Our text today comes from the book of 2 Timothy, chapter 3, verses 1-9. Consider them carefully.
2 Timothy 3:1-9
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also.
The text before us this morning is a dark passage. It speaks of the dark times that are coming. It speaks of the character of the dark men who are coming to deceive those in the church. It speaks of those who prey upon the weak in the church. It speaks of those who resist the authority of the church. You can sense the darkness right from verse 1, where Paul says, "In the last days, difficult times will come." My message this morning is entitled, "Difficult Times Will Come."
If you think about it, this has been the message of 2 Timothy right from the start. Things are hard for followers of Christ. Times are tough. There is great opposition to Christ and to His servants, but we are to persevere, because God will win in the end. Persevere, because this is our calling. So, fan the flame, Timothy. So, fight the fight, Timothy.
In chapter 1, Paul tells of how he was in prison because of the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8). Paul’s call to Timothy was this: "join with me in suffering for the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:8). In chapter 2, Paul tells Timothy to "suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2:3). Paul’s call to Timothy was to "endure" in your suffering (2:12). And now, in chapter 3, the message is the same. Difficult times will come, but know that they will be hard (3:1-9) and continue faithful until the end (3:10-17).
The command that dominates this entire portion of scripture is found in verse 1, "Realize this". It’s a verb of knowledge. Literally, it means, "Know this" (NKJV). But, the thrust of the paragraph brings in other translations here: "Understand this" (ESV), "Mark this" (NIV). I love the way that The Message paraphrases it, "Don’t be naïve." In other words, "Timothy, know that it’s going to be like in the last days. Don’t be taken by surprise! Things are going to be hard. Expect it, so that you can deal with it."
It wasn’t with accident that Paul called Timothy to "suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus." Those who are fighting in a war know that it’s going to be hard. Those troops that are sent to Iraq know that they are going into a battle zone. They know that they need to be ready to suffer hardship. Those troops that are sent to Afghanistan know that they are going into terrorist territory. They know that they will be in for a difficult time. And so, when things get hard, they don’t go running home to their mommies. No, they have been trained for this. They have come to expect this.
So also is Timothy’s call. He is in enemy
territory and must be ready for the difficult times that are coming. This is my first
1. Know the Times (verse 1)
Verse 1 says, ...
2 Timothy 3:1
Realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.
Here’s a direct command from Paul to Timothy. He is to know some things. He is to realize some things. Difficult, perilous, grievous times are coming.
Now, when Paul is talking about difficult times, his attention isn’t upon the economy. He isn’t saying that the times are tough because we don’t have any jobs. His attention isn’t upon the natural disasters that will come. He isn’t saying that the times are tough because of climate change. No, Paul’s attention is upon the attacks that will come upon the church! Difficult times are coming for the church. Men will arise and attack the church.
From verses 2 through 5, we see a list of those who attack the church. This list is about as bad as any list that we have in all the Bible, describing the wickedness of men. In verses 6 and 7, we see them entering into households and preying upon the weak and susceptible. But, in the end, we have the assurance, as verse 9 says, that "their folly will be obvious to all."
Now, there is a bunch of discussion here about what Paul is referring to when he talks about the "last days". You may naturally think (as many have thought), that the "last days" refers to the days just before the coming of Jesus. On one hand, you are absolutely right. It does refer to the day just before the coming of Jesus. But, it means much more than that. "The last days" refers to the time between the first and second comings of Christ. "The last days" are the days of the church age.
This is how Peter used the word on the Day of Pentecost, when he stood before everyone in Jerusalem and described the coming of the Holy Spirit using these words: "This is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: And it shall be in the last days, ... 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 2:16-17). Joel prophesied that the Holy Spirit would come upon us in a special way in the last days. "The last days" refer to the days when the Holy Spirit would do His work in the church.
This is how the writer to the Hebrews used the term. "God, after He spoke long ago to the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son" (Hebrews 1:1-2a). The "last days" are the days of the Son. The "last days" are the days of Jesus. We are living in Jesus’ days. We are living "in the last days."
If the "last days" meant only in the times just before the return of Christ, then these words would have no meaning for Timothy at all, who lived more than 2,000 years before the return of Christ. But Paul wasn’t merely speaking theory for Timothy. No, he was helping him in the ministry. And these words were every bit applicable for Timothy as they are for us.
In some regard, it is more applicable for us. We read in verse 13, that "evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived." What we see in verses 2-5 are bad, but it’s worse in our day than in Timothy’s day. We ought to be paying even more attention to what’s going on in the world around us. So, Know the Times (verse 1). They are wicked times. They are perilous times. They are grievous times.
As Peter says, "Do not be surprised as the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you" (1 Peter 4:12). Difficult times are part of the reality of what we need to deal with as believers in Christ.
But, what, particularly, should we know about these
times? This comes in verses 2-5, which forms my second point,
2. Know Their Character (verses 2-5a)
We are to know what enemies of the church are like, that we might spot them, that we might avoid them, that we might not be them ourselves. In verses 2-5, we have 19 characteristics of the men, who are enemies of the church in the last days. Let’s walk through all of these descriptions. Verse 2 says, "Men will be ..."
1. Lovers of self
This characteristic is at the head of the list for a reason. It’s because self-love is where all sin begins. Sin begins when we don’t get our own way. We do whatever we can do to get our own way.
"Lovers of self" is one word in the Greek text, from "to love" and "self". Down through the ages, there have been many who have loved themselves. Diotrephes loved to be first, and therefore resisted John’s teaching (3 John 9). Demas loved this present world, and so deserted Paul (2 Tim. 4:10). The Pharisees "loved the places of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men."(Matt. 23:6-7). Therefore, they couldn’t tolerate it when Jesus came and disrupted their religious system. The Jews of Jesus’ day loved darkness rather than the Light, and so, they crucified the Lord of Glory (John 3:19). When we don’t get what we love, we will sin to get it.
And you could go right down through this entire list and show that each sin really comes from a love of self. In many ways, this is the fundamental problem with mankind. We love ourselves and our lives, rather than God. And yet, God’s people ought not to be like this. We ought to be like those on Revelation 12:11, who "did not love their life even when faced with death." Jesus said, "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate ... his own life, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26).
At this point, I really feel compelled to mention that I have heard of those in the Christian world who advocate a love of self, like it’s a good thing. They hear the two great commandments that Jesus gave, "‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’" (Mark 12:30-31). And they make the two commandments into three commandments. You shall love the Lord. You shall love your neighbor. You shall love yourself. And so, they spend much time seeking to help people love themselves! But, the Bible doesn’t teach us that we need to love ourselves.
The Bible assumes that we love ourselves. The Bible assumes that we love ourselves too much. And yet, the people here in 2 Timothy 3 have an inordinate love for themselves, which is at the root of the second characteristic of this long list.
2. Lovers of money
Those who love themselves love money, because money can enable them to do whatever they want to do. And they want to do what they want to do, so they will get what they need to do it! Money, for many, is the enabler of self-love.
This is so up to date. In our day, lovers of money abound. It seems like the more we have, the more we seek. Money is the insatiable desire -- the desire that is never satisfied. I think of John D. Rockefeller, the billionaire, "How much money is enough?" He said, "Just a little bit more." That’s the love of money.
This wasn’t the first time that Paul had written to Timothy about these things. In 1 Timothy 6, he wrote, ...
1 Timothy 6:9-10
But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
There are plenty in this world who have been pierced by the griefs of wanting to be rich.
Let’s look at the third characteristic. And I’m going to speed up, but as we are going through these things, I want to paint a picture for you of the enemies of the church. So, as I go through these, picture in your mind this sort of person. With each characteristic, a face might pop into your mind. It may be somebody that you know, like a family member or a neighbor or a former classmate. It may be somebody who is famous. It may be somebody that you have only seen in the grocery store or heard in a radio call-in program. It may be you. Where it hits you, resolve to repent -- today!
3. Boastful -Your translation may say, "proud" (ESV)
These are those who let their love for themselves come out of their mouth. They boast of what they have. They boast of what they know. They boast of what they can do. They want the world to know. The business world is full of boasters. The academic world is full of boasters. The athletic world is full of boasters. Can you picture it?
4. Arrogant - Your translation may say, "proud" (NIV, NKJV)
It is much the same as the previous characteristic. The proud person merely talks of his "greatness." But, the arrogant person speaks not merely of his "greatness," but how he is greater than everybody else in the room. The idea of the word here is that of lifting oneself above another.
5. Revilers - Your translation may say, "abusive" (ESV, NIV) or "blasphemers" (NKJV).
The word is literally where we get the word, "blasphemer." It is evil speaking against God and against other people. It is speaking so as to hurt or injure another person. How many people in our world today have venom under their tongue, speaking forth with the intention to harm?
6. Disobedient to parents
If any word is applicable to us today, it is this characteristic. Our culture is quickly losing the practice of disciplining children. And as we do so, the result is disrespectful, out of control children: disobedient children! Children do their own thing. Children mouth off to their parents. As they get older, the disrespect continues. Such is the sign of a decadent age.
7. Ungrateful - Your translation may say, "unthankful" (NKJV)
This describes those who are not appreciative for everything that they have. They have a heart that thinks that they deserve everything they have -- that the world revolves around them! They haven’t lived without, so they don’t know what it is to have.
This is the humanist who lives as if there is no God. This describes the one who has no fellowship with God. This describes the one who doesn’t have any ounce of godliness in him. Everything in him is secular. It’s all about what he can see and feel and taste and touch. Little thought is given toward the spiritual realities of life.
Now we come to verse 3, ...
9. Unloving - Your translation may say, "heartless" (ESV)
Literally, this word is "without" and "family love". Without family love. Of any love, this is the most basic. Love for father. Love for mother. Love for brother and sister. But, this person has no love for family. He is estranged from his family, and he doesn’t care. Thus, the translation, "heartless."
10. Irreconcilable - Your translation may say, "unappeasable" (ESV) or "unforgiving" (NIV, NKJV)
This is the one who seemingly can’t get along with anybody. He can’t make any sort of agreement to live in harmony with anybody. To live in harmony with other people requires some give and take, as you offend each other. But there are those who are absolutely intolerant of the sins of others. They can’t be reconciled with others. Perhaps you know some people like this.
11. Malicious gossips - Your translation may say, "slanderous" (ESV, NIV, NKJV)
This is the one who gossips with ill-intent. This is the one who speaks of others with the intent to harm. The word literally is the Greek word for the devil. The devil is a slanderer. He spreads lies to the hurt of other people. "Eve, ... you will not die. God knows that in the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:4-5). The rest of mankind was hurt until this very day. Malicious gossips merely imitate the devil in these things,
12. Without self-control
We’re talking here about the weak man, who is easily led into sin. He has no control over his tongue. He has no control over his emotions. He has no control over his appetites. He has no control over his desires. He can’t hold himself in.
This word describes the savage man. It describes the fierce fighter. He is the one with venom in his eyes, who is always ready for a fight. He’s the gladiator, who will fight to his death.
14. Haters of good - Your translation may say, "despisers of good" (NKJV) or the literal translation, "not lovers of good" (ESV, NIV)
"Not a lover of good." He’s a hater of good. He despises virtue. He thinks that being nice is a weakness. He sees no benefit in being good. To him, the end justifies the means.
Let’s keep going. We are in verse 4, ...
15. Treacherous - Your translation might say, "traitors"
This is the betrayer. This is the Judas. This is the one who comes to God’s people and seeks to do them harm.
16. Reckless - Your translation might say, "rash" (NIV) or "headstrong" (NKJV)
This is the one who has their mind set on something, and nothing stops them. Literally, this is the one who falls forward. This is the one who makes hasty decisions. They are the bull in the china shop, seeking after what they want.
17. Conceited - Your translation might say, "swollen with conceit" (ESV) or "haughty" (NKJV)
The idea here is the one who is puffed up. He is drunk with pride. This is the one who knows everything. They can never be taught, because they are never wrong.
18. Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
These are the pleasure seekers. These are the ones who are driven by their bodily appetites. They pursue whatever makes them feel good: sex, drugs, alcohol, shopping, internet, television, football games, concerts, night clubs, restaurants, parties. Rather than finding their pleasure in God, they find it in themselves and in their own fleshly appetites.
Now, before we proceed to look at the last characteristic of these people, I want to ask you if you have a picture of someone in your mind. Perhaps some people have come into your mind as I have walked through some of these characteristics. Perhaps you know some people who are lovers of money. Perhaps you know some people who are boastful and arrogant. Perhaps you know some people who lack self-control and are reckless and conceited. I don’t want you to name them, but I want for you to have them in your minds. Paul would have Timothy do this.
The whole point of these characteristics is that you would look to them and know the sorts of people who are enemies of the church, so that you might deal with them appropriately. He already named a few people. He names Phygelus and Hermogenes in 1:15. And he named Hymenaeus and Philetus in 2:17. In verse 8, he’s going to name a two more: Jannes and Jambres. In chapter 4, he’s going to name two more: Demas and Alexander (in verses 4:10 and 4:14). Paul would have Timothy think of these sorts of people, because he has to know how to deal with them.
And now, let me ask you. Are they religious? I painted a picture of these individuals, which is pretty sad and sorry. You may have thought about non Christians in the world. Certainly, all of this applies to those without Christ. But, what makes it worse is that Paul has in mind "religious leaders", many of whom profess to be Christian; many of whom may set up shop in the church. They know that "godliness is a means of gain" (1 Timothy 6:5). And, they seek to use it to their own favor.
And those who make such pretence are especially dangerous to the church. As Tom Hale said in His commentary, "Christ’s most dangerous enemies are those within the church! Two enemies within the church can do more harm than two thousand enemies outside the church." 
Here it is, verse 5, ...
19. Holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power;
This is describing the Pharisees. Outwardly, they were beautiful! The outside of the cup was beautiful and clean. But, the inside was robbery and self-indulgence (Matt. 23:25). They were masters of looking good on the outside -- giving, praying and fasting for all to see. But, in their lives, they were brutal and unholy and malicious gossips and without self-control.
They were those who put on a display of godliness, but lack the genuineness. They do not have the Spirit. And so, what is Timothy to do? He is to avoid them (verse 5b). More about that later.
Such is the character of enemies of the church. You need
to be able to spot them. So, Know Their Character (verses 2-5a). Thirdly,
3. Know Their Methods (verses 6-7)
This comes in verses 6 and 7.
2 Timothy 3:6-7
For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
When a lion is out looking for food in the African wilderness, he doesn’t go after the strongest wildebeest in the terrain. No, he looks for the weakest of animals. He looks for the lame; he looks for the pregnant; he looks for the young, and he goes after them. He’s interested in an easy dinner, not the biggest dinner. And so it is with enemies of the church. They prey upon the weak. That’s what Satan did. When encountering Adam and Eve, it was no accident that he went after Eve. He knew that she was the weaker of the two. He went after her.
Now, in the days of Paul, predominantly it was the women who were weak. They were often uneducated. They often remained at home. Certainly, our culture is a bit different than this. Most women today are educated. Most women today are free to get out and move around. But, back then, the women were sitting ducks. And so, these enemies went after the women in their homes.
It says here (in verse 6) that they would "enter into households." They would knock on the door. They would come in and talk. They would lead these women astray. These women are described as weak (some translations say "gullible - NIV, NKJV). The KJV calls them "silly women". These women are described as "weighed down with sins." These women are described as those who are "led on by various impulses." These women are "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."
Apparently, these women feel a spiritual need in their lives. They know of their sin. They are weighed down by their sin. They see how they are led on by their sin. And so, these people come in to "teach" them. And they learn, and they learn, and they learn, and they learn. But, they never quite come to the knowledge of the truth.
If they came to the knowledge of the truth, then this guy wouldn’t be in their home any more leading them astray. If they came to the knowledge of the truth, they would know the relief of their sins forgiven. Like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, the burden of their sins would be lifted. They wouldn’t be weighed down by them. If they came to the knowledge of the truth, they would experience the working of God in their lives and wouldn’t be led on by these sinful impulses.
Things have changed in our day and age. And so, the methods have become a bit different, but the principle of pursuing the weak is still there. We don’t see a lot of false teachers spending their time in the homes of weak women, although that does happen.
But, it doesn’t mean that they don’t enter into households. They just enter another way. They enter via the radio and via the television and via the internet. They still prey upon the weak. They will search for anyone who is willing to give them a dollar. Beware of the "ministry" that is always talking about money, and how you need to "support their ministry."
My counsel to you is this: Support the ministries that speak little of money. Everyone knows that ministries need money. When a ministry is speaking much of the money that they need, ... When a ministry is speaking much of the money that you need to give, don’t support them. Avoid them.
I’ve heard enough ministries say, "Give us your faith offering. God will return it back to you ten-fold, thirty-fold, a hundred-fold. You just need to trust Him. You just need to step out to him in faith. So, send in your faith pledge today." Listen -- it’s a sham! If these ministries really believed this, they would be giving their money to you and watching God prosper their own ministry ten-fold, thirty-fold, a hundred-fold. But, take my word for it, that’s not happening. Instead, the leaders are getting rich, living in mansions, driving nice cars, wearing expensive clothes.
And, how crafty they are to weave these luxuries into their theology. They claim these things are actually a sign of godliness, that they are a sign of God’s blessing upon their lives. And so, they love their pleasures as they prey upon the weak.
I have a pastor friend, who is ministering in the inner city. He told me of a woman who has come to their church. She is a poor woman. She is a needy woman. I’m not sure if she has children or not. I don’t think that the husband is in the picture. Anyway, she was persuaded by some type of "ministry" to help them build their big, multi-million dollar "ministry center." Now, I don’t know all of the details, but I do know that she mortgaged her house to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, to give to this ministry.
She had no business mortgaging her house to help this ministry. And now, she is even weaker. And now, she is even poorer than ever before. And now, she is even more needy. And so, my pastor friend is seeking to help her in whatever ways that he can. How sad it is that the church, which is to help the poor, actually takes advantage of the poor.
This is really nothing new. Jesus said of the scribes and Pharisees that they "devour widows’ houses" (Mark 12:40). They take advantage of the weak. They take advantage of the poor. That’s why James says, "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world" (James 1:27). True religion will help the weak and will help the poor, and thereby model the gospel.
The good news is that God has come to help the weak and to help the poor. We turn to God, not because we are strong, but because we are weak. We turn to God, not because we are rich and have so much to offer him, but because we are poor and need what he offers to us. We turn to God, not because we have it together spiritually, but because He can give to us everything that we need pertaining to life and godliness.
That’s the gospel -- Jesus came to give life. He did it by dying upon the cross in our place. We but need to turn from our sins, and open our hands to receive His gift of life.
So, Know Their Character (verses 2-5a), Know Their
Methods (verses 6-7), and, ...
4. Know Their End (verse 8-9)
This comes in verses 8-9, ...
2 Timothy 3:8-9
Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also.
Paul is going back into the annuls of Jewish history until the time of Moses. He mentions these two men, "Jannes and Jambres." They aren’t mentioned in the Bible, but they were well-known names to the Jews. In fact, they are mentioned in the Jewish Targum, which holds much of the Jewish tradition.
These men are mentioned as the magicians, who worked their magic against Moses and Aaron. I trust that most of you remember the story. Moses, the messenger of God, came in to Pharaoh’s chamber and asked that the Jews might leave the land. Pharaoh said, "Work a miracle" (Ex. 7:9). And Moses did. He threw down his staff and it became a serpent (Ex. 7:10). But, we read in Exodus 7:11, "The Pharaoh also called for the wise men and the sorcerers, and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same with their secret arts. For each one threw down his staff and they turned into serpents" (Ex. 7:11-12).
I don’t know how they did this. But, somehow they did. Now, Jewish history named two of these wise men sorcerers and magicians, Jannes and Jambres. And they opposed Moses every step of the way. When Moses had the water in the Nile turned into blood, Jannes and Jambres did the same (Ex. 7:14-25). When Moses sent frogs over all the land, Jannes and Jambres did the same (Ex. 8:1-15).
There may well have been other ways that they opposed Moses. They were identified as "wise men." I bet that they had the ear of Pharaoh. Perhaps they were mocking Moses and Aaron the entire time they mimicked their miracles.
But, this we do know: eventually, Jannes and Jambres were stopped dead in their tracks. Moses sent gnats throughout the entire land of Egypt. But, the magicians were unable to mimic this miracle. They tried, but they couldn’t do it. At that point, they said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." In other words, they were exposed. They were counseling Pharaoh that Moses had a power that they knew nothing of. They were counseling Pharaoh to heed the things that Moses and Aaron were saying. But, "Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said’ (Exodus 8:19).
Jannes and Jambres are a test-case for Timothy to reflect upon. Genuine spiritual leaders will face opposition. They will face opposition from all quarters. The opposition that comes will be relentless. And yet, in the end, their fruits will show forth. In the end, "their folly will be obvious to all."
"So Timothy, keep the course. They will be exposed. You will be vindicated in the end." So, know them. Know the enemies of the cross. Know Their Character (verses 2-5a). It is shady at best. Know Their Methods (verses 6-7). They prey upon the weak. Know Their End (verse 8-9). They will be exposed.
5. Avoid Them (verse 5b)
I skipped this phrase earlier. But, now we come back to it. Paul simply writes, "Avoid such men as these" (verse 5b).
There are two commands given in this section of Scripture. The first comes in verse 1, "but realize this." The second comes at the end of verse 5, "Avoid such men as these." You can summarize this entire section by two commands. 1. Know them. 2. Avoid them.
The call is clear, stay away from them. Now, if they are in the church, you need to work to root them out of the church, for the safety of the people. But, if they are on the radio or television or at some other "church," just avoid them. They want attention. That’s how they flourish. So, don’t give it to them.
You don’t need to know everything about them. You don't need to enter in their controversy. You don't need to correct them. You have no responsibility toward this. They will be exposed eventually.
I think that's what Paul is saying here to Timothy. In the difficult times, you must be wise in how you teach your people. We saw this last week in 2 Timothy chapter 2 when Paul instructed Timothy not to wrangle about words. We should not be contentious or argumentative with people like this, these enemies of the church. Just avoid them.
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on
October 9, 2011 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rvbc.cc.