2Timothy3: Godliness in the Last Days

Introduction. Read 2Tim3.

Paul warns Timothy: There will be terrible times in the last days. v1. It is important to realise that Timothy was in the 'Last Days' just as am I and everyone else. The 'Last Days' are the days between Jesus' ascension and his return to earth in glory. Paul's description of the ills of society and his advice on how to rise above them are relevant to every age. If the term, 'Last Days' only referred to a short period immediately preceding Christ's Second Coming, Paul's advice would not have been relevant to Timothy or to all those who have since passed away.

(1) A sick society.

(a) Its symptoms.

Paul lists something like 19 symptoms of a godless society. People will be:

  • Selfish - lovers of themselves. We only have to consider the amount of money well-to-do people spend on travel in their retirement to realise just how much people love themselves. I amazed at how self-indulgent Christians are in this respect. Some of my friends think nothing of having 3 or 4 foreign holidays a year.

  • Materialistic - lovers of money. Our own age is incredibly materialistic. Profit is the driving force of banks, manufacturers, retailers and tradesmen. This has led recently to banks miss selling insurance, a great company like Volkswagen cheating over the exhaust emissions of its cars, supermarkets putting the squeeze on dairy farmers over the price of milk and tradesmen imposing exorbitant call out charges - especially on the old and vulnerable.

  • Boastful. In our times people are encouraged to promote themselves. An obsession with fame results in would be celebrities selling themselves. Politicians talk up their achievements for the sake of votes.

  • Proud. It is very rare for public figures to admit to making a mistake. Tony Blair hardly apologised profusely for taking us to war against Iraq on the basis of a lie. Doctors are slow to admit error. Pundits who are gratuitously insulting use weasel words like, "I apologise if I have caused any offence." The implication being that the fault lies with those who have taken offence.

  • Abusive. It has never been easier or cheaper to be abusive. Emails can be send to virtually anyone. When a sizeable number of Labour MPs voted with the Conservatives to bomb ISIL in Syria they received horribly abusive emails from hard left pacifists.

  • Disobedient to their parents. It is almost taken as read today that teenagers will rebel against their parents. This may result in unwise relationships leading to under age sex, alcohol and drug abuse. There is generally lack of respect for the elderly and an obsession with youth. Even old people want to look youthful! There is something pathetic about this. Churches that pander to youth and ignore the needs of the elderly are guilty of worldliness.

  • Ungrateful. A society obsessed with its rights is going to show little gratitude to the state. Too much is taken for granted. I am very grateful for my free university education, the drugs provided by the Health Service and my generous Teacher's Pension. The majority of people in Britain give God little thanks for all his goodness to them. Attendance at our Harvest Thanksgiving Services has dwindled. Indeed, increasing numbers of churches don't even bother with such services any more. God is only remembered when folk want someone to blame when things go wrong.

  • Unholy. Perhaps, shamelessness best describes what Paul is referring to. A shameless person offends against the fundamental decencies of life. Drunkenness, urinating in the street, wearing revealing clothes, having sexual intercourse in public, making obscene gestures at football matches all fall into this category. Shamelessness is definitely on the increase in England as anyone venturing into a town centre on a Saturday night will discover.

  • Without love. Does our society lack affection? It is certainly difficult today for schoolteachers to show their pupils affection. There is such horror of child abuse that teachers are not allowed to touch their pupils. Sometimes a small child needs a reassuring hug! I was glad when a pupil hugged me! It is pretty sad when hugs are out!

  • Unforgiving. Men and women will be implacable in their hatred. There is terrible evidence of this in our world. The rise of ISIL whose adherents seem to hate anyone who disagrees with them is the bitter fruit of an unforgiving spirit. There is also a lot of hatred in UK politics. In Northern Ireland hatred exists between unionists and republicans. Some Scottish Unionists seem to despise English Tories. Members of the hard left in England abhor moderate Labour MPs and have a visceral hatred of former Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Bitterness, resentment and spite are destructive and could not be further removed from Jesus' teaching about loving our enemies!

  • Slanderous. People have to be a bit careful of what they say or write because slander is punishable by law. Even football managers face sanctions if they question the honesty of a referee. However, lots of children make false and malicious accusations against their teacher and get away with it.

  • Without self-control. When I last watched a Test Match at Trent Bridge, the occasion was spoiled by the drunken antics of the spectators. Drunkenness has reached epidemic proportions in our town centres at the weekend. Obesity, another product of self-indulgence, is said to affect one in three of the population.

  • Brutal. People who are brutal or savage are those who in their treatment of others can be lost to human sympathy and feeling. (To quote Barclay). Feminists have been known to react savagely to those accused of sexist behaviour. Sir Tim Hunt was asked to resign as honorary professor at UCL because of his jocular remarks at a meeting about women in the laboratory: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry.” The politically correct brigade were on him like hyaenas at a kill. He was shown no mercy. It is not as if there was not a grain of truth in his remark.

    There is a growing number of politically correct students in the universities of the U.S.A. They are inclined to attack with disproportionate ferocity anyone on campus who puts forward views with which they disagree.

  • Not lovers of the good. Such people have an appetite for the cheap, banal, tawdry and trivial. This can be seen in people's taste in music, the programs they watch on TV and the newspapers and magazines they read. It is a great pity when worship becomes little more than repetitive chorus singing, arm waving and prancing in the aisles.

  • Treacherous. People guilty of treachery betray confidences, kiss and tell, drop you in it and act as informants. William Barclay writes: What Paul is thinking of here is more than faithlessness in friendship - although that in all truth is wounding enough - he is thinking of those who to pay back an old score, to satisfy an old hatred, to gratify an old spite, to win a moments cheap reward, would inform against Christians to the Roman Government. We should all be aware of the despicable behaviour of the informant. During the Second World War informants occurred in occupied Holland betraying those who hid Jews. In Stalinist USSR children informed on their parents! People were sent to labour camps in their thousands on the word of someone with a grudge against them.

  • Rash. A rash person is one who speaks or acts without thinking. Some football managers are prone to shoot their mouths of without considering the consequences. Tyson Fury, Britain's new Heavyweight Champion of the World, would have been better off not saying, "I believe a woman's best place is in the kitchen and on her back." It was also foolish to link homosexuality and paedophilia. Opposition to gay marriage, for example, should be based on reasoned argument.

  • Conceited. People who are conceited are full of themselves and have an inflated sense of their own importance. When I was a boy we called such individuals big heads. There are big heads in all walks of life. It is a weakness evident in the church where the occasional bumptuous parson can be found. Some pastors do not like sharing the pulpit with anyone else. They do not like to sit in the pew and listen to another preacher. I heard only this week of a well known preacher being invited to take a special service. He replied, "I will come if you can guarantee a congregation of over 100. Jesus did not despise a congregation of one!

  • Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. The Sunday evening service is gradually being phased out in the churches of Britain. Why should this be? It is because Christians are putting wordly pleasure before God. Perhaps they are like the parson I knew who wanted to play cricket on Sunday afternoons and evenings. Or they could take after my grandmother who stopped in on Sunday evenings because she reckoned it did her more good to watch Dr Finlay's casebook on TV than to go to church.

  • Having a form of godliness but denying the power. There are plenty of people who attend church and, perhaps, give the impression of being Christians who have never submitted to Jesus and received new life by the Holy Spirit.

Well, it has been rather wearisome working through this depressing list of symptoms of a sick society. If I preached on this chapter I would select just a few by way of example. It is sad that all these symptoms are evident in modern Britain. I don't think this is because things are a lot worse now than in previous ages. I am inclined to think that at almost any time in the last 2000 years these symptoms could be found in society.

(b) Its credulity.

Paul warns Timothy that in the Last Days false teachers will deceive vulnerable, credulous women. Paul described some of the characteristics of these women. They were:

  • Weak-willed and as such easily influenced.

  • Burdened with guilt. They may have felt guilty over their: relationship with their husbands, inadequacy as mothers, poor health or lack of devotion to God.

  • Swayed by all kinds of evil desires. What desires could these be? Perhaps they longed to be free - free from family obligations, free from convention and free from all restrictions. On the other hand they might long to be the centre of attention and to be made much of. Maybe all they wanted was a little excitement and romance in their lives.

  • Always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. A person of this type loves novelty. They are forever seeking out some new teacher with a different approach and a fresh slant on old truths. If they find such a teacher they sit at his feet drinking in his every word. But the teacher makes no lasting impression. They are soon disillusioned and off to find someone new. It is easy for women of this type to fall prey to cult leaders who peddle untruths.

Things haven't changed! Wealthy women in the States make use of therapists who grow rich pandering to their client's neuroses. I am more familiar with spiritual gypsies who move from church to church and from pastor to pastor. Such individuals love to be made much of and fussed over by the pastor. They aim to be one of the inner circle - one of the special ones - a trendsetter. Eventually the gypsy in them comes to the fore, they grow bored, disillusioned and decamp to another fellowship. These nomadic Christians are very shallow at best - always keen to try something new - but never coming to a knowledge of the truth.

(c) Its protagonists.

Jannes and Jambres are the names given by tradition to the magicians who tried to discredit Moses and thwart God's will by imitating the miracles he performed. They were able to turn water into blood and produce lots of frogs but they could not duplicate any other of the plagues. Jannes and Jambres attempted to undermine the signs performed by Moses - the true prophet of God. In the end Moses triumphed and it was Pharaoh's magicians who were discredited.

Today there are many opponents of Christianity. Some are found in the world. In the last twenty years humanists and atheists have become more vocally dismissive of God's existence. They try and discredit conversions in terms of people's emotions being played upon. Faith that endures is explained as the consequence of conditioning. It remains for the humanist to duplicate some of the amazing changes for the better in those whose lives are mess before submitting to Jesus.

The greatest enemies of Christ are found in the church itself; leaders who distort the truth. Here are some of the characteristics of these wolves in sheep's clothing:

  • They promote themselves and not Jesus.

  • They set themselves up as authorities rather than rely on the authority of Scripture.

  • They much prefer to draw lessons from current affairs rather than the Bible. Their sermons are little homilies that borrow heavily from what's in the media.

  • They deny the reality of sin and mankind's need of a Saviour.

  • They place too much emphasis on ritual, vestments and forms and not enough on the truth revealed by Christ and in Christ.

In the final analysis the church thrives when Jesus is central to all that is taught and done.

(2) Two remedies for a sick society.

(a) Set a good example.

Paul set Timothy a good example:

  • In what he taught. Paul emphasised over and over again Christ's central role in saving us from sin and making us right with God. See, for example, Rom5v1to11. See, also, my exposition on Romans5v1to11.

  • In the way he lived - with faith in God, patience with people and love for all.

  • By how he endured persecution with God's help. We shall have discouragements and setbacks as Christians and need to rise above them relying on God to help us as he helped Paul.

There is no doubt that church leaders like Paul are a very important means by which Christians survive in a wicked world. During my formative years the pastor of the church I attended was my father. He set me a lasting example how to live the Christian life. He was patient, calm, kind and conscientious - interested in all aspects of church life.

(b) Make full and effective use of Scripture.

  • Timothy was brought up on the Scriptures. Paul encouraged him to remain true to what he learned from them in childhood. These were the Old Testament Scriptures which still teach us valuable lessons. For example the stories of Joseph, Joshua, Rahab, Ruth, David, Daniel and Esther illustrate that God is faithful to those who trust in him. This is something for Christians to hold on to when they are under attack.

  • The Scriptures reveal God's plan of salvation. The Old Testament describes the sacrificial system that points forward to the supreme sacrifice Jesus made for our sin.

    The New Testament confirms that the way God chooses to forgive and redeem is through the sacrificial death of Jesus. We are saved by faith in Jesus and not faith in the Bible. However, it is through the Bible that we learn of Jesus. Many have been converted through reading the four Gospels.

  • All Scripture is God breathed. The Bible is not inspired in the same way that Tolstoy's, 'War and Peace,' was inspired. 'War and Peace' was inspired as Tolstoy's spirit reached an outstanding level of creativity. The Bible is not inspired by man's spirit but by God's Spirit. This does not mean that God dictated the Scriptures and that the men who wrote them were merely pens in God's hand. Each Bible author wrote in his own style using a distinct vocabulary. The four Gospels, for example, all deal with the same subject matter but each reflects the different interests and insights of the writer.

    The inspiration of Scripture does not mean it is inerrant. Pilate affixed a notice to the cross of Jesus. It had written on it in Hebrew, Greek and Latin something like: 'This is Jesus - King of the Jews.' Now the four Gospels were written in Greek - yet all four record in Greek a slightly different version of the notice. It is impossible to be absolutely sure of the precise words penned on the notice.

    When Paul wrote that the Scriptures are God breathed he meant that God's Spirit and man's spirit combined to produce a series of books that meet man's spiritual needs. The Canon of Holy Writ was decided on this basis. The books chosen to constitute the Canon of Scripture were those that over the years had met men's spiritual needs.

    The sort of needs the Bible meets are: the need to know God better, the need for reassurance of God's loving care, guidance on how to please God, instruction on how to treat our fellow men, warnings about conduct unacceptable to God, information about life after death - and so on.

  • Consequentially the Scriptures are useful for:

    • Teaching. The Bible is the Christian teacher's text book. It is where the teacher starts for information on Jesus and what he desires of us.

    • Rebuking. The Bible will convince a man of the error of his ways. Jesus' teaching on turning the other cheek, going the extra mile and being sued had a big influence on my outlook and conduct. For many years I had an unashamedly retaliatory spirit. If someone upset me I would upset them. Eventually I came to see that Jesus does not approve of such and attitude.

    • Correction. The Bible exists to challenge deviations from the truth. The New Testament record is there to correct false ideas about the afterlife, baptism, divorce and suffering.

    • Encouraging good works. We shouldn't just read the Bible out of interest, or as an academic study, or even personal reassurance and comfort; it should both stimulate and equip us to DO good works.