The Apostle Paul was in prison again in Rome. It would be from his cell that he would write the second letter to his protégé, Timothy. Paul knew that the time of his death had come (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Timothy was the son of a Gentile father and a Jewish mother. His mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois, were believers in the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:5). Paul had appointed Timothy to head the church in Ephesus. Paul writes to encourage Timothy in his Christian life. He urges him to be strong in what he believes. Timothy is to use the gifts that God has given to him. Paul asks him to preach the Gospel and teach the Truth. Yet, we find a message in Paul’s letter that is hardly encouraging. It isn’t very comforting. In it, we can glean insight into the human depravity that is seemingly penetrating our society. Almost 2,000 years ago, Paul gave us clues to identify those in our world to avoid.
(2 Timothy 3:1-5)1NIV New International Version Translations – “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”
William Barclay, a famed theologian of the New Testament, calls these verses “Times of Terror.” The Apostle Paul is saying that the return of our Lord will be preceded by a time of terror when evil people will gather for their final assault on the world. The Greek word chalepos is being used to indicate “terrible,” or difficult and hard to bear, times yet to come. The Apostle Matthew also uses chalepos when he describes the two Gergesene demoniacs who met Jesus among the tombs (Matthew 8:28). We are being warned that there will come a time when the very existence of the Christian Church and of goodness itself will see an assault from evil before its final defeat. Whether you believe we are there now or not is irrelevant. Paul has given us an excellent picture of what a sinful and evil society will look like—a society that God detests! It is a message to help us avoid those who seek the destruction of a moral world. Let’s look at 2 Timothy 3:1-8 more closely.
“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive”
It is no accident that the first of these qualities is a life that is centered on one’s self. Oh, my goodness! If you had to write a one-line description of our society, this would be it. Narcissism reigns supreme these days in government, social media, sports, and the news. Our woke and cancel cultures, the war over race and color, are front and center in our schools, workplaces, government, and even churches. It becomes an insult to all who may have differing opinions.
“disobedient to their parents, ungrateful,”
The breakdown of the family, single-parent homes, and the attack on children indicate a disturbing trend. While the recent isolation of many due to COVID has led to emotional and mental issues, too often there has been a complete breakdown of respect and obedience to parents. There are now groups that promote the dissolution of the family structure. How sad! One should always assume that in God’s orderly world, there is a place for a family, a mother, a father, and obedient children.
“unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal,
Barclay defines these verses as “implacable in hatred, reveling in slander, ungovernable in their passions, savage, not knowing what the love of good is, treacherous, headlong in word and action, inflated with pride, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” What are your opinions? Are there over 50 genders? Should drugs become accepted in our society? Our media spreads hate like salt on an icy road. You know what salt does to your car right? It eats away everything from the inside out!
“not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power.”
Have you watched any of the 200+ cable channels lately? Paul’s words sound like a caption on a new TV reality series. People line up to watch. In sports, news, and government, all seem to love adversity but do what they do in the name of diversity. Schools no longer listen to parents, and companies dictate social policy. God’s sovereignty is denied in all they do! Billions are spent each year to produce video content for our consumption. Most of it is junk, pushing radical concepts to children and young people.
“Have nothing to do with such people.”
The Apostle Paul gets right to the real point, avoid these people! But what do we do instead? Elect them to run our lives, tune in and watch them daily, and envy them as heroes of the games. Wear their names on the clothes we purchase. Here is one of the most terrible pictures in the New Testament of what a godless world would be like, with the terrible qualities of godlessness set out in plain view. The essence of Christianity is not the enthronement of oneself but the obliteration of “self.” Paul used the Greek word philautos which means self-loving. Love of self is the basic sin, from which all other sins flow. Obedience to God and charity become impossible the moment we make our own will the center of our lives.
Paul trying to help us pick people, and leaders to support, emulate, and learn from. He uses a Greek noun, alazoneia, meaning “The claim to good things which a man does not possess.” Aristotle defined a derivative word, alazon as “the man who pretends to creditable qualities that he does not possess, or possesses in a lesser degree than he makes out.” We see in our world today, people who pretend that they are richer than they are or braver than they are, and those who promise to do what they cannot do. Socrates states that they were to be found in every walk of life but were worst of all in politics. “Much the greatest rogue of all is the man who has gulled his city into the belief that he is fit to direct it.”
In Paul’s description of the last “terrible” days, people were to have no love for good things or good persons (aphilagathos). Those who fed their mind on cheap false knowledge, in the end, found nothing. The danger we all face is that one can sink so far away from God as to find even the presence of good people something to avoid. Look for it! The danger sign is that people will be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. And here we come back to where we started. Such people have placed their wishes at the center of their life. They worship themselves instead of God, knowing nothing of Christ, the real power that changes people’s lives.
- Where does Paul’s description of an evil world fit in our world today?
- Ideas to Explore: Is Paul right? Can you find parallels in life today? Where is it the most prevalent? Where are your concerns?
- What is your plan for dealing with a world spiraling toward Paul’s end-time world?
- Ideas to Explore: Since no one knows when the Lord will return, what should we be doing? Where do you see Christian behavior in need of adjustments?
- Paul was getting his protege ready for trouble. How do you think we should be preparing the next generation of Christian youth?
- Ideas to Explore: What are the productive ways to strengthen the faith of future generations? How do you personally work to strengthen the family unit?
- Do you avoid people like Paul has described?
- Ideas to Explore: Can you recognize them? Is hate a typical characteristic? Do you tune them out if they are on media? Have you tried increasing your time with the Word of God?
- 1NIV New International Version Translations