Don't Be Naive About Difficult Times
Topic: Suffering Passage: 2 Timothy 3:1–9
We used to have a sign up in our home that said, “It’s a wonderful life”. There ARE wonderful things about life. For sure! But that sign always bothered me a little bit, because it is more what we WANT life to be, than what it actually IS. On the other hand, the Bible always “tells it like it is”. It tells us of the wonders of life and knowing Christ but ALSO of the hard realities of that life. It never lies to us! God never lies to us. So we come to verse 1, “But realize this, that in the last days, difficult times will come!”
This scripture begins with a command “to understand”, to know, to BE AWARE that something is going to happen. In the last days times will be difficult, perilous, hard. This has been Paul’s message to Timothy all along. Join with me in suffering like a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
This is not talking about personal difficulties, like you furnace goes out, or you have a flat tire on your way to work. That will happen too! But here Paul is talking about the difficulty of living in the midst of ungodly people. He describes a last-days culture, of people living against God, and being against you if you love God, people attacking the church and the truth, and opposing the things we value and love. The result will be difficult times for all who desire to live godly lives. Failure to be aware of this will leave you vulnerable to despair, disillusionment and defeat.
Having your eyes wide open to what is coming will fortify you. It will make you strong. It will keep you safe. Jesus said, I have told you these things so you will not fall away. So you will not abandon your faith. John 16:1
The ESV calls this “times of difficulty”. The NIV says “terrible times”. The NKJ says “perilous times”. Matthew used this same word to describe two demon possessed men coming out of the tombs. He said they were so violent (or so fierce) that no one could pass that way. Paul is not just saying things will get a little rough. He is saying extremely severe and turbulent times are ahead.
So, when are these last days? There is scripture that describes this ENTIRE present age as the last days. Heb. 1:2 says “IN THESE LAST DAYS (God) has spoken to us in his Son...” In this sense the last days are from the time of Christ to the end of the age. And things WILL BE difficult for believers this entire time!
But here Paul specifically speaks of difficult times ahead, or to come. Verse 13 says, “But evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse.” IE These ARE difficult days, but VERY difficult days are ahead. Some take this to apply mainly to the days immediately before Christ returns to judge the world and take us home. And it would certainly include those days! But Paul doesn’t get that specific. So we should stick with what he said, “In the last days terrible times will come.”
What will make the last days so difficult? It is people, ungodly people who do not love God! They love themselves and money and their pleasures RATHER than God. They will be arrogant, brutal, cruel, intolerant, treacherous. THESE PEOPLE will bring terrible times upon us. In the words of Revelation, they will “make war on the saints.”
They will lead the persecution and the silencing of Christians. Difficult times in this passage clearly means strong opposition to God’s people and to God’s truth. Just a few verses later it says, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”.
Regardless of how you interpret the book of Revelation, it vividly describes a totalitarian, intolerant world system that hates God and oppresses, and even kills Christians. This is personified in the beast of Rev. 13. In verses 7-9 The beast was allowed to “make war on the saints and to conquer them. John said, “If anyone has an ear, let him hear:
If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.”
Verses 15-17 says those who will not worship the beast will be slain. And those who will not accept his mark on their right hand or forehead cannot buy anything or sell anything. John, like Paul, was clearly was preparing the saints for difficult times to come.
So...What are these ungodly characteristics that will make life so hard for the saints?
Terrible times are coming BECAUSE people will be...
Lovers of self. The greatest command is to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” That is what we were made for. But our culture tells us over and over to love yourself. Even to worship yourself. Your favorite thing should be you!
This love of self, leads to being absorbed with self, immersed in self and in our own feelings and desires. And ultimately it leads to sinning against God and a willingness to be heartless and cruel to others. People who love themselves will lead the way in persecuting those who love God.
People will be “lovers of money”. The love of money leads people to justify cruel and unjust treatment of others. People who love money instead of God will have no problem whatsoever persecuting the saints. As long as the ungodly can hold on to their own money and possessions, they will have no problem ruining the finances and livelihood of God’s people.
People will be proud, arrogant and abusive. On down the list Paul said they will be swollen with conceit. In the Psalms David complains how the proud made his life difficult. Psalm 119:51 The arrogant mock me unmercifully, but I do not turn from your law. Psalm 36:11 Let not the foot of the proud come against me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.” Proud people seek to put you under their feet, and crush you. They dominate others, and abuse others because they think their viewpoint is all that matters. They will have no problem silencing the saints, and abusing the saints in the last days.
Disobedient to parents. Homes will be in turmoil in the last days. Children will not honor parents. Broken relationships between fathers and children marked the days before the first coming of Christ and will mark the last days. Malachi 4:6 “The Lord said, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.”; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” Rebellion in the home will characterize the last days.
People will be ungrateful. Ingratitude is a terrible sin against God and it makes for terrible times. Jude describe false teachers as “grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires” When an entire culture is ungrateful, depression, selfishness and rebellion against God runs rampant.
People will be unholy. They will live apart from God, and as if there were no God. There have no fear of God. Unholy people are NOT restrained from doing evil. Unholy people will have no problem harming God’s people.
People will be unloving, irreconcilable, and malicious slanderers. (NASB) The ESV says heartless and unappeasable. The KJV says without natural affection. Without God, people become cold and heartless. They become capable of cruelty without empathy.
Without self-control. In the last days people will not control their appetites for food, alcohol, sex or money. Government leaders will not restrain their lust for power. And Christians will suffer under that.
People will NOT love what is good. And they will hate those who DO love what is good! Right now Christians are hated for loving what is good in marriage and sexuality and sanctity of life, and that will only increase.
People will be treacherous and reckless. They will lie, cheat, and do anything to hurt and silence those they disagree with.
People will be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. The mark of true believers is that we love God! God gives us so many pleasures to enjoy, everyday! But loving pleasure INSTEAD of God is the mark of the world. People will have time for pleasure but they will NOT have time for God. They will perceive Christians as getting in the way of their pleasures and will hate them for it.
Finally, they will have an appearance of godliness but they will deny it’s power. They will talk about God, but they want nothing to do with a God who has the power to make them holy and godly! Even within the church many people are satisfied with outward religious practices, but they do not want the power of the Spirit. If we are not aware that this will happen, we will be confused and deceived by this hollow and formal false kind of spirituality.
Paul said “understand this...difficult times will come (or persecution will come) BECAUSE people will be like this...”
So WHY do we need to know these things? I think mainly so we will not be disillusioned or defeated when these things happen. John 16:1 Jesus said, I have told you these things so you will not fall away. Or “so you will not abandon your faith.” This is to fortify you! To toughen your faith,
*A second benefit is so we can watch against these tendencies in our own lives. We should flee these sinful attitudes like the plague. This is a fantastic list of what NOT to be like.
*Third: Be prepared for these kind of people to saturate our culture and to affect your life. DO NOT BE NAIVE! This is where persecution is going to come from.
*And Fourth is the application Paul gives us here in this passage: *Turn away from such people! Or avoid such people. We are not used to hearing a message like that.
Sadly many Christians do NOT turn away from such people. Instead many even idolize them, listen to their music, follow them, seek to look like them, be like them. To often the proud and arrogant people who hate God, are our cultural heroes. And Christians fall into that without realizing these are the people who will be the first to cheer, when YOUR rights are taken away or you are silenced or lose your job for your faith. These people won’t stand up for you when they come to take away your business, or when you are thrown in prison, or even when they come to kill you.
Psalm 1:1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! To distance yourself from people committed to a path of ungodliness (and immorality) does not mean you are being self-righteous. Or that you have a holier than thou attitude to other people. It is just knowing who to stay away from. It is just obedience to God.
Verse 6 Paul gives us another reason for avoiding people like this. “For AMONG THEM are those who creep into households...” Not all, but among these kind of people (proud, treacherous, who love themselves and money and pleasure rather than God) are those who seek to seduce Christians into false ideas. And Paul then describes a scenario he had probably seen many times.
“They enter households, often deceiving the woman first, no doubt then getting to the husband. Just like Satan’s tactic with Eve and Adam.” Today they enter homes through television and the internet and social media and spread ideas opposed to the truth.
What makes a person vulnerable to this tactic? Paul tells us! People who are burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth
*Burdened with sin. God’s law and our own conscience condemns sin. And that inner shame and guilt opens people up to almost any kind of teaching to relieve that burden, and they become prime targets for deception. These women feel a need for something more, to relieve their inner pain and unhappiness and they welcome whatever comes along that promises to relieve that. But when we experience deep and true cleansing from our sins by the blood of Jesus, we are no longer looking for something else to cleanse us and make us whole.
*Those who are led astray by various passions and desires. People led by their passions want to hear things that will allow them to continue to pursue those passions. They don’t want a gospel that teaches them to say no to sinful passions. So they are open to people who oppose the truth.
*Verse 7 They are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” This is a heartbreaking reality right in the church, people hearing the truth, going to Bible studies, hearing good teaching, yet always uncertain and unclear about the fundamental truths of our faith. They are not satisfied with the new and living way that Christ has opened up for us to the Father, and so they are always susceptible to new spiritual ideas that comes along.
*Paul then describes these seducers and “those who oppose the truth.” Verse 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” You will not find Jannes and Jambres in the OT stories. But in Jewish tradition and writings they were the magicians who battled Moses, miracle against miracle, in Exodus 7. The point is simply that LIKE Jannes and Jambres, there are people today who work against the truth. Moses was opposed. God’s servnts today will be opposed. These people may hide their motives by using Christian words and phrases. They may talk about love and peace and justice and tolerance, but inwardly they oppose what the word clearly teaches.
Then Paul ends this rather dark passage with this note of encouragement. Verse 9 “But they will not get very far!”. This is good news! “Their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.” False teachers eventually get exposed. They get caught in their greed for riches, or their sexual immorality, or they preach something that exposes their foolishness.
So Paul says they will not succeed for long. There is an end. Difficult times will come but will not last! Difficult times are not the last chapter in God’s story for us! Evil people will not prevail. Jannes and Jambres did not win, Moses did. In the same way God’s truth and God’s people will always prevail. If we endure with him, we will also reign with him. Romans 16:20 “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet”. Amen.