Before the Apostle Paul was the “Apostle”, he was a religious leader who hated Jesus Christ and any of his followers. In his obsession against Christ, he persecuted many men and women, unjustly dragging them off to prison, and even having some of them put to death.
A few years later, Paul had an encounter with Jesus, and he repented of his rebellion against God, he believed in Christ, and then he became the most well-known follower of Christ in the past 2000 years. The Book of Acts describes some of his ministry, including persecution that he now was on the receiving end.
In Acts 13 & 14, Paul and his fellow apostle, Barnabas, traveled through 3 cities in what today is known as south central Turkey. Three cities: Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. In Antioch, many Jews were saved. But other Jews were jealous, and along with some influential Gentiles, stirred up persecution and kicked Paul and Barnabas out of the city. Then they traveled down the road to the next city, Iconium. Similar persecution happened. So they traveled to the third city, Lystra. They preached the gospel there, and here’s what happened.
Acts 14:19–20 CSB Some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and when they won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead. After the disciples gathered around him, he got up and went into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.
Exhibiting an injustice comparable to that displayed against the Lord Jesus, they pulverized Paul’s body with stones to the point they assumed he was dead. The next day, Paul gets up and moves on to another city to preach the gospel there.
I marvel at this scene. Paul is severely mistreated in 3 cities. He is assaulted and almost dies. And then the next day, he travels to yet another city with the risk of facing the very same thing. How does this guy keep going? How does he not grow discouraged and weary from the opposition?
If we are familiar with history in the past 2000 years, such persecution is not uncommon. Even today, Christians in many parts of the world risk suffering, even death, because they proclaim the name of Jesus. Some of you are from those countries. What keeps them going?
We are near the end of a series going through two letters the Apostle Paul wrote to his young disciple, Timothy. This morning we will cover Chapter 3 in Paul’s 2nd letter. Not only in this chapter but in all 4 chapters in this short letter, Paul speaks of suffering. Particularly suffering for the gospel. Such suffering has a way of wearing us down. Of tempting us to question, “Where is God in all this?” Tempting us to doubt, “Is this all worth it? And really….is it even true?” And we wonder, “Should I just quit and find an easier way to live?” What we will read this morning will help us make some sense out of all of this.
(CSB) 1 But know this: Hard times will come in the last days.
2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy,
3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good,
4 traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
5 holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people.
6 For among them are those who worm their way into households and deceive gullible women overwhelmed by sins and led astray by a variety of passions,
7 always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.
8 Just as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so these also resist the truth. They are men who are corrupt in mind and worthless in regard to the faith.
9 But they will not make further progress, for their foolishness will be clear to all, as was the foolishness of Jannes and Jambres.
This is a heavy passage.
First, in vs. 1 let’s talk about “the last days.” There are two ways to view Paul’s words here.
- Last days refers to the days immediately preceding the Second Coming of Christ.
- Last days refers to the age we are currently in, between Christ’s ascension into heaven and his physical return to the earth.
Which is it? It is debatable.
While the final days leading up to Christ’s return may indeed more difficult, I believe that Paul here is speaking more broadly of the days between the two comings of Christ, that is, our current age.
Reasons for this:
- Primarily, the context of this passage calls for it. Vs. 6+ speaks of false teachers in Timothy’s world that were living this way. “For among them are…” (vs. 6). In the “present tense.”
- Several NT passages show that “last days” or “last hour” speaks of our age. (For example, Hebrews 1:2.)
Then Paul gives us a long list of qualities in the lives of people in these last days. Specifically he likely has in mind the lives of false teachers since in vs. 6-9 he is clearly referring to that. But the church in every century can read this list and think, “This sounds like the world around me. People in my society.”
“And, if I’m honest, it sounds a bit like ME.”
So let’s examine some of the details.
Vs. 2. Lovers of self and lovers of money.
Let’s focus on the word “love” for a minute. Jesus told us in Matthew 22 that the greatest commandment in all of Scriptures is that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind. We are to love God with everything we have. We are to hold nothing back. He is to be the #1 priority in our lives. #1 over spouses, children, careers, money, entertainment. We are to obey him above everyone and everything else. Jesus’ words are often called, the Great Commandment.
Why should we love him first and most? He deserves our love. He created us. He saved us through his Son. He is good and glorious and beautiful and wonderful. He is the most loving Person we will ever know. Why wouldn’t we love him with every fiber of our being.
And second, Jesus says we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are to care for others and consider their needs just like we care for ourselves.
So with that still in our minds, now let’s go back to our description of people in these last days.
Vs. 2 Lovers of self
Lovers of money
Vs. 3. Unloving
Without love for what is good
Vs. 4. Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
The lives of people in every generation in these last days are anti-God. They are anti-God’s will and God’s commands. Instead of loving God with all our hearts, and loving our neighbors as ourselves, we love self. We love money. We don’t love what is truly good in the sight of God. And we love pleasure more than we love God.
And there is so much more in this list.
- Boastful and proud
- Disobedient to parents.
- Irreconcilable. This means we are unforgiving. That we have hostility towards others and we refuse to make peace.
- Vs. 4. Traitors. The same word is used to describe Judas Iscariot, who betrayed our beloved Lord Jesus.
What do you think about this list? Does it give you a picture of our culture today? I believe so.
Now let me ask a more personal question: Does this list of qualities remind you…of you???? It might remind us of ourselves more than we would like to admit. I see some of me in there. For sure, I am tempted in some of these areas. And I even have times when I succumb to sin.
Then vs. 5 is important:
These people have a form of godliness but deny its power.
What does this mean? It means people look good on the outside. They have a form of religions externally. They have an appearance of faith. But they are corrupt on the inside. And they deny the power of God. The power of the gospel to save us thoroughly and change us from the inside out.
I love these powerful words from Hebrews:
Hebrews 7:25 ESV Consequently, he [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
Jesus is able to saved us to the uttermost. That is, completely, permanently.
Of these people in vs. 5, whether they are false teachers or regular people in the church, Paul says plainly and bluntly, we are to avoid. To flee from them. We are to have nothing to do with them. Paul’s focus here is surely concerning people who are within the church and trying to deceive the church. He’s not saying that we cannot befriend someone outside the church and evangelize them. Otherwise we will never reach out to anyone with the gospel of Christ.
He is speaking of those who are milling around in the church. They look good on the outside. But they are corrupt on the inside. “AVOID THEM,” Paul admonishes us.
Why? Because these people, Paul says, are worming their way into homes and ruining lives.
But this is not just a 1st century problem. Paul takes us back 1400 years prior in Moses’s days. Jannes and Jambres—likely they were the magicians—the sorcerers—in Pharoah’s court who created pseudo miracles during the Lord’s Ten Plagues on Egypt. Paul’s 1st century false teachers were just like those in Moses’ day. And it’s safe to assume such influencers are still around today. But the good news is, in vs. 9, eventually the folly of such people will be obvious to everyone.
So far, the passage is rather dark and ominous. What should we do? How does this relate to our lives? Here are three things.
- Avoid such people
This is the clear application of the passage.
Like Paul told Timothy in vs. 5, avoid those who are worming their way into the lives of God’s people. Such deceivers may try to influence the church on a Sunday morning, but perhaps more likely they will try to “worm their way” into our homes. How? A likely way will be through books, videos, podcasts, blogs.
We should “avoid these people,” as in, don’t give attention to their words and their lives. Don’t read their books; don’t listen to their podcasts.
- Guard our hearts.
We must guard our hearts in two contrasting ways:
- From fretting
This passage clearly points out the darkness in our world, even today. And we can fret and worry. We fret over the condition of this world. We worry about all the darkness and the evil that seems to press in on us. We despair that we might get overrun with evil. To such fretting and despair, the Lord simply says, don’t. Don’t fret.
We must know and believe that the darkness of this world is no surprise to God. The Lord has known of such evil, and darkness ever since Moses’ day more than 3000 years ago… and even long before that. For we are told that even before time began, God had planned to send his Son to save this world from its darkness. So the Lord has always known of the dark days in every century.
And most importantly, we can rest that Jesus Christ is the Judge of all, and nothing will escape his notice.
Revelation 22:12 CSB Look, I am coming soon, and my reward is with me to repay each person according to his work.
Stop fretting, for we have the hope of the gospel. We have read the end of the book, and we know it will end well for those of us in Christ.
The second way we need to guard our hearts is from:
- From judging
When we see such evil in the world, as is described in these first nine verses, we can be tempted, tempted to be critical, to be harsh, condemning.
“Look at all those wicked sinners out there. Thank God I’m not like them.” And when we do this, we have forgotten grace. We have forgotten our lostness. Our depravity. Our blindness. Our unloving heart. We have forgotten that only by God’s grace are we saved.
By remembering his rich grace toward us, we will be led into a spirit of humility, compassion, and kindness… rather than a spirit of condemnation.
So we guard our hearts from fretting and from judging.
To guard our hearts is more on the passive side. On the more active side of applying vs. 1-9 to our lives is prayer.
- We should pray for our world.
Instead of retreating and despairing and judging, let us advance. And advance in prayer. Pray for people, that they might find the grace of God in Christ and be set free from sin just as Christ has done for you. Pray that you would be a light in the darkness. Pray that you would live out your faith on a daily basis. At home. In the neighborhood. In school. In the workplace. Pray for boldness to speak about Jesus, the Light of the world, who has come to give sight to the blind. To set the prisoners free from their slavery to sin.
So pray for people in your world.
Now let’s read the rest of the chapter.
10 But you have followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance,
11 along with the persecutions and sufferings that came to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured—and yet the Lord rescued me from them all.
12 In fact, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
13 Evil people and impostors will become worse, deceiving and being deceived.
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you,
15 and you know that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness,
17 so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
First, let’s consider the situation as Timothy receives this letter from his father in the faith, Paul.
Timothy is encountering many pressures as a leader of God’s people.
- Some Christians, including Timothy himself, are experiencing severe persecution. Slander, beatings, imprisonment.
- Some of the weaker Christians are being tricked by some evil men who themselves are very deceived.
- Your good friend and mentor, Paul, is in prison.
- And even worse, Paul knows he is going to be killed for his faith very soon.
Such pressures could bring a variety of temptations:
- Exhaustion physically, spiritually, and emotionally. So many hard and unjust sufferings are happening to people you love. It’s draining on your soul.
- Grief and anger. The false teachers are hurting people you care about. You’re tempted to go punch those guys in the nose…in a very loving sort of way.
- Shame. Your own mentor is in prison, falsely accused of a felony. His reputation is getting smashed, and it feels shameful to even associate with him. And now you’re ashamed of being ashamed.
- Sadness and anxiety. When Paul dies, what will you do without him? He’s been like a father to you. He has taught you so much. You’ve leaned on him through hard times so often. Will you be able to keep going without him?
After giving this dark but true summary in vs. 1-9 about the condition of the world and the false teachers who are trying to ruin God’s church, Paul transitions in vs. 10. He says, “But you, Timothy…”. Something is different in you, Timothy. Yes, the darkness is strong and real. But you, Timothy, have something better.
Paul now appeals to Timothy to remember Christ, the Savior to whom Timothy has clung to for many years.
Starting in vs. 10, Paul tells him,
- “Remember my life, Timothy, how I have loved you, taught you, served the Lord alongside you.
- Remember the example I have set in godliness.
- Remember how I have followed Christ even through some intense persecution like heckling, beatings, imprisonment in those 3 cities years ago. And many more since then.
- Remember that I have kept going all these 15+ years we have served the Lord together.”
Then in vs. 14, Paul says,
- “Then go back even further to your spiritual roots, Timothy. Remember your grandmother and your mother who taught you the gospel from the Scriptures. Remember their faith and their godly examples.
- “Remember how in your own heart and life, you have loved Christ and served him for many years. And the Lord has always been faithful to you.”
- It’s all true, Timothy. You’ve known this for years. Don’t quit now.
That’s why in vs. 14 Paul reveals his only command to Timothy in this section,
“Continue in what you know and have believed for many years, ever since you were born.”
Paul is saying, “Don’t quit. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be vengeful. Keep going.”
And then in vs. 16, Paul wants Timothy to remember the Scriptures. The words “breathed out” by God. Eternal words with eternal impact on the souls of men and women, including Timothy himself.
- God himself has spoken these words.
- Timothy can trust what the Scriptures say.
- He can stake his life on it, even in the most stressful days of helping people in many churches. Even on days when he is hated for the gospel.
“Continue on, dear Timothy, my son in the faith.”
- “Remember my faith and my love.
- Remember your grandmother and mother who taught you.
- Remember the Scriptures, the very words of God sent from heaven to teach us and save us and prepare us to walk in godliness.
I find Paul’s words to his son in the faith to be words we all need to hear. Few of us are suffering like Paul was for the gospel. Few of us are in leadership like Timothy, feeling the pressures of guiding and protecting the churches. Yet I suspect we can relate. We can relate to suffering in general. We can relate to some of the temptations Timothy may have been facing. So like Timothy, we need urging and encouragement to keep going, to not give up, to continue following Jesus until our last breath.
Here are two things we can take from our struggle in this world as we follow Christ. Two things to help us, like in vs. 14, to “continue in what we have known and become convinced of.”
- Follow Paul’s example of both godliness and suffering. (vs. 10)
Follow Paul’s example and the example of others who have followed him. This is one of several reasons why we need the church. Why we need rich, regular, deep fellowship with other Christ followers. We learn so much…so much!…from others. We simply are not made to try this on our own. Paul has set an example for us to follow. His example is surely in godliness as he speaks of so frequently in these two letters. In addition, Paul is an example of how to think and live when suffering, particularly when suffering an injustice. Paul actually promises in vs. 12 that we will suffer likewise in persecution.
We can be in conversation with the Lord, and ask him, “Would you help me, that my life would match my words?” And it’s important we remember that Jesus Christ was the only person whose life and words completely and perfectly aligned. But still, our passion is to have our life and our words match up every day.
We should study the Scriptures to learn from Jesus’ example as well as Paul’s. Consider their confidence in their heavenly Father. Also, we can read about believers throughout history, including the millions today who are suffering for Christ. My wife and I regularly read stories of ongoing suffering in many parts of the world today. We are humbled and encouraged by their lives.
We must remember what we’ve been taught. Evil surrounding us can wear us down. False teachers, some as deceptive as Jannes and Jambres can trick us and lure us to believe lies. But we must remember the lives of those who told us about Christ, those who have been faithful for years (including the Apostle Paul and Timothy). And we must remember the Scriptures that captivated our hearts and opened up our eyes to eternal life in Christ.
For the past 2 weeks I’ve been thinking about Paul’s words in vs. 10-17. I’ve been reflecting on what I was taught as a young believer. I distinctly remember in the first four or five years of my Christian life, from age 19 until age 24, how much I was taught from the Scriptures. I remember the lives of the friends and pastors who taught me. I remember the examples they set. Specifically, I remember four men who had a profound influence on me. Two were pastors, named Brent and John. One was my friend and small group leader. He’s in this room today, Mike Anderson. And one was my friend and roommate, Stu, who died suddenly 3 years ago and is now in glory with Christ. Many others influenced me, but these 4 were the most significant. I owe them so much in helping establish me in my faith.
10 years ago, Stonebrook had a seminary-level class called, Essentials of Sound Doctrine. One of the assignments was to reflect back on our own lives. We were to write a page-long paper on “How did we get well-established in the faith in our early years?” Last week, I re-read the paper I wrote for that assignment. I am grateful even more now for the heritage I was given. In those first 4 to 6 years of my Christian life—most of that while I was a student at Iowa State— I was taught very well the core truths of the Christian faith.
- I learned from the Scriptures about justification. Sanctification. Adoption. Reconciliation. The indwelling Holy Spirit.
- I learned why Christ is the only way to eternal life.
- I learned about God’s attributes: Holy. Eternal. Powerful. Loving. Kind. All-knowing. All-wise.
- I learned convictions about the importance of the church. Of our mission as Christ followers. Of worship and baptism. Of godly character and obedience.
The list goes on and on.
Did I know everything I ever needed to know? For sure, no. Did I know everything perfectly and completely? No. But a solid foundation was laid. It’s that foundation that Paul calls Timothy to remember. And by extension, he calls ME to remember, and to remember the lives of those 4 men who so powerfully influenced me.
Your story may be different than mine. For some of you, that foundation was laid many years ago, like happened to me. For others of you, that foundation is still being laid. My hope and prayer is that we pastors and all of us collectively are speaking and living out the truth to help that foundation to become better established.
In this chapter we are reading this morning, Paul calls us to remember the heritage that God has given us in the faith, in the people who imitated Christ and his apostle, Paul. And remember the Scriptures that we have been taught. Though this world presses in on us with evil and evil people, like Timothy we can continue on to the end of our days as we remember Christ.
Let’s close with this.
Just like in Paul’s day, and just like in Moses’ day, we have facing us forces in both the spiritual and the physical world. Their goal is to dissuade us from knowing and following Christ. Evil behavior. False teaching.
- We want to avoid those people who are trying to dissuade us from Christ.
- We want to guard our hearts from fretting and judging.
- We want to pray for the people in our lives to come out of darkness and by grace find the light of Christ.
And to continue on in the faith in the midst of suffering and the spiritual battle we are in,
- We follow the example of Christ and of anyone who follows in his footsteps.
- And we remember the foundational truths we have learned. Biblical truth that God has established deep into our hearts.
For at the end of our lives, we want to say like Paul says in the next chapter that we’ll look at next week:
2 Timothy 4:7 CSB I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.