Know Hard Times Are Ahead
Open Your Bible
2 Timothy 3:1-13, John 15:18-21, Romans 8:31-39
When I graduated from seminary, our commencement speaker took an unusual approach to the graduation speech. He congratulated us, of course, but then proceeded to tell us (winsomely and kindly) just how difficult ministry is. Because no matter how many books we had read or talks we had practiced giving, the hands-on ministry to real people in real, hard situations would be immensely challenging. Thankfully, God is on His throne, and we are never alone.
This is, essentially, Paul’s goal in the third chapter of 2 Timothy. He is writing to his protégé, a young pastor working in Ephesus, a city known for its prevalence of false religious teachers and its peoples’ propensity to follow them. And so Paul gives it to Timothy straight: hard times are coming.
The “last days” (2Timothy 3:1) Paul uses here is a phrase that Peter used in Acts 2 to describe the time after Jesus’s ascension, so this isn’t referring to some future time for Timothy but rather to the on-the-ground realities of his current ministry. It also applies to us, as we are still living in the last days awaiting Christ’s return. And so what can we expect? Hard times. Particularly in regards to preserving the truth of the gospel against false teachers.
I look at Paul’s list of characteristics, and I certainly see myself in some of those words. Likely we all do, but the point Paul is making is that when people (who as false teachers, claim Christ) are governed by those things instead of by the Word of God and a saving faith in Christ alone, we should beware. Why? Because each of those things in Paul’s list suggests a priority given to something other than Jesus Christ. The list builds on itself: first love of self, then money, which leads to pride, which leads to being ungrateful, which can lead to love and pursuit of pleasure over God, and ultimately denying the power of God in their lives. It is a gospel of self-control: if I can earn more, own more, have more fun, have more followers, then perhaps I don’t need Jesus.
Paul urges Timothy to stand in faith and truth when his flock begins to stray, and Paul uses his own experiences as an example in verses 10–11. But Paul gives God the credit for helping him stand firm and in doing so gives Timothy an example to follow. He gives us an example as well.
Living a godly life isn’t easy, but it is the one God calls us to. And God and his Word should be our north star, the source of our wisdom, and our roadmap for living. When false teachers or the temptations we face to pursue our pleasures over God come our way (which they will), we can cling to the example of Paul and Timothy, and the promises of God to rescue us.