The Worst of Times for the Best of People

Be Guided in God’s Word


“Difficult times will come” or “in the last days there will be times of difficulty” – A culture of unbridled Self-centeredness and self justification 3:1-9; Paul has just described problems presently confronted [2:14-19]; now he shows that even worse times await.  Perhaps these times parallel each generation of the church and this is not a particular prophecy about some especially perilous time in the future. According the Hebrews 1:2 God has spoken in “these last days” by his Son. That could mean, these most recent days, but seems to be a demarcation between former times and the last days which are identified as having begun with the ascension of Christ. The last chapter dealt with some heretical problems that can be, or should be, dealt with in a straightforward manner in the church.  This difficulty (1-8) seems more subtle and slowly destructive in that it involves hypocritical affections and apparent religiosity as a cloak for the corruption of Christian character.

 An anatomy of religious deceit – Their personal life unconformed to true religion

Focus on self – perform their religious activities for a principle of self-love; this is the fountain of all these perversities that follow – “lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant.”  Since religion has an intrinsic appeal to personal safety and eternal joy, many purely natural reasons exist as to why some would want to be “religious” even with no heart for true holiness.  At bottom, therefore, of the motivation of those Paul is describing is self-seeking.  Personal recognition and material gain motivate them to zealous activity in the church, or at times, against the church. While in the church, they corrupt its true principle of self-humiliation in exchange for self-exaltation, sacrificial giving in exchange for self-enrichment, and edification of others in exchange for an oppressive superior demeanor.

Hostility to others to whom gratitude is due – “Revilers [abusive], disobedient to parents, ungrateful;” Rather than a spirit of dependence and gratitude, those to whom in God’s providence they should be grateful and submissive, they revile them and see no cause for gratitude. They pass of those that have nurtured, educated, and encouraged them in their minority as no longer useful to them, but rather a hindrance as they grasp for personal advancement and advantage.  See Paul’s description of the natural heart under the power of corruption in Romans 1:21, 30 especially.

Antagonism to Christian graces of virtue – “unholy, unloving [heartless], irreconcilable [, unappeasable, unforgiving]”  This spirit of self-sufficiency, self-interest, and self-congratulation runs so counter to genuine Christian humility that these traits dominate: unholy, their internal motivation is not for true devotion to God or mortification of fleshly desires, but for gratification; “unloving” they, therefore, do not consider how they may be self-giving to others, considering others better than themselves, but seek their own personal interests and in this way are sources of constant friction and disturbance; this word (unloving, astorgoi) includes the idea that even those ties of affection that should flow naturally in family relationships begin to erode under the power of selfishness; “Irreconcilable, or unforgiving” with such motivations operating, personal slights or interruption of personal pleasure can hardly be tolerated;  those bent on exaltation of self find little place for forgiving those that hinder their progress to that goal.  This is particularly a mark of an unregenerate heart, cf. Matthew 6:14, 15; Luke 17:3, 4.

Aggressiveness against what is good – “slanderers [diaboloi], without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless” – The lack of internal grace cannot be kept hid for long, but eventually must out with aggressive self-seeking behavior.  Everything that hinders the goal of self-aggrandizement must be discredited, ridiculed, opposed, represented as unwarranted, bigoted, and narrow.  Early Christians, because of their moral stance against a decadent Roman society were called “haters of mankind.”  Christians who oppose abortion and the pervasive homosexual agenda, must be careful to maintain humility and compassion and have clearly defined in their minds why this is a loving thing to do; even so, they must expect hateful opposition, misrepresentation, abusive speech, and seeing the true good that they pursue represented as evil. Those that set forth a case against practices and life-styles that are destructive to individuals, that breakdown social stability, and thus create situations that cause enormous individual and corporate pain, and drain the entire social structure of energy and resources will be seen as intruding of personal rights and hating the happiness of their fellow men.

Personal desire sole canon of right – “conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”; lovers of God will pay attention to his revelation and his commands.  They will embrace the fullness of his character and seek to honor it.  The apparent polarities of Justice and mercy, wrath and forgiveness, judgment and grace must all be seen in proper context as reflections of the singular wisdom and holiness of God.  The cross will become a paradigm for the true harmony of all the distributively perceived attributes of God.  One of these shall not be put in opposition to another or perverted so that God loses his ability to judge the world [cf. Romans 3:5-8]. God’s love has no tendency to compromise his holiness for its first object is his own immutable perfection so that its operations are consistent with the holy, unchangeable, and infinite perfection.  A justification of personal sin, therefore, under the guise that forgiveness is “God’s job,” betrays a love of personal pleasure with no concern for God’s character.

Use God to justify their perversions and hostility –  Either they hide behind a profession of godliness while being internally corrupt, or they openly display these vices under the pretense of divine permission.  A perverse theology of self-aggrandizement, a focus on the celebration of cultural diversity that omits the singularity and exclusivity of the claims of Christ and the powerful righteousness of the cross, dominates much of modern mainline church life as well as much of the personal life of so-called evangelicals.  This apparent “godliness’ can worm its way into the most unlikely places.  The power of true godliness, however, is neither experienced nor endorsed.  Unconditional election, effectual calling, the necessity of the transforming power of regeneration, mortification of sin by the work of the Spirit, the effectuality of Christ’s sacrificial death, the certain benefits of his resurrection not only for forgiveness but for godliness – all these truths that speak of the power of the gospel and contain the power of godliness remain strangers to this crowd.

Particular manifestations of their operations

Their penchant toward easily misled women – They prey on the weaker sort of the weaker sex; they duplicate the tactics of Satan himself who went first to the woman, and appealed to her as separate from the one to whom she was specifically designed as a help.  This often occurs in religious circles because women do not experience leadership from legitimate patterns of guidance and affirmative help.  They become, therefore, susceptible to those who will pay them attention and provide, ostensibly, spiritual leadership. The appeal of power and celebrity (whether it comes from being a rock-star, a country music icon, a sports hero, or a persuasive and suave religious spokesman) has embedded within it the twin pitfalls of envy and sycophancy.

Their promise of relief from tender consciences “weighed down with sins” – The weight of unforgiven sins creates a susceptibility to those who promise religious advantage. Either they promote false ways of dealing with guilt or they shuttle it off as having no true basis in the deep recesses of conscience.

Their promise of truth, that never materializes.  A system that focuses on personal comfort, personal advantage, personal blessing and sees God as a means of getting human fulfillment and the cross as a guarantee of freedom from personal ills will always miss the narrow way that leads to life.  If the cross does drive us to repentance and the resurrection does not create a sense of dependence and gratitude, if our confidence relates more to security in this present world and not to the gracious purpose of God as seen in his giving his beloved Son that sinners might be justified, the truth always will elude us.

3:8, The OT example of Jannes and Jambres – The Egyptian magicians –Paul’s reference shows his familiarity with non-canonical Jewish writing;  The Targum of Jonathan on Exodus 7:11 says “And Pharaoh called the wise men and the magicians; and Janis and Jambres, the magicians of Egypt, did so by the enchantments of their divinations.” [so John Gill];  By this reference, Paul could indicate that all these issues discussed above come from a self-consciously non-Christian religion, as Jannes and Jambres sought to demonstrate the superiority of Egyptian polytheism over the novel idea that there was only one God and he had revealed himself by name to Moses. More likely, he is using this example to show that those who have no true connection with the people of God can nevertheless hover at the edges of Christian light and life, never embracing the purity of either, while having an appearance of divine power and favor.  Eventually the truly deceitful nature of their activity will be exposed as was that of the Egyptian magicians.  The demonstrations of God’s Spirit in the lives of his people will cause a holiness, love, and grasp of truth that can not be sustained by hypocrites.

Paul’s Life by comparison 3:10-13  Paul now calls on Timothy not to manifest the trait of abusive ingratitude that he described above as a trait of false religion.

Paul’s example of suffering for truth  10, 11

He mentions 9 things that marked his ministry- “teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings"  Each of these is set up to be compared with the manner of conduct and teaching of  the self-seeking religionists above, about whom he named nineteen or twenty manifestations of their corrupt purpose in their self-made religion.

He points specifically to Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra  Acts 13, 14  These were stops on the first missionary journey of Paul.  The churches there were established, and perhaps Timothy’s mother and grandmother were converted at this time.  On his second stop through Lystra, Paul arranged for Timothy to go with him.  He had first hand knowledge, therefore, of Paul’s conduct and message and willingness to suffer for Christ and his truth from the very beginning of his apostolic ministry.  He knew of those persecutions.

Persecutions in general wherever he has gone cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 –  From the beginning of his second journey on, Timothy had first-hand knowledge of all Paul’s activities and knew of his concern for the churches, see Acts 17:13, 14  Also see Paul’s evaluation of Timothy in Phil 2:19-23; 1 Thess 3:1-6

When Paul mentions God’s deliverance from trial and persecution, he does not mean that h makes a route around them so as to avoid them, but he sustains him through them. See Philippians 1:29, 30.  They cannot dispatch Paul out of the world until his apostolic task has been fulfilled. “Which persecutions I endured, yet from them all the Lord rescued me.” Compare with 4:18 “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”

Principial differences between the godly and those who feign godliness 12, 13

The pursuit of godliness in imitation of Christ fueled by a Spirit-given desire to honor Christ, will be no more pleasing to the world than it was during Christ’s own earthly ministry. Christians must not think that persecution of some sort is a strange thing, but rather the expected response of the world toward every reminder of that which it hates the most (1 Peter 4:12, 13) For the godly, truth and holiness before God are more important than earthly advantage (See Matthew 5:11, 12).  This persecution may unfold in a variety of forms, but at some point a Christian who chooses to please God and be obedient to his truth will suffer at the hands of the friends of the world; see 1 John 2:15-17; 3:1, 11, 12;  Cain killed Abel because he resented the righteousness and acceptability of Abel’s sacrifice while his own deeds were evil and his offering rejected.

Imposters will find that they cannot conceal their deceit for they will more and more choose the world, all the while professing that this is a manifestation of religious commitment. I spoke to a trained theologian as to whether he thought the church would have warrant to discipline, that is, excommunicate, a member that denied the deity of Christ. He responded that he did not see how it would be consistent with his Baptist convictions to seek to impose his understanding of doctrine on another person.

The Pathway to wholeness and truth  14-17

Timothy is to continue in the way established early in his childhood  14

Not only had Timothy learned Christian truth, he had become convinced of it – The relationship between learning and certainty cannot be broken.  One cannot be assured of, convinced of the truth of, a thing that he has never leaned or investigated.  The church must use means for the clear inculcation of Scripture truth as a means of convincing people of that truth.  Strong exposition of the Bible from the pulpit and in classes along with catechism in doctrine are tried and true means of the propagation of truth.  Preaching and teaching Scripture are, of course, means specifically ordained in Scripture and catechism is implied in many ways.

“Knowing from whom you learned it” – It had been taught to him by those who loved him –  Not only his mother and grandmother {1:5], but the apostle himself had been instrumental in Timothy’s instruction.  This gives an acknowledged authority to the instruction. Timothy would be aware of Paul’s many claims to have received special revelation as authoritative for doctrine an unamendable by any other supposed teacher [Galatians 1:8, 9, 11, 12; Ephesians 3:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; 3:4, 12-14]

Its content was not human speculation but sacred Scripture [grammata = writings used 15 times in NT but only here in this form cf. John 5:47]  Calvin remarks, “There is nothing more alien to faith than an easy credulity that bids us accept everything indiscriminately no matter what its nature or source may be, for the chief foundation of faith is to know that it has its origin and authority in God.”

Its purpose is salvation ; cf. 1 Tim 1:8-11  Although wisdom in general about issues of life and principles of decision-making may result from continual study of Scripture, one misses the point of the entire revelation if he sees anything as of independent relevance apart from the redemptive work of Christ.  All of human nature as a reflection of the image of God, in its fallenness, all issues of evil, morality, wisdom, suffering, human relations, and human purpose have coherence and their ultimate solution in the redemptive purpose of God as substantiated through the person and work of Christ.  It is to this issue that all of Scripture is given and no book is properly understood without that as its context. [Luke 24:26, 27, 32]

It points to Christ cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12; attempts at wise counsel disjointed from Christ may have the appearance of Bible truth, but are empty.

Character of Scripture –  In this designation, Paul likely includes the apostolic work; cf. 1:13f We know clearly that he considered his message as a proclamation of the New Covenant, the fulfillment of all the promises and types of the OT along with the inclusion of the Gentiles and the establishing of the New Covenant community on the basis of the work of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 4:1, 2; 2 Corinthians 3:4-6)

All Scripture – The old Testament which is commonly called Scripture [graphe, 51 times in NT;]  Paul insists that his writing also is to be taken as authoritative and probably includes that along with the other apostles in this designation –cf .2 Thes 3:14; 2 Peter 1:12; 3:1, 2.  The apostles were assured that their writing was of equal authority with their preaching and would serve the church until the day of Christ.  They have no doubt that they are stewards of the new covenant that comes with greater glory than the old covenant [2 Corinthians 3] and therefore their proclamation is of equal authority, equally free from error, and more glorious than the graphe, Scripture, already received by the people of God as divinely revealed truth.  Reading what they wrote would give insight into the mysteries of divine revelation [Ephesians 3:3, 4].

God-breathed – not a subjective and inspiring experience but objectively “ex-pired.”  In the mysterious confluence of human emotion and personality operating freely and historically engaged being carried along by the Spirit of God, the writing of the Bible came to be.  Negatively, Scripture is not the product of human ingenuity or interpretation, though the Spirit employs human gifts and speaks to specific and peculiar situations.  Positively, Scripture is divinely revealed truth, couched in Spirit-inspired words relevant to the church in all ages, transcending time and culture.

Profitable – not for mere entertainment or intellectual curiosity, but for edification in 4 ways, comprehensive in scope: doctrine, reproof, correction, training in righteousness

Doctrine – the statement of coherent truth, reducible to propositions about God, man, salvation, creation time eternity, judgment, heaven, hell etc.

Reproof – The ideas that we hold as we come to Scripture often must undergo radical change to make way for the doctrine of Scripture. The values of the world ingrained in us by nature from the womb and by constant reiteration through culture, must be reproved, shown to be destructive, indefensible, and irrational, and most of all, conflicting with the revelation of God.

Correction –  Our life style must be challenged and changed.  We must stop being conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Instruction or training in righteousness –  With greater knowledge of Scripture and more mature reflection on it content we learn how to test and find approved the will of God, the good, and acceptable, and perfect. [Romans 12:2]  We have “our powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” [Hebrews 5:14]  We learn to “Prove the things that are excellent, in order to be found sincere and blameless in the day Christ.” Phil 1:10

Purpose of Scripture

Man of God – any person  who is “His” 2:19, elect redeemed, called but particularly those responsible for teaching others cf. 1 Tim 6:11

Whole, adequately fitted for the particular service to which he is called. All training received by a called man must enhance his knowledge of or his ability properly to discern the meaning of Scripture.

Every good work, in general of Christian virtue, but particularly the “Good work” of the ministry.


Christians must be aware that perversity of many sorts will challenge their devotion to truth.

Christians must be prepared for this, and be willing to suffer.

Christians must grasp firmly the principle that it is by Scripture we overcome the destruction of error and the threat of persecution..

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts