2 Timothy 3: 1 – 17; 4: 1 – 8.
The context for ‘the last days’ in the Bible encompasses the period between the birth of Jesus Christ and His second coming; hence, we are in the last days (Acts 2:17; Heb 1:2; 1Cor 10:11). The Apostle Paul described these days as being marked by their characteristic unmanageable difficulty and savagery (2Tim 3:1); denoting these features in 19 prevailing negative human attributes (2Tim 3:2-5). It is significant to note that he was addressing believers about believers who one day will defect from the faith. Self-centredness qualifies the initial four of these characteristics: lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful and arrogant. It is entirely consistent that when the first commandment to love God is broken, we inadvertently spiral undeviatingly towards self-absorption. The ensuing eight further explores the basic social selfishness and haughty disposition: blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips and without self-control. These behaviours are the antithesis of obedience to ordained authority and fundamentally embrace rebellion and lawlessness. The subsequent two imply a ferocious and vicious outlook: brutal (i.e., like wild animals) and haters of good. Symptomatically, these traits delineate a level of wilful malevolent attitude that destabilises communal harmony. It is followed by a final list that veers closely towards apostasy: treacherous, reckless, self-deluded, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. The Apostle’s primary focus was to draw attention to the pretence of godliness in living lives without the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is more than justification; it encompasses regeneration. His apt advice is to ensure that these misguided men do not comprise part of our local congregation of believers (c.f., Matt 20:15-20). Paul then moves on by looking into the heart of rapacious teachers like Jannes and Jambres, who had deserted God and were the cause of moral catastrophe in the church at Ephesus (2Tim 3:6-9). What lessons can we draw from the Apostle’s experience?
Unconsciously or otherwise, we are natural followers from a very young age, and the model we emulate becomes progressively more critical as life moves on. Paul was explicit and unequivocal in his advice to believers to pattern themselves after his teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, and in his endurance during his persecutions and sufferings (2Tim 3:10-15). In simplistic language, the Apostle was saying, “As you had watched me closely when I ministered among you, emulate me!” It seems who we may have chosen to be our mentor may unwittingly determine the kind of person we may turn out to be! Undoubtedly, Paul was not deluded concerning the prevalence of evil men in our world and the extant deception in every generation that threaten to undo the authentic teachings of Biblical orthodoxy and their faith. Moreover, he was realistic that when the believers are faithful to the gospel of living Godly lives, they will be persecuted. So, he advised them not to be naïve but attempt to view everything from Divine perspective, even the evil in their own heart, and they will never be surprised by the awfulness of any outcome.
Our transformation into Christlikeness begins with the gospel, and since all Scripture is inspired by God, it is useful for teaching the faith and correcting error, for resetting the direction for a man’s life and training him in good living; adequately preparing anyone for all his labours in this interregnum (2Tim 3:16-17; Heb 4:12-13). Without doubt, when we allow His Holy Spirit to impact us by obeying His Word, we begin to consistently re-orientate our thoughts and behaviour in line with our Saviour’s, as our frame of reference moves away from being conformed to this world through its many temptations, to a renewal of our mind in Christ (Rom 12:1-2). Consequentially, the gospel’s focus is also other-centred; therefore Paul charged Timothy to follow his example by boldly preaching the word (2 Tim 4:1-8). We may not all be teachers of the word, but we are certainly called to faithfully model Christ and share the gospel with each generation (Matt 28:18-20).