Living Hope: “The Life Saver” – 2 Timothy 3

life saverThe MTS Oceanos was a Greek-owned cruise ship that sank off South Africa’s eastern coast on 4 August 1991. According to investigators, the vessel had completed a successful cruise season in South Africa, and was now contracted on an eight-month charter from a cruise company out of Johannesburg. The inquiry into her loss revealed the MTS Oceanos was operating unsafely, with loose hull plating, faulty check valves that had been stripped for repair parts and a 10 cm. hole in the “watertight” bulkhead between the generator and sewage tank. These parts were partially responsible for her failure at sea. The vessel only left port the day before she sank. Setting out from the port of East London on the Eastern Cape of South Africa, she was headed north and east toward Durban in Kwazulu-natal, facing into 40-knot winds and 30-foot swelling seas. The normal “sail-away” party on deck was moved indoors due to the rough sea conditions, but most passengers chose to stay in their cabins. The storm worsened and dinner service was all but impossible. By about 9:30 PM local time, the power failed due to a leak in a faulty valve that allowed sea water to back pressure its way into the sewage system. Adrift without power, the crew apparently abandoned ship, but according to the passengers didn’t make the announcement to the people on board. As the water steadily rose, the main drainage system backed sea water throughout the ship, spilling out of showers, toilets, and any other sewer connection. Listing to one side and without a crew to assist, British entertainer Moss Hills recognized something was terribly wrong and went to the bridge, only to discover the whole place abandoned. He used the radio to signal an SOS and nearby vessels responded with the South African Navy launching a seven-hour mission airlifting people who could not get to the remaining lifeboats. All 571 people on board were saved – in a rescue organized by an on-board entertainer. Moss Hills, in an interview by ABC News said that he only realized how close they were to perishing when he was lifted off the deck in a harness and brought up to the helicopter. He recalled the sheer relief when he first saw the helicopters coming toward the deck, lowering down rescue personnel to those trapped on the sinking vessel. Everyone loves a good rescue story – after they are safely at home. The problem is, we live with a certain amount of daily danger, and the expectation that people will respond to challenges in the best possible way. Sometimes, that is not the case – the Oceanos is case and point.

In the past few lessons from 2 Timothy, we have been following the encouragement of the condemned prisoner, the Apostle Paul, written to a middle aged Pastor who needed to be rescued. He seemed like he was sinking, and the water was rising. Paul wanted to offer him a view of help by setting down the help of seasoned veterans of troubled spiritual seas. Paul’s sandals had been wet before – and he knew how to encourage. Yet, any reading of 2 Timothy 3 is liable to get hung up in negative territory. The most cursory reading of the text, at least the first thirteen verses of the seventeen, seem deeply negative. Here is the truth: they aren’t. Paul set up the point of his lesson strongly in front of Timothy. He made clear that rough seas were ahead – but that isn’t the whole story. There was a fixed point of hope. There was assurance in the rough sea – it was the steadiness and security of the Scriptures that were tethered to an unchanging God.

Key Principle: Our hope is not in historic moral victories or popular majorities but in timeless truths.

The passage is painfully simple in construction – it has two parts. The first thirteen verses talk about the conditions of the rough seas of humanity ahead. The last few verses shift to Paul’s command for Timothy to respond properly in the face of it all. We can cut the descriptions into two simple words: “them” and “us”.

Rough Seas Ahead: A Description of the Non-believer (“THEM” in 2 Timothy 3:1-5a)

2 Timothy 3:1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.

Four truths about the sailing ahead:

First, Paul established the timing he made reference to:

He says the “last days”. Although Paul never wavered in the prison cell, he expressed that he was deeply concerned about the coming trends he observed on the horizon. He knew Tim needed to be made ready, or the current would hit him fiercely and displace his resolve.

What time is Paul referring to when he says, “last days?” Is that the “end of time”? That phrase is pregnant with varied meanings.

In one sense, it can generally be applied to the whole period of the church age – which is most of the period between the first and second comings of Christ. In the Biblical story, the economy of the “last days” as defined by the prophet Joel could be that broad. It depends on how far away from the chart of time you are looking as to what constitutes “last days”. Acts 2 and the coming of the Spirit reminded that the gift of tongues acted as a signal of punishment to the Jewish people in preparation to their serious tribulation and eventual repentance and restoration. The period of “last days” in that view is not the end of time, but the last great economy before God draws Israel back to Himself. It began with the BEGINNING of shame (the tongues experience that followed Christ’s departure) and ends with the END of shame (at the return of the Son).

Second, there is a sort of metaphoric use – a picture image. In this way, it can also apply to specific periods of spiritual testing within the church age in specific settings. In other words, some times of persecution and trouble will ebb and flow in history like the waves at the seashore.

Third, it may specifically more intensely apply to the last years preceding our Lord’s return to the earth – and certainly does – because the time of “Jacob’s trouble” or Great Tribulation will be worse than any previous time.

Jesus reminded us (as recorded by Matthew) that the beginning of that time is like “ labor pains” that signal the time to follow.

The bottom line is that we are in the “last days” of the church age, and they will not be completed until the Son of Man steps onto the earth. My optimism concerning my destiny, then, must be in viewing toward Heaven – not in the eventual overtaking of the world by the Gospel. The Kingdom will be brought in by the violent turmoil of rebellion and the overpowering of the Savior from His horse of war – not the gentle sweeping of the message to all parts of the earth.

We need to be aware that theological approaches have consequences. If I were to accept St. Augustine’s vision of the “City of God”, I would believe that no specific time called the “Great Tribulation” will exist in the future, and the rise of the Kingdom of God is coming through the successful movement of the Gospel bringing peace and truth to the world. I would believe that the so-called “Millennial Kingdom” was the metaphor for the culmination of the great acceptance of the work of Jesus as King. That sounds like a great future – but I do not believe that is the one set forth in the Bible at all. That optimism is based on the church’s forward movement and victory – and is very earth centered. It is held by most Christians in North America today, and it has grown in my lifetime. It is a major feature of the eschatology called “Amillennialism”. It sees things getting better and then the Kingdom wins. It sees the difficulties and details in metaphors, and symbols – it refuses the literal reading of the Word as naïve.

From time to time people say to me, “I don’t care about eschatology, or ‘end times’ teaching. It seems far too speculative. I want to be more practical. I am more worried about evangelism.” Though I commend them on the desire to reach people – theological underpinning shows in practical work. If I believed that things were going to get better, I would prepare people for trouble with the simple understanding that “in the long run of history” the Kingdom will come by the Gospel’s victory. Because I am a literalist, I think it will cyclically grow darker and take a battle with the Son from Heaven to break the darkness. I cannot simply prepare you for small waves of reversals – I must prepare the church under my care for a rising tide of anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-Bible thinking that will eventually be the world system used to displace RIGHT with WRONG. That may not seem as optimistic – but it IS. It places my hope in ANOTHER WORLD not this one. It places my desire to save the planet as one to save the inhabitants, recognizing the terrain will eventually be taken by a literal FIRE and reshaping. It helps inform the priorities of our work – making us less philanthropic ecologists and more ready evangelists. That view is shrinking, as more and more churches try to bring in the Kingdom of God here and now – and speak less of Heaven. I will not join them – even though I will love them as brothers.

Second, Paul offered words about the character of those days:

He said they will be “difficult days” ahead (khal-ep-os’ is hard, harsh, fierce, troublesome, fierce). It is important to note that not everyone will consider them DIFFICULT. Athiests will have their fifteen minutes of national fame, and agnostics will grow in strength as well. They have seized our schools and made faith look stupid and uneducated, and are now working avidly to seize the hearts of American youth. They have taken control of the airwaves, and much of the government initiatives – and are working to push the church and its influence aside. In our town they are doing it by offering through our tax money a powerful machine that is sweeping even daycare aside into the care of the State. We are systematically being “nannied” into a sheepish population, indoctrinated into political correctness, and having simple terms like “right” and “wrong” redefined just under our noses. The outcome of this will be difficult and harsh on those who believe God has spoken, and that is the condition to which Paul was referring.

Third, Paul referenced the certainty of the coming trouble:

He made clear it will come. Bible teacher Ray Prichard tells the story: “You’ve probably heard the old joke about the fellow who was told, “Cheer up. Things could be worse.” So he said, “I did as I was told. I cheered up, and sure enough, things got worse.”

Fourth, Paul offered the underlying human reason it was coming:

Men will be fully overtaken in redirected inordinate self-interest. Look at the words that define the current beneath the surface, and think of the dozens of news items we could apply to each one of them. They will become:

a. Lovers of self: phil-autos or love self. Don’t lose track of what he is saying here – men have always been deeply selfish. The difference in this time is that such thinking will NOT be considered immature and wrong – but RIGHT and LOGICAL.

b. Lovers of money: Phil-arguros or love shining (as in coins). The term is not only a lover of COINAGE, but a lover of the “flashy things”. In other words, the day will increasingly yield to the fleeting attraction of whatever is flashing at the moment. The term has within it the notion that people will increasingly lose enduring affection for the LONG TERM VALUES and see the temporal ones as entirely the goal. They will easily trade the savings account for the lottery – because they will LOSE the notion that DELAYED GRATIFICATION is valuable. It has happened with SEX in our culture – where few young people seem to grasp what is LOST in premarital sex – and few adults seem to WANT them to remember that sexual gratification comes at a PRICE.

c. Boastful: Aladzon – empty braggard. Remember, we are referencing what Paul said will replace the Biblcial world view’s value system. Humility will be seen as a weak force before the “dog eat dog” world of brutes formed by a system that teaches that only the strongest will rise.

d. Arrogant: huperephanos – hoop-er-ay’-fan-os: appearing above others (conspicuous), i.e. (figuratively) haughty — proud. If you read management books of today, one special piece of advice rises to the surface over and over – you must STICK OUT. Promote the brand of self – that is the essence of this term.

e. Revilers: Blasphemos – slanderous. People who don’t think they will answer to a higher power will be emboldened to use the name of the Holy One in blatant profanity. Even more, the vitriol of selfish men will look like the comments section on any “religion” blog by CNN. Read it and you will meet a whole team of the revilers – they are alive a well. Wikipedia reports that the articles on Jesus must constantly be reset because of “contributions” from revilers that seek to demean His life and work.

f. Disobedient to parents: Apeithes – non compliant and unbending. The word for parent is “Goneus” which is from the word “to become”! The term isn’t just “disobedient” – that is the tip of the iceberg. It is the word for “apathetic” – totally unmoved by any care for them – as in UNBONDED. They don’t think parents should have any special right to shape them – they choose who they will listen to and follow. They will “become” without regard to their parents.

g. Ungrateful: Acharistos – ungracious; both unpleased and unpleasing. The term “without charity” only touches the surface. The simple idea is ENTITLEMENT. They believe they DESERVE something because they are on the planet. Life is not about making right choices for them – it is about being victimized by the choices of others before them – when they were deserving of so much more!

h. Unholy: Anosios – not walking in an undefiled state from sinful practices and regarding nothing as holy. They won’t see LIFE as sacred. They won’t see FAMILY as sacred. They won’t think RESPECT as sacred. They won’t think GOD is sacred – so they will be bold in their decision making on “RIGHT” and “WRONG”.

I. Unloving: Astorgos – literally “not cherishing”; without natural affection, unsociable (Rom 1:31), inhuman (2 Tim. 3:3 RSV), unloving (2Ti. 3:3 NKJV). The term means “broken from the God-given bonds of love that once held people together.” This will allow them to redefine LUST as LOVE.

j. Irreconcilable: Aspondos – not with contract; unwilling to remain in things not mutually agreed upon; cannot be persuaded to enter into a covenant. The word is so full of modern thinking it is hard to know where to begin. It’s simplest meaning is ‘doesn’t respond to contract obligations.’ In business, this is a rampaging truth. I sat with a business man last week who has contracts where people literally renegotiate shamelessly on the basis that a court case would cost more than settling for less than agreed upon to complete the job! The easy divorce started when Governor Ronald Reagan introduced it in 1969 in California has swept the nation, and now a generation had arisen that simply sees no point to marriage. For the record, former President Reagan later said it was perhaps his worst mistake in office – ever.

k. Malicious gossips: Diabolos – used of Devil; false accuser, slanderer. See the news – where we offer a trial of public opinion based on half-truths and non-facts that conform to our preconceived notions of the events – without real knowledge of the events. Much of what is called NEWS today is actually a form of GOSSIP – without sufficient verification and based on bias.

l. Without self-control: Akrates – not operating with dominion. Don’t get lost in this! Paul is saying the day will come when people will not think SELF CONTROL is the answer to problems of indulgence. They will argue that abstinence doesn’t work and drop that expectation – then begin the process of legalizing things that aid self-control, on the basis that other things are “just as bad” – but missing the point that we are simply reinforcing the value of immediate gratification and the right to always “feel good”.

m. Brutal: Anemeros – not tame, savage, fierce. There is a brutish and savage sound that comes from someone who is uncaring about the feelings of those around them.

n. Haters of good: Aphilagathos – not loving good, and despising those who uphold it. Read for one hour the website of Atheist 411, and you will hear how God and His followers are responsible for all the evils of the world. Of course, they make little reference to the regimes of pagans in the recent social past that brutalized populations and needed no god to blame.

o. Treacherous: Prodotes – a betrayer, traitor. The term simply reflected the destruction of loyalty. People will become so self-consumed they will lie, cheat, steal – all because the value of “being instantly and constantly happy” will be their birthright.

p. Reckless: Propetes – to fall forwards, headlong, to be rash, reckless. The term revealed that selfishness and immature thinking will yield the inability to PLAN WELL – since life will be all about TODAY.

q. Conceited: Tuphoo – to raise a smoke, to wrap in a mist; to be puffed up with haughtiness or pride. This idea was that people would grow in SELF IMAGE and see themselves as completing things they haven’t actually done. They will have an inordinate ability to see themselves as qualified and deserving, even when they have done little to build a resume of accomplishments.

r. Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God: fil-ay’-don-os – love (hedonistic) pleasures. This one isn’t tough – they worship feeling good – all the time, any time and any expense. There is no price too high in society for what will make me explode with pleasure right now! Some will simply call them “addicted to happy”, but caution us “don’t worry – they can govern well” in spite of this lack of any control in some areas.

s. Holding (echo: possessing) a form (Morphosis: shape, resemblance) of godlinessdenied (ar-neh’-om-ahee: act entirely unlike himself) power (Dunamis: inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature) – Some will continue to do the things that look like they work, but will not act consistent with the value of those things! God rejectors will not stop religious practices – just take a consistent position against those who will pose a relationship with God is possible!

We spent a long time looking at that list – because Paul spent a long time making clear what replacing a Biblical world view with its competing world system morality will look like. It isn’t a reason to despair – because the world’s end isn’t OUR END. It isn’t GOD’S END. It is MUTINY’S END.

Still the question remains: “What can I do in the face of the obvious trend to make wrong into right?”

Right Responses Needed: The Responses of the Believer (“US” in 2 Timothy 3:5b-17)

Mark lines around those who want it both ways

Don’t miss the major thing Paul said in the beginning of this section: The most important thing when entering a mine field is to learn how to AVOID them. That sounds as though Paul is saying NOT TO ENGAGE them, but that is not the truth. The word AVOID is a specific term that means to SHUN (apotrepo), i.e. “turn away from the mutation they are making” (3:5b).

We don’t try to just keep away. We stand up and call false what it is and “connect the dots” between wrong belief and reprehensible practices. We do it to stand for truth. We do it to point out the dangers to those who follow us! During the times of low regard for the truth, we will be forced to RECOGNIZE those who are pulling apart the pattern of Godliness and CALL OUT the truth. We cannot simply let themselves be called the same as we are – because their mutation is to be quarantined.

Let me offer an example: Recently, the belief blog of CNN again featured the “evangelical” view by Rachel Held Evans. Here was a part of her report that I think gives the flavor without betraying her understanding. The article was called: “Not all religious convictions are written in stone

(CNN) – There’s a misconception among many faithful folks that religious convictions, by their very nature, are set in stone. People who change their minds are called flip-floppers or backsliders, accused of capitulating to culture and “conforming to the world.” … In my own life, questions and doubts have served as refining fires that keep my faith hot and alive and bubbling where certainty would only freeze it on the spot. I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things—the age of the Earth, the reality of climate change, the value of women in church leadership… Like a lot of evangelicals, I grew up in a religious environment that vilified LGBT people. … Today, I am honored to be the friend of many LGBT people, and I celebrated along with them as Exodus International closed its doors and as the Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. …In his book “Velvet Elvis,” Rob Bell writes:

“Times change. God doesn’t, but times do. We learn and grow, and the world around us shifts, and the Christian faith is alive only when it is listening, morphing, innovating, letting go of whatever has gotten in the way of Jesus and embracing whatever will help us be more and more the people God wants us to be.”

A person of conviction is not one who is unyielding to change, but one whose beliefs evolve based on new information, new movements of the Spirit, new biblical insights and, yes, new friends. There’s a story in the New Testament about a Roman centurion named Cornelius, whose fear of God and care for the poor was widely known among the people. After receiving a vision from God, Cornelius sends for the apostle Peter, who agrees to meet with him, even though it was forbidden for a Jew to associate with a Gentile. Peter, an observant Jew, had been wrestling with the idea of including Gentiles in the church. But when he encounters the sincere faith of Cornelius, he is moved to declare, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right!” He tells the skeptical people who have gathered outside, “God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” Peter changed his mind, and the church would never be the same. Despite deeply held religious convictions regarding circumcision and dietary restrictions, he led the way in opening the doors of the church to all who would enter, regardless of ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status or religious background. We can learn a lot from Peter — not only from his inclusiveness, but also from his willingness to change his mind. Like Peter, God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. And that I should not think so highly of myself as to assume I’ve got this faith thing all figured out.

Let me be clear: Rachel just took the Scriptures about God revealing truth in visions from Heaven and turned them into “convictions” that should be re-framed by “new friendships” that offer reasons to deny what God has clearly said in no uncertain terms in His Word. She is in error in her interpretative method – and she is NOT correct about her conclusions from Scripture – but has misused it to teach the opposite of what it said. Her trusted reference to Rob Bell was a step on her journey to torquing the Word of God into a different message. Rob has done it by denying hell as the destination of unbelievers, and now she is doing it to allow lifestyle choices that God has clearly defined as abhorrent to Him. I mention it because it is a good illustration of the seriousness of the problem. She represented the EVANGELICAL WORLD on CNN. I cannot offer more potent evidence: Not teaching the proper interpretive devices of Scripture will increasingly allow the Bible to be used to wound itself – even if by well-meaning youths.

Identify those who OPPOSE the truth:

Some of you may be uncomfortable with my naming of Rachel just now. The problem is, I have to name her, and I have to challenge her. When the Bible’s clarity is at stake – it is the right thing to do. Look at how Paul handled it:

3:6 For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these [men] also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. 9 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 ploy will be to convince the ignorant (and that is most prominently being done among high school and college students today) and allow their voices to challenge the leadership and message of God in a brazen but uninformed way. They have been taught to oppose the truth. They have often unwittingly adopted depravity and rejected God’s stated view of right and wrong in favor of another system to evaluate it. If Tim would do his job, people would know the obvious violation. If he compromised, God would have to raise up another to do that work, so that the violation would become more obvious. We must identify where the truth battle lines are being set.

Commit to follow the EXAMPLE of the best who went before us:

3:10 Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, [and] sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium [and] at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! 12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But evil men and impostors will proceed [from bad] to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Paul made the case that Tim watched what God did in and through his ministry as a disciple. He saw Paul handle the brazen and the arrogant. He knew what a mob scene looked like, and knew that rocks and anger wouldn’t stop Paul from teaching the truth to a lost world. He saw Paul get pushed around, beat up and persecuted. Now he heard that WORSE THINGS were ahead. In my view the worse things are brought in by a post-Christian culture. There is a special anger among lost men and women about the moral system we represent. The notions of family, respect, and humility are not only being ignored – they are being vilified in the public forum.

Continue unabated to the COMMITMENT to the Word:

Paul’s straightforward words to the flagging commitment of his weakened disciple were unmistakable: Get back to the commitment to God’s Word.

2 Timothy 2:14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned [them], 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Being convinced of the Scriptures is not an embarrassment or weakness – it is the source of my strength – as it was for Presidents, Prime Ministers, preachers and peasants for generations.

Knowing something is true because the Bible says it is not small minded or dull – it is taking what my spiritual fathers have known and intentionally applying it yet again to another generation of lost men. It is offering spiritual food to a world starved of truth. In the absence of truth, a starved world will eat garbage. We must give them a choice – because God has already prepared one.

Don’t miss that one who soaks in the Word will not be ill prepared – but equipped for the work ahead!

Our hope is not in historic moral victories or popular majorities but in timeless truths.