Paul has spent the first half of his letter to Timothy both encouraging and instructing his spiritual son in the Lord and disciple in ministry. He's encouraged him to be faithful in the Lord, to seek after a righteous life, not to be discouraged in his work and to follow Paul's example of a courageous, hopeful attitude when facing hardship because of his faith and ministry. His instructions to Timothy mainly deal with his response to those in the church who were causing confusion and loss of faith because of their teaching concerning the resurrection. They were promoting the idea that there was no bodily resurrection, only a spiritual or symbolic renewal when one became a Christian at baptism. This caused discouragement and a loss of faith for many in the church. Paul's instructions, therefore, were focused on how Timothy was to respond to this teaching and those teaching it as well as those negatively affected by it. To this end Paul instructs this young preacher to:
- Hold fast to what he has been taught.
- Avoid useless debates and simply preach the word of God.
- Take care to accurately preach and teach only what he has received in order to establish and maintain his credibility.
- Have an attitude of kindness, gentleness and patience when teaching those who have been caught up in this heresy so that you will not undermine the truth of God's word with an unchristian character or approach.
Paul follows the teaching and encouragement part of his letter with a warning. The thrust of Paul's letter has been limited to Timothy's personal attitude and what has been going on at the congregation where he serves. Paul will now provide a warning concerning society, the church in general and the "times" that they live in as well as what is to come.
Warning — II Timothy 3:1-9
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.
- II Timothy 3:1
Let's clarify what time period Paul is talking about when he uses the term "last days." In the Old Testament the Bible taught that the Messiah was coming in the future, but no one knew exactly when He would appear (Isaiah 7:14, 9:6; Micah 5:7). The prophets spoke of Jesus'/Messiah's first coming. While here, Jesus taught that after His death, resurrection and ascension, He would return a second time.
1"Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.2In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.3If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also."
- John 14:1-3
Jesus also emphasized the fact that the time of His return (second appearance) was not revealed to man.
"But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone."
- Mark 13:32
The Holy Spirit, through the Apostles, provided more detail about what would take place when Jesus returned, but not the exact time.
13But we do not want you to be uninformed brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.15For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.16for the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the arch angel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.17Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
- I Thessalonians 4:13-17
Therefore, when Paul or the other writers mention the "last days" they are talking about the period of time that stretches between Jesus' cross (death, burial, resurrection, ascension) and Jesus' return to judge at the end of the world. Therefore, in the first verse when Paul mentions the "last day" he's not referring to that period of time that shortly precedes Jesus' return (a time that modern day prophets spend a lot of energy trying to predict). When Paul says "last days" he's talking about the times he was living in as well as the times we are living in today and all the time that passes until Jesus suddenly appears a second time, a time that no one knows. In other words, all the times between the cross and Jesus' return are the "last days." This is what all the writers of the New Testament understood.
'AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,' God says, 'THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND; AND YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, AND YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, AND YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS;'
- Acts 2:17
in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.
- Hebrews 1:2
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts,
- II Peter 3:3
Paul is trying to help Timothy see beyond his own situation and get a "big picture" view of the world, the church and what the future held. Because of sin and many false ideas in the world, things were not going to get better, they would deteriorate. The coming of Jesus, His sacrifice, the teaching of the gospel and the establishment of the church along with the promise of Jesus' return was God's response to a fallen world, not a spiritually viable one. This passage may have been Paul's way of providing a "reality check" to a young preacher's inward focus because of the difficulty he was facing.
Paul has coached him in how to preserve his own faith and how to successfully carry out his ministry of preaching and teaching God's word, even in the face of opposition. In verses 1-9 of chapter 3 he opens Timothy's eyes to the true gravity of the situation that all Christians, as well as all ministers, face in this lost and dark world. In this time frame (last days) there will be difficult "seasons" or periods when wickedness will flourish.
2For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy,3unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good,4treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,5holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.
- II Timothy 3:2-5
There's a certain order to the evil and sin listed here by Paul:
- Lovers of self - selfish, love self rather than God.
- Lovers of money - greedy, worldly, gratify self.
- Boastful - bragging about self.
- Arrogant - overbearing towards others.
- Revilers - angrily criticize both God and man.
These first five are the general characteristics of wickedness seen in evil people. He names more specific sins that underlie these general attitudes:
- Disobedient to parents - early rebellion.
- Ungrateful - a companion sin to rebellion. The first step to complete wickedness (Romans 1:21).
- Unholy - no respect for what is sacred.
- Unloving - without natural affection.
- Irreconcilable - in the original Greek language this referred to one who would not declare a truce to end a war; can't appeal to this person's better nature because he doesn't have one.
- Malicious gossips - spread or invent evil facts or stories about others.
- Uncontrolled - untamed, unrestrained by conscience or love.
- Haters of good - without love for what is good in itself or good for another (envious, jealous).
- Treacherous - traitorous, not loyal.
- Reckless - headstrong, imprudent, rash, foolish.
- Conceited - puffed up, a know-it-all.
- Lovers of pleasure - the love that should go to God is lavished on self.
In verse 5, Paul notes that many people who practice such things and have these sinful attitudes cover them with a veneer of religiosity. They talk the talk and may even attend church, but aside from their show of religion they do not demonstrate the power and results of true spirituality in their lives (e.g. good works, a Christlike character, a pure life, influence for Christ in others). Paul warns Timothy to turn away (have nothing to do with) these type of people whether they are in or out of the church.
6For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses,7always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
- II Timothy 3:6-7
In verses 6 and 7, Paul gives an example of how some of these religious imposters prey on women with sensitive consciences who are too weak-willed to abandon their various lusts and embrace the gospel that could free them. They instead latch on to these religious manipulators who calm their consciences for a time with false religious or psychological comfort food in exchange for loyalty, money or sexual favors.
8Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith.9but they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes's and Jambres's folly was also.
- II Timothy 3:8-9
Paul compares the actions of the religious imposters he has just described to the two magicians in Pharaoh's court who opposed Moses' effort to appeal for the release of the Jewish people held in slavery there. These reproduced some of the miraculous signs (first three) but were unable to duplicate the rest. In the same way that these two magicians (only place in the Bible they are named is here) did not prevail against Moses, the religious imposters and the general wickedness in society will not prevail against the gospel, its ministers and the church. Eventually this truth will become as obvious to all just as the failure of the Egyptian magicians' opposition eventually became obvious to all in Pharaoh's court. With this general comparison Paul ends the section or warning in this letter.
Assurance — 3:10-17
10Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance,11persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me.12Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.13But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.14You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them,15and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
- II Timothy 3:10-15
In these verses Paul summarizes not only his life in ministry, but his ministry with Timothy. The take-aways for Timothy reading this passage are:
- You've had a good example in me, keep following it.
- Ministry is hard and sometimes dangerous, don't be surprised or discouraged.
- Rely on the Lord in all things and He will both provide and rescue you.
- Don't be discouraged when you see evil upon evil in the world and its influence only getting worse, this is how the world operates. Evil, degeneration, spoilage, these are the norms not the exceptions.
- Stay focused on God's word and remember those who taught you and ultimately brought you to salvation.
Despite the evil in the world and the challenge of ministry, Paul encourages Timothy to find hope and direction in God's word which has led Timothy to salvation, into ministry and will provide what he will need in the future.
16All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
- II Timothy 3:16-17
Paul is always calling Timothy back to the Scriptures to provide faith, hope, courage and perseverance in trial. With these verses he reminds Timothy why he needs to rely exclusively on Scripture to safely navigate the world and effectively lead and teach the church.
- They are inspired (God breathed). The information and direction in the Word come directly from God so Timothy can use them with confidence and authority.
- They were given for a purpose:
- Teaching - God's will is revealed.
- Reproof - used to verify the truth or value of ideas and actions.
- Correction - maintain the proper course; provide course corrections on our spiritual journey.
- Training in righteousness - train and teach how to think and act in a righteous (acceptable to God) manner. Help the believer mature in godly character and godly service.
Despite the sorry state of the world and the challenges of ministry in the church, Paul is confident that if Timothy stays faithful to God's word in both his conduct and teaching, he will succeed in maintaining his personal salvation and will bring others to salvation as well.