The Bible says that in the last times perilous times will come. What will be the signs of these times and how can we avoid being part of those who fall into hypocrisy and apostasy?
Studies in 2 Timothy 3:1–4:5
In these verses, Paul describes many characteristics of the end of the age. There will be a love of money, arrogance, blasphemy, and disobedience to parents. Intemperance will be common. Some will despise those who are good. Still others will have a form of godliness, but will deny its power. Conditions will become progressively worse as the church age draws to its close. The days will be perilous.
Paul is speaking in this chapter about those who “resist the truth” (verse 8). He is describing attitudes that will prevail and conditions that will exist in the days toward the end of this present age of grace.
(3:1) “In the last days perilous times shall come.” As we move toward the time of Christ’s Second Coming, the struggle between good and evil will become more intense, and the days will become more threatening to our faith. They will be perilous times. There will be times of stress. The Apostle Peter says that in the last days, scoffers will come, “walking after their own lusts” (2 Peter 3:3).
Then beginning at verse 2, we are given a list of sordid and almost depressing human sins. There are nineteen vices listed here that will characterize the social structure in the last days.
(3:2) “For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,”
The phrase lovers of their own selves—speaks of those who are self-centered, conceited, and egotistical. It refers to the tendency to think of oneself first and last and most of the time. A young woman in Holland married herself (World Magazine, March 22, 2003). Jennifer was planning, as far as was known, the first post-modern marriage. “We live in a ME society,” she said, “Therefore it is logical that one promises to be faithful to oneself.” She planned a $22,000 reception for her relatives, and in the ceremony was married to herself. A new Cable TV channel is called Me-TV.
The phrase (covetous) or lovers of money—speaks of greed and of materialism. The emphasis today is on large salaries, luxurious living, and accumulating more and more. Jesus said more about the dangers of wealth and possessions than He did about any other subject. Advertisements create the impression that riches and material comforts will bring everything for which the human heart longs. If that were true, the present generation, in western nations, should be the most contented people who have ever inhabited the earth.
The word boasters—speaks of bragging; it is an attempt to draw attention to one’s own achievements. The fable about the ant riding on the back of an elephant tells how they crossed an old bridge. It creaked and groaned and vibrated as they crossed. The ant said to the elephant, “My, didn’t we shake that bridge!”
The term proud—speaks of those who portray themselves as superior to other people. There is a pride of intellect; a pride of race; a pride of face; and even a pride of humility—a subtle form of pride that gloats in its own holiness.
The word blasphemers—describes those who speak irreverently and disrespectfully of sacred things. It is a mark of blasphemy to take God’s name in vain, to imply that the Bible is the work of mere humans, and to declare that Jesus is not God.
The phrase disobedient to parents—speaks of the breakdown of the family, and pictures rebellious and uncontrolled children. Many no longer remember the account of Greg Kingsley (a 12-year-old boy) who in 1992—for the first time ever in the history of our nation—won the right to “divorce” his own mother, and was adopted by his foster parents. And most readers have forgotten the Time magazine article that tells about children who kill their parents. Children are pampered and allowed to do what they please, and we are reaping a harvest of delinquency.
The term unthankful—speaks of being ungrateful and lacking in appreciation. The Scriptures repeatedly admonish us to be thankful, not only for happy families and decent jobs and strong bodies—but also for disappointments and hard places. Thanksgiving is rooted in the belief that a sovereign God is in control of everything that touches our lives, and so we can be grateful in all things that touch our lives.
The word unholy—denotes any kind of sin, but refers especially to sexual impurity. Sexual perversion in our day has multiplied all around us. Reader’s Digest (May, 1993 issue) tells about the dilemma of an eighth grade public school teacher in Chicago: She says, “I try to teach, but it isn’t easy when my smartest student is already pregnant with her second child.” Because of modern birth-control methods and the general disregard for Bible principles—the volume of sex perversion has multiplied all around us. In many public schools condoms are being handed out, making sexual activity among teenagers seem legitimate and normal. In many of these same schools, the Gideon’s are no longer allowed to distribute free Bibles.
(3:3) “without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,”
The term “without natural affection” describes those who have no regard for normal family ties—like the father who on Thanksgiving Day, in the late 1980s, placed his two sons (one aged 4 years; the other 13 months old)—in a huge foundry oven, and heated it to 1,300 degrees and cooked them while they were alive!
The term trucebreakers—speaks of those who refuse efforts to make peace. To be unforgiving and a trucebreaker is to refuse to excuse another for a failure or an offense. Many are not willing to renounce their anger against another, and reject the idea of becoming reconciled with those who disagree with them, unless they absolutely get their own way.
The term false accusers—speaks of those who utter false charges which damage the reputation of others. A sign in a restaurant said: “If you like our food tell others; if you don’t, tell us.” That would be a good sign to hang in our church vestibules.
The word incontinent indicates a lack of self-control and discipline. Self-control is the determination to say “No” to harmful things such as the use of tobacco, the squandering of time, and the wrong use of the tongue. Self-control is also the determination to say “Yes” to good things like spending time with one’s family and showing kindness to those who are objects of ridicule.
The word translated fierce is sometimes translated “savage” or “brutal.” It speaks of being harsh and severe, the opposite of gentleness and mildness. Our day is characterized by school shootings, sexual abuse, guerilla warfare, violence in the media, and widespread abortion. After World War II American soldiers found 16 cases of gold teeth and one case of “pure Jewish soap.”
The phrase despisers of those that are good is a reference to the fact that people will often look down upon those who are true, honorable, upright, and pious in their daily living. They accuse those who are virtuous of being self-righteous, pharisaical, fanatical, narrow-minded, legalistic, holier-than-thou, and puritanical. These attitudes are mild forms of persecution.
(3:4-5) “traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof; from such turn away.”
The word traitors refers to those who give way to the enemy. The word speaks of anyone who betrays others. In the church, it speaks of preachers, who by failing to preach the Gospel, are traitors to their ordination vows. It can refer also to believers, who by careless living are traitors to their baptismal vows.
The word heady implies rash, reckless, and thoughtless behavior. It speaks of going headlong into an action without sufficient forethought. We live in a fast age. In our day, taking time to meditate and think and plan is often ignored.
The word highminded means conceited, puffed up with pride. The paraphrase of Romans 12:16 expresses the truth: “Don’t try to act big. Don’t try to get into the good graces of important people, but enjoy the company of ordinary folks. And don’t think you know it all!” (Living Bible).
The phrase lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God—is saying that, in the last days, the pursuit of pleasure will be put ahead of the worship of God.
Average American workers today have 22 more years of free time (during a life-time of work) than did their grandparents. More than half of the United States population lives within a one-hour drive from the sea-coast—and so much of the free time is spent in water-oriented sports—boating, skiing, fishing, swimming, and just vacationing along the water. Thousands of people will sit for hours on a hard seat to watch a ball game. Very few of these same people will show the same kind of devotion to the things of God. Today, even churches are emphasizing entertainment. Drama, clowning, interpretive dance, miming, and mini-concerts are replacing revival meetings and in-depth Bible studies. People get all excited over anything from skin-diving to cake-decorating to frog-jumping contests.
The phrase having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof, speaks of those who observe the outward forms of religion, but their hearts and lives do not correspond. They recite creeds and go through various forms of liturgy—but they know nothing of true conversion and changed lives.
A church building may have a beautiful worship center: there is good music and a hushed service, but as one writer says, “If the Holy Spirit were suddenly removed from the earth,” he believes that “95% of all church activity would continue on as if nothing had happened.” J. I. Packer has said, “There are churches all over America, and it seems that Christianity is 3,000 miles wide, but it’s only one-half-inch deep.”
The days immediately preceding our Lord’s second advent—will see little restraint upon sin, and religious life will consist largely of external forms only.
(3:6-7) “For of this sort are they which creep into houses and lead captive silly women” who are loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
The words “creep into houses” indicate that false teachers had already emerged as a plague in the church in New Testament times. Those who listen to false teachers may learn many new things, but they never acquire the true knowledge of the way of salvation (verse 7). Many study philosophy and speculate about the nature of human destiny—but apart from the message of the Bible, there are no answers to the deep dilemmas of life.
(3:8-9) In verses 8-9 Paul refers to the magicians in Pharaoh’s court many years ago in Egypt. These men were able to counterfeit some of God’s miracles, but there was a limit on what they could do. We must not be deceived by false prophets, including those (the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses) who knock on doors.
Paul urges believers to continue to uphold the Bible as the only source of truth.
(3:10-11) Not all church leaders are seducers and apostates and false teachers. Many of God’s servants, like the Apostle Paul, are valiant contenders for the faith. Timothy had traveled extensively with Paul, and he knew that Paul was a true man of God. There are nine aspects of Paul’s life that every professing Christian should be willing to follow.
In doctrine, Paul’s teaching was Bible-centered and Christ-centered.
In manner of life, Paul’s daily walk was above reproach.
In purpose, Paul aimed to do God’s will.
In faith, Paul was confident about the promises of God.
In longsuffering, Paul was forbearing with sinners and held a wholesome attitude toward persecutors.
In charity, Paul had a consuming passion for souls.
In patience, Paul kept a gentle spirit which was manifested over and over again.
In persecutions, Paul was patient toward those who mistreated him.
In afflictions that came to him in the Galatian cities of Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra—Paul (even though bombarded with stones and left for dead), was delivered by the good hand of God.
Paul mentioned all this to encourage Timothy and to challenge every one of us to face our duties with the same devoted spirit.
(3:12) Paul declares that persecution is a normal part of a devout Christian life. It is unavoidable for those who desire to live in a godly manner. The reason is simple. Your godly life exposes the wickedness of others. People don’t like to be exposed, and so instead of repenting of their sins and turning to Christ, they seek to destroy the one whose wholesome life reminds them of their wrong behavior.
There are a number of forms of persecution. Some persecution is mild—for example, being passed over for a job promotion or becoming the victim of derogatory remarks. At other times persecution has been more severe.
Roman opposition to Christianity began when Emperor Claudius banned Jews and Christians from Rome in A.D. 49. In the 1500s, the Anabaptists were hunted down by mounted soldiers who were ordered to kill the rebaptizers on the spot without any fair trial. A number of Anabaptists were martyred by the acts of beheading, drowning, and burning at the stake. In the book, The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision, Guy Hershberger says, “The dreadful severity of the persecution of the Anabaptist movement in the years 1527-1560 . . . testifies to the power of the movement and the desperate haste with which . . . (the) authorities tried to throttle it before it should be too late” (page 185). One decree ordered that “every Anabaptist and re-baptized person of either sex should be put to death by fire, sword, or some other way” (page 32).
Persecution involves inflicting some kind of injury—sometimes to one’s feelings, or family, or reputation, or property—and sometimes to one’s body. The more severe methods of persecution include torture, imprisonment, banishment, and even death.
There is an easy way to avoid persecution. All we have to do is yield our convictions to the ways of the world. Our text says that godly people “shall suffer persecution.” We might conclude that if our Christian life is too easy, perhaps it has not been too godly.
(3:13) As we move toward the end of the age, things will go from bad to worse. And so we are to be encouraged by Paul’s example (as seen in verses 10-11). Persecution is bound to come. We will not escape it, but like Paul (at the end of verse 11)—when summarizing his difficulties, he declares: “But out of them all the Lord delivered me.”
(3:14-15) Believers are instructed to sense the power and strength of the Word of God. But we are to continue in the things which we have learned. Verse 15 declares that the message of the Bible is the vehicle which God uses to make a child “wise unto salvation.” Paul did not see the Scriptures as a mere compilation of ancient records, laws, and prophecies—but viewed them as a revelation of God’s saving purpose for the human family.
In verses 16-17 Paul reassured Timothy that all the Scriptures were inspired by God and have been transmitted under His supervision.
(3:16-17) The Scriptures originated in the mind of God. The Holy Spirit guarded the whole process of producing the Scriptures so that the writers were preserved from error. The latter part of verse 16 and all of verse 17 tell about the Bible’s purpose. The Bible is a handbook on salvation and on Christian living. The Scriptures are useful for:
The Bible should be our road map for life. The Bible is part of the armor which God provides to help us stand firmly against the inroads of false teaching (Ephesians 6:17).
God knows that the best way to be insulated from error is to be saturated with the truth—and so He urges sound preaching of the Word.
(4:1-3) The preacher is to proclaim God’s Word. Christians are to be ready at all times to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with longsuffering and teaching.
The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but because they have itching ears, will heap up for themselves teachers who will condone their sins and comfort them in their wicked ways. They want a message that pleases the carnal mind—a message without demands and without restrictions.
The time will come “when they will not endure sound doctrine” (verse 3). The NIV rendering says, “To suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
The evidence is clear, and it keeps mounting daily. This present age is drawing to a close. History is approaching its climax. The literal, personal, visible return of Jesus Christ is one of the most certain things taught in the Scriptures. People will be busy with the routines of life, making plans for the future and taking care of business. What should be our attitude in light of all this?
When the world is burning and the judgment is setting and the stars are falling—and the people are crying—many will wish that they had taken seriously the admonitions found in 2 Timothy 3, and the early part of chapter 4.