2 Timothy 3: 1 – 4: 8.
There is much to chew on relating to ‘the end times’ in New Testament eschatology, where it frames the period between the commencement of the first advent to Christ’s second return (1Cor 10:11; 1Peter 1:20; 1John 2:18). In the Apostle Paul’s initial Epistle to Timothy, he warned about deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons influencing men’s faith in these days (1 Tim 4:1-5), but in his subsequent Epistle, the last days were about those who apostatize in the church at Ephesus, who characteristically are bent towards unbelief and wilfulness; in fact, the word translated ‘difficult times’ connote uncontrollable violence. Paul then listed a non-exhaustible random litany of traditional malignant sources of this unprecedented upswing of evil. These attributes are common in Hellenistic Jewish and Greek ethical literature (c.f., 2Tim 3:1-9; c.f., Matt 24:9-13; 2Peter 3:3; Jude 17-23). The Apostle aligned these apostates with Jannes and Jambres; two Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses’ leadership in Pharaoh’s court (from the apocryphal book The Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres the Magicians), as pagan adversaries to God and censured them in the most convincing terms. Hence, believers should have nothing to do with such malefactors (implying their expulsion from fellowship; c.f., 1Tim 1:20).
It seemed obvious that the Apostle did not intend every described misdemeanour (2Tim 3:2-5) to be attributable to every recalcitrant renouncer of the gospel message. It was a general alert to believers on the deviant norms of false teachers of the day. Appearances can be deluding, and Paul is careful to delineate genuine devoutness for God in daily Christian living and service from mere powerless godliness, where one’s behaviours, attitudes, and motives do not correspond to authentic piety (2Tim 3:5; c.f., Titus 1:16). And the cause for such an aberration is to veer from the apostolic faith; i.e., possessing a counterfeit spirituality that is actually devoid of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence (c.f., Matt 7:15-23). Sooner or later the true character of these false teachers will be revealed for all to see (2Tim 3:5b-9). Genuine piety is an inward transformation of the spiritual man which affirms the work of God’s Spirit.
Antithetically, Paul renewed his call to Timothy to follow him and share in his apostolic sufferings in contrast to the early references on ungodliness; with another list of nine virtues of Christian character (2Tim 3:10-17). In other words, be an imitator of him (c.f., 1Cor 4:15-16). It is important that when we choose our spiritual models or mentors, we choose them carefully, after having had prior knowledge-cum-observation how they lived their faith in the world. Not unlike the political, social and religious instability in the first century, it is difficult today to continue to hold on to an optimistic view of mankind’s future. However, knowing that our sovereign God is in control, our hope is in Him, as we, like Abraham and the others who had preceded us, look for a city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb 11:8-10; 2Tim 3:12-13). Moreover, given the rising tide of opposition in its alternative gospel, Timothy was to hold on to what he had learnt on sound teachings regarding the faith from reputable men like Paul and the other apostles, his mother and grandmother (2Tim 1:5) since his childhood. This underlined the need to return to the basic tenets of the faith. The Apostle reminds us that a personal study of the Scriptures is critical despite our busy lifestyles, as the Word possesses the inherent power to salvation, through faith in Christ (2Tim 3:14-15); compared to the feebleness of false teaching. Paul then restated one of the fundamental doctrinal statement on the inspiration of Scripture (2Tim 3:16-17). The implication of holding fast to what is taught in Scripture as we delve deeper into it is to, very practically, live by it. Paul finally charged Timothy to faithfully preach the Word in fulfilling his role as an evangelist (2Tim 4:1-5), where the Gospel of God must be communicated to others, as we become His light and salt to the world – that is, being faithful to the end.