For the week commencing 26 May 2019
Notes for next Sunday’s sermon on 2 Timothy 3:1-9 – Dear Timothy… there will be terrible times
Our Term 2 series takes us through Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Here is the outline:
05 May … Do not be ashamed of Jesus 2 Tim 1:1-8
12 May … Jesus has destroyed death 2 Tim 1:9-18
19 May … be strong in Jesus’ grace 2 Tim 2:1-13
26 May … God approves 2 Tim 2:14-26
02 June … there will be terrible times 2 Tim 3:1-9
09 June … all Scripture is God-breathed 2 Tim 3:10-17
16 June … preach the word 2 Tim 4:1-8
23 June … the Lord stood at my side 2 Tim 4:9-22
DAY 1: Read 2 Timothy 3:1-5
The most powerful form of persuasion is the spoken word. Just under it, is the persuasive power of example. Because of the importance of living examples, we need to be alert to the kind of impact other people are having on us. There are godly examples to emulate and ungodly examples to avoid. In this week’s passage and next, Paul will show us both extremes.
Verses 1-9 take us to the moral sewer. He rattles off no fewer than 19 particular expressions of sin among godless people in just three verses (vv2-4)! He also describes the emptiness of godless religion (v5). Although at the end of the previous chapter, Paul expresses the hope that opponents might be granted repentance and come to the knowledge of the truth, we see in 3:7 that some, never will. Such obstinate, disruptive people must be avoided.
The ‘last days’ (all the days between Pentecost and the return of Jesus) will have some terrible times. Paul wants Timothy to be ready. Battles with false teachers, critics, along with other sufferings, should not surprise him. These are the realities of living in a fallen world that awaits the final act of God’s saving work – the return of Jesus. Until that day, we will all experience difficult times.
The problem of these last days is: people! Sinful people who live corrupt lives will create these terrible times. Notice their misdirected loves: they are lovers of self, lovers of money, they are without love, they are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. Putting this in contemporary terms, Paul notes three trends: narcissism (love of self), materialism (love of money) and hedonism (love of pleasure). When the love of God is replaced with other loves, all sorts of vices follow.
How might we combat those who would want us to follow them in these loves? The opposite to narcissism, is humility. The contrast to hedonism, is integrity. The opposite to materialism, is generosity. Out of the overflow of heartfelt love for God, we can live lives of humility, integrity and generosity. Godliness begins with adoration for God. What is your greatest love? When you are satisfied in him and in him alone, then you will find these godly virtues in your life.
DAY 2: Read 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (again)
The most disturbing aspect of these verses and the description of people in the last days (remember – every day between Pentecost and Jesus’ return), is that Paul is describing people who are in the church! How do we know that? From v5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Paul wouldn’t describe people outside the church in that way!
Like the idolatrous practices of Israel (see eg Amos 2:6-8), Paul says that some merely have a ‘form of godliness’ but their lives are not pleasing to God. They follow and go through external practices and rituals, but they are morally corrupt. Their religion is a show. They are spiritually powerless. The leaders of these religious systems were phonies. They were to be avoided because they had no substance.
Not only did these religious fakes lack spiritual power, they also denied it. That is, they stubbornly refused to believe in the truth of the gospel. By failing to embrace Christ, they failed to embrace the power. Apart from the gospel, people are just practicing dead religion. No Christ, no power! People can go to church their whole life, even serve as clergy or hold significant office as a lay person, but if they do not have Christ, they do not possess spiritual life.
Jesus reserved his most intense words for hypocritical religious leaders. He said, “on the outside you appear to people as righteous, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:28). Jesus called the scribes and pharisees ‘hypocrites’, ‘fools’, ‘blind’, and ‘snakes’. This should be a warning to everyone involved in church. Jesus is merciful to those whose lives are a mess and admit they need help, but to those who play the hypocrite, there is nothing but rebuke.
Paul says to Timothy: have nothing to do with such people. Such obstinate, disruptive individuals must be avoided. This might mean completely breaking fellowship with them. Of course, believers should not avoid contact with unbelievers. No, Paul is talking about those within the fellowship of God’s people. We must avoid those who are making a mockery of what it means to follow Jesus and who might lead us astray. It is good for us to spend more time with those who will spur us on in following Jesus, than anyone who through their hypocrisy, may lead us away from Jesus.
DAY 3: Read 2 Timothy 3:6-9
In another sad paragraph, we discover that people don’t change, and the world today is so much the same as the world of the 1st century. The people Paul has been describing add to their hypocrisy, by taking advantage of the vulnerable.
They ‘work their way into homes’. Their method was secretive and sneaky, and it included gaining control over ‘gullible women’ just as someone is taken prisoner in war time. They picked their targets. He isn’t describing all women as ‘gullible’ but there were those who were easily picked on. Maybe they already faced difficult circumstances and these people offered money and protection. We cannot help but think of the tragic situation in our day, of those who similarly preyed upon vulnerable children. These people; loaded down by sin and under the control of their evil desires, he also describes as ‘always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. They appeared studious; some were academics. They gave the impression they were studying the Scriptures, but in their hearts, they didn’t want to know the truth and so there were never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Paul draws from history to give an example of spurious teachers. He alludes to the Egyptian sorcerers who opposed Moses before Pharaoh (Exodus 7:11-12). Though Jannes and Jambres are not mentioned by name in the Bible, they are in extrabiblical sources. When Aaron threw down his rod and it became a snake, they cast down their rods which also became snakes. These sorcerers opposed Moses like the false teachers were opposing Paul and Timothy (and by extension, those who oppose God’s word today). Pauls says such men have depraved minds. They oppose the truth. Note that people have always been prone to drift to every new and trendy wind of doctrine! And this is why we must guard the truth which we have in the Bible.
Just as it become clear in the case of Jannes and Jambres that no one could match the power of God, so the false teachers of Paul’s day will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all. Paul believes their error would eventually be exposed and God would preserve his truth. We must also take encouragement from this. The error and false teaching we see in the church today will one day be exposed and seen for what it is. We must rest on God’s promises and courageously keep teaching his truth, in spite of opposition and false religious systems.
DAY 4: Read Psalm 46
We finish with something quite different this week. Here is a wonderful promise from God – that he is our “refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble”. A refuge is a haven and shelter – a place of safety and calm throughout whatever storm you’re facing. Do you run to God as your refuge when facing trouble? God is also a great source of strength for any challenge. Do you turn to God for strength when everything is difficult? And to know that God is present with us no matter what we face, is a great comfort.
What difference does God as our refuge and strength make? What difference does it make that he is right with us? Have another look at verse 2. As far as the Psalmist is concerned, this is so significant that it will result in us having no fear! No fear even ‘though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea’! To have no fear in the midst of cataclysmic circumstances, because you run to God as your refuge, draw strength from his strength and palpably feel his presence, is a very wonderful thing! Be still, and know that I am God.
Resources: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (Christ-centered Exposition Commentary) by David Platt
Commentary on 1-2 Timothy by Andreas J.Kostenberger, in the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation series