DUNCAN/The last days


Please turn to 2 Timothy 3:1-9. Throughout the Pastoral Epistles we have seen Paul write of his own suffering for the sake of the interests of the church. In this passage today, Paul is reminding Timothy and all believers of the context in which we live and minister as Christians. Specifically, he says “in the last days difficult times will come” in verse 1. The “last days” is a term by which he refers to that whole course of time between the ascension of Christ and His bodily return in His second coming. And Paul is speaking to Timothy about these last days because he wants to remind Timothy of what he must expect in his ministry during these times. In the remainder of this passage, Paul is telling Timothy that he should expect difficult days and difficult people. But even in the midst of the difficult times, Paul exhorts Timothy to be both spiritually discerning and confident that Christ will build His church. This passage can be divided into three parts. First, in verses 1-5, Paul describes the context in which Timothy is going to minister during the last days. Then, in verses 6-7, he reminds Timothy of the importance of spiritual discernment. Finally, in verses 8-9, Paul provides a word of encouragement to Timothy.   

The Context of Ministry in the Last Days.

First, in verses 1-5, Paul speaks to Timothy about the circumstances of the last days, and he speaks about the character of people in the last days. Specifically, Paul says, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.” Now, Paul is not simply speaking to Timothy about how it is going to be in the larger society and culture, he is trying to show him how false teaching is encroaching even on the life of the church. For example, after describing these horrible characteristics of the people that Timothy is going to confront in the course of his ministry, Paul says in verse 6, “For among them are those who enter into households.” He’s telling Timothy there that he is going to live and minister in a context when this kind of gross, immoral behavior characterizes false teachers and the teaching which they are trying to sneak into the Christian church. Paul is trying to build a ministry mindset in Timothy and in his congregation, and in you and me, to not expect life and ministry in the Christian church in our world and culture to be easy, but, rather, to be difficult. In a world where love of self, love of money, disobedience to authority, love of pleasure, and fake-godliness has crept in, the Apostle Paul is saying, ‘Here’s how I want the church to think. I want you to realize that you are an army. And you’re in the middle of mortal conflict.” This is the attitude we need to have, and the sobriety with which we need to approach this Christian life. 

II. The Importance of Spiritual Discernment. 

Secondly, in verses 6-7, Paul addresses the importance of spiritual discernment. He’s telling Timothy and all of us about the tactics of those who are desiring to infiltrate the church. He is telling Christians today to be aware of the methods of deceptive teachers. In verse 6, Paul says, “For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins.” The Apostle Paul is not making a derisive remark about women here. Do you remember how he began this letter? He says, “Timothy, I want you to know something. I knew your grandmother and I knew your mother, and I know that the faith that’s in you was in them first. They were godly women. They were wise women. Timothy, you have got a lot to live up to, because you’ve heard the truth from the lap of your grandmother and mother.” Paul was a man who loved godly women. He was a man who loved strong, biblical women. Paul is not demeaning women in this passage. You may ask, “What’s he doing then?” 

First of all, Paul is actually telling us about the tactic that was being used by these false teachers. These false prophets were going into the homes of women in the Greco-Roman culture and making disciples out of them with their false teaching. Additionally, Paul wants us to see how these false prophets infiltrated the lives of different people. For example, they try to take advantage of those individuals who lack spiritual discernment because of their lack of knowledge of biblical truth. Paul also says that false teachers try to influence those individuals who are unstable in their sense of purpose and direction in life. Furthermore, false prophets try to influence those individuals who have guilty consciences because they are weighed down by sins that they have not dealt with in a biblical manner. Finally, Paul says that false teachers are drawn to people who accept all kinds of teaching and do not properly question it. Thus, Paul was warning Timothy that those are the types of opportunities that false prophets will get ahold of in order to draw people away from the truth. He is reminding us that a false teacher says, “I’m going to get you to God better than the preacher can. I’m going to get you to God, and it’s not going to be through the Bible. It’s not going to be through Jesus or through the cross. It’s not going to involve a life of obedience to God and of taking up your cross and dying daily. No, I’ve got a better way to God.” Thus, Paul was warning Timothy and us of the importance of spiritual discernment. 

III. A Word of Encouragement. 

Thirdly, in verses 8-9, Paul offers an encouraging word to Timothy by reminding him that false prophets will not win. No matter how bad it gets, the false prophets will not prevail. Christ will build His church. The false prophets will not succeed. They will fail. This is vital for Timothy to know. And it is vital for you and me to know. Christ is building His church despite these false teachers, but we must recognize, my friends, that we are in a war. And we need to be spiritually discerning, and that means drinking in every drop of the means of grace including the Word read, the Word taught, the Word preached, the prayers of the saints, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. God has given these things to us to mature us, to give us spiritual discernment, and to stand; and so we shall, if we stand in Him, resting and trusting in Jesus Christ alone as He is offered in the Gospel. May God by His grace and mercy keep us faithful and enable us to persevere to the end.

The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at jhyde@rts.edu.

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