2 Timothy 3:1-13
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.
You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
These Terrible Times
The Bible describes life without pulling punches. And we’re thankful for it’s honesty. Life can be brutal. This is not just the experience of an unfortunate few. Trouble befalls all men in various ways. And especially for those who live a godly life, there will be seasons of particular difficulty.
Chapter 3 of 2 Timothy is this kind of honest appraisal of the human experience. What it described are terrible times.
But crouching behind every difficulty is a hopeful purpose. The author of this letter has a desire: that we would have strength and success through these terrible times. How can this happen?
The Times Are Limited
First we understand that these are the last days. Though sometimes misunderstood, the last days refers to this period of human history between the ascension of Christ and the return of Christ which has been ongoing roughly 2 millenia. It’s not a description of some point down the corridor of time, just before the return of Jesus. These are the last days. And they are limited. The have an end.
And during these last days, there will be “times of difficulty”. Not all of the last days will be difficult. But there will be seasons of difficulty, like (if you’re a parent) the terrible two’s.
The Times Are Difficult
What makes these times difficult is not that you’ll be broke, or you won’t have the lifestyle you want, or your dream house, or that the government is taxing you too much. The text points out that terribleness is the result of morally corrupted people.
Paul begins a list of at least 19 descriptions of human attitudes and activity that make the times terrible. Instead of touching on each of them, I want to zero in on the root of these issues: self-love. As one commentator says, “The theme of self-centeredness permeates the list. It starts with the vice ‘lovers of self’ with the following flowing from this problem, and the root problem being identified in the final vice, ‘not lovers of God’” (Mounce). We are facing a world ruined by self-love.
What do this mean? I like how A.W. Tozer describes the corruption of self-love like this (notice who he is addressing),
“I mean your pride, your bossiness, your nastiness, your temper, your mean disposition, your lustfulness and your quarrelsomeness. What do I mean, Reverend? I mean your study, your hunting for a bigger church, being dissatisfied with the offering and blaming the superintendent because you cannot get called. The reason you cannot get called is nobody wants you. That is what I mean, Reverend.
Deacons, what do I mean? I mean sitting around in board meetings wearing your poor pastor out, because you are too stubborn to humble yourself and admit you are wrong.
What do I mean, musicians? I mean that demeanor that makes you hate somebody that can sing a little better than you can. I mean that jealousy that makes you want to play the violin when everybody knows you can’t, especially the choir director. You hate him, wish he were dead, and secretly pray that he would get called to Punxsutawney. That is what I mean. All of this may be under the guise of spirituality and we may have learned to put our head over on one side, fold our hands gently and put on a beatific smile like St. Francis of Assisi, and still be just as carnal as they come.” –A.W. Tozer, The Radical Cross
How fitting is it that Tozer is describing moral corruption occurring inside the church. Understand this Christian, the uncrucified self will make life terrible. It makes terrible churches, terrible homes, and terrible workplaces. All places the Lord desires to be places of redeemed activity and shalom. The root of it? People are lovers of self, rather than lovers of God.
Avoid Such People
Paul says “avoid such people.” He means their teaching and their way of life. Don’t befriend them, avoid them. You may be all about “grace” and I hope you are. But godliness is complex and this command (not suggestion) flies in your face if you have a narrow view of love for sinners. Does not grace “train us to renounce ungodliness” (Titus 2:12)? Was not Jesus angered and drove out money changers from the temple (Matt. 21:12)? It’s a “superficial, simplistic, lopsided notion that godly anger and godly compassion cannot coexist in the same godly heart” (Piper). Paul says “avoid such people.”
These People Will Not Get Far
We need to know that these people will not get far, just like Jannes and Jambres. Jannes and Jambres were magicians in Pharaoh’s court who opposed Moses with false miracles. They had a limited ability to deceive until the power ran out and they were exposed. Just as with them, we need to know that these people’s “success” is limited. They may for a time continue deceiving and being deceived, but because they do not have true power, they will soon be exposed.
Live A Godly Life Through The Terrible Times
And here at the end, Paul gives us the key to overcoming the terrible times. The solution: live a godly life. We must embrace the reality that our own hearts are prone to self-love and without an intervention, we too will be categorized by the descriptions of Ch 3. Paul gave Timothy an example worthy of emulation. He says follow my example and unlike those who are ruining things, live a godly life:
- Follow my teaching about the Gospel.
- Follow my conduct, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, shaped by the Gospel.
- Follow my aim in life, the glory of God through the Gospel.
- Follow my faith in the Gospel.
- Follow my persecutions and my sufferings for the Gospel.
As he said, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” But when we are, we will be blessed. Remember Jesus’ words: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
So, let us embrace the grace of the Gospel and live a godly life. When we do, we will find strength to endure, and victory over these terrible times.