Lesson Focus:  This lesson urges Christians to grow in spiritual maturity by exercising discernment, following good examples, and studying the Scriptures.

Avoid Evil Influences:  2 Timothy 3:1-9.

[1]  But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. [2]  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, [3]  heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, [4]  treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, [5]  having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. [6]  For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, [7]  always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. [8]  Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. [9]  But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men. [ESV]

[1]  Why does Paul introduce this chapter with such an emphatic command to Timothy to understand this? After all, the existence of active opposition to the gospel was evident. Paul himself had been arrested, chained and imprisoned because of his own loyalty to it. And earlier in the letter Paul has urged his young friend not to be ashamed of the gospel, but to take his share of suffering as Christ’s good soldier; has reminded him that he must endure with Christ if he hopes one day to reign with Him; and has warned him that behind the ‘word-battles’, ‘godless chatter’ and ‘stupid and senseless controversies’ spread by false teachers there lurks the evil figure of the devil himself. So why does the apostle enjoin Timothy to understand what he already knows? Surely because he wants to emphasize that opposition to the truth is not a passing situation, but a permanent characteristic of the age. Perhaps he fears that Timothy will be over-optimistic, hoping that if he lies low for a while, the storm will pass. But Paul gives him no such hope. We too should understand this, and be quite clear about the perils and troubles which will beset us if we stand firm in the truth of the gospel. Next, Paul refers to the last days. It may seem natural to apply this term to a future epoch, to the days immediately preceding the end when Christ returns. But biblical usage will not allow us to do this. For it is the conviction of the New Testament authors that the new age (promised in the Old Testament) arrived with Jesus Christ, and that therefore with His coming the old age had begun to pass away and the last days had dawned [see Acts 2:14-17; Heb. 1:1-2]. What follows in 2 Timothy 3, therefore, is a description of the present, not the future. Paul depicts the whole period elapsing between the first and second comings of Christ. What Paul gives Timothy here is not predictions about some future epoch which he will not himself live to see, but instructions relating to his present ministry. In these last days, Paul adds, there will come times of difficulty. What Timothy is to understand about the last days is not that they are uniformly, continuously evil, but that they will include times of stress. Paul goes on immediately to tell us why this is so: for people will be lovers of self.


[2-5] In verses 2-4 the apostle employs no fewer than nineteen expressions by which to describe the wicked men who are responsible for the times of difficulty. Notice the first and the last phrases used. The first says that they are lovers of self and the last that they are not, as they should be, lovers of God. Indeed four of the nineteen expressions are compounded with love, suggesting that what is fundamentally wrong with these people is that their love is misdirected. Instead of being first and foremost lovers of God, they are lovers of self, lovers of money, and lovers of pleasure. In between these four come fifteen other expressions, which are almost entirely descriptive of the breakdown of our relations with each other. The first three enlarge on the meaning of self-love. People who love themselves best become proud, arrogant, abusive. The first word means ‘braggarts’, and the second ‘haughty’ or ‘disdainful’ which leads naturally to the third ‘slanderous’, because inevitably those who have an exaggerated opinion of themselves look down with contempt upon others and speak evil of them. The next five words may conveniently be grouped together. For they seem to refer to family life, and especially to the attitude which some young people adopt towards their parents. The Greek words are all negative in form, as if to stress the tragic absence of qualities which nature alone would lead one to expect. The first two are disobedient to their parents, whom Scripture says children are to honor and obey, and ungrateful, devoid of even an elementary appreciation. The next word is translated unholy but this particular word was sometimes used in classical Greek of filial respect. The context suggests that this may be the allusion here. Heartless is utterly lacking in normal human affections. The last word of this group of five is unappeasable or irreconcilable and describes a situation in which people are so much in revolt that they are not even willing to come to the conference table to negotiate. In an ideal society the relationship of children to their parents should be marked by obedience, gratitude, respect, affection and reasonableness. In times of difficulty all five are lacking. The remaining seven words of the catalogue are obviously wider than the family. The first is slanderous, those who are guilty of the sin of speaking evil against others, especially behind their back. They are also without self-control, brutal, not loving good. Finally, they are treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit. Thus we are back to the basic evil with which the hideous list began, namely pride. And all this unsocial, anti-social behavior – this disobedient, ungrateful, disrespectful, inhuman attitude to parents, together with this absence of restraint, loyalty, prudence and humility – is the inevitable consequence of a godless self-centeredness. If a person is proud, arrogant and swollen with conceit, of course they will never sacrifice themselves to serve others. God’s order, as plainly declared in His moral law, is that we love Him first (with all our heart, soul, mind and strength), our neighbor next and our self last. If we reverse the order of the first and third, putting self first and God last, our neighbor in the middle is bound to suffer. So the root of the trouble in times of difficulty is that people are utterly self-centered, lovers of self. Only the gospel offers a radical solution to this problem. For only the gospel promises a new birth or new creation, which involves being turned inside out, from self to unself, a real reorientation of mind and conduct, and which makes us fundamentally God-centered instead of self-centered. Then, when God is first and self is last, we love the world God loves and seek to give and serve like Him. It may be a shock to discover that people such as these, who lack the common decencies of civilized society let alone of God’s law, can also be religious. But it is true. In the history of mankind, although this is a shameful thing to confess, religion and morality have been more often divorced than married. Certainly Scripture bears an unwavering testimony to this fact. The same malady was rife among the people Paul is describing. They preserved the outward form of religion but were denying its power. They evidently attended the worship services of the church. They sang the hymns, said the amen to the prayers and put their money in the offering plate. They looked and sounded egregiously pious. But it was form without power, outward show without inward reality, religion without morals, faith without works. True religion combines form and power. It is not external form without power. Nor, on the other hand, does it emphasize moral power in such a way as to despise or dispense with proper external forms. It combines them and it fosters a worship which is essentially spiritual, arising from the heart, but which expresses itself through public, corporate services, and which also issues in moral behavior. Otherwise, it is not only valueless; it is actually an abomination to the Lord. No wonder Paul adds: avoid such people. Not that Timothy was to avoid all contact with sinners. Paul means rather that within the church, for he has been giving a description of a kind of heathen Christianity, Timothy was to have nothing to do with these type of people.

[6-9] It is indeed astonishing that the kind of people the apostle has been describing, filled with godless self-love and malice, should not only profess religion, but include some who actively propagate it. Yet such was the case. The verb translated capture properly means to take prisoner but it came to mean mislead or deceive. Their method was not direct and open, but furtive, secretive, cunning. They were sneaks. Choosing a time when the menfolk were out presumably at work, they concentrated their attention on weak women. The word translated weak is a term of contempt for women who were idle, silly and weak. Their weakness was double. First, they were morally weak, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses. Their sins were to them both a burden and a tyrant, and the false teachers, worming their way into their home, played upon their feelings of guilt and of infirmity. Secondly, they were intellectually weak, unstable, credulous, gullible. They were the kind of women who would listen to anybody, while at the same time they could never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. In such a state of mental confusion, people will listen to any teacher, however specious. Such women, weak in character and intellect, are an easy prey for door-to-door religious salesmen. Paul’s words were not a general statement about the female sex but referred specifically to the credulous women in Ephesus. As an example of spurious teachers Paul now mentions Jannes and Jambres, the names of the two chief magicians in Pharaoh’s court. The implication of what Paul writes here is extremely important, although it does not lie on the surface. He draws a historical parallel between Jannes and Jambres who had opposed Moses centuries previously and the false teachers of his own day who also oppose the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so the Asian false teachers were opposing the truth. What truth? Why, the truth taught by Paul and entrusted by Paul to Timothy, the apostolic faith, the sacred deposit, which Timothy was to guard and to transmit. Thus the apostle Paul, naturally and without any apparent hesitation, puts himself on a level with Moses as one who also taught God’s truth. Moses taught the Law; Paul preached the Gospel. But whether it was law or gospel, the teaching of Moses the prophet or Paul the apostle, it was God’s truth which men were opposing and rejecting. So Paul rejects them as men who were corrupted in mind despite their claim to knowledge, and disqualified regarding the faith. Moreover he is confident that such men will not get very far. Their false teaching may temporarily spread, but its success will be limited and transient. How could Paul be so sure? Because their folly will be plain to all as was that of Jannes and Jambres. We sometimes get distressed in our day – rightly and understandably – by the false teachers who oppose the truth and trouble the church, especially by the sly and slippery methods of backdoor religious traders. But we need have no fear, even if a few weak people may be taken in, even if falsehood becomes fashionable. For there is something patently spurious about heresy, and something self-evidently true about the truth. Error may spread and be popular for a time. But it will not get very far. In the end it is bound to be exposed, and the truth is sure to be vindicated. This is a clear lesson of church history. Numerous heresies have arisen, and some have seemed likely to triumph. But God has preserved His truth in the church.

Follow Good Examples:  2 Timothy 3:10-13.

[10]  You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, [11]  my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra–which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. [12]  Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, [13]  while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  [ESV]

Paul is reminding Timothy not simply that he has fully known or observed his doctrine and conduct, as if he were merely an impartial student or a detached observer, but that he has become a dedicated disciple of the apostle’s. No doubt he had begun by taking pains to grasp the meaning of Paul’s instruction. But then he went further. He made it his own, believed it, absorbed it, lived by it. Similarly, he doubtless began by watching the apostle’s manner of life, but then he went on to imitate it. Thus, in both belief and practice, in teaching and conduct, Timothy became and remained Paul’s faithful follower. The contrast with the first paragraph of this chapter is obvious. The men described there were following their own inclinations, and their pathetic converts had been carried away by their own impulses. Timothy, on the other hand, has followed an altogether different standard, namely the teaching and the example of Christ’s apostle Paul. So Paul goes on to list the characteristics of his life, in contrast to that of the self-lovers whom he has characterized in verses 2-5. The emphatic words are the personal pronouns and possessive adjectives. They bring out the contrast clearly. Why, however, does Paul give us in verses 10 and 11 this catalogue of his virtues and sufferings? Is it not more than a little immodest, even conceited, that the apostle should put himself forward like this? Perhaps it is understandable that he should mention his teaching, but why go on to blow his own trumpet about his faith and love, his purpose and conduct, his sufferings and his endurance? Is it not rather unseemly that he should boast like this? No, Paul is not boasting. He has reasons quite other than exhibitionism for drawing attention to himself. He mentions his teaching first, and then goes on to supply two objective evidences of the genuineness of his teaching, namely the life he lived and the sufferings he endured. Indeed, these are good (though not infallible) general tests of a person’s sincerity, and even of the truth or falsehood of his system. Is he so convinced of his position that he both practices what he preaches and is prepared to suffer for it? Have his beliefs made him a better man, even in the face of opposition? Paul could answer both questions affirmatively. The false teachers lived lives of self-indulgence, and it would be quite out of character to expect them to be willing to suffer for their views. The apostle Paul, however, lived a consistent life of righteousness, self-control, faith and love, and remained steadfast to his principles through many and grievous persecutions. Look at his behavior first. Timothy had observed and tried to imitate Paul’s conduct (his whole demeanor and way of life), his aim in life (the spiritual ambitions which motivated him and made life meaningful for him), his faith (which perhaps here included his fidelity), his patience (tolerance or long-suffering towards aggravating people), his love (towards both God and man, as opposed to the false teachers’ love for self, money and pleasure) and his steadfastness (the patient endurance of trying circumstances). Timothy had followed Paul’s persecutions, first watching them, and then discovering that he must himself share in them, for he could not be committed to Paul’s teaching and conduct without becoming involved in his sufferings also. In verse 12 Paul makes it clear that his experience was not unique. He sought to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, loving and serving God rather than himself, and he suffered for it. Timothy had found the same thing. For all Christian people who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. The godly arouse the antagonism of the worldly. It has always been so. It was so for Christ, and He said it would be for us [John 15:18-20]. This inevitability of persecution is further explained in verse 13 by the continued activities of false teachers. Paul is quite outspoken about them. He dubs them evil people and impostors. They are deceivers and deceived. They begin by being seducers and end in being dupes, and the dupes of their own deceptions; for deceit commonly leads to self-deceit.

Study Scripture:  2 Timothy 3:14-17.

[14]  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it [15]  and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. [16]  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17]  that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.  [ESV]

For the second time Paul begins a sentence But as for you, distinguishing Timothy from the evil people and impostors he has just described. Previously he has contrasted their pursuit of their own inclinations with Timothy’s faithful following of apostolic doctrine and example. Now he draws another contrast: they go on from bad to worse, whereas Timothy is to continue or abide in what he has learned and believed. Paul’s clear command to Timothy to abide, to cultivate stability in the truths he has learned, rests on two simple and plain arguments which he elaborates. Timothy must continue in what he has learned, because he knows from whom he has learned it. The teaching was guaranteed by the teacher. And who was this? In the immediate context Paul is placing emphasis on his apostolic instruction being Timothy’s model. So the first ground of Timothy’s confidence, and the first reason why he should continue in what he has learned is that he has learned it from Paul. Timothy has not only learned Paul’s gospel and known Paul’s authority. From childhood he had been instructed in the Old Testament Scriptures presumably by his mother and grandmother, and he was therefore extremely familiar with these Scriptures and believed them to be divinely inspired. So the second reason why he must abide in what he has learned from Paul is its harmony with these very Scriptures. This was Paul’s consistent claim. Two fundamental truths about Scripture are asserted in verses 15-17. The first concerns its origin and the second its purpose. First, All Scripture is breathed out by God; it is inspired by God. The single Greek word would be literally translated ‘God-breathed’ and indicates not that the writings of the human authors were breathed into by God, but that Scripture was breathed or breathed out by God. Scripture is not to be thought of as already in existence when (subsequently) God breathed into it, but as itself brought into existence by the breath or Spirit of God. Nevertheless, it is clear from many passages that inspiration, however the process operated, did not destroy the individuality or the active cooperation of the human writers. All that is stated here is the fact of inspiration, that all Scripture is God-breathed. It originated in God’s mind and was communicated from God’s mouth by God’s breath or Spirit. It is therefore rightly termed ‘the Word of God’, for God spoke it. Secondly, Paul explains the purpose of Scripture: it is profitable. And this is precisely because it is inspired by God. Only its divine origin secures and explains its human profit. In order to show what this is, Paul uses two expressions. The first is in verse 15: able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. The Bible is essentially a handbook of salvation. Its over-arching purpose is to teach not facts of science which men can discover by their own empirical investigation, but facts of salvation, which only God can reveal. The whole Bible unfolds the divine scheme of salvation – man’s creation in God’s image, his fall through disobedience into sin and under judgment, God’s continuing love for him in spite of his rebellion, God’s eternal plan to save him through His covenant of grace with a chosen people, culminating in Christ; the coming of Christ as the Savior, who died to bear man’s sin, was raised from death, was exalted to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit; and man’s rescue first from guilt and alienation, then from bondage, and finally from mortality in his progressive experience of the liberty of God’s children. None of this would be known apart from the biblical revelation. More particularly, the Bible instructs for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. So, since the Bible is a book of salvation, and since salvation is through Christ, the Bible focuses its attention upon Christ. The Old Testament foretells and foreshadows Him in many and various ways; the Gospels tell the story of His birth and life, His words and works, His death and resurrection; the Acts describe what He continued to do and teach through His chosen apostles, especially in spreading the gospel and establishing the church from Jerusalem to Rome; the Epistles display the full glory of His person and work, and apply it to the life of the Christian and the church; while the Revelation depicts Christ sharing the throne of God now and coming soon to consummate His salvation and judgment. This comprehensive portraiture of Jesus Christ is intended to elicit our faith in Him, in order that by faith we may be saved. Paul now goes on to show that the profit of Scripture relates to both creed and conduct. The false teachers divorced them; we must marry them. As for our creed, Scripture is profitable for teaching the truth and refuting error. As for our conduct, it is profitable for reformation of manners and discipline in right living. In each pair the negative and positive counterparts are combined. Do we hope, either in our own lives or in our teaching ministry, to overcome error and grow in truth, to overcome evil and grow in holiness? Then it is to Scripture that we must primarily turn, for Scripture is profitable for these things. Indeed, Scripture is the chief means which God employs to bring the man of God to maturity. It is only by a diligent study of Scripture that the man of God may become competent, equipped for every good work.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What does Paul want Timothy to understand in 3:1-9? What is the main cause of the times of difficulty that the church faces throughout the last days?

2.         What type of follower of Paul was Timothy? Why does Paul emphasize the areas in 3:10 that he wants Timothy to follow? Are you following Paul in these areas?

3.         According to 3:14-17, what is the origin and purpose of Scripture? What does the inspiration of Scripture mean? What must you do in order for Scripture to equip you for every good work?


The Message of 2 Timothy, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

2 Timothy, Thomas Lea, NAC, Broadman.

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