Here’s Paul the Apostle, writing to Timothy, one of his co-workers in the gospel, who is now in Ephesus, overseeing the church in that place. And Paul is writing to Timothy with advice and instruction about what to do and what to teach to the members of the church. And there are signs in what we read that Timothy is struggling. It seems that the challenges of ministry were getting too much for him; and troubles were piling up on top of him; and it was all becoming too difficult for Timothy; and perhaps he felt like giving it all up.
And so, Paul wrote to Timothy in chapter 1 and told him to fan into flame the gift of God which God has given him for the ministry. Don’t let it go out, but fan it into flame, And join with me in suffering for the gospel, Paul wrote, and keep the gospel message safe and secure. Guard it well, because there are false teachers who will only corrupt it. And in chapter 2, Paul told Timothy to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus and to endure hardship like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Endure it. Put up with it. And do your best to present yourself to God as a workman who doesn’t need to be ashamed, because you did your work well and you handled the Scriptures accurately, unlike the false teachers whose false ideas were spreading like gangrene and were destroying the faith of some. But instruct gently those who oppose you in the hope that God will give them repentance and deliver them from Satan’s snare. And, of course, later on in chapter 3, Paul will tell Timothy that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will face persecution. That’s what you can expect, Timothy. So prepare yourself for it and keep going, because it’s vital that Timothy should keep the gospel message safe and intact, because Paul himself was in prison, waiting to be executed. And once Paul and the other apostles have departed from this life, Timothy and preachers like him must take over the task of guarding the gospel and proclaiming the gospel. So, don’t give up your ministry. Keep going. Press on.
And in today’s passage, Paul warns Timothy that there will be terrible times in the last days. Terrible times. Times of difficulty. Harsh and difficult times. That’s what you can expect in the last days.
The Last Days
Let’s think about that phrase, ‘the last days’, because it’s easily missed, but it’s an important phrase in the Bible. It isn’t a phrase which Paul invented, but it’s one that appears in several places in the Old Testament. It appears first in Genesis 49 when Jacob blesses his sons before he dies. And in verse 1 of Genesis 49 it says that Jacob called for his sons and said to them: ‘Gather round so that I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come’. That is, gather round so that I can tell you what will happen to you in the last days. After that, the same expression occurs in about 13 other places in the Old Testament. We don’t have time to study all the places where the phrase is used, but I want to mention two places in the book of Daniel where it’s used, because I think that will help us to understand how Paul uses the expression here.
So, we find it in Daniel 2. That’s the chapter in which King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream about a great statue which is made up of different metals and clay. And then a rock was cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands, and it struck the statue and destroyed it. And then the rock became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth. What did the dream mean? Daniel explained that the statue which was made up of different metals and clay stood for the kingdoms of the earth which are destined to perish. And the rock which was cut out, but not by human hands, represents Christ the King who was coming into the world to establish his kingdom, a kingdom which will fill the earth and which will be everlasting. And Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that God had given him this dream so that he would know what will happen in days to come. That is, in the last days. So, in the last days, Christ will come to establish his kingdom throughout the earth.
But then we also find the same expression in Daniel 10:14. In this chapter, a heavenly being appeared to Daniel with a message from the Lord. And this heavenly being said that he had come to explain to Daniel what will happen to Daniel’s people in the future. More literally, he said he had come to explain to Daniel what will happen to Daniel’s people in the latter days or in the last days. So, what will happen? He revealed to Daniel how there was a great spiritual battle going on in the unseen, heavenly realm between the Lord and his angels and the Devil and his satanic forces. And what happens in that unseen, heavenly realm affects what happens in the world around us, because the Devil and all his satanic forces are doing what they can to frustrate God’s plans for the world and for his church. And in the following chapters, God revealed to Daniel the future of the world and the continual struggle for power among the nations and how God’s people will suffer in various ways before the end comes and God’s people are raised from the dead. That’s what we can expect in the last days.
So, according to what was revealed to Daniel, in the last days, Christ will come to establish his kingdom throughout the earth. However, in the last days, a great spiritual conflict will take place in the heavenly realm and God’s people will suffer trouble and persecution on the earth. Let’s leave the Old Testament behind and turn to the New Testament. And let’s think about the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the people in Jerusalem like never before. And Peter stood up and began to preach. And in his sermon he said that what had happened fulfilled the word of the Lord by the prophet Joel. And then he quoted from Joel 2:
In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people….
Pouring his Spirit on the people on the Day of Pentecost signified that the last days had arrived. And the book of Hebrews begins by telling us that in the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways. But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. Christ’s coming into the world marked the beginning of the last days and they will continue until he comes again in glory and with power to bring in the new heavens and earth and to defeat the Devil once and for all. And until he comes, the Devil and all his satanic forces will do everything they can to frustrate God’s plans for the world and for the church. He will attack God’s people with his wicked schemes and he will attack God’s people like a roaring lion. He’ll stir up an unbelieving world to persecute Christ’s people and he’ll try to lead us astray from the truth. And so, in Ephesians Paul tells believers to put on the full armour of God so that we can take our stand against him. And in 2 Thessalonians he warns us about the spirit of lawlessness in the world and about the Devil who deceives. And the book of Revelation teaches us about the troubles and trials the church will face in the last days. And here, in 2 Timothy 3, Paul warns Timothy that he can expect terrible times in the last days. Terrible times. Difficult times. Harsh times. That’s what you can expect, Timothy. And it’s what we can expect. God revealed it through Daniel. He revealed it in other places. And he reveals it here.
And in the following verses, Paul describes for us what people will be like in the last days. They will be lovers of themselves and they will be lovers of money. That’s how the list begins. And if you jump down to verse 4, you’ll see that he says they will also be lovers of pleasure instead of being lovers of God. And, you see, we should all be lovers of God. The first and greatest command is that we’re to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. That’s our fundamental duty in life. We’re to love God above all other things. We ought to love him because he made us; and every good thing we have in life has come to us from him. He has filled our life with good things to enjoy. So, we ought to love him for that. But we also ought to love him because he’s God and he’s perfect. He’s the most perfect being; and we cannot imagine anyone being more perfect than him. And so, because he’s the most perfect being, we ought to love him for that. But because we’re sinners by nature, we don’t love the Lord the way that we should. Do you remember how Paul put it in his letter to the Romans? Since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what he has made. But although we knew God, we did not glorify him as God or give thanks to him. And we exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the glory of images. Instead of loving and worshipping the Creator, we loved and worshipped created things. And so, says Paul to Timothy, people will love, not God, but themselves. They put themselves first and not God. What matters most in all the world is me.
So, people will be lovers of themselves. And they will be lovers of money. And the love of money, Paul told us in 1 Timothy, is the root of all kinds of other evils. Loving money will lead to all kinds of other sins, because people will steal to get more money; and they’ll deceive to get more money; and they’ll be selfish with the money they already have. And they’ll be lovers of pleasure, which is just another way of saying they’ll be lovers of themselves, because the person who loves themselves is occupied with their own pleasures and desires and experiences. It’s all about me.
But look at what else he says about people in these verses. They will be boastful and proud, praising and exalting themselves, instead of praising and exalting the Lord. And they will be abusive. The Greek word Paul uses can be translated ‘blasphemous’. A blasphemer reviles God and does not give him the honour he deserves; and an abusive person reviles other people and does not give them the honour they deserve. So, in the last days, people will revile God and other people.
And they’re disobedient to their parents. Their parents brought them into the world. Their parents looked after them and provided for them. Their parents made sacrifices for them. But instead of gratefully acknowledging it and obeying their parents as a sign of their gratitude, they disobey their parents. And such people are also ungrateful. So, they do not give thanks to God or to anyone else for what they have received. And instead of living for God as one of his holy people, they live unholy lives of wickedness. And they are without love. And so, they are hard-hearted and unfeeling and have no regard for the needs of other people. They are no sympathy for the needs and cares of others.
And they are unforgiving. He means they are unappeasable. So, in any dispute, in any disagreement, they are unwilling to work things out and to come to an agreement. It’s my way and I won’t budge from it. They are also slanderous so that they slander and accuse other people. And they are without self-control. We all need self-control, don’t we? We need to control what we say so that we don’t say something hurtful. We need to control what we do so that we don’t do what’s evil. We need to control our emotions so that we’re not carried away by them. We need to discipline ourselves and keep a tight reign on ourselves. But these people are without self-control. And they’re brutal. They are unmerciful and cruel.
And they do not love the good. In other words, instead of thinking about the good of others, they only think about what’s best for them. And they are treacherous. That is, they will betray other people just as Judas betrayed the Saviour. And they are rash in the sense that they’re given to hasty behaviour. They’re reckless. And they are conceited in the sense that they always think they know best. The false teachers were conceited, because they thought they knew more than Paul and Timothy. And as we’ve seen, they are lovers of pleasure instead of lovers of God.
So, there will be terrible times in these, the last days in which we’re living, because this is what people will be like. This is what you’re dealing with, Timothy. This is the kind of person you’ll encounter as you conduct your ministry. And perhaps the most shocking thing about this list is what we read at the end of the list in verse 5. These people have a form of godliness, but they deny its power. Do you know what Paul is saying here? When Paul refers to godliness, he means devotion to God. So, he’s saying about these people that they have a form of devotion to God. That is, they appear to be devoted to God. They have an appearance of devotion to God. So, he’s not describing pagan people. He’s not referring to atheists. He’s not referring to unbelievers out in the world. He’s referring to people in the church. He’s talking about people who come to church and they appear to be devoted to God, because they sing along to the songs and they bow their heads in prayer and they listen to the sermons and they take part in the other activities of the church. They do everything a believer does and they appear to be one of God’s people. But they deny its power in the sense that they don’t have the real thing. They haven’t been transformed by the Spirit of God.
There will be terrible times in the last days, Timothy, because you’ll encounter this kind of person in the church. You’re trying to serve the Lord. You’re trying to do his will. You’re trying to preach his word. But these people will make things difficult for you and for every true believer in the church. When you want to do good, they’ll get in your way. They’ll frustrate your plans and they’ll stand in the way of gospel ministry.
So, have nothing to do with them. That’s Paul advice at the end of verse 5. And it’s interesting, isn’t it? At the end of chapter 2, Paul told Timothy to instruct gently his opponents in the hope that God will give them repentance and will deliver them from Satan’s snare. Now, he’s telling Timothy to have nothing to do with these people who an appearance of godliness. And so, it seems Paul is distinguishing between some who are still willing to be instructed and those who are not. When you come across the first group: Great! Teach them. Who knows? They might repent and believe. But there are others in the church who have become completely hardened. Separate yourself from them. And I think I know what Paul means, because from time to time I’ve come across people in churches who have been life-long members of their church, but they’ve never believed. They’ll tell you that themselves. And they are some of the hardest and most difficult people I’ve ever met.
Although the NIV begins verse 6 with the word, ‘They are the kind….’, a better translation is ‘For among them….’ So, in verses 1 to 5 he was describing a large group of people who have a form of godliness, but deny its power. And among that large group is a smaller group. And he’s thinking of the false teachers again. He says about them that they worm their way into homes. Other translations say they ‘creep’ or they ‘sneak’. There’s something cunning and devious about them. And, using all their cunning, they gain control over weak-willed women. Now, Paul isn’t saying that all women are weak-willed. So, perhaps he has certain people in Ephesus in mind whom he knew to be weak-willed. And he goes on to describe these women as being loaded down with sins and they’re swayed by all kinds of evil desires and they’re always learning, but they’ve never able to acknowledge the truth.
He’s describing the women here. And what these women really need is for a true believer to come alongside them and to tell them the good news about Jesus Christ, who gave up his life to pay for our sins so that whoever believes in him is washed and cleansed and pardoned. They need a true believer to come along and to tell them that Christ gives us his Spirit to help us to fight against our sinful desires and to replace them with the desire for doing good. And they need a true believer to come along and to tell them that instead of running around, listening to this new teacher and that new teacher, you need to believe in the Saviour and trust in him for salvation. That’s what these poor women needed. But instead of getting that, all they got was these false teachers who sneaked into their homes and who gain controlled of them. We’re re not to put anyone under our control. We’re to point sinners to Christ who sets us free from Satan’s control and from the control of their own sinful desires and from the control of an unbelieving world. We’re to point sinners to Christ who sets us free. But all these poor women got were these false teachers.
And look how Paul describes the false teachers in verse 8. They oppose the truth and they are men of depraved minds. Timothy is trying to preach the truth, but these false teachers are opposing him. And Paul likens them to Jannes and Jambres. You won’t find those names anywhere else in the Bible, but according to Jewish tradition, these were the names of the Egyptian magicians who copied what Moses did when he was before the Pharaoh. Moses threw his staff down and it became a snake. And these two men did the same using their magic arts. And therefore they prevented Pharaoh from believing the word of the Lord from Moses. And the false teachers are preventing the people from believing the word of God from Timothy.
But they won’t get very far, Paul says. Their folly will be clear to everyone. So, for a while they may succeed and they may deceive some and lead them astray. However, one day the Lord will expose them and stop them and punish them. And even though they may damage the church, the church will survive. How do I know the church will survive? Well, it’s survived for 2000 years already. And as we read last week, God’s solid foundation stands firm. The church is built on a firm and solid foundation which cannot be moved. And we know the church will survive, because do you remember what Daniel said about the last days? Yes, he said it would be a time of trouble and trial for God’s people, because there’s a great spiritual battle taking place in the unseen, heavenly realm which affects us here on earth. And the Devil will harass and hurt the church with false teachers and with persecution and trials. And so, you have to be ready to stand firm in the faith. But Daniel also said that Christ’s kingdom will become a mountain which will fill the earth. Earthly kingdoms come and go. They rise and fall. But Christ’s kingdom, which he’s building on the earth through the reading and preaching of his word, is an everlasting kingdom. It will not fall. It will not be destroyed. There may be terrible times for us in these, the last days. There may even be people in the church who love themselves and not God and who oppose the truth. And there may be false teachers who lead some astray. But you needn’t be afraid, because Christ will build his church and no-one will be able to stop him. So, stand firm in the faith in these, the last days in which we’re living. And wait for God to do all that he has planned.