholic presidential candidates has received a lot of criticism for his beliefs, for example.
The bad news is that these people go from bad to worse. Timothy lived to see that in Asia. We live to see it today. Take anyone who came to prominence for a slightly different twist on Christian doctrine. Follow him for 10 years. You will find someone who has left the orthodox Christian faith. And Paul leads us to believe opposition to the gospel will increase. It certainly increased in Paul and Timothy’s day.
Timothy, however, had firm knowledge and belief in the Biblical faith. He was taught Scripture as a child. He was discipled by Paul, an apostle. Paul centered his faith and Timothy’s in scripture. He said it is able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ. (15) We need desperately to heed this message. Philosophy is not the key to faith, eternal life or godliness. It is knowledge of, belief in and adherence to the word of God. It is all we need. That is what Paul cogently stated in verse 16. God’s word is sufficient for us. We do not need humanist philosophy.
That is because “All Scripture is breathed out by God”. We believe the Bible is God’s word. It was written by men who were inspired and directed by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:21 says “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”.
Not only is the Bible inspired, it is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. You do not need those books which have secrets to reveal, or psychology to implement or philosophy to explain. There is more in God’s word for you to learn and incorporate into your life than you will ever get done before you are glorified in Christ. Go to the Bible to solve your problems, ease your anxieties, learn what is right and wrong, learn what pleases and displeases God and makes you live righteously.
Not only is the Bible inspired and profitable, it is sufficient. Verse 17 says that the man (and woman) of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. It is all you need to be a complete Christian. It is all you need to be equipped for every good work.
Books that help you understand the Bible are good. Books that say they give you spiritual insight but do not quote the Bible as the source are not good. But no book, good or bad, should replace your dedication to the Bible. Do not read so many books you neglect The Book.
How can you apply this lesson? Do this:
Ask God to teach you
Read your Bible
Study you Bible
Act on what you learn