Trouble in the Last Days (2 Timothy Sermon 6 of 9)
November 15, 1998 | Andrew Davis
2 Timothy 3:1-13
End Times, False Teaching & False Teachers
I. Introduction: A Fairy Tale
Turn in your Bibles this morning to 2 Timothy 3. We're going to continue our series Boldness and Faithfulness in the Gospel: Part Six. Now you can see how much of a joke it was if we're going to get through 83 verses that first Sunday. At this pace, I don't think we could ever have done that. I enjoyed that children's choir this morning. Didn't you? Wasn't that marvelous? I thought that you might enjoy a fairy tale this morning. So I wrote one for you, in honor of the children. One of the things I enjoyed the most when I was a child was my bedtime stories with my mom and she'd sit on the bed and read, and I did the same with my kids and still do. I enjoy doing that. So I thought I'd grace you with a fairy tale. Maybe there's some children here that would enjoy it, maybe some adults as well. It's called, The Spreading of the Good News: A Fairy Tale for Children.
Once upon a time, in a large kingdom far, far away, there was a good and wise king who wanted to be sure all of his subjects knew just how much he loved them. So he sent his son, the crown prince, to the largest town with a special message. When the prince arrived, all the townspeople greeted him with joy, calling out his name and cheering in their loudest voices. The prince sat up high on his majestic white horse where everyone could see him, and he made this announcement, "My good people, your gracious king wants you to know how much he loves each and every one of you. So he has sent me to tell you some wonderful news and to give you a wonderful job to do. The wonderful news is that there is to be a great banquet inside the walls of the royal palace, and all of you are invited." At this, all the people cheered and hugged each other with great joy.
Someone called out, "Is there anything we can do to get ready for the banquet?" The prince said, "Only this one thing. The king has asked you to be his messengers to spread the news of this banquet throughout all the towns and villages of the kingdom. Everyone is to be invited. No one is to be missed. The banquet will be in four weeks so you have plenty of time to spread the news. The banquet is free and everyone is welcome to come for the finest foods and the most delicious drinks you've ever experienced." The people cheered again loudest of all and the prince spurred on his charger and rode off with a laugh and a wave. The townspeople were thrilled about their special mission, and they immediately began to go from town to town, village to village, and even door to door.
It was such wonderful news that everywhere they went, the people responded with incredible joy. They had never been inside the royal palace before and they couldn't wait to go. The messengers were treated with great respect and joy, and some of them were even given gifts by the grateful people for the good news they carried. Everyone was so excited and the entire kingdom was soon traveling toward the royal palace for the banquet. On the great day, the drawbridge was lowered down and all the people streamed into the enormous palace. Everyone from that kingdom came. Not a single person was missing. Old men, young children, wives, grandmothers, everyone was there. Most of the people had never been near the royal city, and certainly, no one had ever been invited to enter it before. So their eyes were wide with astonishment, as they looked at the high walls and the beautiful decorations. They all sat down to a feast and it lasted for two weeks.
At the end of the feast, the king stood up and said, "I am so filled with joy that you have all come. I have decided that none of you ever need go back to your fields and your shops again. But you can just stay here with me and work here in the royal palace. This will be your permanent home and all your needs will be met." The people couldn't believe their ears, and they all broke out in a joyful shout to the praise of the king's generosity, and they all lived happily ever after in the royal city. The end.
Paul’s message: Times of Difficulty Are Coming
That is a fairy tale. Now, you may wonder what that has to do with 2 Timothy 3:1-13. My answer? Nothing. It has absolutely nothing to do with the passage I'm going to read this morning. As a matter of fact, this fairy tale stands in direct contrast to what Paul tells Timothy to expect when he spreads the gospel. It also stands in contrast with a similar parable that Jesus told, where there was going to be a wedding banquet and no one wanted to come. And everywhere the messengers went, they met nothing but trouble. Children enjoy fairy tales, but adults want the real thing. They want reality. They want the truth. And Jesus tells us the truth. The night before he died, He told His disciples exactly what they would face as they spread the gospel. He said, "If they hated Me, they're going to hate you also. In this world, you will have trouble, but be of good heart. I have overcome the world."
In the same spirit, Paul prepares Timothy for reality in taking this gospel message. Listen to the first 13 verses of chapter three and you'll see what stark contrast it shows to the fairy tale I just read.
"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, conceded, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women who are loaded down with sins and swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men opposed the truth, men of depraved minds, who as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far, because as in the case of those men, their folly will soon be clear to everyone. You, however, know all about my teaching and my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings, what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, will be persecuted while evil men and impostors go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived."
II. Facing These Violent Last Days (vs. 1)
Now, that's the truth. That's no varnished fairy tale. This is the truth that Paul wanted to tell Timothy. Now you remember in chapter one, Paul was trying to get Timothy ready to carry on that gospel ministry. Do you remember he gave him a series of charges to fan his gift into flame, that he would be zealous in preaching the gospel, that he would not be ashamed of Jesus Christ in any way or ashamed of Paul as prisoner, and then he would take his share of suffering? And then in chapter two, he kind of unveiled the centerpiece of it all, multiplication ministry. You remember? Making disciples who themselves make more disciples. So Timothy, if you want to accomplish this, you're going to need to set yourself out in a way that a good soldier does or a dedicated athlete or a hardworking farmer, total dedication.
And you have to be willing to die with Christ even, so that you may reign with him. And then, Timothy, you're going to have to deal with scripture properly, like a good skilled craftsman. You're going to have to deal with temptation properly, like a clean vessel. And like the servant of the Lord, you're going to have to deal with opposition properly. Now we talked about all that last week. Where does this opposition come from? It comes from this, the kind of people that Paul describes here in 2 Timothy 3. Paul begins his description by saying, "Understand or mark this. Reckon with this Timothy, that there's going to be violent or difficult times in the last days."
Now, Paul wants Timothy to understand this so that he has wide open eyes before he goes in to preach this gospel. Can you imagine if he gave him the kind of fairy tale I read to you? And then he began to preach the gospel and the reality of people's hatred of God, and their sinful opposition to him hit. How long do you think he'd last in that ministry? A very brief time. Just like Jesus, Paul wants to tell him the truth and get him ready. But he says that in the last days, there will be terrible times. How many of you believe we're in the last days now? Raise your hand if you think we're in the last days now? Well, every one of you are right. You're all right. We are in the last days. Of course, if I had asked the founders of the church in 1845, "How many of you believe we're in the last days?", and they had raised their hands, I would've said the same thing. You're all right.
As a matter of fact, the last days began when Jesus Christ came to earth. And they've continued now for 2000 years and they will end when he returns. Now if I were to ask you to speculate as to whether we are the final generation, now that's a whole different thing. I'm not going to give you that kind of speculation. I know I could attract a crowd if I predicted that in one week the Lord would return, come here and be ready, get your white robes and be ready, we'll be all set, now that would be exciting. We would have a tremendous... That would be high attendance Sunday here I think at First Baptist. Get your white robes and come. But what about the next week? Low attendance Sunday, I think. So you all realize that I'm a false teacher.
Now I'm not going to give you that kind of speculation. But we are in the last days and have been. The last days is the last days because it's the last message given by God. It's the final message. It's the gospel. And this era, this church era, is characterized by an advancement of this message and opposition to it. That's what the last days is all about. It says in Hebrews 1:1, "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 through his Son." Jesus brings that final gospel message, and we go out and preach in his name. These are the last days. But the last days are going to be times of stress or difficulty, not times of ease.
The word "difficulty" or "hard times," "difficult times," "stressful times," is also the word used to describe the demoniac of the Gadarenes, the demon-possessed man who lived in the Gadarenes, a violent man. I don't know if you remember that story. He was possessed by a number of demons and he was able to rip chains apart. Nothing could hold him. Violence and anger. No one could walk that way until Jesus came and cast that demon out, or those demons out. This kind of aggression in opposition to God is what characterizes as these final days. It's not a time of ease for most of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world. Bring in a brother or sister from China and ask them if this is a time of ease or of stress and difficulty, and they'll tell you. Same thing, brothers and sisters in parts of Eritrea. This is a time of difficulty.
III. The Ungodly & Their Teachers (vs. 2-9)
But where does this sinful opposition, this violence come from? Well, in verses 2-9, he describes the characteristics of a heart living in rebellion against God. There are 19 terms that he uses, 19 descriptions of these evil people. But we could sum them up this way. In verses 2-4, we'll looking at their moral conduct, and you could kind of boil it down to a discussion of what it is they love and what it is they hate, what they love and what they hate. In Verse 5, you see their religious life, and you could sum that up and say it's a matter of form, not of power. And then in verses 6-9, you see the zeal of their teachers. There's some out of them that have a kind of a deal to advance their message, the teachers who go from house to house. They're sneaky. They're aggressive. Ultimately, their actions are futile. But that's where this opposition comes from. And so he wants us to understand it.
Their moral conduct (vs. 2-4)
Now in verses two through four, we look at their moral conduct. And I think you could boil these 19 descriptions down into a bracket that happens at the beginning at the end. It starts out saying that people will be lovers of themself, or lovers of themselves. And then at the end, it says rather than lovers of God. Pick that up like bookends and gather them all together and you're going to see that they all fit into that, lovers of themselves rather than lovers of God. Actually, it's interesting to me how many times the word "love" even appears in this list. You've got lovers of self, then lovers of money, later on you get lovers of pleasure, not lovers of God.
The Nature of Religious Affections
Why do you think love features so strongly in this list? Well, the great theologian, Jonathan Edwards, answered that question. He said that he believed that religion, true religion, consisted primarily in the affections. He wrote a work called A Treatise on the Religious Affections. He said it has to do with passions, with love. It really does. And he said that the human soul has been endowed by God with two capabilities. The first is perception, the ability to judge or assess, take in information and process it, to understand things. But the second you could call inclination. There's a sense of, "How do you feel about this or that?"
It's not just a matter of your new car. It's a matter that you love your new car. You like it. Or you enjoy it. Maybe it's not a matter of your old car, it's a matter that you hate your old car and you can't wait to get rid of it. You see? It's not just a matter of assessing or judging, it's how you feel about something. You're going to either be attracted to the thing you're thinking about or you're going to be repelled away like a magnet, either attracted or repelled. You're either going to be strongly attracted to something or strongly repelled. Those things we call love or hate. You're either going to be attracted weakly or repelled weakly, things we like or dislike. Then there's some things kind of right in the middle and you really don't know one way or the other.
But religion is all about that. And we know this because Jesus said you could sum all the commandments up in two commands: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength," and, "Love your neighbor as yourself." So Jonathan Edwards is just teaching what Jesus did. It's all a matter of what you love. Now these people, they love themselves. That's how you characterize it. They want to feed themselves, their own pleasures, and they have no interest whatsoever in God. There's no interest in pleasing God. You could really look on them as kind of having like a furnace inside, a pleasure furnace, and they just keep adding logs one after another, whatever pleases them. It's not just a matter of sensual pleasures, but just the pleasure of being able to crush or dominate someone else.
You see in this list, boastful, proud, abusive. They're carrying themselves like a king within a realm, willing to crush people, anyone who opposes them. And it all comes from that love of self, doesn't it? Then there's a list of five words in the middle of this, that has to do, it seems to me, with family life. It starts out by saying that they're disobedient to their parents. Don't you think it's interesting that both in this list and in Romans 1, that list of humanity apart from Christ, this expression "disobedient to parents" comes in? Why do you think this is? Well maybe I couldn't answer this until I had children of my own, but I think it wasn't until that first infant came into our home and I realized what was on his mind when he was born.
It was 3:00 in the morning and he was hungry and had a need. Did he say, "You know, Mom hasn't been getting much sleep recently. I think I'll wait until 6:30 or 7:00, give her a good night's sleep, refresh her a little bit, and then I'll start to let her know that when she has time, if she's gotten a shower, she'll have an opportunity to feed me if it's not too much trouble." Is that what the infant does? Absolutely not. That infant will scream with ever-increasing pitch until its needs are met. The child comes into the family totally self-focused. They have two goals. They want to run their own lives themselves and they want to run your life too if they can. That's it.
Now it's a parent's job to train them up and out of that, isn't it? Good parents do a good job. Bad parents do not. But I think this is kind of the essence of parenting, training a child that there are other people in the world, venue, and that their needs are precious too, alright? So disobedient to their parents really fits into this whole idea of being a lover of self. If you reject parental authority, you're going to feed yourself and you're going to keep doing it your whole life. That's what he says, "Me, me, me," all the time.
And then after that, we see ungrateful. They're not able to say thank you for anything. I was often wonder what people like this do at Thanksgiving, fourth Thursday in November. Who do they thank? Is there anyone to thank? They thank themselves. "I thank myself for all the good things that I have accomplished by the strength of my hands," this kind of thing. They're ungrateful. They're unable to look beyond what their needs to who it is that gave it. Certainly they can't look up and see God who met all their needs. They're unholy. They have no natural piety, no natural love, they're irreconcilable although the word in the original language here gives a sense of unyielding.
I had an experience with this the other day. I was driving on the Durham Expressway, and a car came up on the ramp. And I think, is it not true in your state that you have to yield when you're coming on a ramp, you're supposed to wait? I had the edge on the guy. I was definitely ahead of him, but he just accelerated and finally I just dropped back. I yielded to him even though that was a reversal of the law. I said, "What a beautiful sermon illustration. I've got to remember that one. At the right time, I'm going to express this." They're unyielding. When they come to a point, they're not going to back down. They're going to get what they want no matter what the cost is. And then there's a bunch of other words that show that the walls of self-control have broken down. They have no self-control. They're going to feed themselves all the time. Treacherous means that they make covenants or promises to people and break them.
Rash, interesting word. I think about Generation X and its favorite word "extreme." Have you ever heard of the Extreme games, where you do extreme things like jumping off of towers with elastic attached to your ankles. I heard one about this guy that jumped out of an airplane without a parachute, did it on purpose. What he did is he put the parachute inside an aerodynamic pot. He sent it out the door, waited for a few seconds and dove out after it, maneuvered over to it, flew over to it. He had a certain amount of time, put that thing on. He got to it, opened it up, put the parachute on and pulled the cord just in time. He saved his life. Now that's a perfect example of the word "rash," throwing yourself headlong into something without having any idea how you're going to get out of it. Well, this is a description of people apart from God.
Now, this kind of life leads to a cycle of frustration. It leads to a cycle of difficulty, stress and distress, and anger, a totally godless way of living. Only the gospel can turn this around. God's order is natural and it's clear. God first, neighbor second, self third. Simple self reverses it. I'm first, neighbor, if he's able to meet my needs, God, not even in the picture. The gospel alone can reverse this whole thing.
Their religious life (vs. 5)
Well it may surprise you, according to verse 5, that these people have any kind of religious life at all. But many of them do. Many of them line pews every week. They come and worship in churches across America. And Paul says that these kind of people do have a religious life. They have a form of godliness, but they deny its power. Now what is a form of godliness? It's a kind of garment that you put on. It's a way of carrying yourself, a way of talking to people that's holy and nice and good. But there's no reality behind it. We call those kind of people hypocrites, and those kind of people chase others away from the church. I know in sharing the gospel so many times the people at work. I hear the word hypocrite all the time.
Now I think to some degree we're all hypocrites. What is a hypocrite but somebody who has a certain standard and then doesn't live up to it. But these people are far worse. They are putting on religion, but there's absolutely nothing that corresponds inside. Jesus characterized the Pharisees this way. He said they are like whitewashed tombs. Looks good on the outside, but inside full of dead men's bones. Well these people are a form of godliness, but they deny its power. What is the power? It's the power of transformation, the change within that only God can produce, true righteousness from within, a yearning of what it is you really love, a changing of what you love and what you used to hate. These kind of things, that's a true transformation.
Stay Away From These People!
It's interesting that Paul tells Timothy, though, to stay away from those kind of people. Those are the kind of people that have heard the gospel. They understand all the right answers and they've turned their back on it and they've rejected it. Those are dangerous people in a church. Paul tells Timothy to have nothing to do with them.
The Teachers: proselytizing zeal (vs. 6-9)
And then he talks about the teachers. They have a kind of a proselytizing zeal. They worm their way it says into homes. It's kind of an interesting word in the original language. It's kind of like slipping into something comfortable. That's the way he put it, sliding a garment on. They kind of come in the back door. That's the way these teachers operate. They're not upfront about anything. They have an agenda. But even though they're kind of smooth and stylish coming in, their intention is aggressive. They have an aggressive attend. They're trying to take captive people.
Now, Paul is talking here I think about a specific problem there was in Ephesus. There was a group of women that the way he describes them here were always learning and never able to acknowledge the truth. They had moral weakness. I don't know if they were born again or not, but I really don't think so. I think when he says that they're always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth, he's talking about people who keep hearing the truth but they can't grab hold of it themselves. I remember when Christy and I were missionaries in Japan, we had the opportunity to teach the Bible to some Japanese women. Some of them had been in Bible studies for 20 or 25 years. They know the Bible aspects of it better than a lot of you. But they'd never been able to grab the truth for themselves. None of them have been baptized. They weren't Christians. And therefore I think they were susceptible to any kind of new teaching or wind of doctrine that would come along. That's the way these men were.
And Paul says, just like Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses. I bet you're wondering who they are. Have you ever heard of Jannes and Jambres? Well, you're not going to find them in the Bible. But tradition has it that these were magicians who had special powers and they opposed Moses when Moses came to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Do you remember they were able to imitate the first trick I guess we would call that Moses did? He threw his staff down that turned into a snake. And Jannes and Jambres I guess were the ones who were able to turn their staff into a snake. And then when Moses was able to turn the Nile into blood and they were able to change some river water into blood, they were imitating the power of religion. But they couldn't keep pace with God. Ultimately, when the gnats came up, that's when it was, the dust turned into gnats, they said, "This is the finger of God." You see? They said, "I can't do this." There was a limitation to their power, and that's the way it is with these men. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men opposed the truth, men of depraved minds.
Their minds are corrupted. Their minds are twisted, and they're unable to understand true doctrine. As far as the faith is concerned, they are rejected. They don't teach true doctrine. They teach a false gospel and they are rejected. What's interesting here though is the confidence that Paul has that their ultimate outcome will be a failure. Ultimately, they're going to fail. In Verse Nine it says, "They will not get very far, because as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone." Now, what does he mean by this? Does this mean that cults can't grow? Well, I think we've seen that cults can grow. Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses and other strange cults do grow in fact.
Well, what does Paul mean here? I think he means in the case of those people who are truly the sheep of the good shepherd. Remember in John chapter 10, it said, "My sheep, hear my voice. I know them. They follow me. I give them eternal life," remember? And He said, "They will not follow the voice of a stranger but will rather," what? "Run away from a stranger." So God's sheep hear Christ's voice. Do you know how we hear it? We hear it in two ways: Through the written word of God and through the indwelling Holy Spirit. And the more mature we get, the more we read these kind of warnings that we get here in scripture, the more we're able to discern a false teacher when we hear him. We're able to say that's just not true, for the scripture says such and such, and the Holy Spirit testifies that we are teaching the right doctrine, you see. Well, all of this is the false way, the false teaching, the false leaders.
IV. Paul’s Godly Contrast (vs. 10-13)
Paul sets himself up instead as the contrast. God has always had leaders who are able to stand up and say, "Follow me and I follow Christ. Imitate me as I imitate Christ." And the church needs that again today, now, men and women who will be mentors and leaders to those who are younger in the faith. And so he sets himself up as a contrast. He says, he puts forward a contrasting doctrine, a contrasting lifestyle, contrasting reception and ultimately contrasting protection. In terms of his contrasting doctrine, he says, "You… know all about my teaching." What is his teaching? Says, "I'm not teaching to itching ears. I'm not trying to satisfy you with entertainment and jokes and stories and to tell you to pander to your sin nature. I'm not satisfying itching ears, but I am saving lost souls. I'm not telling people to indulge those sinful passions, but I'm telling them to put them to death so that they can know real joy. I'm not preaching an earthly ease and sensual pleasure, a child's fairy tale. But I'm telling you that you can expect persecution and in the end a crown of righteousness. That's my teaching. It's my doctrine."
Well, what about Paul's way of life? He said, "You know about my purpose. You know my faith, my patience, my love and my endurance. That's my way of life. Everything I do is for a purpose." In chapter two he told us what that was. He said, "I endure everything for the sake of the elect that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." Everything I do, I do so that people may have salvation in Christ, and I'll put up with anything to accomplish that end." And so he mentions his persecutions and sufferings. And this is a contrasting reception. False teachers will always be welcomed and received by the world, always, because they say what people want to hear. But true teachers will gain true disciples and also meet with persecution.
And so he says, "You know what happened to me in Antioch. I was expelled from that city. You know what happened to me in Iconium. I was almost stoned. And then in Lystra, I was welcomed and worshipped like a god, and then they stoned and left me for dead. You saw it, Timothy. You know what I went through. Don't expect any different, because everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse. Teachers will keep teaching this kind of false doctrine. People will keep stoning messengers. But the gospel is going to advance irresistible. People are going to come to faith in Christ and there's nothing that can stop it. So Timothy, be courageous because I also had protection from God. The Lord rescued me from every one of those trials," he says.
Now, this morning I began by telling you a fairy tale. I don't think it's going to be a classic. I don't really know if they're going to multiply this or print it. I think that some great art work could come from it. Kids love the pictures and all that. But there's not a word of truth to it. We are adults, mature in the faith if we recognize that the gospel advances through persecution, hardship and difficulty, and that God stands at our side and gives us the strength we need to advance that message. But we don't stand and teach a fairy tale, but we preach the truth, and the truth is that Jesus Christ has come to save sinners.
Now, if Paul were here, he would say Jesus has come to save sinners of whom I am the first. And he'd reach out to any who are here today who have never given their life to Christ. It is my prayer every week that God brings people here to hear the gospel, that you know that if you're living this kind of life described here in these nine verses, a selfish life, a life of pleasure, of money and all this, that Jesus is the only one who can save you out of it. He died in a place of sinners just like you and me. Give your life to Jesus today. If you're a believer, prepare yourself to be a witness for Jesus Christ by reading a passage like this. Don't look for a fairy tale, but look to be used in a powerful way by God.