We all need encouragement especially in difficult times. We all need encouragement to continue in the faith especially during fearful times. Paul is writing to Timothy to strengthen his faith. This second letter to Timothy is an encouraging letter to make Timothy aware of life as a disciple of Jesus. Paul has encouraged Timothy to not be ashamed but to use his gifts that have been given to him. But in chapter 3 Paul wants to tell Timothy and us what life will be like in the last days.
The Last Days (3:1)
Paul tells Timothy that he needs to understand that in the last days there will be difficult times. People sometimes speak of the last days as something yet to come in the future. But in the scriptures the last days refer to the age of Christ and the time that followed. The writer of Hebrews states that he was living in the last days.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Hebrews 1:1–2 ESV)
So when Paul tells Timothy about trouble and difficulty in the last days, he is not pointing to something more than 2000 years away. Rather, Timothy was already living in the last days. We continue to live in the last days and will remain in the last days until the return of Jesus. So here is Paul’s starting point: it is going to be hard to live as a Christian during the last days. It is not going to be comfortable or easy. There are going to hard and terrible times for those who are trying to follow Jesus.
False Followers (3:2-9)
So why is going to be hard times for the people of God? Paul explains the reasons in verses 2-9. As you read the list of sins that people will be committing, please realize that Paul is not talking about the condition of the sinful world. This list of sins are always true for those who do not belong to Jesus. There is nothing surprising about any of these characteristics when talking about sinful people. These things are true about everyone who has every lived in defiance to the Lord. The reason why these are going to be difficult times is because there are going to be people among us who claim to be followers of Jesus but are practicing these things and have these characteristics.
Now consider these descriptions as Paul speaks about false followers of Jesus. The first description is that they are lovers of self. They claim to love God but they do not. They love themselves. They love money. They are proud and boastful. They are arrogant. They are abusive and demeaning. They are disobedient to their parents. They are ungrateful. They are unholy. They are heartless. They are unappeasable and unforgiving. They are slanderers. They are without self-control. They are brutal and cruel. They do not love good. They betray their friends. They are rash and reckless. They are puffed up with pride. They love pleasure. They act religious, having an appearance of devotion to God. Now listen to the strong words of verse 5. Avoid such people. Timothy, you need to avoid people who are fake Christians.
Why should they be avoided? The answer is that they are dangerous. Fake Christians are dangerous people. Verses 6-9 reveal why they are dangerous. In verse 6 we see that they take advantage of people. They worm their way into relationships and homes, targeting people who feel guilty and weighed down by their sins and take advantage of them. Avoid these people because they are dangerous. They will make a way into your life only to take advantage of you.
In verse 7 Paul stops and warns about these are who being taken advantage of. Paul says that they are always learning but are never able to draw a conclusion or take a stand in the scriptures. Their knowledge does not do them any good. They are always learning but they are never doing. Tim Henson would tell me that he would go around telling people that he is Christian but that he is not a believer. He is a doer. Paul says that false followers are not doers. They listen and listen but it never changes them and never causes them to act on what they have heard. But then he returns to the description of these people who need to be avoided in verse 8 and notes that they will ultimately oppose the truth. They are corrupted in mind and worthless in the faith.
But there is something interesting about these false followers that Paul describes in verse 9. Paul says that they do not get very far because their folly becomes plain to all. Time reveals those who are false. You can only be fake for so long. The behaviors that are listed in verses 2-5 eventually come out. The consequences of these behaviors also become evident. Your life is going to blow up living this way.
Do Not Be Shaken (3:10-13)
Why is Paul telling Timothy these things? Notice what Paul tells Timothy in verses 10-13. Paul says that you have followed my life. You have seen my suffering. You know what I have gone through. Everyone who wants to live a godly life will be persecuted. In short, these false followers are going to hurt you. You need to watch out for them and avoid them. But these false followers are part of the reason for Paul’s suffering. Know that living in the last days means that this is going to happen to you from others who claim to be followers of Jesus. It is going to happen from the people you thought you could trust because they claimed to follow Jesus. But do not let it shake your faith. Look at verse 13. Evil will continue and it will not get better. It is not going to stop. It has happened to you before. It will happen to you again. Evil will only continue. People who are false will never stop coming along. Avoid them. They are dangerous.
The Power of the Scriptures (3:14-17)
So what should Timothy do as he lives in the last days? What should we do as we live in the last days? How are we to continue forward in faith when we have these difficult days that we must expect to have happen? Look at verses 14-17.
Continue in the teachings you have heard and learned (3:14-15). Depend on the teachings from the scriptures as you walk through these difficult times. Listen to what Paul says in verse 15. The sacred writings are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Do not be shaken by those who are false. Do not give up your faith because of the false faith of others. Continue in what you have learned. Continue in the teachings from the sacred writings. It is the teachings from the sacred writings that will make you wise for salvation. Please consider that when Paul writes to Timothy the sacred writings would have been the Hebrew Scriptures. The sacred writings at this point in history would have been Genesis through Malachi, what we call the Old Testament. But notice what Paul says. Those books are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus. Did you know that every book in the Old Testament does not just tell you interesting stories about people in the past or about the nation of Israel? Every book in the Old Testament is able to make you wise for salvation and bring you to faith in Jesus. How sad that these 39 books are so frequently neglected! But those books have just as much saving power and just as much of an ability to grow and strengthen your faith like the New Testament books.
Look at verses 16-17. All scripture is breathed out by God. “Breathed out” is what the word “inspired” means. Every word from every book has come out of God’s mouth and the people of God carried by the Holy Spirit, like the apostles and prophets wrote them down (2 Peter 1:20-21). Not only this, but all of God’s word is beneficial for teaching, rebuke, correction, and for training in righteousness. When we come to the word of God, this is what we are looking at. We are reading to be taught, to be rebuked, to be corrected, and to be trained in righteousness. The word teaches us. The word exposes our sins. The word corrects our direction. The word trains us in right living. Here is the purpose: so that we can be complete, equipped for every good work. Paul told Timothy earlier that we are to cleanse ourselves so that we can be an instrument for honorable use, set apart, useful to the master, and prepared for every good work. The way this preparation happens is by going to the scriptures.
It seems so simple. It does not seem magical enough for our liking. But the way for us to stand during difficult times in the last days, dealing with the hurt inflicted from false followers, and maintain our faith while be persecuted for living a godly life is to continue in and firmly believe the sacred scriptures that will make you wise for salvation. The scriptures are from God’s mouth and will make you complete. Nothing else will. We sometimes try to energize our faith by doing just about anything and everything else except spending time in God’s word and holding on to the teachings. How are we to be strong in the faith during the last days? How can we maintain our faith during difficult times? You need to ground your life and spend your time in God’s word. There is no other answer. Living in the last days we need God’s word flowing through our hearts like oxygen in our lungs so that we can be found faithful, approved by God.